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290: How to Make the Impossible Happen with Steve Sims

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Bluefish founder Steve Sims shares the approaches that enable him to create legendary experiences for his exclusive clientele.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How Steve got the Pope to drop by and bless his client’s wedding
  2. The magic question that unleashes possibilities
  3. How relationships are like oak trees

About Steve

Steve Sims is is the visionary founder of Bluefish: the world¹s first luxury concierge company that delivers the highest level of personalized travel, transportation, and cutting-edge entertainment services to corporate executives, celebrities, professional athletes, and other discerning individuals interested in living life to its fullest. He has been invited to speak to MBA students at Harvard (twice), has spoken at the Pentagon, and has been featured in major media all around the world: From The Sunday Times and China Post, to The Wall Street Journal. You can learn more at stevedsims.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Steve Sims Interview Transcript

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

Steve Sims
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got so many interesting tales with your clients and extraordinary experiences that folks have had. I was most intrigued if I could hear the tale behind how you got a client to get married in the Vatican by the Pope.

Steve Sims
Yeah. I get some strange ones.

I had a client that just said he only planned on getting married once and he wanted to do it at the top-shelf level. I asked him – I actually flew into Europe and I asked, “What does that mean?” and he went, “I’d love to get married in the Vatican.” We then had to do it.

Bottom line of it is we had no idea what we were doing. In fact I will whole heartedly say that I have no idea what I’m doing 90% of the time. I just make steps to find what needs to be done quickly and in this situation I knew some powerful people in Europe, I knew some powerful people in Italy, so I just started reaching out.

I went out shaking the bush to find out if anyone had any leads, spoke to a very important family in Florence. I said to them, “Look, I want to do this in the Vatican, but like everything I do, I want to see if I can push it further. I want to see how far I can do it.” They said, “Well, what you need is you need someone to introduce you.”

Believe it or not, it’s very, very, very cheap to get married in the Vatican, but you have to have someone allow you to do it and that’s the problem. Along the way of getting people to allow you to do it, those are the people that cost the money.

It’s like most things. You want to go down in the Formula One race in Monaco with Ferrari, the tickets literally say on them one Euro, but you can spend thousands upon tens of thousands to get those tickets. The Oscars have zero price on them, but they’re very expensive if people sell them on. It’s usually the people that get you the ability to have a yes that are more expensive than the venue itself.

I spoke to these people in Florence. They said, “We know some people who know some people,” and we started on the ladder of getting in.

As soon as we knew we had the opportunity for the Vatican, we wanted to find out what chapel we could use. As soon as they show you what chapel we can use, you push it and you go, “Is there another? Is there an alternative we could look?” You just push it and push it until you basically in the end of the road and you get the best possible chapel.

“Well, this would be fantastic. I have to approach this subject and it may sound silly, but what are the opportunities of-“this is a better way of putting it, “What needs to happen in order for the Pope to actually do the ceremony himself?”

You learn the lesson very quickly in my job, never ask a question that they can answer yes or no to, unless that’s the answer you want. No is the easiest word in the planet. Every language in the world can say no. It’s short, easy, and nine times out of ten, the knee-jerk reaction for every question you ask that’s even slightly out of the realm of normality. Don’t ask a question where they can give a gut response with no.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, I’m on the edge of my seat. You said, “What has to happen?” what did you hear? What happened?

Steve Sims
It was kind of “Well, you need to get permission.” I went back, asking people, “How do I get permission?” Then you had to do the walk of the Vatican. You had to visit the certain areas of the Vatican to make sure it could happen.

Then the chapel was chosen, the ceremony commenced, halfway through the ceremony, the Pope walks in and blesses them mid-ceremony and then leaves. The funny thing is, no photography was allowed for the event.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Intriguing. What were the steps that led to the Pope getting the message? By the way, which pope?

Steve Sims
Francis, the current one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the current pope. Okay, cool. Pope Francis, how does he get the memo and how is he inclined to say yes?

Steve Sims
Well, I’m a great believer in two things. No one ever got on the roof without climbing a ladder. I literally will have everyone be a rung of that ladder to get me to where I want to go. As we all know, ladders start at the bottom, which is one step.

I’m using that analogy to make it simple so people realize very quickly, if they haven’t already, there’s no super intelligence on the other side of this podcast. It’s just real – it’s an I can over an IQ. I won’t allow the fact that it’s never been done before to be of any significance to the conversation whatsoever.

I will ask someone that knows more than me, “How would you go about it? What would need to happen you would perceive for this to happen? How would you go about this step?” You ask five people that and you usually find they’ll be a commonality between say two or three of the answers.

Then you go, “Oh, can you help me? Can you introduce me to that person?” If I go in cold, they’re going to go, “Well, who are you?” I want to avoid all that conversation. “Can you contact them as someone that knows me and goes, ‘Steve Sims, startlingly good looking man, perfect face for podcast, can you help him?’”

Nine times out of ten I get other people to introduce me to that person and in fact I would say it’s probably my secret sauce, that way allows more people when I reach out to them they go, “Bobby was telling me that you sent people down to the Titanic and you do this for your own job. How can I help you?” You go, “Glad you asked that question. This is what I’m looking for.”

Sometimes you’ll get, “No, I used to be part of that, but I can’t now.” You go, “Fair enough, I appreciate it.” You may even turn around and go look, “You’re not involved in that now, but if I ever find something that would still be in your circle of influence, do you mind if I come back to you?”

Remember the relationship you make today, may not be one that can be utilized for two, three, four, ten years. But if you look at it for a quick gain, those are usually the weakest relationships. Always be open to see where doors open and keep those doors open.

I just literally got ahold of people that can make the right phone calls, make the right whisper in the ear. When I asked the Vatican to make the question, while they were doing that, I went to other people so that he would get the same request from about four different angles of credibility and respect so that I would be within that same model.

They say credibility by association, if I’ve got five people that you respect telling you I’m brilliant, then I’m going to be credible before you’ve ever spoken to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I guess I’m wondering, with the message, there wasn’t any sort of magic in it as opposed to – or brilliance in terms of the offer, like, “Hey, Pope Francis, I know you’re big on mercy and the joy of the Gospel and forming missionary disciples and if you go here-“ there’s none of that, it’s just people making the introduction, right?

Steve Sims
Exactly. A lot of the time – it’s hard for me – I may know what you have an interest in, especially when you’re working with a certain level. We can brushstroke this with major celebrities, business icons from Elon Musk to Pope Francis. When you’re up in that level, the easiest way for you to get a no, is to contact these people and go, “Hey, how much is it going to cost me?” Money-

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It almost kind of cheapens it, like, “Oh, he is not for sale, Steve. How dare you?”

Steve Sims
Oh, you can guarantee you’re kicked off the line in a heartbeat.  You need to do your homework. You need to either go in there.

In the situation in the Vatican, which is still one of the wealthiest cities in the world, the Vatican itself, and as a country, designate a self-governed country, but the bank of the Vatican is one of the wealthiest banks in the world.

You can’t go there and go. “Hey, I’ll make this payment. I’ll wire the-” They don’t care. You’ve got to go in there and either find something they want or find someone they’ll do it for. I have no idea what my people have done to have the respect that they did from the Vatican, but I made sure that the people asking the question had the ears and the attention of the people they were asking.

I’ll do that with anyone. If I need to get ahold of Richard Branson, Elon Musk, any of these people, I will make sure that the people that I’m talking with have that credibility and respect in the sandpit that when they reach out, they are listened to.

Now, during that I need to come up with what’s the win here. It’s very much easier with everyone else other than the Pope. But I may find out that they’ve got a book coming out, they’ve got a project coming out, they support a local school, they support a local cause, they’re big on a certain gala in their hometown.

You can research things and go, “Hey, I believe you’re part of this such and such gala once a year in Dallas, Texas.” They can go, “Oh, yeah.” “This is what I’d like to do. You know I want something, but I’m going to tell you quickly what I can do for you. I can help promote that. I can help sell out half the arena. Would that be of interest?” Give them a win-win quickly that shows you’ve done a bit of homework.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Thanks for taking us through that pathway.

Maybe we need to back up a smidge. Could you give me a little bit of context? You’ve got a company Bluefish and a book that talks about a bit of your escapades with that company called Bluefishing. What’s the background story here?

Steve Sims
As we’ve already said, if any – I doubt by now anyone listening to this has thought that I’m a genius. That’s good. I’m a bricklayer from East London that went from working on the door to becoming a concierge for not the rich and famous, but the richer and unknown throughout the globe.

I’m a big deal in probably the top 3% of the world. But my website doesn’t even have a phone number on it. There’s no way of contacting me unless you know someone who knows me.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel cool just talking to you now. “Oh, how did Pete do it?”

Steve Sims
Oh, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve just got to know people who respect Steve Sims. That’s what it’s about.

Steve Sims
Yeah, you know people who know people.

It just grew. Then a couple of years ago Simon & Schuster asked me if I would do a book. I’ve been offered to do a book. I’ve been in the media many, many years. We’re about 23 years old now, so we’ve been in every kind of publication worldwide you can think of, but we never wanted to do a book exposing the clients.

But this time they actually said to me, “No, no, no, we don’t want you talking about what you do for your clients. We want to know how you do it. How do you build up relationships? How do you create a win-win? How do you consult luxury brands and solopreneurs with the same passion and detail.”

It was a great opportunity at the ripe old youthful age of 51 to just go, “I’m going to talk about a bricklayer, how he gets to do this with Elon Musk and the steps it takes to create an irresistible relationship and how to solidify a message to be completely transparent, to be impossible to misunderstand.”

All of those elements, because I’m a great believer that you can download an app now for everything, from how to wash your T-shirt to how to speak in Chinese, how to calculate the weight of a bridge based on a scan from a picture. You can get an app for anything now, but you still cannot get an app that will teach you how to communicate one human to another human.

People have actually called me a master communicator. I am not a gifted or master communicator. I am actually not a very good communicator at all, but I am looking exceptional because of how bad everyone else is getting at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, well that’s a nice frame. Let’s hear it. We’ve heard a couple of the perspectives. Could you share a few more in terms of the core principles and favorite tactics?

Steve Sims
Do your research. If there’s someone that you really want to speak – I’m a great believer that it’s positioning. Everything in life is positioning.

If there’s someone that you want to meet, whether it be romantically, business-wise, mentorship… whatever, but if it’s someone significant enough that you want to get into a relationship with that person, that’s the key. I’m not on about getting a selfie outside a bar at 12:00 at night in Hollywood. I’m on about a relationship. If you want to get a relationship with someone, do your homework.

The internet has given us the ability for you to be able to Google anyone. It could be the principal of your local school, it could be the real estate developer on a new project, it could be the Pope himself.
You can Google what they’re interested in, where they’re seen, what they’re behind, what they support.

And then in doing so, you can actually make sure that now that you’ve seen that they go to a lot of horse events and that they have a great love of equestrian, you can start hanging out in those circles.

Then when you see them, you can make sure you go to the bar or you go to the restaurant, you sidle up next to them, and as you’re doing something you can go, “Hey, listen. That’s a nice watch. Oh, you’re so and so. Didn’t I hear somewhere that you’re a collector of watches?” Drop a nugget in. There’s nothing easier to get someone talking than when they’re talking about themselves or something they love, which in some cases is the same thing.

If you can get them talking about or say, “Hey, I saw you in a magazine and you were with a Porsche. Why do you like vintage Porsches? I saw you were doing something with this vineyard. I like whiskey. Why do you like wine?”

It’s going to be for two seconds while we’re getting a drink. Just do something like that to get them. It shows a commonality. It shows that you’re actually being completely open. You’re not trying to go, “Oh, I didn’t recognize. Oh I didn’t know who you were.” Don’t be an idiot. You stood there. You’re talking to the guy. They probably think that you’re sniffing around in any case, so say to them, “Oh, you’re so-and-so.”

Be very transparent but be entertaining. I’m a great believer in all communication has to have the three E’s. You have to be engaging. You have to be educational. You have to entertaining. If you can have those three, in any communication, whether it be a podcast or chatting up a person at the bar, if you’ve got those three things in there, then you’re going to do well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very nice. In the book you lay out a few particular elements such as the password. Could you unpack that a little bit in terms of what do you mean by password and then how do we get it?

Steve Sims
Yeah, this was a huge intelligent idea of ours. We started throwing parties in Hong Kong, me and this fellow meathead that I worked on the door with. We invited rich people to come to them because guess what? Poor people can’t afford to. Quite simply I invited rich people because I could make money out of rich people.

I thought to myself, but I don’t want to be inviting problems to the club. I don’t want some arrogant git turning up at the door and demeaning everyone and being disrespectful.

What we did was we came up with this really silly, and it is silly, little principle, this little game. What we would do, and this is back in the ‘90s, the age of the fax. We would fax them where the location of the bar was, what time the party started and the password.

What we thought was if you’re humble and solid enough, confident enough to quote a silly phrase, that’s the person we want. We want the people that are up for a laugh. We don’t want the arrogant person turn up going, “I’m on the list. Let me in. You’re wasting my time.” I want the people that are there for a bit of a giggle.

We used to make up the stupidest passwords. We had finish this sentence, ‘One fish, two fish, red fish …’ so people would walk up to us and go, “Blue fish,” and we’d let them in. That’s where the company name came from. That’s how deep we are. It literally came from a password that we used repetitively.

But we would also come up with one and say to people, “Name two of the Telletubbies.” You’d have the head of an airline come up to you or the owner of a bank and go, “Tinky-Winky, Po,” and we’d say, “In you go. Enjoy your night.” It was just a really good way.

We got people turning up going, “Oh, I don’t know the password. Let me in.” We’d stand there and we’d be like, “There’s no party here, mate. No, no. Sorry, you must be in the wrong place.” The whole party is going off behind us. There’s people in a line and we would just dismiss them and get rid of them. Then the next person would step in and go, “Tinky-Winky.” We’d go, “In you go. Enjoy yourself.”

We noticed that if we had a password, if we had a hurdle, if we had something that you had to do, even if it made you slightly uncomfortable, you were more committed and loyal once you were on the other side of it.

We’ve had passwords for many of our events. I’ve worked with Sir Elton John at his Oscar party every year. We have a pre-party on a Friday. We use the exact same thing. We have a password.

We got these people from all over the world in black ties and ball gowns that have paid a serious amount of money, a small car, to go to one of my events, and they’re not getting in the door still unless they’re humble enough to come and say this funny password and we let them in. It’s all a state of mind and a position.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. This reminds me. I had a client who will remain nameless. He was a psychiatry student. He would have parties in which at the front of the door, he would have a handful of pills and we would say, “Well, you’ve got to take one of the pills to come into the party.” Folks were like, “Uh, no thanks,” would go away verse the person who did were, they’re like, “This is an adventurous, bold person. That’s what we’re going here for.”

Now all of the pills were placebos and that could probably get him in some trouble with the review board, so he’ll remain nameless. But it has a similar effect for good or for evil.

Steve Sims
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Of the filtration there.

Steve Sims

Yeah, I’m a great believer on the filter. Even when we get people actually try and join any of my groups, like I have a very successful consulting practice. I interview every single person that I’m going to consult before I go into a consultation. I want to make sure it’s the right fit.

As I openly say, and I don’t want to offend anyone, “Assholes don’t get better with time,” so if you take someone into your company, even if you take them on board as a client, if they’re a dickhead when they come into your company, they’re only going to become a bigger dickhead during the company. Try to be careful of the people you take into your group, into your circle, into your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very nice. Well, there’s a few more elements I want to make sure to cover. You talked about making yourself impossible to misunderstand. What does that look like in practice and how do people screw that up?

Steve Sims
There’s this word at the moment going around that I absolutely despise called authenticity. People go, “Oh, he’s so authentic.” That’s ridiculous. It’s like looking at someone and go, “Oh, he’s bleeding. He’s walking.” It should be something that we take for granted and we don’t draw focus to. But now authenticity, because we live in an insta-perfect life, authenticity is something we strive to find.

I’m a great believer in something called transparency.

I’m also a great believer that my stomach is far smarter than my head, so when you meet someone you look at the suit. Whether or not you think you do, you do. You look at the car, you look at the key ring, you look at the jewelry, you look at the watch, the shoes, the belt.

You look at the whole makeup of that person, even if it’s in nanoseconds and you look at that person to judge friend or foe, can I trust them, is this someone I want to hang around with, and that’s your mental perspective.

Then your stomach gets those little butterflies. The guy is talking a bit too much here and I’m not quite sure I believe what he’s saying. You get those little butterflies. I’m a great believer that forget your head, forget the visuals, if you’ve got butterflies, move away. Get away from someone.

I’m a great believer in talking to people, trying to use transparency in the communication. The easiest way to do that is to be – and I’m going to quote a sentence here from Brian Kurtz and Joe Polish, ‘There’s a difference between being easy to understand and impossible to misunderstand.’

If I’m speaking with someone and I say something along the lines of, “Hey, Pete, I’ve heard about your show. It sounds like a fantastic show. I don’t know too much about it,” don’t lie, “I don’t know too much about it, but I’ve had enough people tell me that I should chat with you in order to be on your show. Is that something that you’re open to pursuing?” Be as blunt and as bold as that.

Don’t go up and go, “Oh, Pete, I’m your greatest fan. What’s the chances, if you don’t mind, if it wouldn’t be an inconvenience.” That’s all fluff. I want to be crystal clear.

When I go up to iconic people that I’ve just started working with or I want to work with. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been at a party and I know someone has contacted someone else and introduced me, but I haven’t yet been able to speak to them.

I’ll go up to them and I’ll go, “Are you Roger-” and they go, “Yes, I am.” “My name is Steve Sims. I believe someone has already reached out to you. If it’s of interest to you, I look forward to making communication with you. But I just wanted to say I’m here. I’m actually going to go over and grab a drink if you’ve got the time, would you like to join me, if not, we’ll talk another time.”

Just keep things real, bold, and direct, and don’t waste the time. You’ll be surprised that when you’re that polite and very transparent, I’ve never had anyone go, “I’ll get back to you.” I’ve always, when I’ve approached it like that, I’ve had them go, “Well, I need a drink. Yeah, let’s just grab a drink together.” “Okay, fine.” Then we’ve gone over and we’ve ended up having a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah.

Steve Sims
That’s the key. Whenever you get into any relationship, you’ve got to look at the relationship and go, “Look, is this a fad or is this an oak tree.”

I look at every relationship with those two questions. Is this person here to help me with this project or is this someone that I want to grow a relationship with. I can know a cool catering company in say Paraguay and know that more likely I’m not going to be there again and I can go, “Thank you so much. It’s been wonderful,” but there may not be any need to invest any further in that relationship.

Then there will be someone I meet that I’d go, “Hey, I really want to be-“ that’s when I look at them as an oak tree.

When I say an oak tree, an oak tree starts off as a little seed. It can be stamped on. It can be crushed. It can die of starvation. To become an oak tree, you have to water it, nurture it, prune it, protect it. So the time that it’s a 300-year-old oak tree and you can run a bus into it and it will still be standing. That’s a relationship.

Relationships are not by sending someone a Christmas card every year. You’ve got to prune them. You’ve got to massage them. You’ve got to feed them. You’ve got to protect them. You’ve got to put energy into anything worth its weight in gold. That’s why I say, when you meet someone, is this a fad or is this an oak tree. That’s how I look at every relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that perspective. As you relay that scenario in which you’re interacting with someone who is high status or influential or super busy or maybe annoyed that you’re approaching them, you have got a turn or a phrase about getting comfortable being uncomfortable. How’s that done in practice?

Steve Sims
Well, as I said to you in the beginning, I don’t know 90% of what I’m doing. I’ve had people ask me to close down museums and have Andrea Bocelli serenade them. I’ve asked people – asked me to send them down to the Titanic. Where do you start? The same as everything, you start at the beginning.

There was a period in my life where I was starting to do more and more of this stuff that I would sit there and almost do a little jingle on the spot and go, “Oh my God, what am I going to do now?” My insides, my little leprechaun is just dancing around going, “Whoa, what’s going to happen? I don’t know what I’m going to do next.”

But then I suddenly got used to the fact that most people don’t know what to do. I got comfortable with hang on a minute, why don’t I ask people. “Do you have any idea what would need to happen in order for this to happen? Have you ever done anything like this and if so, what can I do to emulate it?”

I started asking questions. I found the more that I ventured out – it’s the classic elastic band – the more you stretch, you never go back to your original shape. I’ve been uncomfortable many, many, many times.

And my dad actually – and it’s in my book – my dad actually said to me many years ago and it’s probably one of my fondest quotes. At the age of 16 I had no idea, like all kids, no idea what my dad was talking about. I remember my dad just looking at me one day and just going, “Son, no one ever drowned by falling in the water, they drowned by staying there,” and then he walked off.

I remember at the age of 16 going, “What the bloody hell was that about?” It hasn’t been until my later years that I realized that if you’re not getting the answer you want, try a different question or try the same question with a different person, but if you keep trying to do the exact same thing you’re doing and you keep getting the same result that you’re getting, that’s where you’re going to drown.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about asking three times. What’s the thought process there?

Steve Sims
Yeah, a lot of people, they will come to me. They will see me in the newspaper. They will read a book. They will see me on speaking gigs and they want to do something, but there’s a great deal of humiliation that stops most people actually getting to do what they want to do.

They will come to me, they may want to do something big and grand, but they’re actually scared of humiliation. In fact, most people don’t do things not for the fear of failure, but for the fear of being laughed at.

People come to me and they go, “Oh, I’d really like to just shake the hand of – I’d really like to meet-“ they want to do more than that, but they’re scared of it. You just go, “All right,” and you just let them talk. Then you go, “All right, why do you want to do that?” Literally just ask why and shut up.

Then they will go, “Oh, well, you know, this happened in my life and this happened and they were there and it supported me. I just felt that that would be a good chance to-“ “So there’s quite a bit of meaning to it. It’s not just a quick thought you’ve come up with.” “Oh no, no, no. I’ve had this dream for a while.”

“Okay, so you’re telling me that you’ve had this dream for a while, but you shaking their hands, is that really going to be the crescendo to the end of this movie? Is that going to be case closed, end of chapter? Would that really be significant? Is there something that we could do that would really get you excited and basically wake you up at 2 o’clock in the morning going ‘Holy hell, I can’t believe I did that.’?”

Each time you ask, you start to unlock them a little bit more and you get closer and closer. In the end, you’re prodding the …. When you’re there, you actually can just play with it and find out.

If someone’s really passionate about something, I hate to say it, but they’ll sell their first born to get it. Really dive in to what’s important to them. Never take the first answer because what people say and what they mean quite often are two different things. If it’s about the fantastical and the whimsical and the passion, nine times out of ten, they’re too shy to really expose to you what it is in case you’ll laugh at them.

And you know what I look like. I’m a big ugly fellow. A lot of people now openly tell me what they like because they know the amount of people I work with and they know how credible I am at doing what I do. But a lot of people for many years were very cautious and scared and apprehensive about basically what is unveiling yourself to expose what you’re really excited about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful, particularly early on. “I just met you,” in terms of there’s a certain level of vulnerability or exposure that is just uncomfortable for folks so they don’t quite go there.

Steve Sims
Yes, yes, exactly. You’re right. You’ve got to help them. You’ve got to ask the questions. “Is this going to do it? Why do you want to do that? Hey, I’m here for you. Let me in. Tell me why you’re stood here in front”

I’ve had people they’ve had the whiskeys at night. They texted me at 1 o’clock in the morning or phoned me, left a message. “Steve, I want to talk to you about doing this because I really want to do it.”

Then when you speak to them in the morning, the drinks worn off and they’re a little bit more embarrassed about actually fully exposing it, which to be honest with you also is great news for me because it makes me look like a rock star when I’ve exceeded what you’ve first asked for.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool. Steve, tell me anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Steve Sims
No, I just want people to get out of their own way. Basically, get that saying that I said about drowning in the water, write it down on a piece of paper, and don’t be one of those people that drown by staring at things too much. Just keep moving. But nope, let’s continue with the podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
All right then. Tell me, can you share a favorite quote and maybe you already did, something that you find inspiring?

Steve Sims
That one was probably one of my most favorite. One of mine that I probably use most regular is I ask myself whenever I’m doing anything that’s copy or writing, ‘Is this impossible to misunderstand?’ I use that one. That’s more of a working quote that I use to myself a thousand times a day whenever I write to someone. Is my message to them impossible to misunderstand?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thanks. How about a favorite book?

Steve Sims
What? Apart from mine? I’m actually a funny reader. I don’t – books aggravate the hell out of me. Joe Polish sends me a load of books. I get very aggravated because as he says aggravated oysters makes pearls.

When I’m reading a motivational book by like Ryan Holiday or Tucker Max or Cameron Herold, or any of these people, Tim Ferriss. I get aggravated because I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got to do that. I’ve got to make some notes.” I find myself getting agitated.

So when I do like to read, I like to escape. I really like the Dragon Tattoo books, the trilogy that they did. I really like anything by Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I like to escape my world when I read. Otherwise, I’ll audiobook any of the ones I know I’m going to be aggregated by.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Steve Sims
I’m actually talking to you from the garage of my motorcycles. I collect motorcycles. My favorite tool is to jump on two wheels and escape. That’s my safe zone.

When you’re on a bike, when you’re playing golf, when you’re waterskiing, when you’re doing kickboxing, when you’re doing yoga, you can’t be thinking about anything else. That’s my meditation. That’s my escape. My favorite tool is two wheels going around the canyons.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Any other favorite habits?

Steve Sims
Whiskey, hugging my wife and barbequing badly.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Tell me is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people when you are hearing your message?

Steve Sims
Yeah, I’m a great believer, and this is usually my consultant gigs and my speaking, I’m a great believer in keeping things ugly. We’ve become too Photoshopped and we’re living in an insta-perfect world all the time.

Every time you see anything, you look at someone and you suddenly realize that the girl’s actually 12 foot tall and the legs are 9 foot. We’ve got used to seeing things that aren’t real anymore.

You’ll look at a real estate advert and you’ll see a beautiful apartment building and the apartment building just happens to have left out all the other buildings around it and shown this big sunset and a picture of the ocean in it and it’s in Minneapolis or Chicago. It’s not even near the ocean.

You can’t trust what you can see nowadays. I’m a great believer in #filterfree. Don’t filter stuff.

If you want to write something, try handwriting it. Instead of typing the letter, handwrite the letter.  A minimum, handwrite the envelope. Use text more. Use video texting more. But do things that expose you and your full content, not just shouting and yelling the message.

I once had a guy yell at me because he had texted me or messaged me on Twitter and I hadn’t responded. That’s not communication. Communication is two people in front of each other going, “This, this.” It’s a back and forth, back and forth. It’s not throwing a message out there and hoping someone responds.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Steve Sims
My terminology with that is keep things ugly, raw, and real.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And do you have a particular place you point people to if they want to learn more or get in touch?

Steve Sims
I’ve got a website with all my ramblings and rants called SteveDSims, S-I-M-S, that’s SteveDSims.com.

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

Steve Sims
Yeah, do something that arouses you. I want you to something that you haven’t done that just excites you and just kind of like would make you wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning going, “Holy hell, I did that today,” and do it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, Steve, thank you so much for sharing this. It’s exciting, opening a world of new ideas and possibilities and boldness. It’s been a lot of fun and I wish you and Bluefish tons of luck.

Steve Sims
Thanks pal, appreciate it.

289: How Executives End Up in the C-Suite with Cassandra Frangos

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“Executive Whisperer” Cassandra Frangos outlines what it takes to become a Chief Something Officer and how to garner needed  support along the way.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When to follow—and when to disrupt— company culture
  2. One thing our listeners and most CEOs have in common
  3. How to pick up on social cues that can make or break your career

About Cassandra

Cassandra Frangos, Ed.D., is a consultant on Spencer Stuart’s Leadership Advisory Services team. She collaborates with Fortune 500 leadership teams on executive assessments, succession planning, leadership development and top team effectiveness. Previously, Cassandra was the head of the global executive talent practice at Cisco, where she was responsible for accelerating the readiness of the talent at all levels of the organization to transform the business and culture. Through partnerships with the executive team, she deployed innovative approaches to organization design, succession planning, assessment, coaching and development programs to drive business results and innovation. She also played an integral role in the 2015 succession planning for Cisco’s CEO, one of the most respected and longest-tenured CEOs in the tech industry.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Cassandra Frangos Interview Transcript

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

Cassandra Frangos
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a little bit interested to hear your story, how you made the leap from being a vice president of Global Executive Talent at Cisco over now to your current role.

Cassandra Frangos
Yes, so it’s actually a funny story, where I actually worked with Spencer Stuart at Cisco.  I worked on our CEO succession, and C-suite succession.  And Cisco was really just I think a great company that was able to partner with many firms, and in my role of Executive Talent I did a lot of executive assessment and succession myself with my team.  But when it came time for CEO succession, I really wanted an external partner and Spencer Stuart was that for me, and just was fabulous at helping me think about, how do our internal candidates compare to the outside and what are some other things we should think about as we go through the CEO succession process?
So we became friends and partners along the way, and then a few years later, after Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco, was well established, Spencer Stuart came knocking at my door and said, “We’d love to have you as part of the team.”  And for those listening, they did not violate any non-compete, so it was all above board.  But yeah, I was happy to go work with many of the people that I had worked with previously.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent.  And I’m sure, boy, with that role, doing talent at Cisco, I’m sure you must have just learned so many things and seen so many things, in terms of applicants and interviews and just the whole process of folks coming on board.  I’d love it if you could maybe just share a tip or two, when it comes to, “Hey, as someone who’s done a whole lot of hiring and supervising of hiring, here are some do’s and don’ts”.

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think part of it is, there are so many ways that people look at you in terms of your brand internally and externally, and people have ways of being a few degrees of separation.  So sometimes you think, “Oh, they haven’t called my direct boss”, but actually someone has called your direct report from few jobs ago to find out who you are as a leader.  So, I think the world is hyper connected and just know that don’t burn any bridges as you go along in your career, because that is so important.
And as I was in the role of talent, that was always a key part, is, what’s this person’s brand and what would they bring to a company like Cisco?  And then even as they were looking at internal jobs in Cisco, what was their brand in terms of the last team they worked with or what were they like as a young manager and what would they be like as an executive?  So there’s always interconnectedness there.
And then always just be mindful of how you treat people.  I think that’s always something where, how did you treat the person who actually walked you into your interview, or the admin who was helping you get everything scheduled?  How you treat those people is actually even more important as you think about even marketing yourself for a new job.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.  And I’d like to follow up on your point about not burning bridges there.  In putting together this course about changing jobs and whether or not you should stay or go , it’s been interesting how a lot of listeners have said they’re really scared to burn bridges and maybe they ought not to leave as a result.  And so, my intuition about this is that there’s a good way and a not so good way to leave, and burning bridges specifically refers to kind of leaving people in a tight spot.  So, any pro tips for exiting gracefully and how to not let that fear stop you from taking the opportunity?

Cassandra Frangos
Right, it’s a good question.  So my advice would be, if you’re a senior and you’ve got a huge team that you’re responsible for or a large part of the business that you’re responsible for, is always be thinking about your own succession.  That’s one way to not leave a company in the lurch.  So many senior executives are constantly thinking about their own succession, so that they’re not leaving a company in the lurch.  Or even if they move on to a different internal role, there’s somebody who is really ready to take over the business or take over the team so there’s some continuity there.
The other is, I always like to give people the advice of, leave a job on a high note.  Don’t think about leaving the job when you are on a downhill.  Think about changing jobs internally or externally when you really feel like you’ve maxed your potential, everything is running well and it’s a good time to hand off to somebody else.  Don’t necessarily think about leaving it when it needs a big turnaround or it’s a mess, because chances are you’re going to need to be fixing it and it could burn a bridge if you’re leaving it into complete shambles.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you, that’s helpful.  And so, let’s talk about your book here, Crack the C-Suite Code.  What’s the main idea here?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so it’s actually inspired by a lot of executives or aspiring executives that I’ve worked with over the years who kept asking me, “So how do you get into the C-suite?”  It seems like this mystery of a question sometimes, and I felt bad that everybody thought it was such a mystery.  So I just wanted to write something that outlined different paths to the C-suite and make it inspirational, in the sense that there are many paths, many different ways to get there and it doesn’t have to be just one answer for everybody.  It can take many different turns for each person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  Well, share with us.  What are some of the main insight takeaways here?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so there are a few different paths.  One that you would probably think of is, stay at a company for a really long time and reach the top.  There are so many executives who have inspirational stories where they started out on the front line and then reached CEO, or they started out really not qualified for some of the jobs that they had and they ended up in the C-suite.  So tenured path is certainly one that I talk about in the book.
The second is you’ve reached maybe a peak at your company and you say, “I really, really want to make it to the C-suite, but I don’t think I’ll make it here.”  And they jump out and actually become part of the C-suite of maybe a smaller company or just a different type of company.  I see that happen all the time, where someone’s dream and they can’t sleep at night if they’re not a Chief Financial Officer or they’re not a CEO, and they just won’t necessarily make it at their current company.  So if they go to a different company or a smaller company they reach the top and absolutely love it and enjoy being part of the top.
The other path is the founder path, where you’ve worked maybe at a smaller or larger company, you’ve had great experience and you have such a passion for starting your own company, and that’s where you take the path of founder.  And just really have an idea that you feel passionate about and you really want to make a difference with your own company.  That’s another path.
And then finally the path that’s probably least likely for you to be able to control it, but leapfrog succession is something that’s actually becoming more of a trend, which happened at Cisco, where leapfrog succession is where you were a couple of levels below the C-suite and you jumped over a level to get into the C-suite.  So for example Cisco’s CEO jumped over a level to become the CEO, and that’s becoming more and more common.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing.  And what are the circumstances that make that occur?

Cassandra Frangos
I think there are a few different ones.  One is the company is really ready to embrace a new leader, who is a bit more innovative or even has some new ideas to embrace new technology or take the business in a different direction.  It doesn’t necessarily mean a full turnaround, but it is someone who has some different ideas and is able to leapfrog the company, if you will, and to integrate success.
The other thing is they have established themselves internally as really being someone who has great followership across the company.  So when we announced Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins – standing ovation from across the company.  People just saw him as a natural fit and somebody who would really take Cisco into the future.  So if it’s a leapfrog it does have to be someone who has great followership.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.  Well, so we have a few pathways there, in terms of segmentation and arriving at the C-suite.  And I’d like to maybe sort of go back in time a little bit for folks who are not a year or two or three away from that point just yet.  Can you also share, within the book you’ve got some kind of universal accelerators and derailers that can really make a world of difference, when it comes to the rate of progression?

Cassandra Frangos
Sure.  Accelerators can certainly be looking at something that you haven’t done before.  So if you are a few levels or even several levels below top executive roles, it’s taking on the white space or a new assignment, something that you’ve never done before, it sort of reinvents yourself, you get to know different executives across the company.
The other is just collecting experiences, and I love this.  One executive I worked with – he would always describe it as each experience he’s collecting little nuggets that help him become even more valuable to the company and his career.  So that can often be accelerating.
And then the other is really having the right sponsorship internally and externally in the company.  So if you are inside a company and you’re thinking about making the next step, do you have the right sponsorship of key people who would really say, “Absolutely promote this person.  I would bet my bonus on this person.  They will get results, they’re the right kind of fit, they’re absolutely the right person to accelerate the company or in that particular role.”  So you do need really good sponsors along the way, and people who will really take a risk on you as well, because chances are not everybody’s done these jobs several times over.  Many CEO will say, “I’m not really qualified to do this job”, but somebody is willing to take the risk on them.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.  And do you have any pro tips for how you go about identifying those sponsors and winning them over?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think one of them is chemistry.  If you don’t have great chemistry with someone, they’re not going to sponsor you.  So it can start off as a mentoring relationship where you are just asking for advice and then over time you build a relationship, and then it really grows into more of us sponsorship where they are willing to say, “I’m going to take this person on and make sure they get promoted.”  So it’s being smart of who you’re connected with and who you might have chemistry with, because if you don’t, then you can’t really force it.  It’s not something that you could just say, “Pete, I want you to be my sponsor.”  It’s not going to happen if we don’t have a relationship, or there hasn’t been some way where we’ve been successful together.  So I think that’s important as you think about sponsorship.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  Well, how about the flipside of this, the derailers?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so this one is fun, where if you think about…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, is it?  Doesn’t found fun, Cassandra.

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh]  Yeah.  This is a question that I asked many senior executives, and I said, “What’s been something that you’ve seen derail other executives?”  And they said, “Too big of an ego.”  And you just hear the funniest stories – that’s the way this plays out.  Arrogance really doesn’t get you too far in the world, and a lot of senior executives will make it to a certain level and then you just see them derail because of too big of an ego.
And I think with also the way the world is going, in terms of more interconnectedness, and think about collaboration – no one wants to work with somebody who has too big of an ego or is just arrogant, where they only want to hear themselves talk and they don’t want to hear anyone else’s point of view.  So that can be something to really watch out for.  You need to have confidence of course, if you’re going to make it to the C-suite, but if you’re too arrogant it really won’t get you anywhere.  And you know all those people you’ve met; I mean you know them right away.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear the stories.

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, I’ll tell you one.  One was where an executive who constantly got feedback that he would not listen to anyone’s point of view.  So he’d be in meetings and he would interrupt you every two minutes.  Doesn’t matter who it was that would interrupt them – could be a brilliant engineer that really had a great point; just kept interrupting, wouldn’t listen to anyone’s point of view, everyone left the meeting deflated.  And then if they received feedback or, “We might need to move the product a different way” or, “We might need to think about this differently”, just said, “No, I’m right.  I know I’m right.  I’ve always been right, and thanks for the opinion.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, noted.  Don’t do that.  Thank you.  I want to also dig into your take on, you say a lot of times when there is a failure of leadership it is largely due to a cultural misfit.  And sometimes I wonder when I hear “fit”, if it’s just a euphemism for something else entirely, like, “I’m not going to tell you that this person is a jerk” or, “We hated him” or, “He completely failed to deliver all the things that we wanted.”  … to deliver upon.  But I think other times there’s something that’s really true, in terms of cultural fit, whereas this person is A, the culture is more so B, and it’s not a fit.  So could you just really lay that out in terms of several examples for what shows up as, “Hey, these things fit” or, “These things don’t fit”?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think it’s looking at what kind of environment people can flourish in.  So, we’ve all met someone who would probably be great in a very structured, thinking culture, and they just would really flourish in the way of having procedures, policies, doing the same thing very reliably, and would just get really excited about doing that every single day.  On the flipside you can think about someone who would probably absolutely love to work for Apple – would love the innovation, love different ways of creating new products, and they’re probably willing to take some risk.  Maybe it’s a little bit more agile.
So you can think about two different spectrums and you can even think about yourself as to where you would fit most readily inside a culture.  And you can really feel it because you can get a sense of, “I’d really be excited to work here” or, “I think this would stifle me and I don’t think this would be the best culture for me.”  So I think it can go different ways, where certainly people can use culture as an excuse to, “Well, this person just didn’t work out”, or they really do breed the culture.
You can also think about… I live in Boston and around great universities, and there’s always this debate of what’s the difference between Harvard and MIT.  And I have actually a friend who’s a professor at each.  And the MIT professor is really entrepreneurial, loves to do things different ways, tries different things in the classroom.  And then Harvard Business School is really grounded in case study method.  So this professor that I’m friends with, he is very reliable in the way that he teaches because it’s through the case study method and that’s how he was taught and that’s how he knows how to teach.  So if you put him at MIT, he actually might not succeed because he can’t teach cases over and over again.  And if you put the MIT professor at Harvard, he may not actually be great at the case study method.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s a nice dimension there, in terms of stable repetition, follow the process, versus new, bold, innovation, different stuff.  So, that’s a cool one where we could see a misfit.  Could you give a few more examples?

Cassandra Frangos
Sure.  I think the other is a little bit more nuanced, in terms of, are you a fit with the top team or the team that you’re part of?  So there was one executive that I worked with, where just could not get to the right place in terms of finding his way in the culture; just couldn’t really find a way to establish himself in a way where he was respected.  And respect is everything in an organization, and your ideas are intangible.
So he couldn’t get his ideas through because he just wasn’t really catching some of the subtle cues in the culture.  And it was just a shame because he was brilliant, but without having that acceptance on the team or the team saying, “Hey, let me help you learn this culture.  It’s pretty complex and I want to help you succeed.”  So that can be just something really subtle, where someone can be not successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are some of those cues that one might miss?

Cassandra Frangos
I think it’s how people communicate.  So if you’re a person who tends to just love to communicate by email and actually not walk down the hall – that can be a cue that you’d miss where actually if you observed a little bit you’d see actually everybody is buzzing around the hallways and they love to say, “Hey, let me catch you for two minutes to run this idea by you.”  Instead you’re just kind of doing it all by email and you’re wondering why you’re not getting anywhere.  So that could be a cue.
The other is it’s a highly social environment, so the way you can get work done is actually by building strong relationships.  And not that you have to go to dinner with them every night, but it’s that you actually do show an interest in them personally and you want to really understand them and build a relationship so you can get work done.  If you’re missing that cue and actually just jump to, “Alright, here’s the agenda, here’s what we need to get through.  How are you going to help me get this done?” – probably they’re not going to help you because you didn’t build a relationship with them.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious now, do you see it in the reverse, in terms of, “We’re a very task-oriented kind of a culture and your attempt to build a relationship with me is unwelcome and a waste of time.”

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, absolutely.  Yes, I’ve seen that many times over, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood.  Well, I like these dimensions because it makes it all the more real and tangible for me.  So we’ve got innovation versus stable, is it more email versus walk there face-to-face, is it more task-oriented versus relationship-oriented?  What are a few more distinctions?

Cassandra Frangos
I think the other is how hierarchical is it.  Some organizations really rely on the work structure and you must go to this person and then that person, and follow somewhat of an order or a hierarchy.  Other organizations are really, “It doesn’t matter.  Go to the best person who has the answer, or just find your way through to the right set of people who will help you.”
So that can depend, where I have seen some stumble where you actually didn’t follow the hierarchy and now you’ve gone sort of several levels that it didn’t make sense and you’ve actually caused some conflict just because you didn’t observe how some of the hierarchy and order worked.  Or if you are actually just trying to go more to the source and people are seeing you as, “Why did you jump down to talk to all these different people that they don’t know who you are and it’s intimidating?”  So just finding those subtle cues is also important as another dimension.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on, in terms of cultural fit.  I guess at times there’s something that could be helpful about breaking from the norm.  And so, what’s your thought on when is it optimal to zag, as opposed to toe the line?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, sometimes you’ve been hired actually to zag outside of the line.  So sometimes I’ve seen people who’ve been hired where you are actually hired to be disruptive and I don’t want you to listen to, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it”.  That’s often an annoying line for many people.  So, they might actually have an explicit charter and if they communicate that that’s their charter and they are looking for new and different ways to accomplish something or a new way of doing business, it can often be I think a great accelerator for a business.  It can be a lot more challenging if you have a culture where they love to say, “We’ve always done it this way for 50 years, so who are you coming in and telling me to do this different?”  But yeah, it can be really interesting when that happens.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes.  So now could you give us a little bit of detail in terms of, if folks are looking to rise quickly, we talked about some universal accelerators and derailers.  Are there any other smart approaches – you used the word “brand” several times – in terms of really making that pop, in terms of you’re deploying your experience and everyone’s thinking, “This person’s great.”

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think first of all life is short so it’s finding what you love.  I think if you’re passionate about what you do and you love what you do, that’s going to show through, and chances are you will accelerate on your own in the sense of people can really see you’re great at what you do and you love what you do.  If you have those two things, it can really take you far.  And that’s where also sponsorship can come in.  If people see that you’re really loving what you do and you’re good at it, they will more likely sponsor you.
The other thing is, I wouldn’t be afraid of failure.  There’s been lots of readings around this lately, where people are really willing to openly admit their failures and learning from them.  If you don’t learn from them, then certainly that can be just failure.  But thinking through, what are some risks you can take that could accelerate you?  Many, many times I’ve seen executives take a big risk and it paid off and they accelerated right to the top.  So that can also be something important.
The other is, you also have to think about, do people want to work for you?  So if you are going to accelerate to the top chances are you will have people who work for you, and what are you like as a manager or as a leader?  It can’t just be that you are great at managing up, or your boss thinks you’re fabulous.  It’s now more important to think through, what do your direct reports think, what do your peers think in terms of your effectiveness, and what do your leaders think about you in terms of your effectiveness?  So it’s having that 360-degree relationships, but also followership and having the impact you need on all of those different stakeholders.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good, thank you.  And I’d also love to make sure, while I’ve got you, to get a little bit of the insider perspective, if you’ve got some tactics or tips, tricks or stories from many of the executives that you’ve gotten to interact with personally?  What are some insider goodies that anyone who wants to be awesome at their job should know?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think it’s certainly thinking about your career and your profession as a way where you’re almost putting the company interests first as well where it’s not about you.  I think that’s where the ego part came in where we were talking about before.  So if you’re out for yourself people will see right through it.  If you are out for creating impact for your company and the profession or whatever it might be that you’re part of, I think that is often something that differentiates many leaders.
Also, I can’t emphasize this enough – being willing to listen and really being a sponge for learning and really thinking through, “What did this person just say, so that I can really think through how I can act on it or make a difference based on what I’m learning and seeing?”  Many CEOs will say they’re lifelong learners, because they’re always listening, they’re always curious, they’re always thinking about some of the signals they’re seeing from customers, from the market, from employees.  So I think listening and being curious and learning all the time is something important.
The other I would say is reinvention.  Reinventing yourself always is something that will take you, I think, very far.  John Chambers, who I used to work for at Cisco, who was one of the greatest CEOs in the tech industry and also a wonderful person – he’ll say that he reinvented himself every three years.  And it was something that always accelerated his career, because he never wanted to be stuck in old business models or old ways of thinking.  He had to keep reinventing and being fresh and keep learning and always thinking about all the different senses and all the different pieces that would help him reinvent himself.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.  Now on that listening point – I’d love to get your take on, how would you paint a picture for what outstanding world class masterful listening looks, sounds, feels like, versus kind of run-of-the-mill or what passes for listening in day-to-day interactions?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah.  So I think wonderful listening is, you really are listening with all senses.  That’s why many people study body language, because what people actually do when they’re watching body language and they think about, “How did my words have impact on me and how did that make that person feel?” – I think that’s a really important way of listening, is really looking at someone’s body language.
Also just intently really hearing them, and pauses are okay – I think people are so afraid of pauses – where you really are just taking it in, what they just said, and you’re soaking it up.  And sometimes taking notes by hand.  We often all now take notes by a computer or iPhones, and actually taking notes pen and paper or your iPad pencil, you often can remember what somebody said a whole lot more by actually writing it down.
And then also just being aware of subtle cues and the tone.  If someone said, “Oh, I’m doing great today!” or, “I’m… I’m doing… I’m doing good today” – there are different ways that you can hear the fluctuation in someone’s voice.
And then on the flipside I think a terrible listener is somebody who’s just waiting to talk.  I often see that in some of the settings where I coach different teams of executives, and I can just tell the executive who is just really not listening to you at all or listening to the group, and they can’t wait to talk and get their point out.  And their point actually had nothing to do with the previous point, so the conversation actually feels like ping pong, versus it builds on each other and they truly listen to each other and build on each other’s points.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love your take – if you see that a lot in executives, how do you imagine they got to be executives?

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, I think some of it is, do they stay executives if they have that behavior still?  So I think there’s one thing to become an executive.  So some people can actually get there, but to stay there also requires another kind of finesse, where you and I read the newspaper every day and hear of an executive who didn’t make it or suddenly was abruptly leaving their company.  Chances are they probably had some of these derailing behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you end your book with a final question.  What is it?

Cassandra Frangos
Question is: Do you really want to be in the C-suite?  And I pose that because it’s not for everyone.  Not everybody really wants to be in the C-suite.  It takes a lot of work, it’s also a lot of responsibility, a lot of I think tenacity, and it takes a pretty big toll on your family and your personal life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you.  Well, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Cassandra Frangos
I think you touched on a lot of it.  I would just say that finding your own path you don’t necessarily have to follow a perfect formula, but finding your own path can be really fun.  And setting your own career vision is something really inspiring.  I actually read my paper that I wrote for my master’s program and the vision I wrote is actually what I’m doing right now.  So, if you can think longer-term and think about what’s motivating to you, you can have a really fun career.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful.  Thank you.  Well now, how about a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Cassandra Frangos
Yes, I actually have it on my desk right now.  It’s, “Be yourself, because everybody else is already taken” by Oscar Wilde.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I love Boris Groysberg’s study on stars.  So what really makes stars in different companies.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, thank you.  And a favorite book?

Cassandra Frangos
Love the book Resonant Leadership, because actually it’s two of my professors who are in different schools, and I didn’t know that it’d actually be in the school of these two different authors.  But Richard Boyatzis taught in my master’s program at Case Western, and Annie McKee who taught in my doctorate program at University of Pennsylvania.

Pete Mockaitis
We had Annie McKee on the show.  Very nice.

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, yeah.  She’s wonderful, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Cassandra Frangos
I love the Hogan Assessment actually.  It’s a tool that actually helps a leader understand their leadership profile, but also their derailers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.  And a favorite habit?

Cassandra Frangos
Thank-you notes.  Handwritten Thank-you notes.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a particular stationary, or how do you do it?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I actually got a gift from someone that I coached of stationary with my name on it and my favorite color of purple.  And so, I love just writing – whether someone did something small or big for you – just writing something personal to them.  Because you can do an email – it’s too fast, it’s too quick, it’s actually not that special anymore.  So, handwriting it and getting something in the mail is pretty special.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I think actually relates to my favorite quote of really being yourself.  I think that often resonates with people, where I just often say, “This doesn’t sound like you.  Are you trying to do this because you think you should do it, or do you really believe you should do it?”  So, I do hear people thanking me for that often, where they’ll say, “You know what?  I was myself and it paid off, and I’m really happy that I wasn’t trying to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with.”

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

Cassandra Frangos
LinkedIn.  I’m on LinkedIn all the time, I’m posting different things.  But my personal email is on there, or you can just write to me directly from LinkedIn.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I would think about how to reinvent yourself.  Back to the John Chambers piece, where just what are some of the ways you’re going to reinvent yourself, either small or big, to make sure you can really, truly succeed?

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.  Well, Cassandra, thank you for the book and for this conversation and demystifying this stuff.  It’s been a lot of fun and I wish you all the best!

Cassandra Frangos
Well, thank you.  Same to you!

288: Managing First-Timers in the Workplace with Chris Deferio

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Coffee shop guru & latte art champion Chris Deferio speaks on leading people who are at their first “real job” and keys to thriving in a chaotic environment.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Best approaches for managing first timers
  2. How to offer feedback so it’s received well
  3. Tips on how to keep sane and focused in a chaotic environment

About Chris

Chris Deferio is the host and producer of the Keys to the Shop podcast. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife and son and has been in professional coffee service for 17 years. He provides training, consultations, and wisdom to owners, managers, and employees across cafes worldwide. His podcast is dedicated to the success of coffee shops and the professionals that make them work.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Chris’ championship-winning latte art

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Chris Deferio Interview Transcript

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

Chris Deferio
I’m honored to be on your show.  I really love and I’m looking forward to talking about this subject today.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure.  Well, I was honored to be on your show, Keys To The Shop.  A good spot, and so, folks, check that out.  But first I want to talk about you being a champion in latte art.  How does that come about, and what does a latte art contest look like in practice?

Chris Deferio
Well, we can define the terms.  Well, I work in coffee.  And in coffee, and specialty coffee in particular, there’s this thing where you steam milk so that the foam is tight enough and flows enough to be able to form ribbons on the surface of beverages, specifically espresso drinks.  And you can see rosettas, what we call leaves, hearts, designs like that – usually symmetrical leaf / heart designs on the tops of coffees.  It’s actually pretty popular; so popular now, weirdly, you’ll see it on International Delight creamers.  They’ll hire a barista to do a heart and they’ll use in their marketing.  So that’s latte art, so milk art, because “latte” is Italian for “milk”.
So, we have competitions for these types of things, of course, because we’ve got to entertain ourselves, and there’s money on the line.  And I won my first one back in 2004 and I ended up winning two times after that, so three times total latte art champion.  And just sounds really funny to say, but the skill involved in it is one of just becoming sort of familiar with what the two liquids do when they meet in the cup, and it’s important.  I don’t want to downplay it too much, because a well-presented coffee is one that you’ll talk to your friends about, which means repeat business.  So it translates into something practical, and it’s fun to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to know what are the game-changing, winning designs that capture the judges’ hearts?

Chris Deferio

Well, speaking as a judge – I run a competition now with Coffee Fest tradeshows.  And I’ve been a long time judge before; I’m back again leading the Latte Art Competition as a judge, head judge, and there’s a lot of things we look for.  My designs when I won were basically variations on a leaf pattern that involved a lot of layers from the outside of the cup into the middle.  So, just a nice base, and I’m speaking in coffee terms – symmetry is really important, striking contrasts between the brown of the coffee in the white of the milk is also very important.
In the competition we judge on speed and also a general kind of flexible category, depending on the judge, of aesthetic beauty.  So, those are some of the categories we look for.  So there are some game-changing designs out there where people will do multiple different designs in the cup at the same time.  I was one of the people – old guy in coffee – that have pushed some of those designs out there into the industry, and now it’s really just about perfecting.  There’s not a ton of brand new stuff, just variations on classics, as far as I can tell.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, do you have some photos we could see in the show notes?

Chris Deferio

Oh yeah, I’ll send you some of mine and I’ll send you some of the winningest baristas’ examples.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  Well, I’m trying to imagine, because you don’t have a lot of space to work with, and I guess it can’t get too out there, in terms of, this is a portrait of a person who is running on the beach.

Chris Deferio
Oh yeah.  Well, it does in some ways, it does, because people do one of two types of latte art.  You have etching, which uses a tool to draw a design like you’re describing.  You theoretically could do that.  The drink might be cold by the time you’re done, and it might not taste great.  I don’t know what they’re using for drawing, but we do free pour latte art predominantly.  I think that in competition may be the more respected version of latte art. So there are two types of latte art – there’s free pour and there’s etching.  So etching is just using a tool, so you could draw that.  You could draw yourself in a cup of coffee if you really wanted to.  But we do free pour latte art, so there’s no tools involved, just the flow of milk.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool.  So, you are coffee master and professional and you share some of that in your podcast Keys To The Shop.  What’s that all about?

Chris Deferio

Well, Keys To The Shop I’ve had for the last year or so – back in January 2017 – is a podcast that I run collecting best practices essentially from the industry to help people.  My tagline of the show is to give insights and inspiration and tools to people who work in retail, especially coffee retail.  And my audience is built, it is made up of owners, baristas, managers, people who would one day want to own a coffee bar.
And we bring in not only just industry experts to talk about workflow behind the bar, like how to build a drink quickly and well, or conflict resolution and things like that.  We bring in outside experts as well – authors of books dealing with management, or like I said conflict resolution is one.  Tom Henschel of The Look & Sound of Leadership did an episode on the podcast about conflict resolution, which translates into whatever industry you want to, because you’re working with people.  So, the point is, I want to provide a really focused podcast to equip my industry with the tools they need to succeed, and tell the stories of people who have succeeded in the industry as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Very cool.  Alright.  So now when we talk about some of these management issues, one thing we were discussing is that you have lots of experience and see lots of coffee shop owners doing leadership of folks who are at their first job.  Maybe they are interns, maybe they’re in college or they’ve recently graduated.  And so I thought it would be great to really dig into your wisdom on this point.  So maybe you could orient us first of all, how does managing folks in their first job substantially differ from those who have maybe just even one or two or three years under their belt?

Chris Deferio

Well, I think the way it’s different is that the structure under which they’re used to operating is just alien and different.  l like to think about, if they’ve come from a school environment, where there are things set up for them to go to, there are classes – you’re not really having to think about it, in fact you’re part of a group – there’s not a whole lot of individual attention in most cases.
And so by and large I’d say once you’re behind the bar and a lot depends on you individually, there’s kind of this deer-in-the-headlights.  There’s just so much to take in.  It’s not necessarily unique to them, but I think it’s times 10 with somebody who’s not used to being on display and being the focus of the individual attention that a manager has on them, because that manager is responsible for the owner’s business and the business is on the line.  And they understand that responsibility but don’t necessarily know how to function under that weight.  And so, sometimes it does feel like you’re drinking from a firehose and they can act that way.
So, there’s a lot of things that you need to bear in mind when you’re managing somebody who doesn’t have a lot of employment experience.  Even if they’ve had like a summer job, a job that’s a full-time job, even their first quote-unquote “real” job, is quite different.  And so, how you approach them as a manager has to bear that in mind.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, and I’d love for you to expand a little bit upon, we talk about the deer-in-the-headlights or the overwhelm or the reactions of the new employee.  Could you share a little bit there, in terms of… I imagine some of them are probably jarring and not what you want to see.  So, could you maybe highlight a few of those?  Maybe they’ll be some twinkles of recognition from listeners to say, “Oh, okay, okay.  Maybe I should have a touch more patience with that at first.”

Chris Deferio

Sure.  So, I’d say a good way to recognize this… Or let’s just say a common way to recognize that – you’re dealing with somebody who’s under that kind of situation is that, like I said, deer-in-the-headlights, but in the restaurant industry they call them “pan shakers”, or people who would start cleaning something that doesn’t need to be cleaned; they’re just looking for something to do.
There is just a general lack of awareness, the peripheral awareness.  Even though you’re in a busy cafe, none of it really affects you much.  And it should, and it’s odd that it doesn’t, because there’s so much stimulus going on you don’t know what to focus on.
And so, I think a manager who’s in that situation needs to be able to have a strong hand of guidance on what is it that they should be doing in that moment.  Having a good onboarding process for example is a great way to kind of counteract the confusion and the shock of being in an environment where now we really are relying on you to make this rush of customers work, or this cafe work.

Pete Mockaitis

And so when you say “manager” here, the manager is the person who is the first real job person, kind of working for and reporting to the owner.  Is that how you conceptualize this?

Chris Deferio

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, got you there.  So indeed, intriguing.  So there’s a whole lot of stimuli, and it seems like folks in that position where they’re unaccustomed to it may just sort of start doing something, even though that something is not at all the right thing.  Any other kind of key symptoms or behaviors you notice?

Chris Deferio

I would say emotional is another one.  In any case where somebody is under that kind of pressure there’s going to be overly emotional responses to things that are just commonplace work-related tasks, that you and I, having been through the ringer maybe for years, or at least some experience, might not take it personally.  But I’d say taking things personally is one of the symptoms that I would see.  It’s like, “Okay, this is…”  They maybe weren’t expecting it.
I know I felt that way when I had my first job, which was in a grocery store just stocking things in freezers and fridges and milk cartons and what not.  The pressure was just so great to perform that you just kind of took everything to heart.  And there’s really no stopping that; it’s almost a rite of passage, I think, when you have your first job.  But where it can go south, I think, is when a manager then takes them taking it personally, personally. [laugh] And then it kind of goes off the rails.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that is interesting.  So, could you maybe paint a picture there, in terms of an example, where you’ve seen this happen with folks either in some of the shops that you’ve worked with or consulted for, in terms of making it all come together?

Chris Deferio

Well, okay.  So, I would probably just use an example of when I was a trainer and I had some experience in coffee, when we brought on new baristas.  This was actually an example of one of my failures, in that I was so confident – having some experience I just had too strong of a hand in my management.  But the individual was performing the job okay, but not really to my standards as a manager, and I was kind of arrogant at the time anyway.  But tamping is an example of something we do – we press the coffee down into a filter so that it could be extracted.  And I was noticing that the tamping was off or lopsided so that it wouldn’t extract properly.  And I brought it up in a way that maybe in hindsight wasn’t the greatest, but they took it so personally that…

Pete Mockaitis

“You’ve got a problem with my tamping, bro?”

Chris Deferio

“How could you notice that from where you’re standing?”, or… There was a lot of pushback, and I realized what I had done was I stepped on the only security that they had, because they’d just been trained by the manager at that store.  And what I was doing was coming in and essentially removing the only security that they had, without care for what it would do to the rest of what was built on that foundation.

Pete Mockaitis

Now we say “the only security”, you mean like he’s coming from a perspective of, “Tamping is the one thing that I have nailed.”  Is that what you mean?

Chris Deferio

Yeah.  Well, if you call into question parts of what they know to be true, then you might as well be calling into question the entire thing.  So, “If my tamping is off, maybe my milk is off, and if my milk is off, what am I doing here being a barista?  Maybe I was taught wrong.  I’m not ready for this.”  Your mind can kind of go a million miles an hour down the wrong path.  And it all kind of stemmed from a non-empathetic approach to an issue that could have been resolved by some other means that reinforced what they had learned, or added to rather than stripping it away simply to be right.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, intriguing.  So I’d love to hear, in retrospect, how would you address this issue, because you can’t have a sub-optimal temp at the end of the day.  Right, Chris?

Chris Deferio

No, I don’t think you can.  In the moment, I either could have… I think this would have been the best way to do it, is to investigate what kind of training the person had, before assuming what they had first.  So if I had questions for the manager as to how much training the person had, I should have asked.  Instead of addressing it with the individual first, I should have just let it go, because by the time I got there they had probably already been making drinks that way for hours, if not days.  And my stepping in in the middle of making drinks for customers is not going to solve it in their mind.  It might solve my personal need to sort of get my fidgety, “Ooh, you’re not doing that right” out there into her world, but it really didn’t accomplish what I wanted it to long-term.
So, I think having a more patient view of that situation and allowing myself to shoulder the burden of having unresolved tension, rather than just kind of chucking that tension right onto what was happening in the moment, if that makes sense.  I, as a manager or a leader, there’s this tension you would have that you want to see people do something right, but sometimes you have to let them do it wrong a little bit longer in order to wait for the right opportunity to show them in a way that’s effective.  And so it forces you to question, “Do I just want to talk, or do I want to affect change?”

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing.  So then, what might be some indicators that this is the right time?

Chris Deferio

I’d say when things are more calm, when people are in a good mood, and when you are not upset.  Because you might be responsible for the bottom line of your company, you have to know yourself well enough to know when you can not sound like a jerk, or be passive-aggressive, or give somebody the feedback, a crap sandwich with the critique and the praise.
There is a bit of self-knowledge that’s needed to know how you sound first of all, and when’s the right time for you to do it calmly.  And then, like I said, when things are calm in the store, when there is a time that talking about technique is brought up, in fact – that’s a way.  Hopefully you have mechanisms or systems of communication in place, where feedback lives, like a one-on-one every week with the manager, or an ongoing training session.  Those are perfect times and require forethought as an operator to say, “You’re going to have these conversations with people, so where do those conversations live?”  They can’t just be invented on the spot; they have to have a place for your peace of mind and the security of the barista.  So, I’d say rather than indicators, maybe just dial back even more and say, “Have I built a system in my shop or my business that allows for a safe space for feedback, both from me to the barista or employee, and from the employee to me, to critique me?”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you.  Well now, you used the phrase “safe space”, so I am thinking about South Park – that’s the name of the show – where they did this song, “My safe space…”  And I want to touch upon the word “Millennials”.  I guess I am one, but in a previous episode we had Lee Caraher say like 72% of Millennials don’t like the word “Millennial”.  They don’t want to be called a Millennial, because there’s so much baggage and negative associations with it.  So, I’d love it the more that you could be fact-based, experience-based, research-oriented to this.  To what extent is there something real when it comes to the difference in managing Millennials or folks who are fresh out of college?  Are they still Millennials or are they the next one yet?

Chris Deferio

Maybe, and maybe it’s Gen Y, I’m not sure.  Or Gen Y is the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis

So what’s real and what’s just a bunch of stuff that people cook up to sell books or to try to stereotype and sort of offload responsibility?

Chris Deferio

Yeah, it’s a good question because we like to categorize.  Part of the human mind is all about, “This goes in this section of my brain, and this goes in the other.”  And if we need to understand people it’s easier to have a sorting mechanism, and so that’s what these names start to become.  And in no other time in history, especially with the rise of the Internet, do we have as much access to articles that kind of form our thinking towards people before we even meet them or know them in reality.
So, the reality of Millennials, I think, is simply that they are young, and I don’t know that there’s that much of a difference outside of the world they interact with.  They’re not not humans, and they have the same drive for success and love and acceptance and to interact with the world around them.  And they have the same idea that they want to change the world the way that any other generation did.  So, I think Millennials as a group have been given a bad rap by people who don’t want to take responsibility for leading Millennials.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Chris Deferio

Yeah, so on the show I had Bruce Tulgan, who’s the author of a book which I think every manager should read.  The book is called It’s Okay to Be the Boss.  I bought that for all of my managers in the store I worked at, and they all agreed it’s a fantastic book, practical.  The author also works for… His company is called Rainmaker Thinking, and they authored this incredible long-term study on the workplace opinion of Millennials toward management.
And what they found is essentially that Millennials want leadership, they want to be told how to succeed in the workplace, and actually are looking for people to, as the book that Bruce wrote says, to be the boss.  And they say in the book that there is an undermanagement epidemic, not a micromanagement one; in other words people are abdicating their responsibility to be leaders within an organization.
And Millennials I think are, just based on this study and my own experience – like I said, they’re people who want to do a good job.  And when somebody says to you, “I want to come in your company and deliver a ton of value, and what do I do, where do I sign up?”, and they’re eager – if you look on that with distain, there’s a lot of issues there.  You need to be prepared to help that person succeed.  So I view Millennials as eager and will not take lack of clarity for an answer.  So the mystery of just figuring it out on your own – hey, we have Google.  That’s gone.  Figuring it out on your own looks more like YouTube than just hacking away at it.
So yeah, Millennials I think have been given a bad rap and they are young people looking to be led, and then to lead themselves.  They want to make a difference in the world and we have an opportunity in jobs like coffee that are historically transient jobs – they’re not the jobs that they’re going to have for the rest of their lives – to shape people for the career that they actually are going to be spending a lot of time in.  So, managing first-time people, first-time employees, especially young ones, as impressionable as they are – they have a ton of energy and they have a ton of vision to contribute to a company if you’re up for the challenge of continuing to actually work in your company.

Pete Mockaitis

So that doesn’t sound unique at all to Millennials, in terms of if you’re young and inexperienced, “Figure it out” isn’t great leadership, management, guidance, at that sort of stage in a person’s development.  I mean you might say “Figure it out” in a nicer way, which was, “Why don’t you take a rough draft at a plan of attack and we’ll sync up in a day?”  That’s maybe a nicer version of “Figure it out.” [laugh] I’m not 100% abdicating my responsibility for getting to the bottom of this thing, but I would like you to take the first approach there.  Well, cool.  So then, you’ve got some takes on how one manages expectations optimally in the first real job environment.

Chris Deferio

Yeah.  So, managing expectations is a great place to start because as I was just touching on how we as an older generation – myself turning 40 here shortly – have a responsibility to manage ourselves first, so that we can lead others.  And that means if we have expectations of people that are unreasonable and are secretly based on our desire to just not have to do as much as we actually have to, then we need to deal with that so we don’t pass on dysfunction.  In today’s day and age there’s a ton of leadership dysfunction, and leaders in restaurants and coffee bars and politics are under fire.
And so, all eyes are on people who have authority and power, and we need to be able to have some kind of forethought about the people we’re bringing into our organization and stop being surprised by what happens when we bring young people into an organization.  You can’t really be effective as a leader or as a company if you’re constantly just scratching your head and complaining and surprised by something that you knew was going to happen.  So, embrace it, prepare yourself for it, and be the leader that’s necessary for what you’re going to inherit.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so the managing expectations there – you’re talking about what it’s fair for you to expect of someone who’s newer, younger, inexperienced from the get-go.

Chris Deferio

Yeah.  So, they’re going to make mistakes, no doubt, when you onboard somebody.  In coffee for instance a lot of us have labs, and we have labs for a reason – because we don’t want people experimenting on the customer.  Or we have shadow shifts for instance, where you are on with the manager and they are watching you to make sure that you are performing in the critical areas.
However, you don’t want to rob people of their failures; you don’t want people to only do exactly what you say in every case.  You want to see them spill milk or you want to see them kind of strain to figure something out and not just jump in and not let that muscle develop, because then you will never be truly confident in that person’s “a-ha” moment, because they could fake it.  They could just say, “Oh yeah, I understand now”, but when you’re gone, because they didn’t develop the muscle of understanding through failure, then it’s just going to crumble under the pressure, especially if it’s one of their first jobs, like we were talking about earlier.
So, having a lab for another company might look like just an entry level position within the company, where consequences of failure are not dire – you’re not going to pass it on to your big accounts.  But you have somebody there that can walk them through the process and explain, as failures are made, how to do the job from A to Z.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, that’s great.  Don’t rob them of their failures – nice turn of a phrase there.  And so, when you say a “lab”, can you help me visualize?  I’m imagining a lab coat and a white room and…

Chris Deferio

It’s exactly right, that’s what we do.  We actually recreate, so the speak, the coffee bar.  So it’s like a micro coffee bar, and sometimes it’s behind glass and other times it’s just hidden in the back corner.  It’s not usually the prettiest place but it’s got an espresso machine and a brewer, it’s got a couple of tables, and you schedule sessions with baristas when they are new employees, or existing employees that need work on one particular area.  You schedule some time in the lab to work on your tamping, to work on understanding a particular policy.  A lot of meetings are held in labs.
So, a lab for a coffee bar I think is critical, and the equivalent in any organization like where does the training take place, helps kind of anchor the idea, like, “Yeah, I’m here to learn right now in this space.  And we can just bang around in here and nothing is going to happen in the outside world, except I’m going to learn and bring what I learn to that outside world.”

Pete Mockaitis

It’s interesting when you describe the lab, it conjures to mind almost like a movie montage, like there’s music playing and someone is failing repeatedly and spilling it all over themselves.  And then the wise mentor is frustrated but sticks it out until there’s a maestro coming out on the other side.

Chris Deferio

Yeah, this is very much like Rocky.  Ivan Drago versus Rocky lifting logs in a log house.  It’s an approximation.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great.  Okay, so we talked about not robbing people of their failures, managing the expectations, giving some protection so there’s not dire consequences if things go awry.  I’d like you to also kind of unpack a bit, you’ve got some takes on when it comes to the follow-through.  Not just saying, “Hey, do this”, but what comes after the “Hey, do this”?

Chris Deferio

Yeah.  This is a super hard one, and it is one of the things that erodes trust the most between direct reports and managers, or baristas and managers, however you want to phrase it.  When you tell somebody to do something and they do it – let’s say they do it well.  And nothing happens, except they do it well and they know, but nobody sees it – that is going to demoralize the individual, because nobody is there to see their victories.  I think you get some satisfaction out of it, for sure.
Yeah.  So if you are on the bar and you are not having follow-through from your manager, what that looks like is like you said – just “Do this” via text message.  You get a text message or an email that says to do it this way.  You need to have the presence of the manager there to follow up with you in order to either correct you or praise you, to guide you or affirm you.
And the present leadership is a good phrase for this.  A shop I worked at used the phrase “present leadership”, because often times what we have is a secondary culture form around this abdication of leadership to follow through.  So, for us it happens on closing shifts, when management is home – they try to get themselves on a 9:00 to 5:00 schedule, and then the closing shift is there by themselves.  And what you’ll find is that it’s kind of like a different culture, and they don’t have the kind of contact with the leadership as their counterparts in the morning do.  And the difference is that the people in the morning get the benefit of getting to see the manager every day, so there is a natural built-in opportunity for follow-through.
You can’t really judge an employee’s performance if you haven’t observed their performance in a consistent way.  So when you give them a raise and you tell them they’re doing a good job, but they know that you haven’t actually followed through and seen how they’re doing, if they need help, and been there along the process – they know you don’t know what you’re talking about, and it’s hollow.  And so you erode trust, they don’t trust you when you say “Good job”, because they know you haven’t even seen them do their job.
That’s part of what I mean by “follow-through”.  For managers who really want to be there for their employees, it’s going to take a lot of work upfront, but you build momentum in the future so where you might have to schedule yourself to come in during a time where you normally don’t come in to the store – maybe it’s a closing shift for coffee bar examples – just to make yourself known, to ask how things are going, see if there’s any questions, observe them in action.  Do that for a week or so, two or three times a week.  And that person will get the drift that you are concerned about their progress and you’re building rapport with that individual and following through on the thing that you said they should do or how they should do it, etcetera, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s interesting.  It sounds like this sounds pretty, I guess, fundamental and just, “But of course leaders should do that.”  And yet at the same time, I think there is a healthy opposition force that would say, “Oh my gosh, Chris, that is just too much work.  Why do I have to do all this handholding?  Come on, we’re grownups here.”

Chris Deferio

Well, yeah.  Grownups who can plan ahead of time, like we said manage your expectations – well, part of the expectation is that you’re going to have to spend some extra time with people who are new.  And I think the thing that really throws people is the minutiae of their job as a manager, because so much of our job in management has to do with reacting to situations and putting out fires.
And if you never really get that under control and don’t have control of your own schedule, keeping on human relationships on top of just ordering these other things for the office and responding to emails from people who may or may not want to buy your coffee or your product – there’s no room left for the people that you hired.  And there’s this weird relief – you come in and they’re doing fine; you’re like, “Oh hey, how are you doing?  How are you doing?  Good?  Are they taking care of you over here?  Great.”  And then you just walk away.
Now you’ve abdicated your responsibility as a leader to the people they’re working with, who have become the sort of surrogate managers for you because you can’t get it together with your schedule.  So it all kind of comes back to the leadership and what you expect from yourself.  It all kind of comes back to leadership having their stuff together, so that they can actually help other people form their careers and their understanding and their skillsets.

Pete Mockaitis

Now that example you used, in terms of, “How are you doing?  Are they taking good care of you?” – that’s an example of abdication.  Can you expand on that?

Chris Deferio

Yeah, so not in all cases, I think, but I see it a lot of times in coffee bars, where you throw people on to a bar and you hope that the most senior barista there will kind of show them the ropes – show them all this stuff about the POS and show them this other thing over here too, and, “By the way, I just remembered, can you show them this?”  Now, that might be delegation if it’s done with clear intent and structure, and always done that way, if that’s purposeful, but often times it’s just Plan B or Plan C when it comes to what the manager maybe ideally wanted or found out that they don’t have enough time to spend to walk this person through the POS system, the register.
So, what I say is advocation I mean naturally when you’re entering into an office or a service industry or whatever it is, the manager is the person you understand to be the source of knowledge, the one who is going to help you understand how things are, at least at first.  But when you never get that and they’re just the person that has you sign your tax forms, and then they just kind of throw you on bar but then show up at your review, it just feels like, “Why are you even here?  My coworker should be reviewing me, because they’re the ones who taught me, corrected me, were there with me during that really crazy rush, where we all burned ourselves.”  There’s rapport, and managers often times miss out on building that rapport, because they unintentionally, I’d say, in most cases, give away their opportunity to build those relationships.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s good.  And I kind of finally want to get your take on when it comes to retail or coffee environment, there are times where you mentioned the rush.  In a realm of crowds and chaos and a whole lot happening real fast, what are some pro tips just for keeping your cool and your sanity and focus about you with all the stimuli?

Chris Deferio

Two things.  One – have workflow already in place.  If you own a bar, if you manage a system where you have to deliver a result, you have to have a workflow.  And that workflow has to actually be taking into account different situations that you could come up against.  For us, let’s say you have a menu of 15 items with four different variations on those items, okay?  So, you’ve got to practice all of the ways that people can alter those drinks, and maybe there’s ways that they’re going to… How is it going to be in the worst scenario and what do we do?  What’s the plan?
Too many people just cross that bridge when they come to it, and if it’s on fire they don’t cross it at all.  The workflow is a critical one.  And that was one of our first episodes actually on the show Keys To The Shop, with my friend Ryan Soeder on mastering workflow.
The other part is managing yourself emotionally.  You need to detach, essentially.  Not in a robotic way, but if you’re working the workflow, if you’re working behind the bar and you have a line out the door and you know you’re doing your best – there’s no reason, logically, to stress out.  You can’t go any faster, and everybody understands that.  And they keep coming every day, so they know.  They see, they have eyes, they understand what’s going on.
And somehow what happens when we forget that – we try to rush the process, we don’t fall into a rhythm.  And when we do that, we don’t do the other thing also – I had a third – is, communication.  Our communication can either come from a place of fear and insecurity, or it can come from a place of, “We’re in this together, we’re doing the best we can and we’re going to lean into the pressure rather than trying to run away from it.”
I’ll give an example.  There are times when I have personally been really stressed out on the register, and when I’m that way what I like to do is… I don’t know how to describe it, but I just kind of smile to myself and I overexaggerate my hospitality as a way of reminding myself what I’m doing here.  I don’t go goofy or anything, but I turn an inward switch.  And I think it’s important for people to figure out, “What’s my approach to the chaotic workplace environment and how will I pull myself away from that, observe it as an outsider, so to speak?  And not become out of control emotionally, but lean into the fact that this is what’s going on and it’s not going to define us.  We’re not going to let the shift run us; we’re going to run the shift.”  That’s a good way to just remember it.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely.  Well, Chris, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to highlight before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Chris Deferio

Yeah.  I just want to encourage everybody who works with young people and transient employees – it kind of goes hand in hand – that they are training up a future generation of leaders and owners and managers, people who will influence the course of history.  And it sounds really dramatic to say it that way, but every person who you know who you read a biography about who’s inspirational, worked at a deli, worked at a restaurant or a coffee bar at some point.
And maybe not everyone, but they had jobs that were kind of what they might consider menial.  But have had lessons that shaped them in the dish pit, in the mop closet, in a one-on-one with a manager; kind of like your favorite teacher in elementary school.  So our responsibility to actually take up a mantle of leadership and lead young people well in these jobs is really, really critical.  And it’s all about relationships and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, while at the same time being a strong leader that will help shape the next generation.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Deferio

Yeah.  So, I think my favorite quote comes from David Whyte. David Whyte is an English poet and I think the quote is, “You must learn one thing: the world was made to be free in.  Give up all other worlds except the one in which you belong.” So his book, if I could recommend it, is called Crossing the Unknown Sea, and it’s kind of a philosophy on vocation as a way of becoming, a journey into meaning through your work.  And so I really, highly recommend that book.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh great, thank you.  And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Chris Deferio

I don’t have a… Okay, tool would be just pen and paper, honestly.  I don’t thrive in digital environments as much as I thought I would, and I do have things.  I love my high-end drawing pens and special graph paper notebooks for organizing my thoughts.  I’m not full into bullet journaling or anything, but I do like to braindump onto paper and organize myself that way.  And sometimes it makes it into my reminders on my phone or something like that, but more often than not I’m trying to write something down.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.  And how about a favorite habit?

Chris Deferio

So, I guess a favorite habit of mine, besides coffee, would be – which is a great habit, it’s very healthy for you – I try to get up early.  It’s something I started doing a couple of years ago, actually started to try to adopt a way to kind of embrace the day.  Now I know this is not unique to me, but when I started doing it, it really turned my world upside down that I could actually start my day well by just getting up early and stretching and drinking a lot of water and thinking, including things like morning pages is a huge one, stream-of-consciousness, because I don’t get a lot of time, especially at a coffee bar, to create and to express.  You’re always reacting to outside situations.  So it’s nice to have some space where you can set your trajectory internally, and then embrace the day.

Pete Mockaitis

And tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get folks quoting yourself back to you?

Chris Deferio

Yeah.  There is something that I used to say in talks and I think I should bring it back, and that is that the customer has been hurt in the past by coffee.  The customer has had some kind of a traumatic experience in a coffee bar and they bring that experience in with them.  So, we have to approach them from a position of owning the stuff that our industry sort of did to them and earn back their trust.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m so intrigued.  I can’t recall an experience of my own.  Are we talking about hot spills, or what do you mean?

Chris Deferio

I mean emotionally, like you go into a specialty coffee shop and often times what you find is maybe the barista is not as welcoming as you thought they should be for the price point of the coffee.  We promise a special experience a lot of times and when somebody walks in, the expectation is set so high by the marketing that the actual reality of the experience is disappointing.  And so, knowing that people are sort of accustomed to dealing with disappointment when it comes to something that’s so hyped as specialty coffee with all these latte art flowery drinks and what not, we kind of have to approach it with some empathy and realize that A) it’s not personal, B) let’s make that up to you; let’s make this the best experience that you could possibly have.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Deferio

Well, I would definitely recommend they go to KeysToTheShop.com, and the podcast the same name on iTunes.  It’s just KeysToTheShop on Instagram and Twitter as well.  And those are the best places.  My email is chris@keystotheshop.com.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Deferio

Be patient with yourself, be patient with others, and take a look at the big picture on a regular basis.  And learn to be happy with the work that you’ve already done and hopeful for the work that you’re going to accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome.  Well, Chris, thanks so much for taking this time.  Lots of fun.  I wish you tons of luck in your coffee adventures, and you are a champion in more ways than just latte art!

Chris Deferio

I really appreciate that.  Well, thanks for having me on the show.  It was really fun.

287: Establishing Motivation, Intention, and Boundaries Like a Boss with Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon

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Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon of Being Boss talk setting intentions and the importance of boundaries.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The benefits of creating monthly intentions
  2. How to set boundaries – and stick to them
  3. How to have healthy dialogue with your boss

About and Kathleen and Emily

Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson, self-proclaimed “business besties” and hosts of the top-ranked podcast “Being Boss,” know what it takes to launch a business, do the work, and be boss in work and life. Both successful independent business owners, Emily and Kathleen started the podcast in January of 2015 to talk shop and share their combined expertise with other creative entrepreneurs.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Emily Thompson & Kathleen Shannon Interview Transcript

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

Kathleen Shannon

Pete, we are so excited to be here.

Emily Thompson
For sure. We are ready to tell people how to be awesome at their job.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, you’ve been doing it for a while and you do it in style with fun. Your branding – well, that’s what you do. It’s so awesome with regard to the colors and the photography. It says boss through and through.

Kathleen Shannon

Our brand board was like Lisa Frank, me, The Craft, like that witchie ‘90s movie, basically.

Pete Mockaitis

When you say it that way, it kind of makes me look at the purple smoke in a different way.

Kathleen Shannon

Do you see it in a whole new way? Like, there’s going to be a unicorn flying through, and a Tarot reader, and a crystal ball.

Pete Mockaitis

That is funny.

Kathleen Shannon

They might make it rain.

Emily Thompson
Definitely make it rain.

Pete Mockaitis

Nice double meaning there.

Kathleen Shannon

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

I much appreciate it.

Kathleen Shannon

I’m glad that you got that.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, cool. Obviously I’ve got to get into so much good stuff. I learned, Kathleen, you shared that you like to work in complete silence. What’s the story here?

Kathleen Shannon

I know, so you asked me one thing that people might not know about me and as Emily knows and as our listeners at Being Boss know, I’m kind of an open book. I’m probably talking about things I shouldn’t be talking about. But the thing I think that people don’t know about me is that I work in complete silence. I definitely give off this vibe that I’m this crazy, cool, creative. At least, that’s a vibe I hope I’m giving off.

But I find myself working in complete silence because whenever it comes down to getting focused and doing the work, I find myself even listening to ambient music, tuning it out, so it becomes this extra distraction that my brain is having to work around in order to do the work. I think it’s just maybe the one thing that people don’t know about me is it is dead quiet. You can hear a pin drop whenever I’m working.

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing. How do you enforce quiet around you? Isn’t noise just going to happen? I shopped around at length to find a sound-blocking door. I totally resonate with this. What are your tricks?

Kathleen Shannon

Well, so I do work from home. My kiddo is in full-time daycare. My husband is at his day job. I am completely alone during the day at my home office. This is part of the reason why I decided to work from home and not go to a co-working space.

I do have an agency. I live outside of Detroit and I have an agency located in Oklahoma City where all of my partners and employees work. I did build out in that space two little office spaces with doors and sound proofing for podcasting and that sort of thing. But I have a spray bottle to keep my cats away from me and that’s about it. That’s how I enforce it.

It’s just like in the decisions I’ve made along the way, I suppose. At some point every creative does kind of have to decide, like, “Oh, am I lonely being all by myself at my house or should I go to a co-working space, should I go to a coffee shop?”

I certainly have the tools. I used to work in an open office space before I started working for myself, so I can go to a coffee shop and tune things out, but I get so focused then that it’s almost like silence, where you would have to get eye-contact with me to make sure that I’m listening to you, like I’m that focused on my work.

Pete Mockaitis

I hear that. When my wife comes in sometimes I’ve got the headphones and the noise cancelling on and maybe even ear plugs underneath the headphones straight up.

Kathleen Shannon

You’re not messing around.

Pete Mockaitis

I’ll like be startled, like, “Oh, there you are.” I’m resonating. Thank you. Tell me, Emily, how do you find yourself in the work groove?

Emily Thompson

I’m pretty similar where I used to listen to music. The first time Kathleen told me that she worked in complete silence, I was shocked, like, similar where I felt she was probably just like dancing around her office listening to Beyoncé all day, every single day.

Whenever she told me she worked in complete silence, I was super shocked because I, at that point, liked to listen to music while I worked but I found myself as, I’ve guess grown in my entrepreneurial endeavors where I’m responsible for all things, this sincere need to get super focused. I can only do that when it’s pretty quiet.

Now, I do home school my child. Actually, hear her in the kitchen right now banging forks and plates around. I’m trying not to get too terribly annoyed at. So I do have to drown out a whole lot of noise, but I’ve kind of gotten used to it. But otherwise, like pretty quiet. I’m not listening to music.

Here’s a funny tidbit though. I used to develop websites. That’s what I did as I began growing my online career. I do code best when I’m watching TV.

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing.

Kathleen Shannon

I was about to say that too, Emily. I feel like our jobs have changed, where you used to be coding, I used to be doing a lot more graphic design and busting out that Bezier pen tool, any designers listening know what that is, and this kind of redundant work where you can listen to music or watch TV.
That’s my favorite, are days whenever I have to do some design and I’ll sit down in front of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and just knock some stuff out.

Kathleen Shannon
Now we do so much writing that I feel like it requires a different kind of focus where it’s harder to drown out those outside noises and it’s harder to get that focus with background noise happening.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. Yeah. Well, thank you for setting the stage here and could you maybe continue that. But first, I want to make sure – I first learned about your show from one of our mutual listeners. It’s Beth in Baltimore. Can we just talk about how great she is?

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah. Beth, high five.

Emily Thompson
Thanks for spreading the Being Boss love for sure.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. Shout out accomplished. Tell us, what’s Being Boss all about?

Kathleen Shannon

Being Boss started as two business besties, that would be me and Emily. We were really craving that connection and conversation, so, as we mentioned, we’re working alone out of our homes, sometimes in complete silence. That can get kind of lonely.

So we became creative peers and colleagues whenever we were hiring each other for the work that we were doing. Beyond that, we started to connect on a more friend level. We would hop on a video call and really talk shop.

After a year or two of over Skype talking about what was working, what wasn’t working, our conversations were getting deeper. We were talking about real numbers, like sharing money, which is kind of taboo.

We were sharing our biggest secrets as far as business secrets, the kind of stuff that people like to keep to themselves. We were sharing insights as to how we were juggling work and life and time management and growing families while growing careers.

Emily was even there when I was like, “Okay, I’m thinking about starting a family. How am I going to make this work?” She’s like, “Okay, you need to automate. You need to get some systems in place and you’ve got to put that kid in daycare.” Well, that’s not entirely true because Emily homeschools, but I definitely had to do the daycare. Anyway, all this to say, we were having these conversations.

One day Emily sent me an email saying, “Hey, you know those business bestie conversations we’re having, we need to hit publish on them. We need to start a podcast. Other creatives are craving this kind of conversation and probably feel just as alone as we did and we could be their work buddies.”

Our podcast, Being Boss, it really did catch on pretty quickly and we became the go-to podcast for other creatives and aspiring entrepreneurs who wanted to hear some insights and real talk about what it takes to do the work. ‘Do the work’  has essentially become our mantra because we all know making a living doing what you love isn’t always easy and it takes hard work. That’s the conversation that we have been having for the past three years.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome. But I’ve seen several Facebook ads that tell me if I just follow this bulletproof system I can make millions of dollars online easily working from home.

Emily Thompson

Yeah, yeah and how has that worked out for you?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s like all the ads I get on Facebook. I guess like some of the wrong things that get me targeted for that.

Emily Thompson

Yeah. There are so many people in the online space or not even in the online space, who have laid out these blueprints or plans or mapped out success in a way that if you follow them, X, Y, Z, you’ll get the thing that you want.

Kathleen and I, we’ve done some of those probably back in the day, like here’s how you build a six-figure launch or whatever it is. We quickly realized that that’s not how the world works. It only took us a time or two to realize that’s not how things go down.

That’s really what a lot of those beginning conversations were, were here’s the thing that I tried. Here’s what worked and didn’t work. You do it, find out what works for you, and then let’s share back and forth.

We realized that everyone’s success is defined differently and therefore the path to your success is always going to be different from someone else’s. That’s really been the core of what Being Boss is, is define success on your terms and then take the steps that you have to take to get there. It won’t look like anyone else’s journey; it will look like your journey and that’s what makes it all the more special.

Those blueprints and things, they may work for three or four people, which is great for those people, but buying into those things is a mistake when what you really need to do is define success on your own and make it do the way you need to make it do.

Pete Mockaitis

Well said.

Kathleen Shannon

One of the things I always think about are working actors, like those actors that have tons of jobs but you never see them as the lead role, but they’re probably living a pretty nice life. I kind of think of us as that as well. We are working creatives who are in it with you. We’re not those million dollar overnight successes, but we’re going to show you that you don’t have to be a million-dollar overnight success to do the work and do what you love.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I love that. That reminds me of the documentary, maybe you’ve seen it. It was pretty engaging. It’s called That Guy … Who Was in That Thing. It’s all about those actors.

Kathleen Shannon

I love that.

Pete Mockaitis

Interviewee after interviewee are like, “I kind of recognize that guy.”

Kathleen Shannon

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

“He was in that thing.” He sort of talks about the struggle. I love how you talked about defining success on your own terms as opposed to sort of just knee-jerk reacting to, “Hey, quit your job. Leave the rat race,” because for the most part, my listeners enjoy their jobs most of the time or are actively trying to find a switch and are finding some fulfillment and fun and flourishing – oh, alliteration – in the world of being employed at a place as opposed to being the sort of the owner CEO.

But, nonetheless, you talk about boss in many ways as a mindset in your upcoming book, Being Boss. Could you unpack that a little bit?

Emily Thompson

Absolutely. I mean for us it all starts with mindset, with the sort of foundational belief that you can do whatever you want. You have the right and ability to define things the way you want them to be and then you have the ability to go make it happen for yourself.

If you don’t believe those things, it’s not going to happen for you. It’s really important to get into that right frame of mind in order to tackle all the challenges that come at you, whether that’s creating your career or building your life and doing those in a way that you find fulfilling.

It’s being confident. It’s seeking out motivation and inspiration. It’s committing to setting and working towards really big ass goals or maybe not really big goals if you’re not a super big goal kind of person.

We also believe that a lot of it comes into trusting yourself, trusting that you’re going to make the right decision and that you’re going to be able to show up and do the work and get the thing. It all starts with that foundational mindset that you can do what it is that you want to do as long as you show up and do it.

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, whenever I think about the boss mindset and all of the people that we’ve interviewed and even in our early conversations with each other, it’s this idea of self-reliance, trusting that you’re not going to have all the answers, but that you can absolutely figure it out.

Emily talked about trusting that you can make the right decision, but I’m going to take it even a step further and trusting that no matter what decision you make, right or wrong, trusting that it’s going to get you where you need to go. That definitely is that primary foundation that we always start with is mindset. Part of that is really understanding your values as well.

This can be applied for people who are working for themselves or working in the context of an organization or a company where they are an employee. It’s really understanding what you value and bringing intentions and action to those values so that you are living them out not only in your life but in your work.

Pete Mockaitis

I am loving that. As you say values, you’re firing off some connections for me, thinking back to my Coaches Training Institute training back in the day. How would you define a value and can you give us a couple of examples of what a value is and what’s not a value, like you said that is a value, but that doesn’t quite sound like a value?

Emily Thompson

Sure. I mean values are sort of the foundational beliefs that you sort of build your own characters. For me, I value freedom where whatever I am going out into my work or even my life, like that’s something I’m consistently seeking, it’s something that I value seeing in other people. Wherever those opportunities are presented to me, those are more intriguing than the ones that aren’t.

For me, something that I value is freedom. Everyone has values, whether you value kindness or assertiveness. Kathleen, feel free to jump in with any additional one.

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, so one of my biggest values is authenticity. I know that’s a word that’s being really used a lot lately, but I can’t think of a better word for it. It’s one that resonates with me.

This is another thing whenever it comes to values is choose words that resonate with you on that kind of cellular level because there are a lot of words that mean the same things and so once you start to unpack your value, really explore all the words that are similar to that value or synonyms with that value.

Mine is authenticity and that is really, whoever I unpack that a little bit, it’s being who you are 100% of the time. And as I’ve gotten a little bit older and hopefully wiser, I realize that being who you are 100% of the time takes a lot of self-awareness and it takes a lot of questioning and curiosity. I would also say being who you are 100% of the time and seeking out who that is.

For me, anything I create – I use my values as a guidepost for making those hard decisions. I think that decision making is one of the hardest things whenever it comes to being your own boss or even making tough decisions about if you’re working a day job, whether or not to leave or to switch careers or to switch companies.

For me, I run every single decision I have to make through the question is this going to help my listeners, readers, whoever is consuming or engaging with me in any way be who they are 100%. If the answer is no, I’m not going to do it. If the answer is yes, alright, let’s go. For me and Emily too, we both use values as a way to really set boundaries in our business and to really draw that line between what we’re willing to do and what we aren’t willing to do.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s so good. That point about thinking about what resonates at the cellular level and thinking through some synonyms. Because I might say integrity. I’d think we’d all agree, yes, that’s important. Integrity is good. But for me, if I think about synonyms, I think about count-on-able, which is a little weird way to articulate it.

Kathleen Shannon

Nice word.

Pete Mockaitis

But it resonates more. I want to be someone that can be counted upon as opposed to, “Oh boy, that flake.” You know?

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, totally.

Pete Mockaitis

It just resonates more and I think it’s powerful in terms of making them all the more real as opposed to I guess – and exciting as opposed to just sort of obligatory, like, “Yes, I should do that because that’s a value,” as opposed to, “Oh, this is how I roll, so I’m fired up about it.”

Kathleen Shannon

Oh yeah. It should absolutely be something that you’re fired up about. This is a monthly practice for us, if not daily. But every month Emily and I set intentions. Sometimes we do use the word value and intention interchangeably, but the way that we like to think about it is that intentions help you bring actions to your values.

We’ll set intentions every month. I think what was mine last month was to rally. Another word for that could have been reliable, like I want to be really reliable this month, but I really wanted to rally and bring enthusiasm. For me it had this whole other kind of energy beyond reliability that really resonated with me.

We like to also do this on a monthly basis to explore new values and to really test some out and see what sticks and see where we can work on our own character by bringing in more of these intentions into kind of a practice in our personal lives and in our business.

Pete Mockaitis

Those intentions, that is powerful and one of our best episodes was How to Have a Good Day with Caroline Web. It’s so powerful. When you set an intention, all sorts of things go off in your brain in terms of what opportunities you notice and the decisions you choose to make in each of those opportunities. It’s a little thing, but it really has profound cascading ripples that go down when you’re living life.

Emily Thompson

Absolutely. I think the most I ever sort of got out of intentions or I guess the time that I realized they were probably so powerful, several years after – Kathleen and I sort of had this intention practice for a couple of years now. We share them with each other. We hold each other accountable. We’re always cracking jokes about having adopted the other one’s intention or whatever it may be.

I was listening to the Making Oprah podcast. One of the episodes of that podcast was when Oprah decided to start adopting an intention practice. She made her entire team at Oprah do it. Everything they did had to be based on some sort of intention. There had to be a good reason for doing everything that they did and how much of her sort of life and success she has placed on this adoption of an intention setting practice.

I was like, “Well, if Oprah can do it and be Oprah, then this has to be super powerful. It gave me a whole other level of appreciation for this practice that Kathleen and I have sort of kind of accidently fell into but we definitely see how profound and life changing and business- and career-changing it can be.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. I love it. I’d like to get maybe a little bit even more sort of tactical into the day-in, day-out in terms of if someone is in a job, what are some of your top tips for being more boss like or some top boundaries that might make great sense to set right away?

Kathleen Shannon

Oh, I’ve got one.

Emily Thompson

Yes, ma’am.

Kathleen Shannon

I do. I do. This is to stop checking your email in the evenings and on weekends.

Pete Mockaitis

There it is.

Emily Thompson

Yeah.

Kathleen Shannon

That’s it. It’s funny because whenever we were writing our book and running the first draft by our publisher, our editor said, “Hey, what about emails? How do you pry yourself away from your email?” This is something that Emily and I do not have a problem with. We are not slaves to our email. I think it is because of some of those early foundational boundaries that we set in place. It’s just kind of a non-issue. We forgot that some people might even have an issue with that.

We really thought it out and I think that this applies to anything though, anything that is capturing your attention that you don’t want to be giving. I think that email is a huge one.

Really tactical, turning off the alerts on your phone for email. It is not a text message. Don’t open your computer. You don’t have to check your email. I think that this can be hard too because a lot of it is setting those boundaries with your coworkers and that can be really tricky.

But one of my favorite mantras is ‘it’s only as weird as you make it,’ right? If you can be strong enough to set this boundary and just say, “No, it’s actually more weird to check your email in the evenings and weekends,” then you can just own it. That’s a big part of being boss is just owning who you are and owning that time.

Another thing that I do and I’ve been doing this since I’ve had a … is scheduling time for myself on my calendar and literally putting in a meeting on my Google calendar and pretending as if it’s the most important meeting of the day because so often we treat our deadlines and our client meetings with more importance than our meetings.

For me I’m scheduling every day my daily workout. I’ve been doing this since I’ve had a day job. I have a kid and I can still squeeze it in.

One of the things that Emily and I are constantly talking about is your to-do list will fill up with as much time as you give it, so I just give it a little bit less time and I prioritize myself and I find that I’m more productive whenever I do that. I would say scheduling time for yourself on your calendar is another really great boundary that you can literally see that boundary.

Then also looking at your calendar can help you see what you value and if what you value and where your intentions are aren’t being reflected in your schedule, it’s time to update something.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. Emily, more.

Emily Thompson

Sure.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m demanding.

Emily Thompson

Right. We have this little exercise that we have people do occasionally, I even think it’s in the book, where we tell people to write their own sort of employee handbook for themselves.

If you are an employee, you have an employee handbook, but it probably – actually, I think number one is actually read your employee handbook if you haven’t already, if you’re not super familiar with it, to really see where the lines are already drawn because those boundaries are so important.

If you have a boss who’s overstepping those boundaries or if you have a coworker who is trying to nudge you into showing up too early or staying too late, too often or whatever it may be, knowing what the employee handbook already says, can be super helpful for helping you draw those boundaries.

But I also like the exercise of creating your own employee handbook, like what is not outlined in that employee handbook that you need to outline for yourself and whether that is stretch your communication boundaries or making sure you’re giving yourself an extra 15-minute moment in the afternoon to regroup so that you can really give the rest of your day the best you’ve got.

Defining some extra rules for yourself so that you can really show up and do the best work that you can do.

Pete Mockaitis

I love this. I’m just sort of imagining how it can play out in practice in terms of with the email if there’s resistance like, “No, I can’t.” I think you can just have some candid honest conversations, like, “Hey, I’m trying to unplug and be more present to my family, so I’d really appreciate it if something super urgent that you’d give me a call or text message if it’s in the evening time,” and there you go. It’s kind of hard to override that.

Kathleen Shannon

You know what? Unless you’re a doctor, unless you are saving lives, then at that point you’re also on call and getting paid for that. There is no emergency. Emily used to deal with this a lot with launching websites. People act like that is a life or death situation and it just isn’t. Maybe this is some tough love here.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Keep it coming.

Kathleen Shannon

I don’t want anyone texting me either or calling me. I don’t even want them to have my phone number.

Emily Thompson

Yeah, yeah. I think it’s looking at the points in your work where there is pain and trying to define your way out of that pain. If you are getting text messages from your boss and you don’t want text messages from your boss, tell your boss to stop texting you or whatever it may be, maybe it’s a coworker or whatever the case may be.

Those boundaries are super important. They keep you really good at your work and not resentful of the relationships that you have at work.

I also want to point out here that people will only take your boundaries as seriously as you do. If you say, “I won’t be emailing on the weekends anymore,” but you’re sliding out emails on the weekend, then no one’s going to respect those boundaries. You have to hold those to the highest standards as you set them and people will follow suit.

I’ve had people ask me before, “Your employees or the people you collaborate with, do they have issues with your email policies?” Because Kathleen and I are not emailing outside of regular 9 to 5 business hours and people would assume that the people we work with struggle with that or have issue with it.

What we’ve actually found is that people respect us more and they definitely respect those boundaries because we know what we need to do to get the job done and that does not mean responding to an email at 9 PM. We’ll be there at 9 AM to respond and you’ll get us fresh and ready to go. We’ll have really great relationships in the life outside of work as well. It really only holistically makes the entirety of our efforts better by putting those boundaries in place.

Kathleen Shannon

Okay, I want to mention that Emily has been her own boss like forever and I do come from an agency world where I did have a boss. If any of your listeners are like, “Oh my gosh, there’s no way I can tell my boss like, ‘Sorry, I’m not responding,’” because I know that that can be tricky. I think for me the hardest thing is what you don’t say.

You can respond to the text or to the email on Monday morning at 8 AM or whatever your working hours are. That’s a more subtle clue as to here are the times you can expect me to respond.

Then I also think that being really fully present and working your ass off while you’re at work and really staying focused means that you’re going to get more done in that time and you’re going to be more present for your co-workers and your boss and whoever else during that time, that they’ll start to see like, “Oh, maybe this actually works, this whole work/life being intentional in all the places kind of thing.”

Pete Mockaitis

I appreciate that you brought that into real experience if folks are having some resistance to this notion. I think I can think of a person, Kelsey, who told me just that. I was like, “Oh, you’re consulting, is that really draining you?” She’s like, “You know what? I just kind of told people how I work best and it works.” It was almost like, “Whoa, you can do that?”

I’d love it if you could maybe bring in some additional experiences from maybe your listeners or those you’ve interacted with who are in jobs who have had kind of a case study or a success with this.

Kathleen Shannon
We talk to a lot of entrepreneurs. But one thing I was going to say as Emily was sharing earlier with writing your own employee handbook, one of the things I have found to be really helpful in my own business is creating my own policies and saying things like, “Hey, it’s not my policy.” I’m just going to keep using email as an example since we’re there, but this could apply to a lot of things.

Like, “Hey, it’s not my policy to work for free,” or, “It’s not my policy to email on the weekends.” I wonder if there’s a way that if you are working a day job, like really think about your own policies and even using that verbiage to go with your boundaries might be really helpful for you.

I am married to a guy who has a day job. It’s been stretching him recently and it’s been kind of tricky navigating because you want to please the people that you work with, you want to be a good employee, you want to show that you’re enthusiastic and that you’re in it and that you’re a team member, but you also have to show them that you are a responsible parent or you’re a responsible husband and you’ve got more obligations or even if you don’t have kids or a wife or any of that, you do have a life outside of work.

I think that a good thing whenever it comes to that that you can do is kind of blend – like instead of this work/life balance and separation, is blend a little bit of it, so maybe even sharing with your coworkers what you’re doing outside of work and really just setting the stage and saying, “Hey, I’m going to go pick up my kid,” or, “I’m going to go hiking on the weekend.” I think whenever you can do that, it can help them get a sense of who you are outside of work and make them respect that time even more.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. I’ve noticed that often, other professionals will have sort of a respect or awe or admiration for, “Well, good for you. I’d really like to do that myself.”

Sometimes if it’s kind of heavy, what you’re dealing with, like, “Hey, you know what? My mom is sick so it is really important to me to be able to spend some extra time because we don’t know how much time we have,” or there’s a hospital or even with the hiking example. It’s like, “I find that I am so much more brilliantly refreshed and creative at work if I’m able to do this,” so everybody wins if this works out.

Kathleen Shannon

Right. I want to point out here that the key here is communication. It’s talking about what it is that you’re doing and how it is that it helps you be better at your job.

I can’t speak a lot to having conversations with people who have day jobs, but I do know that as a boss of people who I’m providing their day job, we talk about those kinds of things all the time. I do prompt a lot of it because I do understand how that makes for a much healthier work environment for all of us, but they also bring those sorts of things to be.

I’m super cognizant of the fact that there are ways in which people are more efficient and more effective and those are the sorts of things that I want to nurture.

I recently had one of our employees, who’s actually a contractor, come to us recently and say, “I think that I would be more effective if I were to focus at being boss on Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and leaving Thursdays and Fridays open for other endeavors that I’m working on.” I was like, “Great. That’s absolutely fantastic. We can adjust some things to make sure that we’re only relying on you on those three days,” and it wasn’t an issue.

It was clear communication. If she had stopped showing up on Thursday and Friday or was only half putting in the work on any of the days, that would have had a negative effect on what it is that we’re trying to build together. But it’s just that direct and clear concise communication that is appreciated and effective and allows us all to move forward and creates an organization where we’re all working better for it.

I think very often, even in large organizations, people think that their efforts don’t affect everyone or that their hike on the weekend isn’t going to make anyone’s job better but their own, but the truth is that it affects everything. You’re a part of a larger system and the more you can really give to that part whether it’s your communication or your undivided attention or your best self because you took that hike, the better off everyone is going to be for it.

Pete Mockaitis

I love this stuff. Thank you. To shift gears, I know you’ve got some great wisdom in the realm of confidence and dealing with fraudy feelings. What are some of your pro tips there?

Kathleen Shannon

Oh, I’ve got one. I love it whenever I need to cultivate confidence or overcome what we call fraudy feelings, which is kind of imposter syndrome, is to throw a dinner party. For me this is kind of calling on my inner mentors. I pretend as if I’m hosting a dinner party with these people who can give me boss advice and really guide me in this super mentored way into where I need to be going.

If my dinner party includes Beyoncé, Neil deGrasse Tyson, maybe Bill Nye the Science Guy. I’ve got a couple of scientists there. It may be a comedian like Dave Chappelle. I’ve got a few guests at my dinner party. You might be thinking like, “Wow, Kathleen is super connected,” and I’m not. I’m not.

This dinner party exists only in my head, but it really does help me cultivate this confidence of what kind of advice would Beyoncé give me if I feel like I’m struggling with having a hard conversation with a business partner. It’s really fun to kind of almost play it like an ad-lib game or have unexpected people give you unexpected advice to the problems that you’re trying to solve, like how would Neil deGrasse Tyson, how would he help advise me in solving this design problem.

It can really lead to some creativity and innovation. Whenever you’re feeling creative and curious and innovative, there is no room for feeling bad or feeling sorry for yourself or having fraudy feelings. At that point, you’re energized and excited just to make the thing. That’s how I like to do it.

Emily Thompson

Love that, Kathleen, your fake dinner parties. I like to be a little more practical I think. I always look at
proof.

One of the things that Kathleen say to each other and ourselves consistently is ‘I can do hard things.’ We know this because we’ve done it. We can look at the past, at what it is that we’ve built. I imagine anyone listening to this, you’ve done something hard in your life at least once or you probably wouldn’t be listening to this podcast on that cool device that you have in your hand or in your pocket or wherever it may be.

You can do hard things. If I ever need to bolster my confidence and get something done that I maybe haven’t done before or it seems a little daunting or I’m trying to tell myself that I’m not going to be able to accomplish it, I always look back at all the things that I have done.

If I can’t do it for myself, I call up a friend or pour a glass of wine and go talk to my partner, David, and we’ll go over some of the things that I’ve done, whatever I need to do to remind myself that this is just one more hard step on a very long path and journey of hard steps. It’s not quite as fun as Dave Chappelle and Beyoncé, but I find it just as useful.

Kathleen Shannon

Well, Emily, one of the things that you’ve always done that’s really inspired me is to approach everything as an experiment and to know that you can test and change. I think whenever you approach a project as an experiment rather than like, “Oh my gosh, this is my livelihood and I need to make some money,” you’re open to failure because aren’t scientists looking to fail. Aren’t they looking to prove themselves wrong?

I think that that’s what we’re trying to do as well is really see what works and what doesn’t through the lens of an experiment, like this is a thing that we are trying. Yes, our livelihood does depend on it, but whenever we can get curious and be open to failing, we succeed nine times out of ten.

Pete Mockaitis

That is powerful. I love that notion ‘I can do hard things’ feels like a much more tangible and specific belief to cultivate as opposed to what you might call self-esteem or self-confidence.

This brings me back. Boy, when I was a freshman in college I remember, I just kept getting rejected from stuff. I wanted to join all these clubs and they wouldn’t have me. I was like, “What the heck? I was such a rock star in high school. This is bogus.” It really did kind of bring me down in terms of what you’d call self-confidence.

So I made a big old notebook with bullet after bullet of cool things that I’ve accomplished. If you sort of look at those evidence points for not just, “I’m great,” but, “I can do hard things,” I think that’s really galvanizing and resonating.

Emily Thompson

Yeah, it’s important. It’s so easy to start beating yourself up and forget that you’ve gotten here because you did cool things or you did something and the next thing is just the next thing that you have to overcome. It’s just an easy, simple tactic for getting you there.

Kathleen Shannon

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that it’s not supposed to be easy. No good story doesn’t come without some challenges. We’re on a hero’s journey and that means we’re going to be falling on our faces sometimes and that’s okay. We’re supposed to.

Pete Mockaitis

This is so good. Tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear, rapid-fire, your favorite things?

Emily Thompson

My favorite quote, it’s not even inspiring, it’s one of those things that drives me a lot. It’s really funny, I also have to share the story that surrounds it. The quote is ‘Look for what’s different.”

It came from a teacher that I had once. I think about this all the time. It was in reference to looking for four-leaf clovers of all things. We’re like out in the school yard, looking at clovers, and she told us to look for what’s different because it’s the four-leaf clover that’s different from the three-leaf clovers.

I think about that all the time. I absolutely know that little mindset nugget, that little just quote that seems so simple, is one of the things that’s definitely brought me to where I am, where it’s not the 14-step blueprint that’s going to make me 18 figures or anything like that. It is the thing that’s different that will take you down the path to what it is that you’re supposed to do.

The quote that I’m always thinking of is Dear Ms. Thompson, because we did share a last name too and that’s just a whole other level of magic there, this idea of you should be looking for what’s different, not at what’s the same.

Kathleen Shannon

Is that how you find so many four-leaf clovers? Is that your secret?

Emily Thompson

Yes, it is. That is my secret. I also just shared the secret to how it is that I find four-leaf clovers more easily than anyone I’ve ever met.
Kathleen Shannon
Wow, I love it. Mine is – I’m going to butcher his name, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and it is “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Pete Mockaitis

And it rhymes. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Emily Thompson

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. This one changed my life and we’re often asked what business books we recommend and this isn’t a specific business book, but it is one that will teach you the power of vulnerability and resilience and it has changed my life.

Kathleen Shannon

Mine is just Harry Potter, all of them.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely, thank you. Could you share a particular nugget that really seems to connect and resonate with your audience? You hear them quoting it back to your often.

Kathleen Shannon

Do the work. It’s so funny whenever we were writing our book, we were asking our audience, “Is there anything that we have said that really stands out for you?” All of them said, “You’re constantly just telling us to do the work.”

That means to get into that mindset, to get into your habits and routines, and to establish those boundaries and to lean on your wolf pack, and your tribe, and your community, and to really be who you are 100% of the time in work and life and that takes a lot of work, but you can do it, so do the work.

Emily Thompson

I agree with that one, except I think I’ll expand because one of things that I feel like comes back to me often, I feel like there’s been some Instagram graphics made out in the world where at one point I said, “Do the work is what happens between the wanting and the having,” so a nice little definition there for it’s all the work that happens between wanting something and actually having it.

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

Emily Thompson

BeingBoss.club.

Kathleen Shannon

I was going to say, www.BeingBoss.club.

Emily Thompson

Good job. Good job Kathleen.

Kathleen Shannon

We’ve had our listeners get stressed out about the way I say www.

Pete Mockaitis

I was thinking that. I noticed that myself. I’m like interesting choice.

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, yeah right. We have an interesting URL, so I like to include the www for context. But yeah, that’s where you will find us.

Pete Mockaitis

And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue forth to those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Emily Thompson

I do, and Kathleen, I look forward to hearing what you have to say about this one. One of my very favorite ones and I think this is especially for people who have jobs because I think there are a whole other set of rules, it applies to both, but job people. I think I challenge people to say no three times this week.

Kathleen Shannon

That one makes me start to sweat a little bit.

Emily Thompson

I know it does. I know it does.

Kathleen Shannon

I have a hard time with it.

Emily Thompson

I think it’s a good one.

Kathleen Shannon

Mine is going to be make space for what you want, whether that is on your calendar or whatever that looks like for you, make space for what you want. I would say on your calendar and schedule it and make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hm. Well, Emily, Kathleen, this has been such a treat. Thank you for sharing the good stuff. I hope that your book is a smash success and you keep on being boss and flourishing in all you’re doing.

Kathleen Shannon

Thanks for having us, Pete, this was so much fun.

Emily Thompson

Yes.

286: How to Optimize Learning at Work with Whitney Johnson

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

CEO advisor Whitney Johnson shares her insights into optimizing individual learning and team innovation via thoughtful disruption along a learning curve.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to optimize each stage of learning
  2. The three key stages of your learning curve
  3. The importance of ‘hiring’ the right boss

About Whitney

CEO advisor and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Whitney Johnson, has over one million followers on Linkedin. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work (2015). She was an award-winning Wall Street analyst and co-founded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Clayton Christensen. She is a frequent keynote speaker on disruption, and has been recognized as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50 and Fortune. She also hosts the weekly Disrupt Yourself podcast and is an original cohort member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Whitney Johnson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Whitney, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Whitney Johnson
Thank you, Pete. I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Well, I think we’re going to get into some really good stuff, but first I wanted to go back in time a little bit and hear in an earlier part of your career you were a winning, outperforming stock picker. How did you do it?

Whitney Johnson
That’s such a good question. I think the way I did it – I mean you have to build your financial models and you have to come up with your projections of what you think a company is going to be able to do in the future, but there’s an element of stock picking that’s actually very intuitive. The way I – I found that stocks, I mean, when I was analyzing them and studying them every single day of what they were doing, it’s almost like they had a personality.

One of the elements at least for me of being a good stock picker was sure I had to have the numbers, but also being able to analyze management, what I thought management would do, how they were thinking about the world, what was motivating them, and then also watching the stock and just getting a sense for when there might be momentum shifting either up or down.

I think a good stock picker has this element of being able to do the analytical work, but there’s also an intuitive – there’s a left brain, right brain aspect to stock picking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s intriguing. One of these days my dreams is – because I’ve seen that there’s numbers and numbers of studies that show that certain kind of good people practices are linked to exceptional or beyond normal stock performance measures, if you look at maybe Good to Great or any number of those sort of studies that are out there.
Part of me thought on day I think it would be really cool to start a strategy in which I’m trying to snag undervalued stocks based upon having brilliant people and culture things in play because it’s like, those are not readily quantified, reported, sent to the SEC and digested by day traders the world over.

Whitney Johnson
Fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Some day.

Whitney Johnson
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Whitney Johnson
Yeah, yeah. It’s worth doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, maybe I’ll pick your brain when that day comes because you’ve made a leap here into more of the realm of people and learning and development. You talk a lot about disrupting and disruption, can you orient us a little bit? What do you mean by those words?

Whitney Johnson
I’m glad that you asked that question because I think so many of us hear those words and we all think different things depending on who we are and the experience that we’ve had. At its simplest, a disruptor, in terms of disruptive innovation, is a silly little thing that takes over the world.

Quick examples are the telephone that took over the telegraph; the light bulb, the gas lamp; more recently Toyota disrupted General Motors; Netflix, Blockbuster; and then Uber has disrupted yellow cabs.

It has a very specific framework. The disruptor gets a foothold at the low end of the market. And think about Toyota in the ‘60s. At the very outset, its position is weak and their product is inferior. At that point in time, General Motors could have literally crushed them like a cockroach, but they didn’t because market leaders rarely bother because for them it’s just a silly little thing, the margins are low, it’s inconsequential, why should we bother, let’s just go after bigger, faster, better. In the case of General Motors, it was Cadillac.

The bad news for General Motors, of course, and the good news depending on your point of view, if you were Toyota, is that once you’ve got that foothold, you’re motivated also by bigger, faster, better, Lexus. That’s what disruption looks like. At its simplest, it’s low end, eventually moves up market and upends its better resourced, at least early on, competitor.

Pete Mockaitis

When you talk about an individual being a disruptor or disruptive or causing disruption, what does that mean?

Whitney Johnson

Personal disruption is how you take these ideas and make them meaningful to you. This is the big aha that I had. When I was working as an investor I had co-founded an investment firm with Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School and we were applying this theory of disruption to investing and to products and services.
The big aha, the big insight that I had, was that this framework actually applied to people. What it looks like for a person is think of a ladder, so you start at the bottom of a ladder, then you climb to the top of the ladder and then you jump to the bottom of the next ladder, like the children’s game Chutes and Ladders.

To give you an example of what that can look like for a person, because I think we talked about Toyota, General Motors, but what does it look like for you personally. Well, Lady Gaga. We all know Lady Gaga.

Think about how in 2008 she starts at the bottom of a ladder. She goes straight to the top. Then for an encore what does she do? Well she jumps to the bottom of a new ladder. Think about that ladder. She collaborates with Tony Benet on a jazz album. Then she does this Sound of Music tribute. We’re talking about Lady Gaga singing The Hills are Alive. Then she produces a country album.

You’re like, “Wow, hm.” But the jump it obviously paid off because her performance at the Super Bowl last year had the largest music audience ever. That’s what personal disruption looks like.

The real snag for personal disruption though is that when you’re at the top of the ladder and you make a decision to jump to the bottom of a new one, people oftentimes look at you like, “What are you doing? You’re giving up all this stature, all this money, all this notoriety. Why would you do this?” You do it because you believe that when you’re willing to disrupt yourself, that what you will get in the future, that step back will turn out to be a slingshot forward for you.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s interesting because I’m thinking sometimes it works out great and sometimes it doesn’t work out so great. I’m thinking about Opera right now. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not in the know and the Opera Winfrey Network is rocking and rolling, but for a while there it seemed like she was sort of struggling with the rankings or the ratings, Nielson stuff, and is just sort of hanging out, whereas before she was the Opera with rocking and rolling.

Whitney Johnson

Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis

I guess time will tell what unfolds there or maybe Michael Jordan and baseball.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, Pete. You make a really good point.

I think one of the important things to know about the theory of disruption is that the reason it’s so valuable is that the research says that your odds of success are going to be six times higher when you pursue a disruptive course and your revenue opportunity is going to be 20 times greater.  The thing that is important to understand is that when your odds go up by six times, that’s from 6% to 36%.

Pete Mockaitis

There you go.

Whitney Johnson

There’s still a 64% chance that you’re on the wrong curve. It means that lots of things that we’re going to try are not going to work. That being said, your odds go up and most importantly, no S curve is ever wasted.

No matter what S curve or learning curve we’re on, we’re always learning something. Even if it turns out that this is not a learning curve that’s going to work fabulously well, like perhaps the OWN Network for Opera or even Michael Jordan and baseball, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t learn some really valuable lessons and she didn’t learn some really valuable lessons. Again, no S curve or learning curve is ever wasted.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. I’ve seen that in terms of just my own business adventures in terms of, “Oh, that didn’t work out. I’ve wasted some time and money on it, but oh wow, now I have these sort of extra resources, like great people to collaborate with, knowledge of platforms that I wouldn’t have had, skills that get put over to another place.” It’s hard to regret even most of those failures.

Whitney Johnson

Especially when it’s not about when you’re able to separate out the endeavor itself from you as a person, the worth that you have as a person. When you can separate those two out, you really can say, “Wow, I did this thing and it didn’t work, but look at everything I learned.” It starts to just be this accumulation of knowledge and understanding and experience that allows you to move up the next curve that much more quickly.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, let’s talk about some learning curve stuff in your latest upcoming work, Build an A Team. What’s this book all about and why is important right now?

Whitney Johnson

My prior book called Disrupt Yourself and we’ve kind of been alluding to it and talking about was this notion that we need to be willing to disrupt ourselves to jump from one learning curve to the next, so that your odds of success are higher.

One of the things that happened is that as I was talking to people, I would over and over and over again have people say to me, “Okay, I get it. I got it. I got it. I want to disrupt myself, but how do I get my boss to let me disrupt myself? Because I really like the company that I’m working at. And how do I get the team, the people who are working for me to disrupt themselves?” This book is a response to that.

Whereas Disrupt Yourself was for you, how do you decide when it’s time to try something new and then how do you move up your learning curve … to do that, this is about okay, how do you manage a team as a collection of S curves and how do you use this framework to onboard people, how do you manage people when they’re at the low end of their curve, in the sweet spot at the high end and what do you do when it’s time for them to jump to their next S curve.

With the idea that if your company is a collection of S curves, if you can manage the learning of each person on your team, you can actually optimize for innovation and avoid being disrupted.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hm. Well, you’re using a lot of words I like there: optimizing and innovation, learning, oh yeah. Let’s dig in a little bit then. What are some key practices that make that happen well in terms of some do’s and don’ts that you observe in the wild.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I would say the first thing to think about  is – let’s just talk about this S a little bit because I think for some of our listeners because we’ve been talking all about the S curve and  – I should say your listeners. They’re your listeners. They’re you tribe.

Pete Mockaitis

… share them now.

Whitney Johnson

Thank you for inviting me in.

If you think about this idea of an S, at the bottom of the S, you’re inexperienced, you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s going to be – six months to a year whenever you start anything new, a new role, a new project, where time is going to pass, time is going to pass, and it feels like nothing is happening.

But then you put in the effort and you start to move up the knee of that S. That comes the back of the S where it’s really, really steep and so you start to feel really competent and confident and you’re engaged.

Then you get to the top and now you become a master. Yay, you’re a master, but because you know how to do everything on your job, you start to get bored. Well, what you want to do as a manager is to
have about 70% of your people at any given time in the sweet spot, where they’re engaged, they know enough, but not too much.

You want to have 15% of your people at the low end, where they’re inexperienced, but they’re also, because of that inexperience, asking lots of questions like, “Why do you do it like this?” If you can get over the fact that it feels kind of pesky because they’re questioning the status quo, there are all sorts of nuggets of discovery that can come with that person who’s at the low end of the curve. You want 15% of your people there.

Then you also want 15% of your people at the high end of the curve who are on the top. Think of it, I’m talking about a curve, but also think of it as being on top of a mountain. There’s this vista, there’s this perspective that they have. They can also bring along the people who are the bottom and the middle of the curve before they then jump to a new one.

If you can optimize each of those respective stages of learning, it can allow you to be very innovative. In fact, if you, as an organization or a leader, are trying to figure out if you’re at risk of being disrupted, all you have to do is look at how many people are at the high end of the curve because if you’ve got too many people at the high end, that means they’re getting bored and bored people can either leave or worse they get complacent and bored and complacent people, they don’t innovate. They get disrupted.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. We’ve sort of laid out, “Hey, take a look at the mix right there.” Maybe I think it would be helpful – I guess in a way it really is a continuum as opposed to red, yellow, green, three firm, clear categories. Is that fair to say?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, it’s a continuum. But you want to dive into sort of how you manage people along the different parts?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yes.

Whitney Johnson

Or what would be helpful?

Pete Mockaitis

I’d like to go there in a moment, but first I guess I’d like to say, I’m thinking about so folks are in there in their six months, like, “Yeah, I still kind of don’t know what I’m doing, but I kind of do.” I guess where would you place them in terms of the three segments or would you just say, they’re more like the new folk than they are the mid-folk and just leave it at that or is there any kind of key questions or indicators you look to and do your categorizing?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, love it. Great question.

One of the things that we have is we have what is called an S curve locator. It’s the too that you can – if you actually go to my website at WhitneyJohnson.com/diagnostic, you can download it and see where you are on your current learning curve. If you wanted to, you could have everybody on your team download it and see where you are.

What I would say is that it’s definitely continuum. But here’s a quick rule of thumb, typically someone’s going to be at the low end of the curve. If you’re mapping against the 10,000 hour rule, for example, and working 40 hours a week, you’re going to be there up until about the time that you’re at six months.

That’s going to be characterized by you’re coming home from work and saying, “I have no idea what I’m doing.

I feel very daunted by what’s happening.” That’s how it’s going to feel, so you then go, “Okay, I know it’s supposed to feel this way, so I’m not going to get discouraged.”

But at some point after – from six to nine months and it may be a year depending on how prepared you were going into this new work, you’re going to start moving into this sweet spot. You’ll be in this sweet spot for, again, on average two to three years, where at the low end of the sweet spot you feel like you still know enough, but not quite enough and at the high end of the sweet spot, you probably know a lot and perhaps almost too much.

Then once you get to the top of the curve, that’s going to be three to four years in a particular role. You don’t really want to be staying at that place for longer than six months to a year. Again, this is doing exactly the same thing. There’s lots of different ways for you to extend out the sweet spot of the curve, but that’s a basic rule of thumb.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s really interesting because that seems to roughly correspond to what we’re seeing with the horizon in which people choose of their volition to stick with a current role … “You know what? I think I’m going to move on now.”

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, and you know it’s so fascinating, Pete, is that when people hear about this framework they go, “Oh, that’s why I move every three or four years because I was at the top of a learning curve,” and it helps them understand that they weren’t just being flakey like, “Oh, I’m done with this job.”

They understand, “Oh, it’s because my learning had peaked and I needed to do something new because I was getting bored and in order for me to be most productive and most be able to contribute better to the organization I needed to be able to leap to a new learning curve.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, all right. Let’s say, now we have three different segments, what are some best practices within each of them?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, okay. I would say for people at the low end of the learning curve, you want to have a plan. I think there’s this tendency to thing that whenever you hire someone that they’re going to be there forever and they’re just not. We subconsciously do that weird thing.

You want to have a really clear plan of what you want them to do for the first month on the job, for their first six months on the job, for their two to three years on the job, knowing that three to four years from now they’re going to jump, assuming that they’ve been a good employee, going to jump to do something new.

The second thing you want to do is to just let them do their job. I think sometimes when people are brand new, for example, I know some of your listeners are fairly new managers, there’s this tendency to want to micromanage. Let me just tell you a quick story around that.

There was this really talented, high performer at Boeing who was promoted to be a manager and a few months in one of his direct reports, an engineer, announced that he was quitting. The engineer is like, “Why are you quitting? You’re doing such a good job.” The engineer said, “Well, it’s because you’re micro managing me. You’ve made 14 changes to my work. Your job is not to do my job. Your job is to help me understand the bigger picture, to plug me into the network and to advocate for me.”

The employee still quit, but Alan Mulally, who went on to become the CEO of Ford, one of the best CEOs of our time, apparently learned his lesson, I should say.

The third thing I would say for people at the low end is to recognize that they’re going to be slow. Sometimes you’re going to say, “Hm, I wonder if I should have hired this person because they’re not really quite delivering the way I wanted them to.” Just recognize that they’re going to be slow because they’re at the low end of the curve.

Then remember that because they’re not blind through familiarity, there are lots of things that they’re going to see. Make sure you – before they start to get blind, make sure you ask them what their insights are and what suggestions that they have for you and how you might do things differently. That’s at the low end of the curve.

Pete Mockaitis

I really like that, that notion that the new folks have – because they don’t know stuff, are a rich source of innovation.

I guess I’m thinking about it sometimes when we’ve had folks like just, “Hey, clean our home.” Sometimes it’s, “It’s gotten beyond us. We need a little help task rabbit or something on a number of occasions.” It’s sort of like I behold sort of what they’ve done and at times it’s like, “Well, that’s not where that goes. That goes over there.” It’s like, “But you know what? It makes more sense to have it over here.”

Whitney Johnson

Exactly. That’s a great example. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s good. At times it’s sort of like, “No, that’s not where that goes for a reason. I’m going to move it back here,” and other times it’s like, “You have sparked something really cool about how I should have been doing it all along.” That’s cool to have that flexibility, that humility to roll with it. What about folks who are in the midpoint or the sweet spot?

Whitney Johnson

People in the sweet spot, it’s a really interesting place because they are feeling really competent. One of the things that’s really interesting is when people are in the sweet spot, you start to them think of them as a high potential person. Fascinating research suggests that when people are high po’s, we actually don’t give them hard assignments because we’re afraid that they’ll fail.

The most important thing you can do for your people in the sweet spot is to give them constraints, to give them friction, to press them and challenge them. Give them real stretch assignments where there’s a real possibility of failure.

Then the second thing I would say is because they are performing so well, make sure you appreciate them. It’s easy sometimes when people are at the low end or the high end, you’re worried about them, etcetera, and you forget and ignore the people in the sweet spot. They’re not a problem child, so don’t make them one because you’ve ignored them. That would be my advice for the people in the middle of the curve.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, very good. And those who are getting experienced?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, so the people at the top of the curve, there are a couple of different things you want to do.

First of all the way that you can best leverage their experience is to give them – first of all say to them, “Okay, you’re at the top of the curve. I know you’re getting bored. I need you to stay here from six months to a year in order to help set the pace for people at the low end of the curve, in order to convey the tribal memory, and also we just need to get your perspective overall.”

That’s how you want to manage people at the top of the curve is give them a specific role that they need to play for your organization. Then you need to come to their aid, so A-I-D.
Applaud what they’ve done. We tend to memorialize birthdays and anniversaries and promotions, but whenever someone gets to the top of the curve, applaud and say to them, “Look at what we’ve accomplished as a team because you were in this role.”

The second thing you want to do if you haven’t already is to identify what they’re going to do next.

Then the third, the D, A-I-D, is to deliver on the promise inherent in your contract that now that they’ve gotten to the top of the curve, they’ve delivered, they’ve performed well, they’ve now set the pace for the people at the low end, you identify some new role, some new opportunity, some new project for them to do inside of your organization so that they can continue to learn and as they learn, yes, they may leave your team and so there’s a short term loss for you, but you sub-optimize the present in order to optimize the future for them and for your organization.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s interesting I think in practice – well, I don’t have any hard data on this, maybe you do. But my gut sense is that most organization don’t do this. It’s kind of like, “Well, this is the job,” and maybe there’s not clear-cut opportunities for advancement or other roles to be snagged, so then folks just kind of get tired of it and they leave of their own accord.

What’s your sense for how – what the proportion of folks who are doing things optimally viruses sub-optimally?

Whitney Johnson

I think the large percentage of people are doing it sub-optimally. It’s very difficult to do and yet we know – in fact, the data says it’s difficult to do. I’m trying to find – oh yeah, okay.

Professor at Harvard Business School, Boris Groysberg, he does this survey every year. I think he’s done it for about ten years of small, medium-sized companies and asks them about sort of how they build a great company and to rate how effective they are at a number of different HR practices.

For the 450 companies they surveyed in 2017, job rotations, which is basically what we’re talking about here, had the lowest, with high potential programs having the third lowest.

The key to maintaining this innovate workforce, they were the lowest and the third lowest. He said this is not unusual. It’s basically this way every single year.

If the organizations that are listening to this are struggling to do it, you’re not alone. But to the organizations that are able to do it, like for example, WD-40, who I talk about in my book, then you get things like engagement scores of 93%. You know that when you’ve got high engagement scores, you’ve got higher operating margins, your ROIs – you’re just a more profitable company.

So there’s a case to be made for it. But there are all sorts of psychological reasons why we don’t. Anyway, long-winded answer to your question, but I think the simple answer is very few do, more could and would benefit if done so.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. Also, when you share those data, that also make some think of Korn Ferry had managers sort of self-assess where they fell on all the competencies and developing others and direct reports was dead last of all of them that they could choose in the stack order ranking, so it is challenging.

I’d like to zoom in then. If you were the individual who is wishing you had some enlightened leaders taking care of you in this way but aren’t quite getting it, what’s your advice for them?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I would say you can’t necessarily change your boss. I think there are a couple things you can do. You can hire the right boss for you.

Because I think one of the things we overlook is sometimes it’s a good thing to help people leave and go to other organizations where they can become ambassadors, clients, etcetera for your company. I think that would be the first place I would start.

The second place I would go is to you, yourself. I think that if you can make it possible for the people who report to you to be able to learn and leap and repeat, you’re going to find that the people who are reporting to you are much more engaged. They’ll be all in and when they’re all in, when they’re learning, you’re going to ship more product and then you’re going to start to become a talent magnet and people are going to want to work for you and with you.

Then if it turns out that the boss that you happen to work for is not the talent magnet, then you’re going to have the ability to move to other organizations over time.

Pete Mockaitis

I also want to get your take on the – there are some employees who are not that interested, engaged or motivated by learning. They would kind of just rather sort of do their thing for a while with minimal interruption and maybe effort. How do you think about working with this sort of profile in the mix?

Whitney Johnson

With someone who just literally doesn’t want to learn, is that what you’re saying? They’re just not excited.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. I think that you might call it less motivation or they would prefer just a bit more of routine. I’m thinking of Jerry Gergich from Parks and Recreation right now if you can bring that to mind. He just likes his government job because he can get home to his wife and family at a reasonable time and that’s that.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, it’s such an interesting question.

I remember a few years ago, maybe two years ago, I was talking to a CEO of a company and he said, “90% of my people don’t have a learning curve. They just don’t care.” I could really feel how he felt. He was really frustrated.

My response was – I think it’s just not true. I think everybody is on a learning curve. It’s just … because everybody has the will for something. I think when we have someone inside of an organization who is not performing well, I think there can be a couple things going on.

I think sometimes they just don’t want to work that hard, but that means that this is not the right learning curve for them because I think everybody is willing to work hard at something, even if it’s playing video games ten hours a day or watching football for ten hours a day. There’s something that they’re willing to work hard at, but it might not be inside of your organization.

That’s sometimes where you’ve just got to have those difficult conversations and say, “This isn’t the right learning curve for you because you’re not excited about this particular curve.”

I do think sometimes that people are under performing not because they’re not willing to work hard, but because they are on the wrong curve. Part of the reason that that happens is because that we, as human beings, because we overvalue what we’re not good at, we sometimes get ourselves into the wrong roles because we worked hard at something so therefore, we should be in that role, when in fact what we’d be really good at is that thing that we don’t value because it’s easy for us.

A really great boss will be able to discern between the two and when they discover that there’s someone in the wrong role – and I talk about this in the book about a women named Jocelyn Wong, where she was at Proctor and Gamble. She was engineer. It turns out she was not performing well.

It’s not because she wasn’t good; it’s just that she was on the wrong curve, so they moved her into marketing and she’s now been the CMO of Lowe’s.

Again, I think everybody has the will for something. It may not be the will for the learning curve inside of your company, but sometimes when people aren’t performing it’s just that they’re not on the right curve.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Again, if there’s an individual who finds themselves bored and not sort of getting the proactive attention from leadership to kind of craft new things, do you have any tips for being proactive and how one might go about taking the initiative optimally to finding some new challenges within the current role?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, okay, so you’re saying, you’re a little bit bored. Okay, so a couple of things.

I would say number one is you want to talk to your boss and say to them, again, I understand that this might sometimes feel tantamount to getting pushed off the curve, which also gives you information. If you can’t go to your boss and say you’re bored, then you’re probably going to leave at some point anyway, so you may want to make the decision to be proactive.

But I do think that there are opportunities for you once you say that you can give yourself – you can create opportunities for yourself to stretch.

One of the things I recommend to my clients is to impose constraints because when you’re getting bored it’s because you don’t have enough challenge and challenge comes with friction and constraints represent friction.

They can include things like okay, we’ve got a target of X for this year, we want to see if we can reach our target in 0.75X, or sorry, we want to reach our target by September, not by December or what could we do if we had half the marketing budget or what would we have to do if we only had half the people. Start to really push yourself to be effective by constraining your resources and see what that can bring about.

But again, I think that that can at some level feel like busy work. You’re really best off by having that conversation with your boss and/or taking on interesting projects inside of the organization that engage and challenge you, which in a very, very large organization you certainly have the option of doing.

If you’re in a small organization, you can start a side hustle and see what happens there. But I think in that instance you’re basically saying, “Okay, this S curve I’m on isn’t fulfilling me. For whatever reason I’m not ready to jump to a new curve, it might be a financial concern, so I’m going to start a side hustle, start my own S curve over here and see what comes of that.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Thank you. Well, Whitney, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I think the only other comment I would make is that I think whenever you’re thinking about disrupting and this idea of learning, and leaping and repeating, and allowing – disrupting yourself in terms of how you’re managing your workforce or your team is always remember that when – because you’re creating a new market, you’re creating a new way of doing things, it’s going to be scary and lonely. So if you’re feeling scared and if you’re feeling lonely as you’re pursuing this, you’re actually on the right path to disruption.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. Thank you. Well now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, so one of my favorite quotes is “Rings and jewels are but apologies for gifts,” I’m paraphrasing. It’s Ralph Waldo Emerson. “But the only true gift is a portion of thyself.” I really, really love that quote. It’s very meaningful for me.

Whenever we think about ourselves in the workplace or really any endeavor that we’re pursuing, I think it’s always important, at least for me, to find some way to bring myself into that, to really show up in some way, whether it’s professionally or personally.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. How about a favorite study or a bit of research?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I read The Undoing Project not too long ago and I talk about it a little bit in this next book. I’m fascinated by this idea of behavioral economics and how sometimes when we want to encourage people to do something, we talk a lot about the carrot, but I think that when it comes to motivating ourselves, that the stick is not to be overlooked. I think that for me was really powerful.

Sometimes we need to just prod yourself by saying, “Okay, here are all the bad things that are going to happen to you if you don’t do this new thing,” because we want to be positive, but sometimes, we’re actually more motivated if we can tell ourselves that it won’t be good if we don’t do this.

Pete Mockaitis

Have you applied this in your own goal or pursuits?

Whitney Johnson

Yes, absolutely I have. Do you want an example?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, please do.

Whitney Johnson

Okay, a few – probably a year or two ago I had gotten off of a webinar and I just wasn’t very good. You know you have times, you’re just not very good. Afterwards, I was like, “I wasn’t very good.” I was psyching myself up about how good I was going to be.

My husband, spouses and partners are often truth tellers, he’s like, “Don’t you get it? You need to tell yourself how bad it’s going to be. If you tell yourself how bad it’s going to be, then you’ll prepare.” I was like, “Really? He’s right. He’s right.”

So now when I’m trying to prepare to give a speech or prepare to do a podcast like with you, instead of saying to myself, “This is going to be great.” I’ll say, “Okay, if you don’t prepare, if you don’t take a look at – think about what you’re going to do beforehand, it’s going to be bad,” then it motivates me actually to act, so powerful research to me.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, good, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Whitney Johnson

Oh, I am reading Brandon Sanderson. Do you know him at all? He’s a fantasy writer. He writes fantasy and he wrote this book called The Way of Kings. He’s just the most fantastic storyteller. If you ever read Ender’s Game, he takes Ender’s Game to the exponential power. He’s just that good.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, thank you. How about a favorite tool? Something that helps you be awesome at your job.

Whitney Johnson

Oh, Headspace app hands down. It’s so good. It’s really good. Did you have him as a guest on your show?

Pete Mockaitis

I haven’t, but we have a guest coming up who’s on the Simple Habit app. He’s coming on. Andy, yeah, he’s on the list, so maybe someday it can happen.

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, yeah. You could do the live meditation. Anyway, that app – I’m up to like 900 minutes. It’s really made a difference for me. I highly recommend it. In fact, I have recommended it to a number of people.

Pete Mockaitis

You said difference, what difference does it make for you?

Whitney Johnson

I think that when – I tend to get anxious or worried about all the 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 things that I need to do in the next hour or two hours, so I think the Headspace app has helped me say to myself, “Okay, that’s just a thought, just focus on what you have to do right now. Write it down. You can come back to it.” Just be much more aware of the chatter in my head and to kind of calm that chatter down. I found it very helpful for that.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, very good. Thank you. How about a particular nugget you share that really seems to resonate with folks? They nod, they Kindle book highlight, they quote you back to yourself. What is something you share that really seems to connect?

Whitney Johnson

One is if it’s scary and lonely, you’re on the right path.

Another one that people really resonate with is that shame limits disruption, not failure. I think sometimes people conflate the two and failure and shame are two different things, but we conflate them. When I say to people shame limits disruption, not failure, I think that that’s really resonant.

Then I would also say that this idea, which I mentioned earlier, is that if you want to know that if you as an organization are about to be disrupted, just take the pulse of your workforce. I think that’s really powerful for people, like, “Oh, right. I don’t need to just worry that I’m getting disrupted, I just need to figure out where my people are and if I’ve got too many people that are getting bored, I’m going to be at risk because they’re dialing it in.” That’s really helpful for people as well.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Whitney Johnson

As I mentioned earlier, you can go to my website to WhitneyJohnson.com/diagnostic if you want to take this S curve locator. The best way is to find me at WhitneyJohnson.com. You can email me at WJ@WhitneyJohnson.com or on Twitter at JohnsonWhitney.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Whitney Johnson

Yeah, I do. I suspect that as you were listening to Pete and I talk, you had an idea, one or two or three ideas, some insight. I would encourage you to write that insight down now, this very second. Pull over your car and write it down and then act on it in the next two hours. That would be my challenge.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. All right, well, Whitney, thanks so much for taking this time. I wish you lots of luck with the book and all sorts of happy disruptions and A Team building in the future.

Whitney Johnson

Thank you very much, Pete. I appreciate it.