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575: How to Coach More Effectively using Reflective Inquiry with Dr. Marcia Reynolds

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Master coach Marcia Reynolds talks about the importance of reflective inquiry and why to think twice about giving advice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key questions to challenge your thinking 
  2. Why it’s more important to be present than perfect 
  3. The value of a coaching buddy 

 

About Marcia

Dr. Marcia Reynolds is a world-renowned expert on how to evoke transformation through conversations. She is the Training Director for the Healthcare Coaching Institute in North Carolina, and on faculty for coaching schools in China, Russia, and the Philippines. She has spoken at conferences and taught workshops in 41 countries on leadership topics and mastery in coaching. Global Gurus has recognized her as one of the top 5 coaches in the world for four years. Her books include Wander Woman; Outsmart Your Brain; The Discomfort Zone; and her latest, Coach the Person, Not the Problem. 

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Marcia Reynolds Interview Transcript

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

Marcia Reynolds
Yeah. Thank you, Pete, for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited because I think it’s true that you were the only guest, out of over 500, who told a story that made me cry. So, that was way back in episode 14, in a good way. In a good way. That was way back in episode 14, and the majority of our listeners weren’t with us then, so I’m going to put you on the spot. Can you bring us back to the time in which you were 20 years old, in jail, you instigated a riot, and then had a meaningful conversation with your partner in crime? I won’t give away too much. Go.

Marcia Reynolds
Well, you know, Pete, I was a rebellious teenager like many other people. I’ve since looked back at my life and realized that I had advantages a lot of other people didn’t have but I was throwing them away and it went down this dark rabbit hole of drug abuse, and ended up in jail. And I was told by many people, as well as myself, that that was it, that my life was over, that I had ruined everything that I had created, and there was no positive path out. Not a lot of people believing in me.

And so, you just survive in those situations, and that’s what I did. But I’d gotten to know my cellmates and helped them as much as I could because I was far more educated than they were, and I’d even motivate them to take advantage of whatever they could in the jail, but I never saw the advantages for myself. But I did want to make a difference for them.

And so, I was trying to get a reporter down to talk about bad conditions, and it kind of backfired, and we ended up, the whole cell block, on restriction, and I said, “This is crazy. We need to do a protest against this.” So, I didn’t see this as a riot. I saw this as a protest. Of course, my cellmates all thought I was crazy but they said, “Well, whatever. It sounds good. We support you.”

And it was in my mind, it was a non-violent protest. We were just making a lot of noise, and then when they wouldn’t listen to us, we threw our dresses off and tried to get their attention. Well, it did, and what happened was my cellmate and I who had kind of instigated this protest, they grabbed us and threw us in isolation. And it was like hitting bottom, not only figuratively but literally because they threw us on the floor and everything was ripped and bruised, and I just felt so badly that I had dragged her into this.

So, I looked at her, and I said, “I am so sorry. I’m sorry I brought you into my crazy scheme and my awful life. You shouldn’t listen to me.” She pushed herself up off the floor, she came over to me, she pinned me against the wall, and said, “You have no idea who you are.” She said, “You’re so smart, you’re strong, you care about people, you want to make a difference. You have to get who you are in here…” and she pointed to her heart, “…so you can make it out there.”

And it was at that moment that I recognized that I did have a spark inside of me, I did have the power inside of me to make a difference for my life and for other people, which was essential. But it was her and her courage and her seeing me where nobody else would. Everyone else said I was a failure, but she saw me and she brought that out of me. And I think that’s what I’ve spent my whole career, it was like, “How can we see each other and bring out the best in each other?” So, she launched me on that path.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is just…it’s powerful and beautiful and just deeply resonates, in particular, with what I’m about. And it’s interesting because just as I was prepping, I watched the scene from “The Lion King” in which Simba’s father appears and says, “Remember who you are.” And it’s like that same notion of when you see and you recognize and you call it, it’s powerful and beautiful. And so, well, I’m delighted to have you back. And thanks for sharing.

Marcia Reynolds
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you got some new stuff coming out “Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry.” We’re going to talk about the…we’re going to use the word coaching a lot so maybe we should define that. What exactly do we mean by the word coaching?

Marcia Reynolds
Well, you know, I and so many people say, “Oh, I’ve been doing that all my life.” Well, when I really learned how to coach, I realized, “No, I haven’t,” because it’s a specific technology and it’s a learning technology. It’s where we help people take these stories out of their heads and put them out in front of them, and say, “Let’s take a look at your story and see where it works for you and where it’s not working for you. What are the beliefs that you’re holding?” Like, I believe my life was worthless. “And what are the assumptions about the future that you’re making? And if there’s a conflict of values, how is that holding you back? And what is it you really need?”

When we help people think about their thinking, then they can actually see beyond the stories that they’re holding. We always tell people to see outside of the box but they don’t know how to do that because they get stuck inside the box. So, in coaching, we’re helping them see outside of it by helping them, first, see the box. You have to see it before you can see outside of it.

And so, the book “Coach the Person, Not the Problem” is to help the person see their situation. It’s not about me solving it. It’s about them seeing their situation more broadly so they can see other possibilities and find a way forward on their own, and we use reflective inquiry. So, I’m just summarizing what I hear you saying, and maybe paraphrasing it in a way that you might see it differently, and then I ask questions.

And so, I get you to think about your thinking. I become your thinking partner. So, it’s totally different from therapy or consulting. It’s a technology in and of itself. And it works on the middle brain which is really where we learn and create behavioral change so it’s very effective. All the degrees I’ve earned since being in jail, and there’s been multitudes, has brought me to recognize the great value of when we help people think about their thinking, and expanding who they think they are and how they see the world, and their ability to solve their problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that all sounds grand to me. I’d love to follow up when you talk about value and effectiveness and results. Can you share, what are some of the most striking studies, results, case studies, that really illustrate, “Hotdog! Coaching delivers a whole lot”?

Marcia Reynolds
Well, it’s hard to measure coaching exactly to separate it out and say, “Okay, I did this and this is the result you got.” But I can measure it by impact, by what people say changed their life, which often they will say that, “Wow, you saved my life.” “You saved my marriage.” “You kept me from telling my boss off.” So, there are stories like that. Certainly, there are now ROI studies. The International Coach Federation has amassed thousands of studies that show that coaching in companies increases engagement, increases productivity, stops turnover, because when we talk to each other using coaching, we connect.

But on a personal basis, everything from I coached a bank president for years and I provided her the only safe space where she really felt she could show up totally as herself, and just say what was on her mind, and show whatever emotions and she wouldn’t be judged, and it wouldn’t have an impact and scare people, which helped her to sort through her problems. And she would always say at the end, “You are so important to my bottom line because you helped me to think through things.”

I had a client call me and say, “Oh, I’m so overwhelmed. I don’t know where to start. I need you to tell me how to prioritize.” And, certainly, I could’ve done that but I said, “Well, this is really interesting. You hold a very high position in this company. Prior to that, you’re a very successful attorney. You went to a big law school. I have to think that somewhere along the way, you knew how to prioritize. So, I want to know what’s stopping you now.”

And, after a long pause, which always tells me they’re thinking, she said, “I’ve lost my way. I used to have a vision. I don’t have it anymore. I don’t know why I’m here.” I said, “Well, that’s a different conversation if you want to have that than me telling you how to prioritize.” And, of course, for her to rediscover what was her path forward, where she wanted to go, what she wanted to do, why it was the value for her to be at that company, she knew how to prioritize. She just needed to get her path back in order.

So, it’s, again, simply that that I challenged her thinking. I didn’t solve her problem. I challenged her thinking that made her recognize what her block was and how to solve it. I have tons of stories where almost each session they think about things differently and have a different way forward. And I think that happens all the time with coaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to get your take then in terms of everyday professionals, if we would like to be helpful in this way to our colleagues and friends, and we don’t have years of coaching experience and training and certifications, what are your tips in terms of how we can be helpful, and what to do, and what not to do?

Marcia Reynolds
Well, the first thing is just don’t jump in and tell them what to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Marcia Reynolds
Which is what we normally I do. I mean, I do it too. Somebody comes to you and says they have a problem. You turn around and say, “Do this.” Well, they’re not likely to do it, and that’s also annoying. And so, the first thing is just, “Okay, so tell me about the situation, how you see it. What is it you want that you don’t have? And what’s getting in your way?” And then just let them tell their story. And the best thing you can do is start by just summarizing, by saying, “So, you’re telling me this…” and narrow it down because they’re usually all over the place, “So, this is what it is you want, and this is why you think you can’t have it. Is that true?”

Right there, you’re already helping them to see through the fog of all the craziness that’s going on, and the fear, and the uncertainty, when they can really nail down what it is they want that they don’t have now, and what’s getting in the way, how valuable that is. So, we summarize, paraphrase, encapsulate key words, when they say, “What I really want is this,” to just give it back, “So, what you want to create is this.” Or we might even ask for a clearer definition. So, if somebody says, “I’m tired.” I might say, “Are you physically tired or are you tired of doing a job you don’t like?” There’s a difference. So, sometimes it’s just to clarify.

And we can all do that. We can summarize, we can be curious about the meaning of the words they use, we try to sort through if they name a number of problems. Just list them out and say, “Which ones do you want to tackle first?” Those are all, you know, three really useful tools that anybody can use.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that. And could you maybe expand a bit in terms of some, I don’t know, key phrases, or questions, or scripts that are really excellent and frequently yield good stuff as well as maybe the opposite, things not to say? And one of them, it sounds like it’s just a broad category of immediately dispensing advice, which Michael Bungay Stanier mentioned as well, the advice monster he called it.

Marcia Reynolds
Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure. He gave me a nice testimonial for my book. Well, sometimes we ask questions that are really giving advice, like, “Have you tried this?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever.

Marcia Reynolds
Don’t do that. I say, “That’s just advice disguised as a question. Don’t do that.” I always say they have to beg me to give them suggestions, and then I’ll say, “Okay, I’ll give you a few ideas to consider.” But in terms of a script, I don’t like giving people a list of questions because the questions should be organic. But we always start with really trying to get clear on the destination, “What is it you really want instead of what you have?”

So, people come to you with a problem, and say, “Well, if you didn’t have that problem, what would it look like?” I need to know the destination of the conversation, “Where are we going with this?” Too many times, coaches get lost chasing clients because they don’t have a clear destination. So, be clear on where you’re going, “What is it you really want here?” and they’ll backtrack so you have to keep coming back to, “Are we still working on that?” So, it’s not the problem, it’s the outcome that we need to get clear on.

And so, I say it’s the bookends of coaching, we have an outcome. And at the end of a conversation, you need to say, “So, what is it that came up for you in our conversation? What did you learn? What emerged?” And when they say the insight they got, then you ask, “So, what are you going to do with that? What step will you now take?” to make sure there’s a commitment to action, to make sure there’s progress. And, “When are you going to do it? And is there any support you need?”

So, the bookends are far more structured, “Where are we going? What did you learn? What are you going to do with that?” But then in the middle, it’s a more spontaneous interaction where, again, I use a lot of summarizing. I start with, “So, you’re telling me this. Is that true? Did I get it right? So, you’re telling me…” And I don’t say, “I heard you say…” because it’s not about I don’t want them to agree with me. I want them to look at their story, “So, you’re telling me this,” or, “Can I see if I understand how you described the situation?”

A lot of times, again, I bottom line it, “So, you said you want to create this, and here are the three things that are getting in your way. Is that what you told me? Which one do you want to work on first?” So, again, I’m just trying to drill down to the essence of what they want and what they think is getting in the way. This is really critical, especially times like right now where everything is a mess in our heads even more so than outside, to help people sort through the fog so they can see clearly what they want and why they think they can’t get it. And maybe some of that is true but, oftentimes, some of it is not. They’re just making it up because it’s based in fear.

So, just laying it out, summarizing, paraphrasing, bottom-lining the distinctions, like I said, “Are you tired physically or are you tired of the work you’re doing? Or is it that you want to find more energy in the job you’re doing right now, or you want to find the energy to get a new job? What is it exactly that you want when you say tired?” So, I’m just trying to help them sort through their words that they use because we don’t do this on our own.

So, I’m having you become…turn on your observer mind to observe your stories. Or, as the educational reformer John Dewey said we get people to climb a tree in their mind, and look down on their thinking so they can objectively observe their stories, and see the gaps in their logic and the inherited beliefs they’ve been saying forever that, if you say it back to them, they’re like, “Huh, I wonder where that came from?” or the assumptions about the future that they have no idea if this is true or not.

And so, it’s really just, I receive what you say and what you express with no judgment, and I give it back to you to look at, and then I’ll ask you questions to help you sort through what is true, what is not true, what is real for you. And then I ask you, “What did you get out of that? And what are you going to do with it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Marcia Reynolds
And so, I don’t do like Michael, like, “Here’s the seven questions you should ask.” I think that’s okay but if you’re sitting there trying to remember questions, you’re not present with the person you’re with. I think my thing is they want you to be present more than they need you to be perfect, so they don’t need you to ask the perfect question. They just need to know that you see them, you hear them, you value them, and you’re going to help them think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. So, then can we hear more about what not to do? So, we say…your subtitle is “Coach the Person, Not the Problem.” So, what does “coaching the problem” look like? One is giving advice, or, “Have you tried this?” What are other ways that we may inadvertently go down the wrong path?

Marcia Reynolds
Well, coaching the problem is the external problem, not the person. And so, there’s tons of problem-solving techniques out there, the five whys, “Why? Why? Why?” or SWOT analysis, where we look at, “So, what have you tried? What do you think you’ll do? What are the consequences? What are the risks? What are the rewards?” That’s all fine but they could probably do that without you if they just took the time to do it, so that’s the external.

Or, somebody said to me the other day, “Oh, yeah, I had a leader once tell me to look at what it is that I want to stop doing, continue doing, or do more of.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s good advice, but that’s still outside of you. Why are you doing what you’re doing in the first place? What’s the value? Each thing you choose to do, are you not doing it because you don’t like it or you’re afraid to do it? What stopped you in the first place?” So, again, I want to help you think through your choices not tell you to go make choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so could you maybe bring this all together by maybe a demonstration? Like, here and now, if you would like to reflectively inquire with me, let’s see how it goes.

Marcia Reynolds
Well, do you have a situation that you’d like to explore a little bit?

Pete Mockaitis
I think I am less energized, fired up, than I have been historically. And I guess I think I remember, not that I relish these days, but there were days in which I could crank out 13 hours of work in a day and just feel like unstoppably like The Terminator or something. And now I’m just like, “Whew! Half of that is challenging.” And so, yeah, that’s kind of on my mind, it’s like, “Hmm, what’s going on here?”

Marcia Reynolds
So, what I’m hearing, I heard a couple things. One is that it seems to be situational, it’s new for you to not have the store of energy that you had before. And I’m wondering if it’s just like are you worried about it? Or is just like, “Oh, I have to do something and I don’t know what to do”?

Pete Mockaitis
Am I worried about the lack of energy? I guess I just want it. It’s like, “Huh, am I…?” It’s like I guess I fear, “Uh-oh, am I on a trajectory in which I just sort of get old and lethargic and get sleepy all the time, and this is the beginning of that?” I guess that’s my fear in terms of, “What’s going on here? And what do I do about it?”

Marcia Reynolds
Okay. Isn’t that interesting how we do that though? We’re going to, “Oh, I’ve got this forever now and it’s not going to go away.” So, that’s an interesting belief that probably makes you even more tired.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, maybe, yeah.

Marcia Reynolds
So, when you say that though, Pete, I’m going to go back to what I asked before. Is this a sense of just physical tired that you just don’t have the energy for what you’re doing? Or is it because the routine has changed and it’s not as inspiring as it was before?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think it’s physical tired in terms of sometimes it can happen in the morning, in terms of, “Hey, seven hours of sleep and yet not feeling as zesty.” And, I mean, I’m excited to have this conversation, I was looking forward to it, and so, that’s still there. Yeah.

Marcia Reynolds
Okay. So, you said feeling zesty in the morning. So, is this about how the energy you wake up with or the energy at the end of the day? Or all day?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s both in terms of I would like to have more energy left when the kids are asleep to have quality time with my wife and such, but it seems like, “Oh, man, just doing these dishes seems hard before I can fall asleep.” So, yeah, I guess it’s on both sides.

Marcia Reynolds
Hmm, all right. So, it’s an all-day thing. Okay. So, what you would like, what I heard you say, is you would like to not only have more energy at the end of the day, but you want to wake up with more energy. You know, I’m just wondering, is it when you say wake up with more energy, is it the energy to hop out of bed, or just to feel more excited about your day?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s a bit of both but I think more about the hopping out of bed. It’s like I don’t wake up and go, “Ugh, I dread what I have to do today.” I don’t feel that.

Marcia Reynolds
Okay. So, it’s a physical energy. Okay. So, what’s changed for you that would create this?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we got the whole coronavirus business, for one. We’ve got…yeah, and so with that I guess we would sort of don’t have as much support in terms of the nanny’s not coming by, so that’s different. I guess the diet has changed in terms of more packaged foods. So, yeah, those leap to mind there.

Marcia Reynolds
All right. So, you named a couple of things. Diet has changed. You said the coronavirus thing. So, what does that mean? Is it because of the worries around that or just that it changed your schedule?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it changed our schedule and we have less sort of concrete support in terms of like the nanny doesn’t come anymore. And so, yeah, I think worries were a part of it, and I’ve kind of just conscientiously decided, “All right, we’re just going to dramatically reduce the news intake,” and that was helpful.

Marcia Reynolds
Okay. Well, I want to point out, well, you started by saying you were worried, like, “Oh, is this the downhill road now in terms of age?” But then you named all the things that we’re dealing with right now, there’s situation, all that. Hopefully, at least in a year from now, we don’t be looking at life this way. Maybe it might take two years but it’s situational. So, now that you’re saying all this, do you think this is just a situational problem? Or do you really think that there’s a degradation physically?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it may very well be. It’s interesting when you said, “Maybe two years.” It’s like I was feeling riled up, like, “I’m not going to live like this for two years.” Like this in terms of low energy. I mean, I guess I might be able to comply with safe practices.

Marcia Reynolds
Okay. But I want to point that out, that’s great, “I’m not going to do this for two years.” You had a reaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh.

Marcia Reynolds
So, if there was this, “Okay, this is going to go on longer,” what would you change right now to give yourself more energy?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny. I’ve sort of thought along those lines a bit. Well, you know, I guess more just sort of basic, like fruits and vegetables would be swell. I’ve made some headway in hydration because I kind of sort of forgot a little bit about that.

Yeah, it’s interesting. I think it’s like I’m kind of capable of generating a bunch of things here. And I don’t know, maybe that’s the answer, it’s like, “Hey, Pete, it’s not one thing. It’s a dozen things.” Most of the time I find that one or two things is way more leveraged than a lot of things.

Marcia Reynolds
Yeah, okay. So, what I hear is that you know what it is that you need to do, you just haven’t sat down and said, “This is what I need to do,” and done it. So, what’s going on, Pete, that you are not doing the things you need to do?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh. Well, in a way, it’s sort of a vicious cycle of tired, it’s just like, “Oh, that seems like a lot of work.”

Marcia Reynolds
That’s a great excuse.

Pete Mockaitis
Then you don’t do it, and then you’re tired because you didn’t do it, so I think that’s in the mix a bit. Yeah, I don’t know. Nothing else is leaping to mind. I guess sometimes it’s just sort of boring, you know, like eating a salad, or drinking water, and putting my time and attention and thought to those matters is way less interesting than preparing for this conversation we’re having, Marcia. Or exploring this really cool opportunity that just landed in my inbox, “Hey, Pete, why don’t we do a course where we…?” “Ooh, that’s interesting.” So, yeah, that’s part of it. It’s just kind of boring, mundane, not as interesting as all the other things I’d like to think about.

Marcia Reynolds
Okay. So, that’s the belief that you have around it, that hydration and eating salads is boring.

Pete Mockaitis
I suppose I do, yeah.

Marcia Reynolds
Yeah, I’m wondering if there’s a way of making your salads interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there are these zesty tortilla strips which I love. I have run out of them. I have been out of zesty tortilla strips for a while.

Marcia Reynolds
Well, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
And those are fun.

Marcia Reynolds
Well, how important is it to you, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you calibrate me? Is there a scale? I’d say pretty important. I mean, I won’t die if I don’t do it but it’d be pretty lame to subsist like this for years.

Marcia Reynolds
Well, so I want to go back to, again, your first thing was you were worried that, “Well, what if this is it, that I’m just losing my energy because that’s the way it goes biologically?” to you’ve told me that, “Well, there’s just some things that I know that will help but I don’t want to do them.” So, what does that mean to you?

Pete Mockaitis
What does it mean to me? Well, on the one hand, it’s hopeful. Like, “Okay, cool. I’m not doomed.” On the other hand, I know shameful is the word, but it’s like, “Come on, man. What’s the deal?”

Marcia Reynolds
You know, it’s just changing habits, you know that. It’s not about torture. It’s just changing the habits of what you’re doing right now. You said, too, that’s part of what’s happened, is because of everything that’s going on. You’re eating more packaged food than normal. So, again, it’s changed your habits in a non-positive way. But since you’re aware of that, and you know what it is you need to do, what would you be willing to do just to test out if it would give you more energy?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, yeah, we can get a good salad situation going here. I’ve got my giant salad container which I’ve used many times for a bulk salad prep in advance, which had been a nice habit that I kind of fell out of. So, yeah, that’s one thing I’m happy to do.

Marcia Reynolds
Okay. So, when are you going to do that?

Pete Mockaitis
I will order the food items today.

Marcia Reynolds
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, there we have it. Thank you. You did not say, “Well, Pete, what you got to do is there’s this amazing energy drink. It’ll solve all the problems.” “I mean, hey, a lot of people, with the coronavirus, have been forgetting about the exercise, and so you need to do that.” So, that’s what you didn’t do, and we heard what you did do. Do you have any additional comments on the exchange we just had?

Marcia Reynolds
Yeah. I mean, of course, there were things I wanted to tell you. I just had my salad right before our conversation. I exercise every day. I’m probably about twice your age. And I’ve found the things that I enjoy. But it doesn’t matter what I do. It’s what you do and what you want to do. And is there anything that you can create that would be acceptable that you’d stick to?

And so, I intentionally avoid telling you what I’d do. But that’s what most people do. They go into their own stories, and say, “Here, Pete. Here’s what works for me.” That’s okay if that’s what you want, but most of the time we don’t want that. It’s like, “Pete, you’re a smart guy. You know what it is you need to do. What’s stopping you from doing this? What’s gotten in the way right now? What has changed and what’s the rut that you have put yourself in that’s keeping you from doing some things that you know would be useful? That’s what I want to know. And I think, because that’s what I want you to know. Because as soon as you see that, you’ll know what to do.” So, that’s what coaching is about. So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. Well, so now, I’d love to get your view. So, hey, if folks want more of this, well, one, we could hire a coach. But, alternative to that, how would you recommend that we kind of ask for and get more of this good stuff in our conversational life?

Marcia Reynolds
Well, short of hiring a coach, and you know there’s plenty of coaches out there that need to get their hours for their certification, so you can certainly find coaches that maybe haven’t been coaching for years but are working toward mastery. But you heard these skills are not hard. And we have coaching buddies when we go through coaching school. I think that if you could just get a good friend that you trust that’s not going to sit there and try to fix you, but that would want to learn how to do this, that you can be a coaching buddy for each other and practice the skills.

Short of the book, if you look on my website, I have all kinds of lists and videos of how to do this in an easy way. I’m creating a little video series of like two-, three-minute videos on these skills that you can practice no matter who you are. So, I just think, get somebody who’s interested in learning how to do it, and practice with each other.

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

Marcia Reynolds
Just to recognize that there’s great value in helping people think instead of just giving them good ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Marcia Reynolds
That they’d rather you be with them and listen to them than to tell them what to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Marcia Reynolds
There’s a quote right on my wall over here that says, “When I operate in the service of my vision, it no longer as important that which I’m afraid.” And so, if we have a vision, if we have a picture of where we’re going in life, and just keep moving to that, then, yeah, fear is going to be there but we move forward anyway.

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

Marcia Reynolds
There’s a lot of research out there in terms of the value of coaching, but there’s one that I always go back to that says your greatest coaching fears. And we’re always afraid that if we don’t give advice to people, that we’re not valuable. And that’s just not true. So, this guy did a study on the many coaching fears we have. And that was it, it’s that we think either we’re not valuable or we’re going to hurt somebody by coaching. And my mentor coach always said, “Nobody ever died from coaching.” So, I really like looking at, “What are the fears and how much of them are true and not true?” like in anything. Most of the time our fears are not true.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Marcia Reynolds
I do like Michael’s book, Michael Bungay Stanier, “The Coaching Habit.” I like the way it’s laid out, and that it’s simple, and it’s very useful for leaders to really think through, “What is it that I’m doing in this moment that’s really helping someone to think forward?”

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

Marcia Reynolds
You know, a lot of what I’m talking about comes from, I mentioned John Dewey. He’s an educational reformer. But he wrote a book in 1910 called “How We Think.” And he really laid out coaching. To me, he was the father of coaching. And he said, he was trying to get teachers to get students to think more broadly for themselves, and he was the one that coined the term reflective inquiry. And I would say that’s the tool that I use, that it’s not just about the questions we ask, but the reflections we use. And so, his use of reflection, of summarizing, paraphrasing, encapsulating, bottom-lining, those are my favorite tools.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite habit?

Marcia Reynolds
Habit. I wake up like 3:30 a.m. every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And when do you go to bed?

Marcia Reynolds
I go to bed at 8:30 p.m., but I love waking up early and getting work done, and talking to my clients in Asia and Europe very early in the morning. But I grew up…I was born in Arizona, and I still live here. And so, it’s just hot. If you don’t go out very early, it’s just too hot. So, that habit was created when I was a child.

Pete Mockaitis
And you say you’ve been quoting yourself a lot. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and get quoted back to you?

Marcia Reynolds
“Mastery is the deepening of presence not the perfection of skills.”

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

Marcia Reynolds
Well, my website is Covisioning.com, and I’m just Marcia@covisioning.com. I’m always online like everybody and answering questions. I’m on LinkedIn and everywhere else you can find me. So, happy to connect and answer the questions you have.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Marcia, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best in your reflective inquiring and adventures in Arizona and around the world.

Marcia Reynolds
Thank you.

574: How to Navigate Overwhelming Data and Choices to Make Optimal Decisions with Vikram Mansharamani

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Harvard lecturer Vikram Mansharamani discusses how to break free from blind thinking and make more impactful decisions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The danger of deferring to experts and technology 
  2. Two critical steps for smarter decision-making
  3. How to better predict the future with “prospective hindsight” 

About Vikram

Financial Bubbles Before They Burst and his latest, THINK FOR YOURSELF: Restoring Common Sense in an Age of Experts and Artificial Intelligence. He is a frequent commentator on issues driving disruption in the global business environment, and his ideas and writings have appeared in Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, Worth, and many other publications. LinkedIn listed him as the #1 Top Voice for Money, Finance, and Economics for both 2015 and 2016, and Worth magazine profiled him as one of the 100 most powerful people in global finance in 2017. In addition to teaching and writing, Mansharamani also advises several Fortune 500 CEOs on how to navigate uncertainty in today’s dynamic global business and regulatory environment. He holds a PhD and two master’s degrees from MIT as well as a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Vikram Mansharamani Interview Transcript

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

Vikram Mansharamani
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. We’re talking decision making. And I understand you’ve got a lot of decision making in a place many people say there’s no hope for good decisions, and that’s Las Vegas, and there are more than 50 times. What’s the story?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, that’s a fascinating place to start here, Pete. I mean, Vegas is one of my real soft spots in life. I love everything about that city. I love the gaming. I love the restaurants. I love the pools. I love the hotels. I love the shows. I love the spas. The whole experience is just fabulous. The story as to why I went there so frequently is it was actually the topic of my dissertation.

So, I studied the gaming industry for my doctoral work at MIT. And I did that for various reasons, but the biggest reason was I was about to quit the PhD program at MIT that I was enrolled, and one of my professors and advisor, who I really trusted, who had become a mentor, said, “Vikram, that’s a really bad idea. You should get this done. What are you excited about? What do you enjoy? What wouldn’t feel like work to you?”

And I think I’d just gotten back from a trip to Las Vegas, perhaps with some college buddies, and I said, “You know what’s really fun? Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas.” And he said, “Why don’t you study the gaming industry?” And then there you go. So, it was research that took me to Vegas many of those times, but not all.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, I’m curious, in your gaming, are you up, are you down?

Vikram Mansharamani
I’m pretty sure I’m down but I think most people that do any amount of gaming end up down, but for me it’s the cost of entertainment. Look, there’s different ways to spend money to be entertained, and if I can do it socially sitting at a craps table with a bunch of friends and folks that I know, and have a nice time, and people give you some adult beverages while you’re there, that’s really the cost of entertainment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, now I want to dig into your wisdom, and your latest is called Think for Yourself I want to hear, what’s one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made about us humans and how we go about decision-making?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, there’s a lot of surprises there but the fundamental truth is I think we tend not be rational in this strict model optimizing sense that some traditional economists think we are. And what does that mean? That means that we sometimes make decisions, as I’m sure you’re aware of through behavioral finance and behavioral economics thinking, based on emotions, or fairness, or some of these things that might not make sense from a strict economic perspective.

So, I think just the sort of seeming irrationality of the human being in decision-making context is in of itself kind of surprising where people do things that might not be in their obvious self-interest. And so, yeah, I think that’s probably one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m so intrigued by your title there Think for Yourself because I think a lot of people would say, “Hey, I think for myself, Vikram. Come on, buddy.” So, when we’re not thinking for ourselves, what are we doing?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, let me use a couple of examples, Pete. I think this will actually make it tangible, real, and I think the audience will appreciate this. Let’s say you get up in the morning, you’re getting into your car, you’re heading to a destination east of your current location. It happened to have snowed last night, the schools are closed, but since you’re not 100% sure where you’re heading, you put it into your GPS device or your Nav system in your car.

Now, the algorithm turns around and tells you, “Uh-oh, you’re going east to this location, but there’s an elementary school and it’s currently 8:30 in the morning. Yeah, we’re going to send you north to go around and then come down to the east.” Now, you pause and you think to yourself, “Huh, it’s probably because of the school there.” But the reason it’s suggesting to go around the school is because of the traffic at this time of the morning. You’ve done this before. You know that your system does that. You also know that the school is closed because of the bad weather on a snow day. Do you follow the device or not? There’s a simple question. I’ll give you one other example which may feel like it’s higher stakes.

You go to your cardiologist. Your cardiologist tells you, “You know what, Pete, I’m sensing a little bit of cholesterol levels creeping up on you here.” She happens to be younger than you, and she says, “You know what, I had the same problem. I’m starting to take this statin. I think you should take this statin. By the way, every other cardiologist here in the hospital complex, they’re taking a statin. My medical school peers, they’re all taking statins and I think you should take a statin.” Do you push back or do you take the statin?

And so, these are examples where we may not realize it but we’re not thinking for ourselves. We’re outsourcing our thinking to experts and technologies. And that may not always be bad but it’s something I think we should do mindfully rather than passively and sort of as a default setting.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, well, it’s funny, we’re talking about health issues, and as we speak, I am engaging the daunting process of shopping for health insurance since my wife is shifting to full-time mothering, and I am shifting onto adopting a tremendous financial burden in the United States. Wow!

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re right. It’s like experts say stuff and it’s just like, “Well, geez, I don’t know. This seems like there’s a lot of complexity and it’s intricate and hard to get to the bottom and become super-knowledgeable about all my options. Well, hey, this is golden. It’s Blue Cross and it’s PPO and you all say it’s good. I guess that’s what I’m going to get.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, think about that, and what you’re getting at, which is actually how I start off most of my book here, is we are facing an environment of overwhelming data. And with overwhelming data, comes overwhelming choice. All of us have become conditioned to believe that more choice is better, that more choice lets us find the exact, optimal, perfect combination of features that was what we need. And the reality is we get overwhelmed by that choice.

We are sort of given this illusive ideal of perfection, and it’s never really achievable, leaving us with this low-grade fever of something we call FOMO. We’re missing out on that perfect choice, “There should be a perfect choice.” And so, what do we do? We run headlong into the arms of experts and technologies that promise us salvation from this anxiety of being overwhelmed by choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, that sounds like a fair synopsis of where we are right now. I buy it.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, even just think about your medical insurance dilemma, right? I’m sure there’s an online choice aid that exists that says, “Well, how many dependents do you have? Do you think you want high deductible or low deductible? Do you like your doctor? Do you want to be in a network? Do you need referrals? Do you not want referrals? Do you just want to be able to go anywhere in a network?” All of these things create these permutations and combinations which overwhelm us. In fact, you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t overwhelmed, which is why we then go to people who promise us the hope. And, in the process, we actually stop thinking for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in a way, that’s a bit of a pejorative context or phrase in terms of, “Hey, you’re not thinking for yourself.” It seems like something, at least the way I interpret it, the emotional valence I’m sticking on it, is that to think for one’s self is a good and noble worthy thing. And to not think for one’s self is something that foolish sheep do, and they need to step up.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, I’m going to get a little meta on you here. So, thinking for yourself, you may, in fact, think for yourself while outsourcing your thinking. But if you do it proactively, mindfully, then it’s okay, then you are, in fact, thinking for yourself when you’re letting someone else think for you if you proactively make that choice. It’s the default condition without thinking about how you’re making your choices that I have issues with. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t rely on experts or technologies. In fact, I’m suggesting the opposite. We should rely on experts and technologies but we should do so mindfully. We should keep them in their role where we are the lead actor. They can be supporting actors. And so, that’s really the objective.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you gave us a couple of examples which make it real with regard to the GPS and the doctors. And so, where are some danger zones, specifically for professionals and career people, that it’s like, “Hey, timeout. You may not be thinking for yourself about these sorts of things, and you could be falling for these kinds of traps. Warning! Think about this.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Well, one area, I think, for career-oriented folks who are thinking about doing well in their jobs, climbing the corporate ladder, etc., advancing, is that we’ve developed this core belief system, I think, that expertise, core competence, unique skills, if you will, put capitals on all of those words, are the ultimate destination and the keys to rising in one’s career advancing as well as increasing your income.

And I want to suggest for a moment that actually breadth of perspective may be equal, if not more important than depth of expertise. And part of this has to do with the siloization that’s occurred of knowledge and how people make decisions. We tend to think of the world as broken down in domains. There’s a heart doctor, cardiologists, “Okay, I got to go see someone different for a different part of my body.” But the system is a whole.

And so, what I’m suggesting is rather than hang our hat on developing unique skills and depth of knowledge, I want to suggest that you can actually benefit from being broad, being an integrator of disparate ideas, being a generalist, if you will.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Well, we had David Epstein on the show, and that was one of his key messages there.

Vikram Mansharamani
David is a good friend.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think I buy it. So, how do you suppose we fall for the default assumption that specialization is where it’s at?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, it has to do with the overwhelming amount of data, information, and complexity in our world, or how complicated it’s become. And so, the way most organizations deal with this is they silo people into working on parts of a problem. That’s how we try to do this. And so, as a result, we outsource our career trajectories often to the organizations within which we work. And a little pushback on that would be healthy.

And what it also means is reconceiving the concept of a career trajectory away from rising through a corporate ladder, perhaps thinking about it differently. Maybe it’s a corporate jungle gym and the best way to get to the top is not by going up on every step but by going laterally down to the left, to the right, down three steps, over, up. There may be a different way to get to the top.

Now, what does that practically mean? I mean, it’s a fun analogy to talk about a corporate jungle gym. But it may mean, all right, if you’re rising through the finance function of an organization, maybe it makes sense to stop and do a tour of duty in the marketing department. Possibly, take a demotion rather than a promotion and go into operations. Go run a factory. Possibly, come back and go involve with technologies or call centers or what have you. Develop a portfolio of skills through multi-functional, multi-geographic experiences that could possibly have you leapfrog the trajectories of those who stay within a silo. I guess that’s really what I’m getting at.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ll tell you, in terms of a universal skill, which we’re all about here, that is handy across each of these functional and industry domains is just this, some of that decision-making smart thinking for yourself skills. So, I’d love to get your take then on some of the top do’s and don’ts in terms of, “Okay, if I have decided that I’m going to go about making some decisions, and I’m going to have the experts on tap, not on top…” one of your turns of phrase which I like, “…I’m going to receive input from them but I’m not going to let them just blindly call the shots,” how do you recommend we go out doing research, generating options, selecting the best option for us?

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Well, one of the things that I think is absolutely critical, Pete, is people should spend more time paying attention to the context. Far too often, we focus on what’s in front of us and where we’ve shone the spotlight and not on the related contextually developments that may impact even our decision choices, even the possible selections we can make. So, I think paying attention to the context matters.

Now, again, that sounds very abstract. Let’s make it real. Let’s say you’re in the world of retailing. Do you pay attention to US-China relations? “Maybe. It seems kind of like general knowledge. Is it going to impact me? Is it not going to impact me? I don’t know. I’m in a retail sector. I’m local.” If you’re paying attention to political developments. Obviously, we know there’s an election in the United States, but do we know what’s happening in the political dynamics of our largest trading partners or what have you? Maybe that’s going to potentially come home to impact us. So, advice piece number one is pay attention to context.

Number two, I always encourage people making tough decisions to make sure you get some disagreement in the advice you get. Don’t go out and seek the same advice that you know is confirming your already pre-existing inclinations. Seek disagreement. That’s something that far too few people do this.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s a great perspective but, boy, it’s a frustrating one. I’m thinking back to I had to get a new roof for my home, and I don’t know about roofing, but I had a heck of a hard time just getting anyone to show up and do something it seems in the realm of home renovation. So, I thought, “Well, I better just call 20 roofers so that I can get three quotes.” But I got like nine to show up and weigh in on the matter.

And then it was, huh, boy, it was complex and overwhelming because it’s sort of like, okay, well, this guy costs twice as much as that guy. But why? Is he doing more? Is he better? Is it higher quality? This person says I absolutely have to have it torn off and redone, and that one says, “No, no, no, you don’t need to do that. You can just put another layer.” And this one says, “You don’t even need a layer.” I can just get a sealing and a coating.

And so, it’s like, “Why am I, the person who does not know about roofing, charged with the task of determining who is correct and who is incorrect?” I found myself some disagreement and, I mean, it was tough to sort to the bottom of it.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, let me ask you this. Do you feel you were more informed about roofing now that you did that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m vastly informed about roofing, and I wish I weren’t.

Vikram Mansharamani
Far more than you want to be. Exactly. Well, so then the question becomes, “Do you think you could make a better decision having had those conversations or not?”

Pete Mockaitis
You mean going forward or looking backward?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. So, ultimately, before you replaced your roof, you presumably had to make a choice, and you, I think, made an informed choice. It might’ve had some costs with developing the options, and seeking the disagreement, and getting a lay of the land, but that mere process, I think, informed you on an area that you would’ve otherwise made a decision blindly in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it did inform me, and I suppose what I’m really getting at is once I’ve gotten some disagreements, how do I make a call?

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Sure. Well, that’s ultimately where you need to think for yourself, right? What are the variables that matter to you? Do you want a 40-year life roof or do you care if it’s a 20-year life roof? Do you want to have the guarantee in case there’s a leak and a hurricane comes through, or do you not worry about the guarantee because you think you may sell the house the next year? So, I think there’s some tradeoffs that one needs to think about themselves.

But part of the reason I encourage the disagreement is there’s a quote, a very famous quote, that Alfred Sloan used it says, “If we’re all in agreement on this decision, then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.” Disagreement helps to understand. So, that’s part of the reason I focus on generating a little bit of disagreement.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s certainly true. That helps generate understanding and, partially, just because it’s psychologically, internally, there’s this tension. It’s like, “Well, what’s right? Aargh.” Because I’m sort of frustrated, I really want to hunker down and get deep into the wisdom because there’s this tension I want resolved and what’s correct.

So, what are some of your pro tips in terms of, I guess, one, you’re getting clear on what you want in your own criteria in rubrics there? But, I guess, part of what I figured out was I had to sort of make some rules of thumb for, “Who am I going to believe and who am I not, and why?” And part of it was I am more inclined to believe people who tell me something that works against their self-interest, where like, “Hey, I can’t do anything for you right now because you got to take care of that masonry first.” It’s like, “So, you’re just going to walk away from the money I want to give you.” I’m inclined to think that that’s a true thing he said about the masonry because it goes against his self-interest.

Or if someone gives me a why, a reason, because underneath what they’re saying, then I’d buy it more than the guy who did not. Like, “You’re going to have to tear off this roof because you can tell from this thickness right here that there’s already three layers, which is already more than the building code allows for. And if you observe this, you’ll see some sagging in the rafters,” versus the guy who’s like, “Nah, we can just put another layer on it.” It’s like, “You didn’t tell me why we could put another layer on it. Like, you didn’t say, ‘Hey, I can tell from this thickness that we have.’” He just said, “Nah.”

So, if you give me a reason versus not a reason, I want to go with the person who gave me a reason. So, those are just a couple of the rubrics I ended up inventing on the spot to make sense of my roof. But what else would you point us to in terms of sorting things out?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, I mean, look, ultimately, we need to think about just satisficing, if you will. Pete, we’ve so often, because of these overwhelming sets of options and the overwhelming data deluge that we’re suffering, we think there’s an ideal so we never settle on “good enough.” I mean, I can imagine, and I don’t know you that well, but you might’ve been a person who got so analytical you could imagine a spreadsheet on which roofing contractor to hire.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s absolutely multiples.

Vikram Mansharamani
Right? At some point, we just need to decide. You can overanalyze these things. And so, when I tell people to focus on decision-making, I say, “Look, you can satisfice, that’s from Herb Simon, a Nobel prize winner, who suggested that actually maximization logic or optimization logic sometimes can mislead us, just the pursuit of it even, into expending more costs on trying to optimize than we get value from the incremental optimization.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, agreed. Time, I mean.

Vikram Mansharamani
So, I’ll give you an example from the book, which is a fun personal example, and it has to do with selecting a movie to watch. Every now and then, when the kids, my kids are asleep, my wife and I will jump on the couch and try to get a movie and just watch a movie in the comfort of our home, more so these days since we don’t go out during this lockdown. But, inevitably, what happens is one of us gets to the couch first and sees a preview or two, and then the second one arrives, and I got to be on the same informational footing, “I got to see the same previews you watched. There’s no way I’m making a choice without you…you have an informational edge here. I need to get involved here.”

And so, we’ll watch a couple. Both of us are in different moods, possibly realizing that, “My goodness, Xfinity has 10,000 movies available, we got the Apple TV, which has another 50,000, we got Netflix which can give it to us all of those 100,000 movies in seven different languages, and we got to be able to find the perfect movie.”

And so, an example I use in the book is my wife, eventually, is like, “Fine. It sounds like you really want to watch it. Let’s just watch that movie.” Except it’s taken us an hour to choose the movie. I fall asleep halfway through the movie, go to sleep, and she turns around and says, “I chose this movie because you wanted to watch this movie.” She’s upset. I fell asleep. I go to sleep. She then wakes up next morning. She watched half of the movie she didn’t want to watch, and half of the movie she did want to watch, and is frustrated by the whole evening.

That’s what happens with too much choice and not satisficing, and we’re all subject to it. Sometimes it’s fine to just make a choice. There’ll be more choices in the future. No reason to stress out about things. Some things shouldn’t be stressed about.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny that you and I are having this conversation. My company is called Optimality, LLC. That is my business name. I love things being optimal. And I think I’m the weird one compared to my friends and family in terms of others are more fine with satisficing. But I think that’s really a great point in terms of, again, thinking for yourself, in terms of, “What are we looking to do here? Do we need to optimize the crap out of this?” And some things you really do. It’s like, “This will make a tremendous impact if it’s 2% better, so we’re going to get there.”

And other things it doesn’t in terms of if you found the best possible movie ever that was, from thence forth, all of your favorite movies, one, that’s highly improbable, wildly occur, because how can you top Life is Beautiful. Wow! What a film. But the payoff isn’t that extraordinarily huge and the quest could take forever. So, I think that’s really great point right there. It’s just we got to decide, “What do we got to do here? Do I get a perfect optimization, a rough optimization, or just a quick good enough?”

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, and I think it has to do obviously with the stakes. When the stakes are low, our default is we tend not in our decision processes to factor in the stakes of the outcome. This is a trivial thing. We’re watching a movie. Why stress about optimizing? Just go with one. It’s good. We’ll have another choice next week. We’ll have lots. This is a repeated choice and the stakes are so low. So, yeah, I think incorporating how big a decision and how high the stakes are should come into that decision of optimize versus satisfice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, it’s so funny, as we talk about it, it’s like, “Well, boy, if you really want to optimize the bejesus out of movies selection, you just got to go to IMDB or Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, go top to bottom.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, Pete, you’re hinting at a great point where we outsource our thinking. How many of us go to the recommended, “People who watched this movie will also enjoy this movie”? And don’t we just naturally go there and explore those? When you’ve purchased a book online from your favorite large retailer, do you go down and say, “Well, people who bought this also bought this. You may also enjoy this”? Or do you get an email from someone? Are they channeling our focus in a way that prevents us from scanning? And so, we end up becoming exploiters, i.e. narrow and deep, rather than explorers, wide and broad. So, I think we’re outsourcing some of our thinking even unknowingly in times like those.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think it’s interesting, if you think about just that notion of exploiting versus exploring, you would probably have a very different approach and mindset toward exploring if it wasn’t in the heat of battle, if you will, like, “We’re going to pick a movie to watch now” versus, “Why don’t I just get a list of candidates ready for the future moment in which we’re going to watch a movie.” You’ll probably be a little bit more open-ended in terms of, “Huh, what’s that about?”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, it’s interesting. I mean, I think actually some of these large tech companies giving us media have thought about this decision problem, and that’s why I think, I don’t know for a fact, but I think that’s why we have the Wishlist, or the My List, or I think every streaming service has their own one where you put down what your future potential movies to watch are. So, even there I think they’re trying to overcome that problem. So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Vikram, tell me, before we shift gears, any other top do’s and don’ts for wise thinking, decision-making, we should lock in?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. So, one of the things that I think is critical that very few people spend enough time thinking about is the future. Of course, all of us think about the future, singular, but I think we need to think about futures, plural. And thinking about multiple futures is a different way to think. It’s thinking probabilistically of how things can transpire.

And so, that’s a big-picture topic but I think it has to do with the context. As I said earlier, the context is critical to how you make decisions, the environment in which you’re making the decisions, the stakes of the decision you’re making, but also related to that is some version or vision of the future. And I rather you not have one vision of the future or one version of the future, but rather multiple futures that you’re envisioning or foreseeing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I might sort of imagine what’s the future that I’m delighted with, what’s the future that I’m furious about, how do these come about.

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. I mean, look, one of the decision tactics I use in some of my advisory work is I use, from the academic literature, something called prospective hindsight. Now, what does that mean in plain English? In plain English that means it’s called a pre-mortem analysis. What does that mean in real plain English? Imagine failure in the future for a decision you made today, and then paint a story of why that decision failed.

So, you decided to go with one roofer. A hurricane came through and, you know what, you shouldn’t have done the multiple layers because it ripped off. That’s horrible. One possibility of failure in that decision is you went with a choice that optimized for the short term, not thinking about some of these bigger risks.

Alternatively, you failed because you went with the high-price guy who was going to do it perfectly, strip the roof, rebuild the masonry, do it all, and charge you an arm and leg. Well, now, how does that fail? Yeah, the failure there may be that, “Well, I spent too much money. I never really got the value of it,” or what have you, or there’s other versions that you can think about.

And so, you can think in terms of possible regrets for decisions made, trying to project yourself into the future and looking back to say, “Why did that decision go wrong?” And that oftentimes helps for some interesting thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote? You gave us one. Do you have another?

Vikram Mansharamani
I do. Peter Drucker, fabulous management theorist, and it’s related, again, in the domain of decisions, I think it’s the fabulous one, he says, “A decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler’s throw.” I figure I’d bring that in given the Vegas connection too. But, yes, the key is it’s not a choice. It’s not a decision if you only have one alternative you come up with. And this has to do with also that disagreement logic. So, that’s a fun quote.

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

Vikram Mansharamani
There’s a lot of them out there that I find fascinating. Obviously, Kahneman and Thaler. Kahneman and Tversky have done a lot, but Thaler has done a lot in behavioral decision-making, and I find almost all of their work fascinating. Some of their earlier work where they decided to actually go and try these sorts of studies on people.

One of my favorite ones, it’s referenced very slightly, but I think it says so much about us humans, was when they stepped in front of an audience and spun one of those wheels of fortune that resulted in a number, I think, between a zero and a hundred, and then they asked the audience, “What percentage of African nations were members of the United Nations?” And they got a number. They did these many times. Other groups spun the wheel of fortune, got a a random number. Everyone saw it was a random number. And then they asked the question, “What percentage of African nations are members of the United Nations?”

And the numbers that the groups came up with for percentage of African nations that were members of the United Nations were influenced by the random number. And the anchoring effect is so visceral at that point. Like, we know this number is random and yet that’s in our head. We can’t get it out of our head. And we approach the answer to the question closer to that than we otherwise should. I find that fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I saw one where judges, there’s a study with judges, who had an address on the stationery of the document that influenced how much of a monetary award they thought a plaintiff deserved, which was wild. These are judges.

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, you’d think it wouldn’t be that way but, unfortunately, it is. The other study that I’ll just highlight, is Philip Tetlock wrote a book called Expert Political Judgment. And in that book, he talks about experts’ forecasting and the long-range forecasts of many experts. And what he found was experts were less accurate in their area of expertise than non-experts were, vis-à-vis the predictions made over a long term and with lots of predictions. Then I think he had 80,000 predictions over lots of years and lots of forecasters, and sort of came back to the logic that sometimes it’s better to be broad rather than narrow.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Vikram Mansharamani
You know, one of the books that I really do love is The Four Agreements which is a bit of philosophy. It’s a book that’s not quite spiritual in the sense but it’s a sort of Toltec wisdom guide to self-freedom or something like that. I forget the subtitle of it. But, really, it’s a book that forces you to step back and put things in context personally, professionally, etc. I find it a really empowering book. It’s a book that I sometimes leave in my suitcase back when I was traveling more, and would happily pick up and read through and re-read. It’s a book that I think is quite powerful.

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

Vikram Mansharamani
I actually think sometimes just disconnecting from the stuff I’m working on. And if that’s go out for a run or, and I talk about this also as a tool to inspire creativity, literally, just get lost in a movie in the middle of the day. So, sometimes if I’m writing and in a rut, I will go turn on a movie in the middle of the day, watch it, watch half of it. Of course, obviously, I don’t think this is unusual advice, but working out and sort of breaking the rhythm. But those are some of the tools I use to really break up the rhythm.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re really known for, it’s quoted back to you often?

Vikram Mansharamani
I think the phrase that you’ve already quoted that I do like to use and a lot of people associate with me is sometimes keep experts on tap not on top. That’s one of the things there.

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

Vikram Mansharamani
I think my website is probably the best place, which is just my last name dot com, www.Mansharamani.com or my Twitter account which is @mansharamani.

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

Vikram Mansharamani
You know, I think it’s really, really important to try to take a step back and think about these multiple futures. And I know lots of people that are professional and focus on their careers are devout readers of non-fiction. But I want you to take some time to read fiction, to watch movies. I think the creativity that it inspires helps you to think about multiple futures. I teach this class at Harvard called Humanity and Its Challenges. It’s a systems-thinking class taught at the engineering school. And I use novels in this class.

Now, this throws engineering students off because their first inclination is, “Wait. What? That’s not real though, Vikram. That’s not real. That’s fake. That’s a fiction story.” And I was like, “Yes, read it. You’ll understand.” Or watching movies, they’re like, “But that’s not real. We’ll watch a documentary, not a movie.” But the point is some of these narratives of future scenarios can really help you navigate through uncertainty as it comes. It helps you get a lay of the land of what may be in front of you.

Five years ago, when I started teaching this class during the year 2016-2017 academic year, one of the cases, and we’ve used it since then, is the risk of a global pandemic. We had students watch the movie Contagion. We had the students watch other movies for other cases. And they dismissed it back then as Hollywood-esque drama, “This isn’t real. This is fake.”

Today, a handful of those students that gave me that feedback back then, are turning around and saying, “Wow, I’m glad you made us watch some of those things. It gave us a version of how the future could unfold that even though we didn’t fully appreciate at the time, we now do.” So, that’s a little tidbit, sort of think in terms of futures.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Vikram, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best of luck in the ways you’re thinking for yourself.

Vikram Mansharamani
Great. Thanks very much, Pete.

573: How to Leverage Your Time by 6000% through Effective Delegation with Bill Truby

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Bill Truby shares the simple trick to getting better results when delegating tasks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest mistake leaders make when delegating
  2. The most crucial thing you need to delegate
  3. The only four reasons why people fail to follow through

About Bill

Bill brings the background of common-sense learning (being raised on a cattle ranch), a B.A. in Theology, an M.A. in Psychology, the experience of a MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), and nearly 30 years of business practice to the table.

These multiple perspectives and backgrounds synergize to bring amazingly simple, yet powerful tools to leaders and managers – tools that have been proven over and over for nearly four decades.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Bill Truby Interview Transcript

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

Bill Truby
Well, my pleasure, Pete. I’m thankful to be able to talk with you, and I guess it’s been a while since we’ve began to connect, and now we’re really voice to voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am thankful too because I remember I’ve discovered you in my very first batch of guest recruitment. It was in the For Your Improvement book by the Korn Ferry folks. It had a nice bibliography of folks and books and resources associated with each skill I thought I might focus in on. Yours is one. I looked, I liked it, didn’t work out. But four years later, well, here we are. I’m glad that we both stuck with it.

Bill Truby
Well, I embarrassingly apologize, Pete. There was a lot going on in life back then.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. And I didn’t really follow up much. it was like every, I don’t know, year, “Hey, Bill. I still want you.

Bill Truby
Well, I am thankful too. And, yeah, it’s the way things are meant to be, I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve got a lot of fun to get into when it comes to delegation. But I want to hear just a smidge about… you grew up in a cattle ranch in Texas. And my experience with ranches is limited to the Nickelodeon program “Hey Dude” I watched as a child.

Bill Truby
Oh, you poor soul you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell us about this.

Bill Truby
Well, I tell you what, I attribute most of who I am and how I am to my cowboy background. And I didn’t grow up in Texas but I have roots in Texas. If you look at a map of Texas, about two hours north of Abilene, you’ll see a little town called Truby, Texas. And there’s a little book written by the Arizona Historical Society about the Trubys and the Coxes. The Trubys were the cattle ranchers, the Coxes were the sheepherders. And if you know about American history, they were at war, when guns ruled the land.

I mean, it was late 1800s and the Trubys and the Coxes were both bull-headed and they were shooting at each other, and the local sheriff finally rounded up the most offending Trubys and the most offending Coxes and put them in jail. And in those days, you couldn’t convict them till the circuit-riding judge came around, which he finally did.

Well, the judge finally said, because cowboys are loyal, and apparently sheep herders are too, and people were lying for their family of support and their family of choice. So, finally, the judge said, “There’s no getting the truth here. You’re free to shoot it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Bill Truby
Yup. So, everybody left the courthouse. The book talks about it. And Trubys, apparently, were smarter than they looked because they left, and they went to New Mexico, and that’s where my dad was born, and he was raised on a little ranch there and a sod house. And then he moved to northern California where I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Humboldt County. And I end this little story by telling you that the Texas Historical Society allows you to adopt a small town. So, I adopted Truby, Texas. I have a town.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Bill Truby
But, apparently, Trubys weren’t worth much because it only cost me 25 bucks to…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what are your responsibilities if you’ve adopted a town, you’re the father? Like, do you have to pay for things?

Bill Truby
Yeah, I have a certificate. That’s it. That’s it. And there’s 24 people that lived there so they had to split that last dollar, Pete. So, that’s the beginning of my heritage, and a lot of things I learned though, Pete. Hard work. Honesty. Integrity. My word is better than a contract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, let’s hear your good word when it comes to effective delegation. it’s a universal skill. We need some more, great wisdom, on how to do it well. you’re one of the guys. So, your book has a compelling bullet that says “Effective delegation can leverage our time by 6,000%.” That’s quite a figure. It’s kind of specific. Where do we get it?

Bill Truby
Well, that book, first of all, was written long ago. And one of our claims to fame long ago was the ability to teach people how to delegate effectively, and always get follow through, or if you didn’t, you were able to fix it with one or two times, and it’s powerful. So, our co-author at the time, I’ve written some other books, but I did a co-author at the time, and he did some research on some of our folks that used the tool and multiplied their time that they used to take to fix delegations that just didn’t work well, and did the old math. I don’t know how he did it, but it was a pretty impressive number, but I know intuitively, and I know empirically that over 40 years of doing this is it just proves this tool. It works. It always works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I imagine, you know, 6,000%, 60X, I mean, if you’ve got 60 people and you’re delegating well, then that would do it and work out there. So, I want to really dig into a whole lot of the particulars, for what’s the system and how we can utilize it. First off, I think maybe could you frame it up for us? Like, I think we probably all know delegating is handy as opposed to trying to do everything yourself, and yet it seems hard. So, can you share what makes it hard? What’s holding us back? What are some of the mental blocks? Like, why don’t we just do this?

Bill Truby
That is an excellent question, and it’s excellent because it sets the premise. If we don’t delegate, then we have to do it ourselves. The only way that a leader, the only way that a father can leverage his or her effectiveness is by working with people and through people. So, it’s absolutely imperative that we delegate in order to be successful. We are self-limiting by self-doing. If we try to do everything ourselves then we are limited by the capacity that our energy and that our time extends to. That’s it.

So, the only way that you can play a beautiful orchestra is by not playing one instrument but leading and directing the delegation of a variety of instruments who all play the same song.

But your question, “Why don’t we do it?” Well, that’s a multifaceted answer. Some people are just too controlling. They will not let go. Other people are trying to make it perfect and they don’t think anybody else can so it’s a self-esteem issue. There’s a variety of issues, Pete, that cause people to not delegate. But the number one consistent theme that I’ve seen throughout all my years of teaching people to delegate is simply they don’t know how.

They’ll try to duplicate themselves. They’ll try to get people to do things exactly the way they would do it. They try to micromanage. They try to just give them a little, few pieces of information and tell them to go, and they don’t give them all the information. So, our tool has been built to cover every eventuality of delegation, and, thereby, make it successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Exciting. Well, so then you got a lot of reps of experience, a lot of clients and students who’ve picked up on this. Could you share with us maybe an inspiring case study of someone who was having some trouble delegating, but then they saw some really cool things happen on the other side just so we can get a taste and feel some inspiration for it?

Bill Truby
Sure. There’s a man named Mike Solano who owns a $14 million hardware billing supply enterprise. He has a rental center, two billing supplies, two hardware stores, etc.

Now, this man worked six to seven days a week, every day spending eight to ten hours a day. He was overwhelmed because he wanted everything to go well, and he was successful. But he was overwhelmed, tired, weary. He was not going to be able to keep up this pace. Now I want to say something right now, Pete, about delegation, and that is delegation is a tool. What you delegate is also very important because you just don’t delegate tasks. You delegate roles. You delegate departments. You delegate businesses.

So, Mike learned this tool. He used it at the core of all of our other processes and teachings and tools that we use to run a business, and this was the core, and now Mike works two to three days a week if he wants to. His delegation process has empowered people. People have a sense of ownership. People have a sense of accomplishment and achievement and they enjoy going to work doing their role, their job, and reaping their results. And he’s allowed them to feel that kind of ownership.

We teach people, we teach leaders, we teach managers that you need to lead accountable people and not hold people accountable. That’s a core concept that we teach always. If you hold people accountable, you’re the one holding the accountability. If you lead accountable people, then they’re the ones holding the accountability. And that’s a whole other subject.

But Mike’s people have learned to be accountable and he doesn’t have to hold them accountable, and this tool is the core of how this process works.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. Well, so then lay it on us. What is this tool, this process? How do we go do it?

Bill Truby
Well, when your listeners go to the delegation flowchart link and download it, they’re going to see what I’m talking about, but it truly is a flowchart, Pete. It starts at the top with what you do and then it flows down the page, and it teaches you what to do at each stage of the delegation process.

And at the very top, there is the point that you need to delegate. Accountability. Notice you’re delegating accountability. You’re not delegating just a task. You’re delegating accountability and you’re including responsibility and authority. Now that’s an important point. Sometimes people try to delegate by giving people a task to do but they don’t give them the authority that’s associated with the responsibility.

And here’s one of the first points. Sometimes the person doesn’t have literal authority. For example, there’s a safety officer in a big company. The safety officer doesn’t hire and fire, but the safety officer is charged with going through the facility and making sure people are doing safe practices and following safe protocols.

So, what happens if Mr. and Mrs. Safety Person says to John or Jane Doe manager, “Hey, you need to stop doing that”? If safety officer doesn’t have authority, that person doesn’t have any teeth in their words. So, how do you give the safety officer authority? You give it to him or her as vicarious authority, no different than air traffic control.

I’m sure you’ve flown a whole lot, Pete. When I listened to the pilots, air traffic control says, “United 73, descend and maintain 10,000.” I have never once heard a pilot say, “You’re not my boss.” And, obviously, they follow the instructions of air traffic control because of two reasons. One, there’s benefit. They’re not going to run into another plane. And, number two, FAA and the United Airline, or Delta Airlines, or whatever company you’re looking at, have given the air traffic controller vicarious authority to give orders to the pilots.

So, what that looks like is John or Jane Doe’s CEO says to the company, “People, Martha or John, this is my safety officer. When he or she is asking you to do something, it’s as if I’m asking you to do it.” So, that’s the first mindset that needs to be delivered in the context of delegation. We’re delegating responsibility and authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, responsibility, authority, accountability, and so it’s sort of like the whole enchilada. It’s like, “You own it. It’s yours.” And that’s really handy in terms of there’s not a lot of excuses that emerge in that, that’s like, “Well, I just did this because that was what was on the process sheet I was supposed to follow,” as opposed to, “Well, no, you own this sort of domain so, yeah, you’re going to follow the process but you’re also going to kind of exercise some judgment to do what clearly needs to be done to make it work out well.”

Bill Truby
You’re right, Pete. And that’s a very insightful way of putting it. The person who it’s been delegated to feels ownership of that enchilada. But the most important point is that other people know that he or she has that enchilada. If they don’t know, then that person is limited in their ability to carry out the task or the project. So, that’s the first mindset.

Many things that we teach, Pete, have to do with mind shifts. It’s sort of like leading accountable people rather than holding people accountable. That mind shift alone changes a ton of behaviors and beliefs and attitudes. So, that’s the top of the flowchart, delegate accountability, including responsibility and authority.

And at that point, you create what we call a contract of expectations. There’s never an assumption. The person being delegated to never walks away with a question. It’s a two-way communication, and this is where our communication tools come in, but you must create a clear contract of expectations. The core of a contract of expectations, or CoE as we call it, is a, “What? By whom? By When?”

Pete Mockaitis
Who will do what by when?

Bill Truby
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
Included in that is the purpose and context. Because if I just asked you, Pete, “Go do this,” and you say, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and you have no purpose or context, then you cannot be creative in the obstacles that may come your way. If you know the reason, the why, the purpose and the context where it fits in, then you can be a little bit more creative in your work as you encounter the unknown, which is always the case.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so valuable and really worth, I think, underscoring because a lot of times we don’t know the why behind the request, and we just sort of kind of do it. But I think I’ve been on both sides of things in terms of being the doer of the task and not really knowing, it’s like, “Well, I could go either way but I don’t know. Is this in my thing? So, my instructions are I’m just going to make a note and kind of keep on rolling.”

And then, as a leader, when I have been so wise as to share the purpose and context, to be surprised and delighted with people that I’m managing, say, “Hey, I bumped into this and so I did that.” And I think, “Well, that is perfect. Thank you.” It just feels so good, like I don’t have to say anything, and it came back even better than I had imagined it could have from my just process instructions, so this is really cool.

Bill Truby
Purpose and context has many psychological benefits. It increases ownership. It shows respect. It feels like you belong, that you’re included. But, more importantly, if the percussionist in an orchestra doesn’t know the song, all he can do is play the music. And if you don’t play the music in the context of the song, you might play too loud, you might play too soft. Same with a violin, same with a piccolo, same with a French horn. We must understand the purpose and context of the notes that we’re playing in order to make it effective in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Bill Truby
So, this is the first thing that happens in the delegation process, it’s preventative. So, there’s this clarity of what, by whom, by when. There’s a purpose and context. If it’s a long project, then you clarify when you want reports, and you always ask the person to do it. You don’t tell. This is about leading accountable people.

Pete, if I said, “Pete, go do this or that,” then you’re just a puppet, you’re just a person that’s doing a job. If I say, “Will you do it?” and you say, “Yes,” now we have a contract and you own it. So, when you don’t do it, if you don’t, I don’t say, “Didn’t I tell you?” I keep the accountability where it belongs. I say, “Pete, didn’t we agree?” And where does that put the accountability? Right on you. Okay, so that’s the first step.

So, we build all of this, it takes a few minutes. Obviously, it could take hours depending on if it’s a large project but there’s clarity, there’s absolute clarity, no assumptions ever. Clarity, clarity. Pristine, clear communication and an agreement. Now, when you do that, one of two things happen. If the person follows through, and if you look at the delegation flowchart, you’ll see on the right side of the page there’s a box that says, “Follow through.” And when a person follows through, then the arrow goes down to what we call a continuous improvement celebration.

Obviously, the type of celebration depends on the extent of the delegation. If I asked you to go get lunch for the team, that’s different than solving world hunger. So, the celebration is congruent with the task. And I don’t know if we want to get into all the details of a celebration at this point but just to earmark the four parts, there’s the party factor because everybody wants to have fun. There’s the recognition and appreciation, people need to be recognized and appreciated. There’s the learning what went well, what didn’t go well. What didn’t go well so you can fix it. What did go well so you can repeat it.

Because if something went well and you don’t know why it happened, you’re not good, you’re lucky. And then you transfer that knowledge to other people in the company, or other friends, somebody else who could benefit. So, that’s the right side of the flowchart, follow through, and then the last thing you do is to have some kind of a celebration, which gives closure and recognition and that motivation to want to be delegated to again.

Now, the left side, is when somebody may not follow through. This delegation process always works but what happens when somebody who doesn’t follow through is that you follow this chart and you’ll fix it typically one time. There’s a circle that goes on. So, if there’s no or limited follow through, there are four reasons. You know, Pete, I’ve never heard anybody talk about this, I’ve never heard anybody write about it, I’ve never heard anybody speak about these four concepts. But there’s only four reasons why someone won’t follow through, only four.

And I’m talking about anybody. Your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your kid, your employee, your employer. Human beings have four reasons why they won’t follow through. A wise delegator will search for the reason in the order that I’ll give them to you right now. The first is, and they all start with lack of. The first is lack of awareness. They weren’t aware.

Now, typically, we’re communicating when we’re delegating, and humans aren’t the greatest at communicating. And so, if it’s lack of awareness, it’s often some glitch that occurred in the communication process, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant that.” We could use the same word success and you could think of different criteria for success than I do. So, the first is lack of awareness. And you never demand, you always ask questions, “So, what was your understanding of the task?” to see if there was awareness.

If there was awareness, the second reason a person won’t follow through, or can’t follow through, is lack of training. They thought they knew how but they didn’t, “So, did you know how to do this?” The third reason is lack of resources. They didn’t have enough time. They didn’t have enough equipment. They didn’t have enough staff. They didn’t have enough money. Something was lacking that wasn’t prevalent or wasn’t known at the beginning of the delegation process. And the only other reason a person won’t follow through is lack of accountability.

So, lack of awareness, number one; lack of training, number two; lack of resources, number three; and lack of accountability, they’re just not doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s define accountability there in this context. So, is it they don’t feel like or what do you mean specifically by accountability here?

Bill Truby
They just didn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
It’s just the outcome wasn’t there, “You didn’t bring lunch.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess, well, call me a stickler as a former strategy consultant about when you lay out, hey, there’s four reasons, I get really excited about a mutually-exclusive collectively-exhaustive categorization set because I’m a dork that way. So, lack of accountability, they just didn’t do it. That almost feels like an everything-else bucket, I guess, in a way, you can maybe subdivide that. Like, there are multiple reasons why they just didn’t do it. They didn’t feel like it. They weren’t motivated, and they don’t care. Yeah, can you unpack the lack of accountability a little more?

Bill Truby
Sure, and I love all those big words you used to identify this set. That was awesome.

Bill Truby
Okay. Remember what we delegated at the beginning of time, at the beginning of this delegation process. We delegated accountability. Well, there’s an obvious finishing of that sentence. The accountability to do blank. So, you and I are climbing a mountain, and I delegate you the holding of the rope to belay me as I climb.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
If you do not adhere to that accountability, you just don’t hold the rope, I don’t really care why because at this point, we’re not talking about the why. We’re simply talking about the outcome. Period. So, if you don’t hold the rope, there’s danger. If your hands hurt, if you’re sad, if you sneeze, if you don’t feel like it, those are all beside the point. When you’re out on the football field, and the ball is thrown to you, it doesn’t matter how you feel, your job is to catch the ball. And if you don’t go up to catch the ball, then you have not been accountable to what you’ve agreed to be accountable about.

So, it’s really not a catchall. It’s specifically focused on the task that was delegated. In some ways, I suppose the four reasons are the why, but they’re all about behavior and resources to do the behavior. They’re not diving into the emotional or psychological or relational reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I guess what I’m driving is, what I love about the first thing is lack of awareness, “Oh, okay. well, we’re going to have a clarifying conversation, we’re going to have some more detail, and we’re, okay, good, good, good. We’re all on the same page. Solved.”

Lack of training. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Well, here’s an instructional, a tutorial, a class, a course, whatever. Okay, now you know. Okay, good to go.” Lack of resources, “Oh, shucks, you’re right. We’ve got to free up some things from your plate or get some more people or budget under your purview, so that’s solved.” But how does one solve a lack of accountability?

Bill Truby
This, again, insightful, Pete. That’s fantastic, because if you’ll look at the chart, you’ll notice that the first three items, awareness, training, and resources, are typically one-time things. Once you find that that’s the case, then you provide the fulfillment of what was missing, awareness, training, or resources. And then you re-negotiate the contract, it goes up, you re-negotiate the contract by saying, “Okay, let’s look at the contract of expectations again, and re-enter your delegating process, your process of doing what I’ve delegated you to, given your new resources, or your new training, or your new awareness.” So, that one is a one-time loop. One-time loop.

Now, the lack of accountability, that one is fixed by using a separate tool. Now, first of all, I want to make sure that we understand that lack of accountability is binary, they either did it or they didn’t. And if they didn’t, they agreed to, so the first thing we do is to ask the question, “Didn’t we agree?” Right now, we’re working with a $440 million 2500-person nonprofit dialysis company. That entire company is using this particular process to fix people who are not performing effectively, who are not being accountable.

And, HR, if you call HR, the first thing HR will say is, “Have you asked them if they agreed to the contract of expectations?” So, we keep the accountability where it belongs. And, quite frankly, that’s respectful. If I take your accountability away, and say, “All right. Now I’m just going to demand this, and I’m going to make you do what I’m wanting you to do,” then you’re a slave, you’re not a fellow human being.

So, how you fix a lack of accountability is through this process. Number one, “Didn’t we agree?” and the person says, “Yes.” Then, secondly, “Then what happened?” We don’t ask why, “Then what happened?” We give a chance for a person to give their reasons. Then, third, “Then let’s re-negotiate the process here. Will you do A, B, and C by X, Y, and Z with J, L, and K outcome?” So, you’re basically revisiting the contract as well, but this time the person is simply agreeing again.

Now, let me get a little more practical. Let’s say that you asked somebody to do something, they didn’t do it, they weren’t accountable, so you ask these questions. Then they don’t do it the second time. Now, it’s your wisdom that has to determine how many times you loop. If it’s very, very important, it may be one or two times. If you’re trying to grow something, somebody, maybe it’s 12 times. But you will never ever, you can never ever, and this is the beauty of this tool, you can never ever, ever say, “Oh, well, that’s Johnny.” Because if we do that, everybody around us knows that we broke the contract and we perpetuated Johnny’s behavior, we’ve allowed it to happen to other people, we destroy our own ability to delegate if we break the contract ourselves.

So, whatever your wisdom says, one time, two times, 12 times, there comes a time when you say, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, what happened?” “Well, A, B, and C.” “Well, let’s agree this time that if you don’t do it, that…” and then you have to default to your discipline process, “…that you’re going to be getting your first verbal warning.” Let’s say it’s a verbal written writ and termination. So, the person says, “Okay.” So, if the person doesn’t follow through, they know before you do, that they’re not following through so they’re managing their own discipline process. So, they come back, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, then you remember, too, I’m giving you a verbal warning. Let’s agree that if it doesn’t happen again, you’ll be getting your first written warning.”

So, people either step up or step out. And here’s the good news, Pete. Most people step up. We don’t lose good people. They step up. They just needed boundaries, they needed clarifications, kids need boundaries, our employees need boundaries, friends need boundaries. And when we put a boundary in this tool, a person steps up or steps out. And so, that’s what you do when there’s no or limited follow through, you find the reason, fix it one time with the first three, use wisdom to fix it for the fourth reason, the lack of accountability, and then one or two things happens. The person follows through, which happens most of the time, or the person doesn’t, and they’re terminated from the team, they’re demoted, they’re not allowed to be on the team anymore.

And so, the delegating of the task always works. The person who is in the process of being delegated to sometimes might change if they’re not willing to step up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is really stretching my brain in some great ways, so thank you. I guess I’m wondering if, let’s say, they do the work but the results are not as grand as you’d hope. I don’t know, maybe in terms of like the quality, like, “Oh, I asked you to write up this document, and the writing is lackluster.” Or maybe it’s a higher-end result, like, “Hey, you were supposed to run this business division and generate $10 million in gross profit this quarter, and you got 8.” So, I guess, in a way, they do the work but they don’t get the results. How do we play that game?

Bill Truby
Well, two things. One, we must look at the delegator first, because you’ve got to be sure and have a clear contract of expectations at the beginning. So, lackluster of a writing material is a bit fuzzy. So, it’s up to the delegator to be clear and precise in communicating what needs to be done. The $10 million is rather clear and precise. So, the first thing, we’ve got to look at the delegator to make sure that the delegator is clear in his or her communication about the contract of expectations.

And then, secondly, part of the contract of expectations at the beginning, I mentioned just briefly in passing, if it’s a longer timeline, you want to get reports. And so, the $8 million at the end of this stretch of time should not be a surprise. The first benchmark, the first waymark, if the person was not on track, there’s a communication that goes on with the delegator and the delegate as to what’s going on. And one of two things happen. Either the goal begins to be adjusted or it is strengthened by some other resources to allow that goal to be reached.

So, the delegator in both cases, the lackluster in the writing or the diminished return on the 8 million versus 10 million, is involved in the process of guiding and helping along the way. But the key thing is the delegator is not doing it. The delegator is leveraging him or herself by delegating to the person who’s trying to play the violin, “Oh, you’re not playing that note quite right. Here are some techniques that you could use. Go practice those and then come back.”

I will tell you this, that through the delegation process, we do find that some people just are not bad people, nor are they unwilling people, but they don’t have the capacity. It’s up to the leader and manager to understand this over time. I didn’t mention this earlier but I have a master’s degree in psychology, and I was a marriage and family therapist in the early ‘80s for a couple years. And I’ve always needed to know the intent of a person not the behavior of the person.

In fact, my dad taught me that on the farm, he said, “Billy, always know why people are doing things. Don’t just look at what they’re doing.” So, I look at the why when a person isn’t following through, and it could be those four reasons, like I said. But we’ve entered into another little dimension here. If a person doesn’t have willingness or capacity, they won’t do it. In fact, they can’t do it. Even relationships. Relationships can only be successful if both parties have willingness and capacity. And I’m not talking just about a married couple. I’m talking about business and customers. Both sides of the equation, both people, have to have willingness and capacity.

So, in our process of delegating, everything might be going well but then we realize, “This person, no matter how great they are, no matter how talented they are, no matter how willing they are, they just don’t have the capacity,” and that’s where we have to adjust who we’re delegating to.

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

Bill Truby
The core concept of everything we teach is to be other-centered. I want to just highlight that. That’s embedded in this. It’s clearly seen in leading accountable people. It’s clearly seen in asking the person to agree. It’s clearly seen even in the disciplining process if a person has lack of accountability. But I believe that the most successful businesses, the most successful leader, the most successful delegator will do so in the context of where the other person is coming from, how to communicate to them.

We’ll communicate to a 12-year old differently than we will a 48-year old. We’ll communicate to a person with a different skillset differently than a person who has a limited skillset. So, the delegation process is a tool. It’s like a shovel but you dig differently in sand than you do in clay. So, we exercise our interaction with the other person using the same tool, we exercise it a little differently based on that other person’s needs and wants. And that’s how we make them successful is that we’re always other-centered in our application of this tool.

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

Bill Truby
I suppose my favorite quote in all of my life has come from my dad, and I’ve illuminated it earlier. He always said two things, “Billy, always understand why the person is doing what they’re doing. And that understanding breeds empathy, acceptance, and the ability to lead them.” Then he also said, “Billy, if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

And what that meant, I grew to learn over time, is that I deal with what I can do and I don’t take your stuff. And that gives respect. And that particular quote has caused boundaries that are freeing. It enables me to not have to run to the rescue. It’s like, if it’s not mine, I’ll care but I won’t carry. I’ll love but I won’t take it back from you. So, that’s a roundabout way of saying my dad gave me those two quotes that I live by, and they are very, very meaningful. They’re very deep in my soul.

He said, “Always know the why, and then you’ll understand the person. And if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

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

Bill Truby
I love the book Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman wrote it, and it tells you what goes on in your brain, very fast when you encounter something, and then what happens after you think about it. And that research has literally changed my life on how I teach, on how I think, on how I do what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and people quote back to you often?

Bill Truby
Well, there isn’t necessarily one, but I will tell you this little story. There was a man in one of the large companies, 8500-person company, that had this Christmas party, and this man went as Bill Truby, though nobody knew he was Bill Truby.

And he was dressed in a tie and shirt and overcoat. And people said, “So, who are you?” This was a dress-up affair masquerade-type thing. He said, “I’m Bill Truby.” And they would say, “What do you mean?” And he’d open up his coat, and in there were 3×5 cards that he called Trubyisms. So, apparently, I say things all the time that people remember and, yeah, I don’t think there’s one, Pete. I think that there’s things.

I make them up. I go to a company and I’ll “efficiefy” them, and then people start using that word, “Okay, we’re going to get efficiefied.” “And I’m here to bring you to a state of efficiefication,” so I don’t think I’m stuck on one.

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

Bill Truby
TrubyAchievements.com. And this delegation flowchart can be found there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the good word, and good luck in all you delegate.

Bill Truby
Thank you, Pete. I really appreciate you hanging in there for four years so we can meet each other. I do appreciate what you’re doing and I’m glad that I could help support it.

572: How Morning Practices Like Savoring and Investing in Calm Boost Productivity with Chris Bailey

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Productivity THOUGHT LEADER(!) Chris Bailey shares how investing in your calm can boost your productivity and how savoring the little things every day can help you start your day right.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How calm provides the greatest return on productivity
  2. Why you shouldn’t feel guilty over being less productive now
  3. How and why to savor

About Chris

Chris Bailey is a productivity expert, and the international bestselling author of Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project—which have been published in seventeen languages. Chris writes about productivity at Alifeofproductivity.com, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process. To date, he has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity, and has garnered coverage in media as diverse as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, The Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review, GQ, TED, Fortune, Fast Company, and Lifehacker. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Chris Bailey Interview Transcript

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

Chris Bailey
You have me back.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. It’s number three. That’s pretty rare. Far too rare.

Chris Bailey
Wow, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Did you forget one already?

Chris Bailey
Huh, I think I was asleep through one of them and intoxicated. No, I’m kidding. It’s good to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s good to have you back. And, boy, in the meantime, from my stalking of you because I wasn’t invited, you know, not a problem, I see you got married. Hey, congratulations.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, you can see the ring in the video.

Pete Mockaitis
That too.

Chris Bailey
Thank you for the congrats. It’s fun. It’s been fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I just imagined that your wedding was a star-studded event full of productivity giants which is why it was odd that my invitation didn’t come through the mail.

Chris Bailey
You know, my wife and I, we’re pretty cheap. Frugal. Cheap has negative connotations. We’re frugal so we just had like a dinner party.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no kidding.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, because we thought, “Man, we should put this money towards a house or something rather than a wedding.” And so that’s what we did. It’s hard to keep wedding costs down because you order the same service. The first time you tell them you’re having a wedding. The second time, you don’t. The wedding quote is twice as much.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I noticed that. I was tempted to see, “How can I not lie?” It’s like, “We’re having a family gathering. Families are gathering.”

Chris Bailey
Two families, specifically, gathering and combining. We’ll pay a third of the price for that photographer and that photo booth, it turns out.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, that’s wild because they know they can get you. And so, well, you’re married and I want to get your quick take. So, you’re a productivity thought leader.

Chris Bailey
Oh, no, please don’t say that.

Pete Mockaitis
You lead thoughts. What has been like sort of the marital adjustment in terms of how does it feel different?

Chris Bailey
Well, you know, Pete, life as a thought leader is challenging during the best of times, let alone when you’re trying to introduce thought leadership into a new…oh, man, I feel like such a douche right now. But I don’t know, it’s fun. In a way, nothing has changed but, I guess, legally, pretty much everything has changed. We’re both pretty productive. I think the biggest thing that’s changed lately is how our routines are integrated into one another.

I think pretty much everybody on the planet has the same situation that they’re facing where maybe they work with their loved ones, maybe they’re not newly-weds and so their work situation is becoming more challenging perhaps. And we’re all trying to find a new normal right now amidst the virus shakeup, the great shutdown, the hibernation, whatever you want to call it. We’re all trying to find new routines.

So, we settled into a nice routine of working from home around one another. I have my office which makes things a bit easier for me, but she has her own system of doing focused work in her desk area. So, I don’t know, we’re having fun, we’re dealing with the challenges, and we’re just having a good time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, so I caught your name in the Washington Post, nice job, thought leader. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, let’s get Chris again,” because, yeah, we’re in a new world for awhile here. And we’ve had a couple people with sort of episodes kind of really particular COVID-focused and then just a smattering of COVID tidbits and some others. But I want to get your take on, alright, so we’re in this environment where there’s a virus raging, there’s some restrictions and limitations. Some folks are really gung-ho, like, “This is going to be my moment to do this stuff,” and other people are saying, “No way. There’s such a mental load. I’m going to do almost nothing.” How do you think about this?

Chris Bailey
I think everybody is different, and that’s a terrible answer that nobody wants to hear, but the fact of the matter is everybody’s situation is different during a time like this. And productivity is so often a process of understanding the constraints inside of which we live and work. And in a situation like this, everybody’s constraints are changing overnight, and we all had different ones to begin with. So, what we’re seeing right now, it’s a word that isn’t mentioned enough, but privilege. Those of us who have cushier jobs where we’re able to work from home, we’re not experiencing the economic brunt of the crisis that’s going on.

Something else is kids. Our lives are structured, we don’t have kids at the time, but our lives are structured around families and daycares and schools, and those kids existing in a system that isn’t our home during the day when we’re trying to work from home. And so, I think a question like this, you know, there are a lot of posts flying around right now, “Oh, make the best of your quarantine time. Don’t gain the quarantine 15. Lose the quarantine…How to stay productive, how to write the great American novel whilst in quarantine.”

These things totally miss the mark. They don’t get the fact that, “Okay, maybe my situation is different from yours, which is different from the situation of a single working mother with three kids, which is different from the situation of a retiree, somebody who lives in an old-age home, whatever.” Everybody’s situation is different.

And so, I think we have to, A, realize that we’re all operating under different constraints, and, B, not feel guilty about how we’re spending our time right now, because the simple truth and the fact of the matter is some of us are struggling, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you find it hard to be productive right now. It’s okay if you find it hard to focus. It’s okay if caffeine is no longer working for you for some reason. It’s okay if you feel a bit anxious. These feelings are universal and we do need coping strategies for these, but we do need to take care of ourselves at the same time.

People talk of the importance of self-care in the normal-est of times because it’s just a topic that we need to hear and practice, but it’s so much more important right now. And so, in a way, I think I’m a bit fed up with people giving too much productivity advice right now, saying that we should make the best of this time while they don’t recognize the fact that everybody is going through something different right now, and maybe that works for them but maybe not for everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup.

Chris Bailey
Sorry, rant over.

Pete Mockaitis
No, that resonates. It’s absolutely true. We’ve all got a different situation and sometimes it’s a more dramatic change for some than others. I’m still working from home in my home office, which is what I was doing before the pandemic, although there’s different things going on in the family and kid situation. And so, I think that’s a great word right there in terms of it’s okay and it’s normal to be experiencing those sorts of things. So, I’d like to know, that’s one mistake is beating yourself up. Another mistake is providing one-size-fits-all prescriptive advice. What are some of the other don’ts or mistakes you recommend we avoid as we’re trying to stay productive during this time?

Chris Bailey
I think trying to push yourself too hard. It’s something that I’m quickly realizing during a time like this because I’m feeling anxious just like most other people. I have parents who are getting a bit older. I’m connected. My wife has asthma so she’s definitely one of the more vulnerable people in a situation like this.

I think something we need to realize right now is that the path to greater productivity during a time like this is through calm, right? By investing in our calm, we’re able to invest in our sense of productivity at the same time. And the reason for this is our minds are so anxious, they’re so revved up, mine is anxious just like everybody else is. In a time like this, when there’s so much chaos flying around us in our mental and our physical environments, it’s often a settled mind that we need more than almost anything else.

So, the path of productivity is through the lens of calm. And so, if there’s another mistake that we’re making, A, we’re not being kind enough to ourselves, B, we’re trying too hard to be productive, but, C, we’re not investing enough in calm, and there are multiple ways of doing this. One of my favorites that I’ve started to do each and every morning is investing in the analog world. When we’re spending our days inside, we tend to gravitate towards screens. We tend to gravitate to what’s latest and loudest at the expense of slowing down a little bit, and maybe disconnecting a little bit, and being kind to ourselves, and being patient with ourselves, and doing something slow with our time.

So, that’s something that I think is worth getting across. In addition to self-kindness, in addition to taking it easy with your productivity a little bit, invest in calm more than you think you ought to because that’s often…that’s one of the greatest returns on our productivity. And here’s the ruler stick against which we should be measuring our productivity advice today, is, “For every minute we spend on a piece of productivity advice, how much time does that allow us to make back?”

And so, some things, watching Netflix, for every minute you spend watching Netflix, you probably lose about a minute of productivity because that’s the opportunity cost of watching that. Maybe you’re a bit less motivated after the fact and so, you actually lose more time than you spend. But other strategies like planning out our day is a really good example of this. For every minute you spend planning out your day, you make back 5-10 minutes of productivity because of how much more focused you’re able to work.

In an environment as chaotic as the one in which we’re finding ourselves today, calm actually produces a remarkably high return on our time because trying to work with an anxious mind, it’s a struggle to focus, it’s a struggle to pay attention, it’s a struggle to think deeply, and do deep work, and hyper-focus on what’s important each and every day. But it’s calm that provides us with the greatest return. So, maybe that trifecta of ideas might help people out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to investing in calm, I’d love to hear, I guess there’s many ways you can do that. Let’s rattle them off. So, you’re doing some analog stuff, you’re doing some non-screen stuff, what are these things?

Chris Bailey
I think the analog world is key to spend more time in. And here’s the thing, a lot of people think calm is a passive thing, like, “Oh, I have a few minutes to spare. Let me go on Twitter. Let me check the New York Times. Let me hop on the Washington Post and see what thought leaders are saying about this current pandemic crisis.” But this is our impulse because we gravitate again to what’s latest and loudest, but it’s not necessarily right. And, by the way, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over that. It’s our natural impulse to gravitate to what’s latest and loudest. But maybe a good way of phrasing this is that we deserve better than we’re giving ourselves.

We deserve like genuine, true relaxation. We don’t deserve Twitter. We deserve more than Twitter. We deserve more than the news. We deserve more than Facebook right now. And so, a good place to start is realizing that calm, acquiring calm, is often an active process. It doesn’t just waff over us. We have to go and seek it out and invest a little bit in it.

And so, I’m kind of an antisocial person. In the best of times, I’m always trying to find excuses not to hang out with people, “Oh, I’d love to grab a drink tonight, Pete, but I have to go to bed early and wake up early the first thing in the morning.” But the truth is, after I spend time with people, I realize, “Oh, there was nothing to be anxious about. And, oh, it took a little bit of energy to get started with a tactic like that, but I was all the more calm for it.” And I think this is something we need to keep in mind right now, is it’s often through actively investing in relaxation strategies that we get the most calm.

And so, anything that allows us to reconnect with the fact that we’re human is a wonderful wellspring of calm. So, meditation, just focusing on our breath, it’s a simple reminder that we’re human, but it’s a beautiful one. Exercise, something we’re probably not getting enough of if we’re in a situation where we can step back a little bit from the current situation and invest in that. Eating good food, proper food that our bodies evolved to thrive in, not processed stuff, that actually elevates our cortisol levels, which is the hormone that our body produces in response to stressful situations. So, simple things like that. Finding something to savor each and every day.

So, I’m drinking a protein shake right now, as you can see, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re savoring it.

Chris Bailey
Savoring the hell out of this thing because it’s this delicious concoction – Vega Protein Shake. Not only are they vegan, if you’re into that, but they also have only one gram of sugar yet they’re chocolate-flavored. They contain a lot of cocoa so I like to savor that. But find one thing to savor each and every day. It’s an active process, and you think, “Man, why don’t I just savor stuff? Why do I have to make a task, a job out of it?” But the truth is you’ll get so much more out of what you’re savoring when you make a deliberate effort to do so.

No cheeseburger will be as delicious as the one you focus on with 100% of your attention because you’re trying to savor the heck out of it. No protein shake will be as delicious and energizing. No conversation will be as engrossing as the one you’re in completely. And so, this is something that we need to find. Engagement is a salve for anxiety, and so when we find things to be engaged with, not only do we become more productive, we also find calm, we also are able to settle down a little bit, become a bit happier, and enjoy the process of doing things.

One other thing that I’ll mention, at the risk of going too long on this answer but I think it’ll be helpful for people, is we walk around so often with a productivity mindset. And so, what I mean by this is we’re always looking to tick boxes, we’re always looking to get things done, and we never really let up with this mindset. So, when we find ourselves with a bit of time during which we can relax, instead of doing something that is genuinely relaxing, we realize, “Oh, we have just a few minutes of time. Let’s vege out.” When, really, intentional relaxation is what we need during which we set aside this productivity mindset when we’re trying to accomplish things.

And when we deliberately set aside this mindset, it abolishes the guilt that we would normally feel that comes along with active relaxation. So, we have this guilt of relaxation that often arises when we do something that allows us to invest in our calm, which is kind of ironic because when calm allows us to become more productive, we shouldn’t feel guilty about how we’re spending our time, and yet we do. And so, do minus productivity mindset. And the savor list, and the things that I was just mentioning, they do help combat this certain mindset because instead of trying to tick a box, we try to enjoy and experience a moment that we’re having.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, there’s a lot of good stuff there. You’re a real thought leader.

Chris Bailey
Sorry, that’s like a loaded suitcase that you now have to unpack.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I dig it. Well, so then let’s talk about, alright, the process of savoring. So, you could savor a conversation, you could savor a glass of wine or a chocolate protein shake, a song, music, a sensation, a massage.

Chris Bailey
What song are you savoring right now?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a fine question. You know, I’ve actually been saving just some select nostalgic silly songs that remind me of happy times and laughter and friendship. So, it might be like Death Cab For Cutie “The Sound of Settling” for example.

Chris Bailey
Oh, that’s a classic tune.

Pete Mockaitis
It brings me back to college and my roommate and just like being silly, and it’s like, “Oh, those are fun times.”

Chris Bailey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one savor?

Chris Bailey
Well, what’s something in your life that you enjoy?

Pete Mockaitis
I enjoy hanging out with my kids.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. So, how do you savor something like that? You bring your full attention to it. That’s it. We savor things automatically when we bring our full attention to them. And, also, when we notice what’s good about the things that we’re paying attention to. And so, this might sound like the corniest thing in the world, but it actually does work. Savoring things in gratitude trains our mind into looking for more opportunities that surround us.

So, I like savoring my morning cup of tea. I have a whole tea process. I’m a fan of Oolong tea and so I have a fancy kettle where I can make the perfect temperature for Oolong. It’s kind of like a green tea. By the way, the reason people don’t like green tea is not that green tea tastes bad. Everybody is like, “Oh, green tea tastes so bitter.” The reason green tea tastes bitter is you’re burning it. Green tea is meant to be steeped at around, I think it’s 80 degrees Celsius boiling water, around 100.

So, that’s step zero, get the tea at the right temperature. But in the morning, I just sit. I have a hanging chair in my living room that I got from Wayfair, and it kind of swings back and forth. And I’ve usually just woken up, so I wake up, I walk over to the kettle, I steep myself a nice cup of tea, and then I bring it over to the hanging chair, and I just simply try to enjoy the taste of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t spill on yourself in the hanging chair.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, try not to sway too much or bump into something in my tired stupor. But a bit of sway never hurt anybody, as the old saying goes, and so I just kind of sway a little bit and enjoy that cup of tea, noticing the flavor. I think another key to savoring is to notice as much as you can, because when something is a desirable experience, the more you notice, the more you’re able to savor. So, notice as much as you can, bring your full attention to something, look for the things that are worth savoring embedded within an experience.

I don’t think there is anything in the world that cannot be savored. And that might sound like an odd statement because there’s a lot of negative things in the world, but savoring is all about a mindset. By God, Pete, there are these twisted people that derive pleasure from pain. If we can derive pleasure from pain, we can learn to savor pretty much anything. That’s not to say that there aren’t genuine challenges. That’s not to say that we should be placing rose-colored glasses over our entire life, neglecting reality, but this is to say that no matter the time, no matter the circumstance, we can always find something to enjoy deeply even.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I buy it. I was just thinking earlier about finding joy, and that I’m going to be proactively seeking it out, and noting it, and celebrating it, and express some gratitude for it, so that aligns much of what I’m thinking.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. And something that people can do right away. Make a list of everything you savor. And you don’t need to think into the future. Look into your past. What experiences have you had that have enveloped you completely that you found just really enjoyable? Was it a conversation with a certain friend that always seems to draw you in? Was it a cup of tea? Was it a favorite sushi meal from a place that you frequent?

Make a list of everything that you savor. Every day pick one. Treat yourself. And by savoring things deliberately, it’s a nice way of finding calm. You don’t even need to do anything hard with this strategy. You don’t need to focus on your breath for half an hour on a meditation cushion, for God’s sake. You just have to do something you enjoy and bring your full attention to it completely. Do it a bit slower so it goes on for longer. It’s nice. It’s just a nice thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so think that’s a great practice to do daily and always. I’d love to hear, if you were to zoom in to the moment in which, all right, some stuff needs to get done pretty soon, and we’re not feeling it. We are not in that groove but we kind of got to get into that groove kind of fast, savoring is a good kind of long-term strategy. What do you recommend for, in the here and now, we got to shake off the funk, how do you do it?

Chris Bailey
Patience is how you do it. We can become engaged with pretty much anything. That’s kind of the point of meditation. You learn to be able to focus on your breath because the idea is the breath is so boring. It’s more boring than watching paint dry, and our mind actively wanders away from it. And so, if we can focus on our breath and become engaged with our breath, we can become engaged with pretty much anything. But we do need to be patient with ourselves as we settle into certain tasks.

So, if you’re working up to something, a big task, say, you’re writing a report that your mind is finding really aversive, warm up to it. Maybe set a timer for 10 minutes and give yourself the choice, either work on that thing or do nothing. Your mind will settle down naturally and you will be able to warm up to something. So, start with that ugly task if you want, but you can also start with smaller tasks ahead of doing that so you don’t need to do that report right away. But maybe just answer a few emails first, maybe start with something that doesn’t require your full attention, and warm up to doing that thing.

Also, pay attention because anxiety, these days, is not consistent. Usually, it ebbs and flows over the course of the day, and there will be times of your day, for me it’s the morning, although I’ve gotten better, kind of managing things as the pandemic has worn on. For me, it’s the morning though, or at least it was at the beginning, where that was my calmest time of the day, and the anxiety would come later on in the day when I would tune in to the press conferences du jour here in Canada.

And so, I would take advantage of that morning calm by doing the focus work, the hyperfocus work, the deep work, that there was a struggle much of the rest of the time. And so, align the difficulty and complexity of the work you’re doing on top of how you’re feeling throughout the day, and that’s one of the biggest piece of advice that I can give, not only it lets become kinder to yourself, but it lets you warm up to more productive tasks, and also it lets you get more productive tasks done as you become more patient with yourself. You’ll probably need a bit of time for certain tasks but do take it.

Also, know how you start the morning. It matters more than almost anything else. So, distraction begets distraction, stimulation begets stimulation, so the more stimulated and distracted we become, the more we want to continue with that level of stimulation. So, what this means though is if you start the morning on a slow note, if you do something that calms you, if you find something to savor, hey, call back to the previous tactic. Find something to savor first thing in the morning. Play with your kids for half an hour, set a timer, whatever you need to do.

If you find something to savor first thing instead of just checking the news, you’ll find that you’ll become calmer automatically, and that it’ll be easier to focus when you delay the time of first check, because once you get caught into the rabbit hole, you want to just keep going. But if you start the day on a calm note, your mind won’t want to escalate how you’re feeling and it’ll be easier to find calm in a situation like that.

So, when you start calm, you stay calm, but do give yourself a bit of time to warm up to certain tasks, overlay the complexity of work to how you’re feeling if you find that how you’re feeling fluctuates quite a bit still.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Chris, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Chris Bailey
You deserve better than to distract yourself right now. And this is a lesson that it’s easy advice to give but it’s something that I’m continually re-learning. We need to reflect on how our behaviors these days, more than almost any other day, what emotions they lead us to feel. So, we tend to gravitate to apps like Instagram and other distractions when we’re resisting how we’re feeling in the present moment, almost like an escape hatch in a way.

Mind the escape hatches of your day and pay attention especially to how you feel after you indulge in them because it’s sometimes with a bit of extra work that we find tasks that are slightly more challenging. For me, practicing the piano is more challenging than going on Instagram, but the feeling that I have after a session of playing the piano, after a session of knitting, after taking a bath, the feeling after these strategies, when I compare them to Instagram, or Twitter, or email, or YouTube even, they’re not even close. They produce more calm. They produce more relaxation. They produce less anxiety. They produce more happiness.

Pay attention to how you feel after indulging in the activities that are habits, have always been habits, to these days more than any. And, now, these days, habits aren’t the same as they were before. If you check up on the news first thing in the morning, usually you weren’t depressed the rest of the day, but if you find that you stumble upon a couple of, frankly, depressing stories each morning, it might be a bad way to start the day.

There was one study that was connected, I believe, by Shawn Achor, he’s an author and a happiness researcher, where he exposed participants to just, I think, three or four minutes of negative news the very thing in the morning after people woke up. And when he measured participants’ levels of happiness six to eight hours later, he found that the group that experienced that negative news was 27% less likely to rate themselves as being happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris Bailey
Wow, what a reminder that the information we consume matters, and that we need to mind the quality of it these days more than almost any other.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Bailey
Well, I don’t know where this quote came from. I don’t think I stumbled upon it myself, just something, a thought of mine, but my favorite quote that I think about a lot is “Why do anything if you’re not going to do it right?” I love that, and it speaks to pride of what we do, of our actions, of our work, of what we say, of how we act towards others, and make others feel throughout the day too.

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

Chris Bailey
Oh, I’d find it funny if I did this. This is the third interview and I’ve mentioned three different favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we want that. Well, actually, keep it coming.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, let’s do “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger. I probably haven’t mentioned this before but it’s one that I’m re-reading. It’s one that I think is worth re-reading every few years. And it’s about the foods that we need to eat in order to live the longest, that are all validated by science. And here’s, again, the golden measurement for any productivity tactic, how much time do you get back. By God, this book might save you 10 or 20 years of your life by extending it by that much, so I can’t think of a better productivity book than that.

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

Chris Bailey
Well, we just bought a drill…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good choice.

Chris Bailey
…for home reno projects. But this clicky keyboard, this mechanical keyboard I would recommend…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’ve seen those.

Chris Bailey
…to almost anyone. This is the… I don’t remember the exact model. Oh, it’s on the bottom here. The Keychron K2 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard. And it’s these beautiful cherry brown switches that are like chocolate to write on, and it’s beautiful. It’s rich. It’s just a wonderful writing experience. I would equate, if you do a lot of writing throughout the day. Have you ever played a piano, Pete, in your life?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. You know, those like really crappy keyboard pianos where you press down and there’s no weight, and you think, “Oh, I’m just flipping a digital switch somewhere in the system, and it’s playing a sound through the speakers.” That’s what a regular keyboard feels like to me after enjoying the experience of a mechanical keyboard. It’s like upgrading from one of those crappy keyboards with no weight behind it to a grand piano. It’s all about the feeling. What you write matters more when you write it on a mechanical keyboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite nugget?

Chris Bailey
Oh, man, probably productivity is the product of our time, attention, and energy. That’s one of them. And, also, the state of our attention determines the state of our lives. Those are probably the top two. There’s probably others. I have to look that up. I’m curious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, right on.

Chris Bailey
Hey.

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

Chris Bailey
Well, there are a few places. My books are called “Hyperfocus” and “The Productivity Project.” I have a podcast now that I do with my wife called Becoming Better which we have a blast doing. And my website is called A Life of Productivity. There’s no ads, no sponsorships, just hopefully helpful productivity advice and one annoying newsletter popup.

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

Chris Bailey
Notice how different apps make you feel, the ones that you spend time on throughout the day. So, sometimes we’re on Instagram or Snapchat and we kind of scroll over to the wrong side of the app, and we see the selfie camera fire up, we usually don’t have like a huge gleeful expression on our face, like, “Oh, I’m on Instagram. What a wonderful time in my day and in my life.” We usually have kind of a dull stimulated look on our face because we’re not tuned in to how we feel when we’re using technology and when we’re engaged in certain activities.

I would say mind how you feel when you engage in your digital world this week, today even, to start after listening to this podcast. How do you feel after checking Twitter? How do you feel after checking the New York Times or the Washington Post? Mind that and change your behavior based on that. It’s one of the biggest and best weeks that we can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best in your life of productivity.

Chris Bailey
Thank you. You, too.

571: How to Crush Self-Doubt and Build Self-Confidence with Dr. Ivan Joseph

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Dr. Ivan Joseph discusses the critical practices that build unshakeable self-confidence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The fundamental building block of self-confidence
  2. How to control the negative tape in your head
  3. A powerful trick for overcoming impostor syndrome

About Ivan

Dr. Ivan Joseph an award-winning Performance Coach, Sports Psychologist, author and recognized educator and mentor. His TEDx talk on self-confidence – with over 18 million views to date – has been selected by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 Best TED Talks about the Meaning of Life. 

Dr. Joseph travels extensively around the world to speak to organizations and teams about the power of self-confidence in leadership, career, sports and life – and how to build high-performing teams that exceed expectations. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Ivan Joseph Interview Transcript

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

Ivan Joseph
Thanks for having me, Pete. Appreciate it. Looking forward to this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to this conversation as well. And I have to chuckle a little bit. So, your book is called You Got This: Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence and I couldn’t resist sharing that my mother really hates the phrase “you got this.” And I want to hear if you’ve heard that before.

Ivan Joseph
Yes, indeed. In fact, I’m looking behind you in your bookshelf to see if you have it. I don’t see it back there, so, clearly, your mother has won the day.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve clicked in depth on your virtual version, so. So, yeah, tell me, what’s…I’ll tell you my mom’s take, but what are you hearing in terms of the pushback on the title?

Ivan Joseph
You know, there’s two things. People say it’s really catchy, and they love it. It’s easy and it’s a good affirmation for themselves. And then some folks say, “Oh, man, I wish it wasn’t so contemporary and so pop culture-ish.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, pop culture-ish. Well, I kind of like it. I think the first time I heard the phrase was in a movie or something, I was like, “Ooh, yeah, that resonates.” But I think my mom, it’s the specific context in which someone’s on social media, they’re sharing like a real challenge, like someone has cancer or something, and then people comment, “You got this.” And my mom is like, “That is so inadequate. What they’re going through deserves so much more than a flippant…” That’s kind of her thing.

Ivan Joseph
When we were writing the book, we were vacillating back between You Got This, and The Skill of Self-Confidence. If I had to do it again, I’d probably stick with The Skill of Self-Confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that is your area of expertise. I’m really excited to dig into it. So, self-confidence sounds like a good thing. We’d all love to have it. Could you maybe share some research that reveals how more self-confidence can really translate into actual results for professionals, particularly if you’ve got those examples, as opposed to just feeling good?

Ivan Joseph
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, it’d be nice to feel confident, but what does it mean in terms of results and victory?

Ivan Joseph
Well, I think the first thing you have to recognize is let’s start with the definition of self-confidence. So, everybody’s playing and starting at the same place. And so, the definition I use in the research is this genuine belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand – self-confidence. And I want everybody to know it’s not this magic pill that you just take and you can swallow, and you can just, “Oh, I’m, all of a sudden, self-confident.”

But the research that started looking at this goes way back to some foundational work that talks about optimism and happiness. But the big one that I started that got me in this venue was looking and reading about Angela Duckworth and Grit. And she was studying grit, which is the belief in your ability to accomplish tasks despite setbacks, and she was looking at how people, what they’ve told themselves, how they believed in themselves, how that really influenced their ability to move forward.

And she studied a bunch of military personnel. It was Beast Barracks week during West Point Military Academy. And, you know, the Military Academy, they’re really interested in, “How do people decide that we should make it through candidate training school?” because it’s hell. They don’t get to sleep, they don’t get to eat, there’s noise pollution, all these things, because they’re testing those candidates to make them ready.

And so, they did aptitude tests, they did physical testing, they did all these leadership scores, they did a battery of tests. And when they looked at these tests, they were somewhat predictive of who would be successful. But when Angela Duckworth came to these 13 items to predict grit and resilience, she found those 13 items more reliable than those hundreds of questions combined.

And when I read that, I’m like, “Whoa! Grit is a reliable predictor of performance and your ability to succeed?” And when I started really looking into grit, I studied just the first half of it which was this genuine belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand. And then there was further research that went into how affirmations played a role in that, which is another word for self-talk, how focus played a role in that, how repetition played a role in that. The research is out there and it’s all saying the same thing. you can’t start with talent. You have to start with this belief in your ability, and only then will the talent get a moment to shine.

Pete Mockaitis
it’s intriguing. You talked about a given task at hand in terms of self-confidence. Then I imagine you may very well have self-confidence in one domain and not at all in another because those are very different tasks, and some you think you’ve got totally covered, and others you feel woefully unprepared for. Is that accurate?

Ivan Joseph
This is really accurate, your concept about, “Is it global?” I want you to think about the first time you had your first job, right? You’ve got it, you’ve mastered that skill, and, all of a sudden, your boss comes in and says, “Here’s your promotion and you’re ready to roll.” And imagine the doubt and the fear. We all hear about impostor syndrome, that now starts to creep in. You are master of your domain, you had it taken care of, you were the queen of your ship, or the king of your castle, whatever it is, the term you want to use, and, all of a sudden now, you’ve got to manage people, or you’ve got to lead this presentation.

And because these tasks are typically novel to you, and you haven’t had the affirmations and the feedback that says, “You got this,” to coin a phrase from the book, then that whole self-spiraling doubt and negativity starts to spiral into you, which affects your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so then if we find ourselves in a space where we’re not so self-confident, and we would like to be, what do we do?

Ivan Joseph
That’s a great question. And I always tell people this story, you heard me earlier in the podcast talk about this magic bullet. When I give a speech about this topic, I say it’s not like you’re at the Las Vegas, and Celine Dion is on stage, and I’m Canadian so I’m going to pick Celine Dion, and she gets food poisoning. And, all of a sudden, the manager comes in and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we can no longer close out the show. Celine Dion can’t sing her amazing closing song because she’s sick.” And you stand up, Pete, you say, “Yeah, I got this. I’ve watched Titanic a hundred times.” That’s not really confidence. That’s somewhere on the edge of delusional, I’ll say.

When I talk about confidence, the task can’t be novel to you. So, there’s a series of steps to really move towards confidence, and the first one is repetition, repetition, repetition. Gladwell talks about it, there’s a 10,000-hour rule, whatever it is for you to have confidence and genuine belief in your ability. And so, I want you to think about it. For some folks and some listeners out there, about the first time you drove stick shift. You drive stick, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I tried a couple of times then I stopped. It didn’t go very well.

Ivan Joseph
Right. The first time you drive stick on a hill with a car behind you, oh, my God, your heart is racing 100 miles an hour. By the time you’ve driven stick for a year later, a year and a half, whatever it is, that skill is so automatic. And so, the number one thing is, like, find a way to get to your practice, to your repetition.

And if you’re a leader and you’re getting ready to present, present in front of the mirror, present in front of your partner, present in a small group of friends, get the feedback, so by the time you got onto that big stage, you’re no longer scared. So, that would be the first step.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Ivan Joseph
After you get to repetition, for me, the next thing to do is to really control that negative tape that plays in your head. You know that tape, “I wish I was this. I hate myself in this look. Oh, I can’t do this job.” As a sports psychologist and a performance enhancement consultant, I work with a lot of athletes. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Olympians and NBA athletes and the national team of basketball for Canada, and we do a lot of what we call centering or thought-stopping.

The next time you’re watching a professional athlete, watch the different physical cues that they’ll use: pointing, clapping, finger-snapping. Whenever they make a mistake, they don’t dwell on the mistake. The phrase we use is “Live in the moment,” or, “Be in the presence,” right? And what that is about is about being in the moment, meaning forget about the mistake. Stop that negative talk, whatever that negative doubt is. Use a physical cue to bring you to the present and replace it with a positive talk, whatever that might be, “You got this,” “I got the next one,” “I’m ready.” The power of affirmation is really critical.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, are you telling us that frequently, when we observe such physical snaps, claps, etc., from athletes, this is exactly what they’re doing?

Ivan Joseph
Oh, 100%. I guarantee it. I remember one time, the first time I noticed it many years ago into my dissertation, there’s a famous soccer player by the name of Thierry Henry, and this is a guy making millions of pounds a year. And he missed a wide-open goal, right? And all he did was point back to the person that passed him the ball, and said, “Nice job. I got the next one.” And you could read it on his lips and see it on TV. You don’t get to be excellent by focusing on all the mistakes and all the inadequacies that you have.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. Well, so then I like that notion of the physical gesture to kind of just make it really clear, “Hey, we’re stopping that now and we’re transitioning to something else.” So, snaps, claps. What are some other good ones?

Ivan Joseph
You’ll see some athletes that will take a little rubber band and move it from one wrist to the other, sometimes they’ll snap it. You’ll see some folks that will jingle some coins. Watch the next time you’ll see an athlete just take a deep breath in, and that reminds them, “Okay, I got this.” I remember the one time, the very first time I was doing a big speech, and I’d spoken before, but you get paid in a bottle of wine or like a coffee mug. But the very first time I was on stage and it was 4,000 people, and then the night before Maya Angelou was on stage, and this was like the big deal. I was about to be big time, at least as big as C-level celebrities are, or maybe E, or G, or whatever the number is. But I was so nervous. Behind the stage, I had to clap, clap, clap, “You got this. You got this. You got this.” I had to physically remind myself that I was good at what I do, and that was really critical for me to be able to get on stage and speak in front of 4,000 people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. So, well then what’s next? So, we got the physical indicator or anchor, and then shifting gears from the negative to the positive talk. What’s the next step?

Ivan Joseph
Well, I want to remind folks that the affirmations must be really simple and bite-sized, right? Mine is, “I got this,” “Nobody outworks me,” and, “I can learn anything.” And you asked me about research before, I want to turn your readers to a study from Harvard that talked about how three affirmations a day, if you’re in the problem-solving world, increased your efficiency to solve that problem, something like 26%.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Ivan Joseph
And if you’re in the sales marketing world, your revenue went up 30 some odd percent by using three affirmations a day. And that’s that. What you tell yourself you start to believe and how it translated directly to the output of your work, your production, your ability to solve complex problems. And so, that affirmation and that self-talk moves right into that next thing which is reminding yourself of how good you are.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, this affirmation stuff, that’s juicy. I love a good study with some numbers behind it. So, we had Hal Elrod who talked about the six morning habits of high performers. He wrote the The Miracle Morning and such on the show earlier. And he gave some great distinctions associated with what makes an affirmation good versus delusional and problematic. So, I’d love to hear your take. So, from the research, what are some of the ingredients or do’s and don’ts for a positive affirmation? What I’m recalling, I think Hal used the example of, “Money flows effortlessly to me. I am a magnet for wealth,” is not so helpful because your brain goes, “No, it doesn’t. I’ve got to hustle and bend over backwards to make things happen.” And so, can you give us some pro tips on making those affirmations effective?

Ivan Joseph
I think it’s a great question. And one of the things I recognized early on is in order to have an affirmation be meaningful and have genuine belief, you have to have genuine control over it. And so, that locus of control for an affirmation is really important and critical. “Nobody outworks me,” so I can control that. “I can learn anything,” I can control that too, right? And so, when you listen to those things, are they within your circle of influence? “I’m the wealthiest guy in the world,” I mean, maybe if I was reading The Secret and I wanted to put that out there, and I wanted to start putting it out there. But the magic, for me, as a sports psychologist, is to always give agency to the people to control their affirmation. So, it has to be something that you can master and you can own.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, then proceed. So, that’s the affirmation side of things. What’s next?

Ivan Joseph
So, then from there, I talk about a letter to yourself. And I think this is a really important piece. We all will feel self-doubt, or it will creep into us when we get a promotion, when we get a new opportunity, or when somebody will criticize us, or be really hard on us, and you have to be able to pull out a letter that you’ve written to yourself at good times.

I remember when I became the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University, it was a university of 40,000 people. I came from Iowa, a university of a thousand people. Oh, my goodness, I’m in charge of millions of dollars, I have to manage people, and I remember that whole impostor syndrome kicking in, and I read this letter to myself.

And my letter goes something like this, “Dear Ivan, thanks for choosing the right person to marry. Nice job on accomplishing your Ph.D. before you hit 40. You’ve launched a business with an amazing partner.” All these things I wanted to brag to myself. It was my own personal brag sheet to remind myself, when I was going in the dumps and going this way, “No, no, no. Let’s remember all these things and all these challenges that you’ve had.” And I pull it out and I needed to read that day in, day out, day in, day out.

Now, a lot of folks out there will say, “Well, a brag sheet, that’s ego, man.” And I want people to recognize this is not a letter to others. That is arrogance, right? This is a letter that you’re writing to yourself. And so, people are like, “Well, how do you define confidence over arrogance and ego?” That’s it. Confidence is what you tell yourself. Arrogance and ego is about what you’re telling others about yourself. And so, it’s important to take this letter, look at yourself in the mirror, take your quiet spot, and engage in this personal reminder of all the amazing things you’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really like that. You had it in a letter, I have it on my shelf. There is a black Mead spiral notebook. I haven’t looked at it lately, which might be good or I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I haven’t needed it or felt the need.

Ivan Joseph
Well, that’s it, Pete, right? When you get to that next space, wherever your career or your life will take you when you’ll need it, you know where to get it. You found it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And it really is so handy. And I think I borrowed this from maybe Tony Robbins who talked about if you have a belief, I still see this diagram in my head. I read this when I was a teenager. It’s like if you have a belief, you need to have some supporting legs, like a table, for your brain to be like, “Yeah, okay, that’s true.”

And so, I think this was in college, I was feeling kind of like a loser because in high school I was just like, I don’t know, I was kind of the man, if you will, in terms of, “Oh, I’m valedictorian and homecoming king,” and I was getting lots of praises and affirmations in all kinds of directions, and then in college, I was like rejected from the sketch comedy team, and the business consulting group, and the other business club, and then the other…and I was like, “What is wrong?” And so, I was feeling pretty down about my capabilities.

And then I just sort of thought, “Well, hey, maybe I’ll just make a list of reasons why the belief that I’m capable of rocking and rolling is true.” And I was like, “Holy smokes, this is a pretty long list. Okay, I guess I’ve just had a bad luck streak, and I’m going to keep trying.” And, sure enough, I found some clubs that would take me and a good college career.

Ivan Joseph
I love what you’re saying because you’re doing what we call as self-confident people interpret feedback differently. And what you’re able to do right now is, “I guess I had a bad streak.” After using some skills, instead of like, “My God, I’m a loser. I’ll never do any good.” And then you start to dig yourself what we call, “Lord, the snake’s belly and a wagon rut,” right? You interpreted those failures differently. That is so key. How we interpret setbacks really sets us apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you. And it’s funny, and it wasn’t immediate. I’d say there’s definitely, I don’t know what the time period was, some weeks or so of just like, “Ooh, I suck.” But, eventually, that turned around. So, now, let’s talk about, Ivan, right now, as we’re recording, the coronavirus is a hot topic everywhere on the news, etc. and I’ve been chatting with a few people who have admitted to really experiencing a healthy dose of depression, anxiety, mental health challenges, that is not so typical for them under normal circumstances but, hey, not getting out, not seeing people, not as easy to get to the gym, or all these sorts of rituals habits, routines, healthy good things they got going on are disrupted, and they’re now kind of reaping what they’ve had to. So, hey, help us here. If listeners are experiencing this right now, how might we apply some of these tools to help shorten the time and the funk?

Ivan Joseph
Well, it’s a great question again, right? And so, one of the things you recognize is that we know that thoughts influence our beliefs which influence our actions. And so, when you’re in a funky space, you know that’s you’re thinking, and then it’s influencing your beliefs, and then how you get to the action part.

And so, one of the things that’s really important is in this whole world that we’re using the term social distancing, and the psychologist in me says, “I don’t know if that’s the right term that we should be thinking about. I think the term should be physical distancing, and we should be engaging with the people that are important to us, who add value to us.”

A lot of times when I talk about the lens of confidence, I talk about getting away from the people who will tear you down, which is the negative people, the people who are giving you negative feedback versus critical feedback. But I think the opposite is also true, which means get close to the people who will build you up.

And so, you know who are you and who those people are, and you can know and you can see what are the tells that are telling you, and you’re going off into a place. And you need to pay attention to your physical tells that say you’re getting to a point of stress, and then you need to put yourself in a place where you can connect with those people. And, in today’s world, it’s going to have to be virtual, but with Zoom, with Microsoft Teams, with FaceTime, with Google Hangouts, there’s a way to infuse yourself and your relationships with positivity to help build you up and to help pass you through these troubling times.

When we say we’re all in this together, nobody does it alone. And sometimes we’re so proud and we’re so afraid to share our vulnerabilities, that’s not what confidence or high-performance life is all about. It’s about recognizing that we are in this together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. Now, you mentioned physical stress tells. Please, flag them right up front. So, some listeners might be like, “Huh, that’s been going on.”

Ivan Joseph
You think about it, right? We don’t recognize we need to always talk about stress. There’s two types of stress. There’s distress and there’s eustress. Eustress is the positive pieces that raise our levels and help us perform better. And distress is the one that overwhelms us, how we react to that stress overwhelms us.

I remember when I was first leading, a stressor for me that I was not ready, the skin on my hand started to peel. I started to get like serious, like bad cotton ball mouth. But there’s also a point where I need to be at the right level of performance anxiety in order to get the best out of me. When the butterflies are in your stomach, when you’re feeling your heart start to raise, I know I’m ready. I’m at my peak game.

Have you ever had a client or a guest on your show where you are like, “Man, I was on. I brought my A-game to this guy,” and thought about how you felt just before that moment?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, you know, it’s funny, just before we spoke, I was feeling a little bit like, “Meh,” my energy level was sort of lower and, yeah, I was just sort thinking, “Well, how would I prefer to feel?” I was like, “Well, I’d like to be fascinated and powerful and curious.” So, yeah, I guess that’s how I feel before a great interview.

Ivan Joseph
Right. I think it’s really important about how we connect with those around us, and not just the energy we give but the energy we draw from those people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, let’s see, so in your book you mentioned five skills, and it sounds like we’ve hit a few of them: positive thought, team building, grit, higher expectations, and focus. Are there any of these that you think we’ve covered too shallowly and we got to give a little bit more love to before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ivan Joseph
Well, I think the one that we haven’t touched is this ‘higher expectations’ one, and I think this is really key about we talk about it from the Pygmalion Effect is what we call it in the world of leadership or sport in which people will rise through a minimum level of expectations. And I think this is really important for leaders that are out in the field. It’s about, “How do you lead people to be excellent and confident? And how can you influence them?” And one of the ways is about catching them when they’re good because they’ll raise your minimum level of expectations.

And what I mean by that is we know that if you are critical, if you give negative feedback, “Hey, I need this presentation to look like this. Hey, this chart didn’t have what I needed on it. Hey, I need you to do this, this, and this,” that we know that we’ll get the behavior we want. But, typically, it erodes the relationship. Typically, it creates conflict.

If we can, instead, forget about that, the negative things that people are doing, and instead focus on the team member that might be doing it right, meaning, you’re in a meeting, “Hey, folks, thanks for coming on time to this meeting. It helps us get started.” Or somebody presented a report, “Hey, I love how this report was. Notice the font size is the way I want it. I love that the logo is here on the bottom left.” Instead, what happens is you catch people when they’re good. And what we’ve known and what we’ve seen in the research is that improvement exponentially improves over when we catch them when they’re bad.

In the world of psych, we call this the social learning theory, is that people learn through observation. If we can focus on the excellence, now, what happens is instead of us tearing down a player over here who was really sour or bitter or angry because of our feedback, we built up somebody else, and they feel great and aligned to you and really increase their loyalty and their willingness to follow you, and we’ve said somebody else over here is like, “Oh, I better pay attention. I want that same feedback.” And the whole organization rises because you catch them when they’re good.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, I think the last piece is just to remind people that this is a skill. The skill of self-confidence isn’t about just sitting here and, “Okay, I’ve tried. I wrote this letter, I read it once, it didn’t work.” “Oh, I said my affirmation today, and it didn’t happen.” “Well, I tried praise and it still hasn’t happened.” We have to be willing to persist just like the master of any task in the workplace, and give it an opportunity to grab hold.

And so, for the listeners that are out there, be patient with yourselves, and be patient with the people that you’re leading, because good things will happen if you give it an opportunity to shine, and you will see a cultural shift in the people, and, most importantly, or just as importantly, a cultural shift in yourself in how you approach leading.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, one of my favorites is an old Apple commercial. I always attribute it to Steve Jobs but I know it’s somebody different, but it was after Steve Jobs had been kicked out of his company and he came back, and they launched this commercial in the Super Bowl, and it was called “Here’s to the crazy ones.” I don’t know if you know. It’s really a poem. “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.” And I’ll fast-forward to the last line, “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” I love it because it speaks to a higher purpose.

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

Ivan Joseph
Oh, gosh, being a psychologist, I have a whole bunch. But one of them is a study by Jacobson and Rosenthal. Jacobson and Rosenthal studied the Pygmalion Effect in a New York high school, and what they did was they brought some teachers, and then they said to these teachers, “Hey, we developed this late-blooming acquisition test. It’s an amazing test. It will tell of all your students who the best late bloomers are.”

And so, of course, the teachers said, “Yeah,” and so they administered the test. And these students in the back of the class, the very back, the ones you would think would be the dumbest, most bonehead, because that’s what they sit. At least, that’s where I’ve sat but don’t tell anybody. They said, “These students here scored the highest on the late-blooming acquisition test. We’re going to come back at the end of the year and see how our test works.”

So, Jacobson and Rosenthal show up, and sure enough, at the end of the year, the teachers were excited, “Ah, your late-blooming acquisition, this was amazing, it worked. It did everything what it’s supposed to do.” But, as you can imagine, the magic of it was there was no such thing as a late-blooming acquisition test. It was a confederate. It was a ploy. In fact, what happened was the teachers, because they expected more from these students, they called on them more. They didn’t ask, they didn’t take the dog-ate-my-homework as an excuse. They didn’t say, “I don’t know good enough.” They didn’t say, “Okay, you know how you avoid eye contact when you don’t know the answer?”

By those teachers interacting differently with those students, those students exceeded their own expectations and rose to the expectations of the teachers. And this has been a key tool in my leadership toolbox.

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

Ivan Joseph
Oh, well, one of my favorite books, and don’t tell anybody because it’s one of those things. It was Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, hey, we have some more Tony Robbins references here, yeah.

Ivan Joseph
Right. Have you read that one?

Pete Mockaitis
I believe it is on my shelf, yeah. When I was a teenager, Tony Robbins was who I wanted to be. Fun fact, I was a weird kid. But, yeah, what’s something useful from that book that was impactful for you?

Ivan Joseph
You know, at the time I read that book I’d flunked out of school and I hadn’t told my parents. And, for me, what I liked about it was it gave you the ownership and the control. It was about awakening the giant within. Stop blaming everybody else outside, external reasons for why you’re not succeeding. It’s time for you to really take ownership, and you have the ability to control your destiny, where you want to be, who you want to be, and what you want to do. And I remember taking that to heart and really just taking my life right by the scruff of the collar and just deciding I was going to drive where I wanted to be.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, I’m a big believer in surrounding myself with the right talent. And so, for me, that tool is I’m really careful about who I choose, and I really pay particular attention about who I hire and how I hire. And you always talk about it, it’s like fire fast, hire slow. I don’t think people think enough about building culture, and these other things that when you’re asking the questions around the workplace or in the interview process that will get at, “Who do you want and do they fit?” because that fit is so important. That values alignment is mission critical.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Ivan Joseph
I’m a morning person and I found this out by accident. But one of my favorite habits is getting up early to make sure I align my day up right. That time before anybody gets up is so productive. I’m not part of Sharma’s, 5 AM Club. I’m not that, but I’m probably a 5:30-5:45 club. But the ability to set your day out to really think about what those three big buckets, or four big bucket things are, that’s the way you move your needle.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share and you’re known for, people quote it back to you often?

Ivan Joseph
I think it’s about getting away from the people who will tear you down. I think that’s really important because you will start to believe them. And if you can’t be really careful and mindful of who those people are, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, and they will undo all the good work you’re doing for yourself.

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

Ivan Joseph
Well, I would point them to You Got This launching soon as an Amazon website, or an Amazon book but I’d also point them to my website Dr. Ivan Joseph coming soon, so stay tuned. You can find me on Twitter, I guess, @DrIvanJoseph.

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

Ivan Joseph
I think one of the things that I want to remind people is that you’ve got to remember that if you don’t think you can or if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will. And I want to remind them that they’ve already achieved success, if they’re in a position right now where they’ve done a really nice job, or they’ve been promoted, and so we already know that you’re capable and competent. Just remind yourselves of that and keep reminding of yourselves of that when you go out into that next-level job and opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ivan, thanks so much for taking this time. And I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Ivan Joseph
My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Pete. I really appreciate it.