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947: How to Listen to Your Body for Leadership Insights with Rachel Rider

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Rachel Rider shares visualization and other approaches to gain individualized insights on improving your leadership.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A powerful visualization to break out of negativity
  2. The biological hack to overcome anxiety
  3. How to decode your body’s tension signals 

About Rachel

Rachel Rider founded MettaWorks in 2015 after a distinguished career in HR, receiving executive coaching certification from Columbia University, and extensive training in meditation, Somatic Experiencing, and Polarity Therapy. Starting as HR Business Partner responsible for developing and coaching leaders and teams at Bloomberg, she went on to specialize in leadership coaching at AppNexus (since acquired by AT&T) and Digital Ocean, the third-largest hosting company in the world. She studied under renowned teacher and Zen Mountain Monastery founder John Daido Loori Roshi for 13 years before continuing under his successor, Shugen Arnold Roshi.  

Rider completed a three-year intensive certification in Somatic Experiencing in 2018, and a 2020 training in Polarity Therapy with the aim of bringing leaders tools to unlock effective, long-lasting change in concert with the body. Since 2020, she’s been working intensively with anti-racism coach Makeda Pennycooke. Rider lives in New York with her husband and two children. 

Resources Mentioned

Rachel Rider Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Rachel, welcome.

Rachel Rider

It’s so good to be here. Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to be chatting. We’re talking about Who You Are Is How You Lead, and some of your insights is associated with this goodness. Can you tell us any particularly surprising, or fascinating, or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way here doing your research?

Rachel Rider

When I started this work, I grew up in the corporate world of HR, and I was studying somatic experiencing, which is the regulation of your nervous system, and at that time, it felt too woo to discuss. But what I have found over time working with folks in the professional world, particularly high-powered leaders, is that there is a hunger, almost a desperation, for “How does it not just live in the cognitive but how do I work with my nervous system to be able to navigate the incredible demands of my job?”

And so, where I began timid to discuss this, it felt a little magic-y, a little woo, became actually the thing that people seek me out for, and that was a surprise. I guess I had a presumption or prejudice against the corporate world, but it turns out actually there’s a place for it there.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it’s interesting. And we’ve talked to a number of guests on the whole spectrum of woo, I would say, and what I find interesting when we talk about woo, one, I guess it’s a little bit of a vibe, maybe hard to define. But when I read your stuff, I feel much more of a biological grounding.

Rachel Rider

Yeah, I appreciate that because I would say I actually live in the realm of woo a lot. And what I think of woo is the non-concrete world, the things you can’t see but you can feel exists – feelings, energy, overwhelm, you know, that’s a feeling. And so, what I appreciate about what you’re saying is my mission is to really translate the intangible but the knowing that’s there into concrete behavior, into a clear understanding, into actually being able to shift your relationship with something as a result of your relationship with the non-concrete.

And so, I believe that also lives in the biology, the body. The body is so concrete, and yet so much of the things that get stuck, a panic attack, or anger, an immediate reaction to something that lives within the body, and so even though it’s intense It’s so clearly there. And so, my passion for this work is how to connect the two, and shift it in a way that’s really healthy and powerful in how you show up professionally.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, could you make all this concrete for us a little bit in terms of a common situation or an example of a client who had a situation, and they put some of the stuff to work and saw cool things happen?

Rachel Rider

Totally. I have a client who is very successful. She built from scratch an eight-figure business, and she came to me struggling to get out of bed in the morning. This woman runs a very successful company. And what was happening was it was so heavy for her. She would stay up late, watching Netflix, and not look at her calendar in the morning, and not wake up for these very important meetings with very powerful people.

And she came to me, and she’s like, “I don’t know what’s going on. I feel stuck and I don’t know how to get out of this. And I’m even like, ‘Should I just shut this business down?’ this successful business, because I feel like it’s killing me.” That’s also, by the way, of mine, I get a lot from the people I work with. I work with very successful people and, unfortunately, that’s a line I hear, and they mean it literally. This is not a figurative line. And it’s such a beautiful way in because it’s like, “There’s something on the line here. There’s something physical on the line here that we need to explore.”

So, the place we started was understanding what was happening in the collapse because she was literally having a physical response. She could not get out of bed in the morning. She could not bring herself to look at her calendar. And so, one thing that we did physically was work with, “How did she notice in her body this happening?” And so, we would track what happens at the end of the day for her. And it was almost like everything in her day was living in her body. There was no body boundary. She was completely absorbing everything and everyone’s needs, and had totally lost her sense of self because she was caretaking of others even within her body.

And so, one of the pieces that we played with was a lot of visualization of pulling these pieces literally, pulling these pieces out of her body, pulling the direct report and their needs out of her body. She didn’t have to put them too far because she didn’t want to forget about them or un-attend to them, but starting to create space. And once we started to create space in her body, noticing she could breathe a little better, she actually felt a little more energy. She actually started to feel the skin on her body and space inside, and then there was room to move around and show up to her life.

And so, this happened over a few sessions, but I feel like I’m giving you a sense of the overall arc of how this work goes. And I’m curious if I’m answering your question.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, no, that’s really cool. So, that notion there, “I feel like it’s killing me,” I think we can all relate to this notion of overwhelm, exhaustion, too much, just, “Baah” hard to take care of a thing, maybe it’s everything, or maybe it’s work as a whole, or maybe it’s a particular procrastinated task, like, “Ah, I just can’t bring myself to do this so I feel like it’s killing me.”

I want to hear some other articulations of this vibe. One I’m hearing a lot from Dr. Trevor Kashey and his podcast, hopefully he’ll be on the show soon, is, “I can’t stand it.” Is that sort of in that same zone? Or, what are some additional articulations of this? Or, are they very different, distinctive flavors, would you say?

Rachel Rider

I think that’s a fair aspect of it, “I can’t stand it.” I think what often I’m hearing the subtext of these clients say is, “The current state is no longer sustainable, and I have no idea how to do it otherwise.” And so, instead of knowing how to escape, they just feel like they’re going to collapse and die. And truly, like physically, like I’ve worked with folks with panic attacks, I worked with folks who, like I just said, kind of can’t get out of bed in the morning.

And there’s something about this piece around feeling trapped, feeling trapped in your success, feeling immobilized by the powerful position that you have, and wanting, first of all, normalizing that. It is very normal to feel that way. And then the question is, “How do we help you?”

Pete Mockaitis

That is good. And I like that portion of normalizing. I was reading Buzz Aldrin’s autobiography kind of randomly, but he too had struggles with depression and such. He was on the moon. You’d think, “Here’s a high-achieving dude,” and yet things were tough in terms of he’d have speaking engagements and just didn’t go. He was like, “I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed and do the thing.” And so, I think this totally happens to high achievers, maybe often, maybe not so often, maybe intensely, maybe subtly, globally or locally, it’s there. So, Rachel, lay it on us, what do we do with this?

Rachel Rider

Yeah, I really love the summary you just gave. This happens often to high achievers. As high achievers, we are seeking something outside of ourselves, and we are beautifully rewarded. I am a high achiever. I speak from direct experience and my clients. Usually, high achievers have pushed themselves so hard to cultivate the success that they’re standing in. And, usually, that pushing and that reaching for that success lives with that outside of themselves.

And so, when they finally made it, and not they, we, when we finally made it, we look around and we’re like, “Where am I? Where do I exist? I can’t find myself in this. And why is this success not the life I want? It’s everything I want and yet it’s not working for me.” And so, there’s this theme of “Where am I in this? Who am I in this?” that gets confused because, for so long, the success has been validated of who we are.

And so, so often that’s a place that I begin with my clients, is finding the internal compass of “Who do I want to be? And it doesn’t mean that I’ve disappeared because of my success. It just means I can’t tell who I am versus the success and what’s important to me.” And as we start to identify that and listen to that voice, and the way we’re doing that is we’re pulling out those other voices, literally, physically, energetically from our body, we’re finding the places inside ourselves that feel neutral, that feel good physically. We’re working with the energy around it.

And then as we find our space inside, what’s amazing is magic happens, clarity happens. Clarity arises from within, it’s like it bubbles up, and insight happens, and spaciousness happens, and we can make decisions from a stronger, more confident space.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Well, so then, in practice, how does one execute that in terms of, it’s like, “Okay, I can’t stand it. I feel like it’s killing me. I’m overwhelmed by the stuff. I’m lost amid my success”? Kind of what’s step one, two, three, four, kind of working through some of that?

Rachel Rider

So, I have a client, actually, right now who’s very successful and is trying to make a decision about whether he wants to step into something that he has been successful at before, and it’s very high profile, and he would be very rewarded for, and he is deeply conflicted about this because that reward isn’t necessarily what he’s looking for right now in his life.

And this is like an urgent, pending decision that has a lot of implications either way. If he walks away from it, it’s a major missed opportunity. And if he walks away from it, he may really be able to lean into who he wants to be. But the work that we’re finding is those don’t have to be mutually exclusive. What we’ve been doing concretely is, first, starting to identify whose voices are living within him and whose are his. So, judgments around him taking this opportunity, “Oh, it’s just for the money,” “Oh, it’s just for the accolades,” “Oh, this is a ridiculous occupation.”

Pete Mockaitis

Now, I wonder what it is, Rachel, a ridiculous occupation. Plastic surgeon. I can’t help it. The brain just opened up.

Rachel Rider

No, but right. Exactly. But interesting that that’s where your mind went.

Pete Mockaitis

No offense to plastic surgeons.

Rachel Rider

But that’s what I’m saying, look at the judgments that surround certain roles. And he embodies a role, and he has a judgment of it. Wow! And so, pulling that out, we’re like, “Oh, that’s not your voice. That’s a parental voice.” It’s one of his parent’s voices, “Okay, if we were to pull that voice out and just stick it on the floor next to you, maybe let’s burn it, because it’s not yours.” Even as I say it, I can feel that space that we created for him in that session. Okay, we’re now pulling the voices out, what were you going to say?

Pete Mockaitis

So, when you say pulling it out, sticking it on the floor, burning it, are these are all kind of like visualization exercises in terms of I close my eyes and I imagine this voice is a tangible thing? As a podcaster, I see a waveform.

Rachel Rider

You said a wave?

Pete Mockaitis

A waveform. I see it like in the software, the voice.

Rachel Rider

Yes, yes, yes. So, this is the thing, I want to take away the word imagine because energy is very powerful. When our heart is beating fast because we’re anxious, that’s real. Even if the anxiety of what’s happening isn’t. And so, if I were to pull that anxiety out of my body and hold it, that energy exists. So, yes, you’re visualizing, and you’re holding that energy. 

So, I want us to really know that when we’re playing with visualization, you’re really actually working with the energy. And so, when you see that waveform, when you think of the energy, that is real because of mirror neurons in your body. What’s amazing about visualization is the power of somatic experiencing, your mirror neurons, that when your body sees something happen, your body responds even if it’s in your mind’s eye.

And so, if we go back to the client where we burned that voice, the body witnessing that burning of the voice actually experiences relief. And so, that’s why I want to do away with the idea of imagine because this is truly a deep energetic experience, a healing moment.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And just a practical note, a voice is something one hears. To burn a voice, I’m actually imagining like the decibel wave chart printed on a piece of paper. I said the word “imagine.” Apologies. I’m visualizing that and then a Zippo lighter igniting this piece of paper with the printed decibel waveform of a voice. Is that how one means by which one would “burn a voice”?

Rachel Rider

Whatever you see it as. So, yes, for you that would be true. For this client, it was actually sticky. As we were pulling the voice out of his body, it was a sticky substance. And so, these experiences can come in all forms. What matters is that you’re able to connect with the felt sense of it, the texture, the color, because mirror neurons in the body are a very powerful thing. It’s like when you’re watching a movie, and you see someone kissing another person, it’s like your heart melts a little. Or you watch violence, and that stirs something within you. There’s a reason for that. Mirror neurons are very powerful.

And so, whether you’re watching a movie on your screen or in your mind’s eye, your body’s nervous system is still stirring and responding. That’s why visualization can be so powerful for good and for bad. That’s when you’re getting stuck in a loop about something and your body’s getting worked up. You’re re-running that same conversation in your mind over and over again. Even when I say that, I can feel kind of the anxiety energy, and that’s an opportunity to work with that in your mind, “Okay where does that conversation need to go so that I can sleep right now and not be thinking about it at 2:00 a.m. in the morning?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so then, it sounds, I get you that the visualization is super powerful, and that there are very creative means by which we can represent stuff. And then by doing that visualization, we have a cool response to it. So, then I guess I’m thinking, how do I know what to go after in this visualization adventure?

Rachel Rider

So, where we begin is where a place you get stuck. We need a doorway. And so, for someone who we’re talking about, when we’re really feeling like a job is killing us, where do we feel that in our body? “Oh, my chest gets tight.” Okay. So, we start with the body. We go to the body because we want to get out of our thoughts because we can get stuck there so easily.

And then, where in the body is it? Is it, “Am I feeling like I’m going to die. My chest is getting tighter”? What color is it? What image arrives for you? Is there a texture? How much space does it take up? And once we are able to identify that, then we can decide, “What does this need right now when I have tightness in my body, and it just feels like an iron rod, I have jaw tension?”

And I’ll sit there and I’ll think, “What does this need right now?” The most gentlest thing, and I’ll imagine a flame of a candle sitting next to my really tight jaw, and just watching the molecules of that, that tight metal jaw opening up and moving a little. And that’s how we’re playing. We’re really meeting what’s happening in the body with what it needs.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, this is intriguing in terms of it’s like I was just showing my little kids a video animation of DNA transcription and translation, because that’s just mind-blowing, like, “This happens constantly in our cells all the time.” It’s just amazing when I first learned about this in AP Biology, it’s like, “That’s mind-blowing.” And so, the cells know what proteins they need, and say, “All right, we’re just going to go make those via this elaborate process.” It’s just all choreographed beautifully.

So, what’s cool about this is you’re sort of zeroing in from a bodily-felt perspective, what’s the medicine, the prescription I need, and then we’re just going to go ahead and write it up, a visual style. And so, I’m imagining, Rachel, tell me if this feels appropriate, so I’m thinking, “All right, so tax stuff coming up. I don’t want to deal with it,” and it’s like “Aargh” and I just feel “Aargh” with regard to it. And I guess the bodily sensation is I just feel kind of weighted down, like moving, just walking over to the keyboard and clicking over to the bank websites, wherever, just feels heavy and dreadful.

And I know, rationally, “Pete, it’s not a big deal. You’ve done it many, many, many times before. I can handle this. I’m totally capable of this. This can be done.” And yet, my typical response of trying to overpower the weight, in terms of, “Come on, come on, let’s do this! Let’s, like, Eye of the Tiger, like Rocky, like, da-da-da-da!” like, that kind of pump-up stuff, sometimes is adequate, like, “Okay, get over hump and do it.”

But this approach, it would seem, Rachel, that maybe the best move is to say, “Well, let’s look into that bodily sensation. Let’s look into that weight, and what is sort of a visualization prescription that can ease that.” Like what is needed, I’m thinking, is maybe I need more. What I need is some lightness and fun. This needs to be a little silly even. I want to feel like a winner instead of a loser.

Rachel Rider

When you come up with a silly visual of that, like, what is a silly visual when you think of like a winner?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now, there are so ways we could slice it, but I guess I’m thinking for silly and opposite of heavy-weighted down, I’m almost thinking of like a pogo stick. It’s like, “I’m not weighted down. I am buoyant. I am bouncing, and I’m bouncing in a fun way,” which brings back some childhood memories.

Rachel Rider

If we were to play with this, that’s really cool. I feel your energy shift. Did you just even notice your energy shift as you move the pogo stick?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Rachel Rider

So, if we’re playing with you pogo-sticking towards the computer, tell me how it feels, and when and if you notice a difference in the lightness to the heaviness as you move closer to the computer on your pogo stick.

Pete Mockaitis

I mean, I’d say maybe by the second or third bounce, and I’m also putting some sound effects in there, Rachel. We’ve got a “boing, boing,” you know, something cartoony, if you will.

Rachel Rider

Yes. So, you’re feeling really light, and then something. By the second or third, you’re feeling the heaviness. If we were to pause there, and so your nervous system knows, “Oh, I don’t have to go closer for the moment. I get to enjoy this pogo stick,” just what comes up for you as you know that you can pause?

Pete Mockaitis

It just feels really nice. I mean, it’s like I’m having a childhood memory on my childhood home driveway with my brother pogo-sticking, realizing you could take off the suction, the little rubber part on the bottom, and like dent the pavement, “We really shouldn’t do that. Let’s put it back on.”

Rachel Rider

See, that’s what we’re looking for that laugh and the twinkle in your eye. And so, I invite you, I’m curious about this, we’re going to slow it really down. So, as you get off the pogo stick, and you had that twinkle and lightness in your eye, and you’re moving very slowly towards the computer, is there any thoughts or feelings that arise?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I mean, I guess I still don’t want to do it as I get closer to the reality. It’s almost like the pogo-sticking is fading out and the doing is fading back in.

Rachel Rider

And what’s under the not wanting to do? Like, what’s the feeling as you slowly, very slowly move towards the computer?

Pete Mockaitis

That this is less fun than pogo-sticking.

Rachel Rider

Yeah. And underneath that? Like, what’s the blech, a kind of word to it, or feeling underneath it?

Pete Mockaitis

I guess I just sort of think that I should have found a better system, and team, and process outsource package to have handled this by now and years ago, and I feel a little negligent.

Rachel Rider

Okay. So, now we’re understanding the dread. So, what we did, like, look at that insight that arose, “Oh, I have a little judgment around myself about this, and it probably could be done better so I don’t have to deal with this.” How does that shift the experience of dread?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I guess my first thought is like, “All right. Well, this will be the last time I handle this. Let’s adopt and mean it well, and be ready to pass it on off.”

Rachel Rider

Yes. How incredible is that, that insight about, “That’s why I don’t like the taxes?” And all we did, we started with the body and the nervous system.

Pete Mockaitis

That is pretty cool. It is a very different pathway, both in terms of feelings and thoughts, insights that pop up than, “Come on, let’s cue the Rocky montage music, and let’s power through.”

Rachel Rider

Exactly. And that’s the premise of my work. What we, literally, witnessed, insight bubble up when the body had space to play. When the body has space to look and examine without meaning-making, that’s when insight bubbles up, that’s when action can happen. Look at the insight, you’re like, “Yeah, I’m not doing this again.” And think just how powerfully that translates to the professional world, taxes in the professional world.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, certainly, yeah, in terms of lots of stuff, lots of better ways to do stuff just kind of never gets the chance to bubble up because we kind of shove it aside or whatever.

Rachel Rider

Yeah, and there’s one thing I wanted to say, I didn’t say it while we were kind of in it, but you said something that is such a profound indicator that it’s a great time to go to the body, which is, “My mind knows this isn’t a big deal,” or, “My mind knows. Like, my mind knows something that my body doesn’t. My body’s not paying attention. We are misaligned here and the body is more in charge.” That is a great place to know, “Ooh, this is when I go to the body.” It’s like, “I know I shouldn’t be so pissed off about this small thing, and yet I am losing my mind. I can’t focus on anything else.” That’s a great time to go to the body.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Okay. Well, thank you for going deep in there with us. So, that’s a way it gets done. Tell us, in your book, you’ve got 16 snazzy chapters, and I’m curious to hear how we incorporate this kind of bodily approach to the leadership action in terms of, you got a chapter on reading the room, and then disrupting the patterns. Can you share with us how does this all kind of come together?

Rachel Rider

And so, at the highest levels of leadership, I have found that, in the work I’ve done with the hundreds of leaders, maybe thousands I think at this point I’ve coached, is when you run companies, when you’re in the senior executive team, your relationships are your deliverables. It is not about checking the box anymore. And that also means that you need to be having successful relationships with folks, which means you have to be having a successful relationship with yourself.

And so, this book is really understanding your inner world. It’s exactly what we’ve just done here. So, there are case studies in the book about a client who has really sharp elbows. She does so because she has such a high standard, but it’s really alienating people, and it means people are working around her. And so, the work we did on, “Where is that visceral impulse coming from within her?”

In the beginning of our work together, she could not handle not saying something critical, even when she was celebrating someone, because she wanted them to do better. And so, our work was, “Okay, where is this living within you? What makes it so impossible for you to not share?” And what she really wanted was to foster connection with people and make them do better, be inspired to do better.

And so, through our work together, she was realizing, “Oh, if that’s what I want, and that’s not what I’m getting, how do I work within my body so it comes from a visceral place, the celebration, it comes from a visceral place, the feedback?” And so, there are a lot of different case studies in the book that talk about, “How do you try translate understanding your inner world to showing up differently, concretely?”

Pete Mockaitis

And so, we went through one pathway by which that can be done. Any other pro tips?

Rachel Rider

So, I’m a big fan of a holistic approach. In our work at MettaWorks, we do mind, body, and spirit work. First, your brain needs to be on board, okay? We do not want to dismiss the cognitive. Your brain needs to think something needs to change. Your brain needs to think, “This is not helpful.” Then, your body needs to be on board, “I want to do it differently.” But there’s also the spirit piece, there’s also a surrender to something bigger than you.

And I have no opinion about what that should be for you. And I do believe that we do better work when we feel connected to something bigger than us because there are some impossible situations that are only impossible if we feel alone as an individual in them. And the moment that we are able to sit back and connect spiritually, we get more clarity.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, when you say spiritually, you mean bigger purpose associated with “Why are we bothering to do the thing we’re doing?”

Rachel Rider

Yes, that’s a great way in. I would also say, “Do you connect with your ancestors? Do you feel connected to the wind outside?” Whatever feels like is bigger than this human form, whatever feels like the ethereal to you that you can connect with and feel held by, that that’s what I’m talking about. And I think that was a great example and a really good place to start of “What’s my bigger why? Why do I care? What am I doing here?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, Rachel, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Tell us, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Rachel Rider

I profoundly believe, and I have seen over and over again, that every one of my clients has it within them, and the work we do is simply decluttering in the inside so that they can listen deeply to who they are, what they need, and how they want to show up. And I think that is so vital to hold within you because it means then anything is possible for you.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, now could you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Rachel Rider

Einstein’s “Everything is energy.” I truly believe that. And the more that you hold that everything is energy, the more there’s no immovable force. It’s just a deeper, denser energy that you need to work with.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Rachel Rider

Oh, shoot, I forget the name of it. But when light is observed, it changes behavior.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s so trippy, man.

Rachel Rider

I know. So, I have been a longtime meditator, and so I love that study because it’s literally concrete evidence that when we pay attention, when we cultivate awareness of our mind, of our body, just the awareness changes everything.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. And a favorite book?

Rachel Rider

Gosh. I will default to my favorite, which is called Far From the Tree, and I forget who it’s by. I think it’s Solomon. And it’s about this man who did, I think, 10 years of studies with these children that are not identified as mainstream children in the world and the communities that they’re a part of. And it’s just so powerful and compelling. And I do believe it’s a leadership book, even though it talks about children.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Rachel Rider

Somatic experiencing body work.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Rachel Rider

Meditating.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Rachel Rider

I would point them to three places. Our website, that’s MettaWorks.io, or Instagram, mettaworks, or LinkedIn, Rachel Rider.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Rachel Rider

Start paying attention. The moment you do, the light molecule changes.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Rachel, this is fun. I wish you many fun leadership moments.

Rachel Rider

Thank you, Pete. It was such a pleasure.

946: Why Most Projects Fail and What to Do About it with Kory Kogon

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Kory Kogon offers her practical guide for effective project management–even when you’re not the official project manager.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why most projects fail
  2. Key questions to ask before starting any project 
  3. The five behaviors of successful unofficial project manager

About Kory

Kory Kogon is FranklinCovey’s vice president of Content and Senior Consultant. She is the Wall Street Journal bestselling co-author of The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, and has appeared as an expert on TODAY, MSNBC’s Your Business, Forbes.com, Inc.com, and on FastCompany.com.

She is also one of the authors of the following FranklinCovey work sessions: The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity®, Project Management Essentials for the Unofficial Project

Resources Mentioned

Kory Kogon Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kory, welcome.

Kory Kogon
Thanks for having me, Pete. Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your work, Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager. I think a lot of people find themselves in that position of the unofficial project manager. Could you paint a picture for us for how that normally shows up at work?

Kory Kogon
Well, in today’s world, we’re knowledge workers, we’re paid to think, to innovate, to create, and execute. And when it really comes down to it, we are making things, things that have a beginning and an end. And as knowledge workers, we just quietly slip into the role of unofficial project managers without the training that official project managers would get. And people just use their talents and skills to push through when there’s actually a better way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you paint a picture for us in terms of how well is that working for us so far, in terms of the state of unofficial project management at work?

Kory Kogon
Well, the state of it is that, generally, 65% of projects fail, and that can include official and unofficial project managers. But more down to earth and real is that wherever I go around the world, or the country, and speak with groups on Zoom or in person, when you ask them why projects fail, they always give the same reasons, that there’s unclear expectations, that there’s no clear communication, that they don’t have the right people in the right roles, that there’s scope creep. It goes on and on and on to this very similar list all the time, everywhere.

And, again, it’s because we’re trying to get projects done by the seat of our pants, and it’s really unfortunate because when we become scarred unofficial project managers, because we all go into these projects sort of expecting those bad outcomes, and so from an engagement point of view, where are we when it comes to projects? So, that’s a little bit of the landscape that that we need to push through. And like I said before, there’s just a better way when people become aware of just the organic nature of us being unofficial project managers.

Pete Mockaitis
And this 65% figure, I really want to dig into that because, I mean, how precisely are we defining a project has failed?

Kory Kogon
You know, it could be it was off budget or it didn’t meet its scope. So, again, it’s a wide berth to say that, you know, to pose that number. I don’t have the empirical data for you exactly, but it’s an estimate out there.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I was thinking is like, if the project is to start a profitable business, I would expect, a vast majority of the, in fact, would fail. Although, if the project is to, you know – why is this so hard to think of an example? – redesign our loan approval process is the project. That feels very much like, “Okay, that’s within the control of an organization to do that.”

So, you’re not aware if it’s like entrepreneurial, sort of risky market-facing factors are at play within the 65% figure, or it’s pretty much, no, it’s just, this could have been done, but it didn’t happen because of those very ordinary means by which things fall apart?

Kory Kogon
No, I think it’s a little bit of both. There are all kinds of forces that affect everything so it’s a little bit of both. And those outside forces might be constants that we need to deal with. So, I think there’s a lot in there. I don’t want to say, “Oh, well, you know, if people clarified expectations, it would be 100%.” It’s very rare to even get to 100%. So, even if we took 65 and reduce that to 40 or 30, the return on investment to anybody would be amazing.

Even an entrepreneur starting a business and gets slowed down because things aren’t progressing as fast, so they couldn’t get the money fast enough. Or the building, I mean think about constructing a building for a business and when it gets slowed down, so even if we don’t into that number a little bit, regardless of the factors, the return on investment is pretty huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then, I’d love to get your perspective on, from all your research and work here, what is the top thing that makes a huge difference and yet is done so infrequently in terms of ensuring project success?

Kory Kogon
The top thing, again not empirically, but just from our experience and what we hear a lot is unclarified expectations. And, again, you could be running the gamut of, “Is this a solo entrepreneur starting a business that has this project in their mind so they’re clear on their own expectations?” But even then, I can see traps along the way versus a 10,000-person organization where they’re working on projects and have big key stakeholders at the executive level, and everybody’s pulling in a different direction.

But I will say, clarified expectations. So, even an entrepreneur who is starting a business, if they are like, “Well, maybe we should do it this way,” or “Maybe we should do it that way,” and they don’t come to clarity to say, “Okay, we’ve got this clarity. Now let’s execute,” it really will step them back. So, I would say that is one of the biggest ones out there around clarifying the expectations or clarifying the scope of the project, first and foremost, is probably key.

I’ve also seen in some of the bigger organizations very painful scenarios of project managers trying to jockey the politics, and this key stakeholder wants this, and the other one wants that, and trying to do a project without that clarity, and it’ll kill you in the end.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kory, it sounds like you’ve got a story in mind. Please, tell us a dastardly tale of unclarified expectations and what went awry.

Kory Kogon
Well, one story, one person that I talked to, it was just really amazing. She was talking about the project that they were working on, and it was a big team of people, and they’re four months into spending a ton on it, and a stakeholder showed up, and said, “No, no, that’s not the direction. We need to go in this direction,” and that person had a lot of influence, and they had to stop the whole project.

And once you stop a project like that, they had people that left the organization because of that, and trying to find the money to redo all of it just brought everything to a standstill. But it was more, you sort of had to be there, the pain on this woman’s face as she was telling this story of failure, and I think also, it’s not just that they didn’t clarify expectations.

It’s that how it makes people feel when, because no matter what, even though it was an outside force, if you will, to change something, all the good work that this person and the teams had done to get there suddenly went away, and it makes you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, and there’s nothing worse than people feel like they don’t know what they’re doing, and I think that leads to shame, which is another terrible thing that people have to deal with.

So, the cost is not just financial. It’s social, emotional, all from this idea of, “Can we just get clear up front on what this project is?” And if we’re all clear, in this new world of agility, as we go, we’ll get feedback, we’ll do it in a measured modern kind of way, so we make the project better and better, to apply and supply the value that it was meant to supply from the beginning.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And what are some of your favorite best practices, or key questions, or means by which we can get outstanding clarity right from the get-go?

Kory Kogon
So, the first thing is to understand you do need to ask questions. It’s amazing to me, Pete, how many people will say to me, “Well, I’m afraid to ask questions because they’re going to think I’m stupid or something, that I don’t know my job.” I’ve been in executive leadership for many years. If you don’t come and ask me questions about a project that I’m involved with, you’re making a big mistake because then you’re trying to read my mind, and I will come to you later and say, “Well, wait a minute, what about this?”

So, best you come to me and ask questions and don’t worry that I’m going to look at you and think you’re not smart. That’s totally not true. So, that’s number one, is get that, “ I do need to ask questions of key stakeholders.” The second thing is, when you go to ask questions, is that you go with a clear outcome of the project. So, it’s not, “Hey, well, you know, senior leadership says it’s important, Kory, so I need you to tell me what you want.” I don’t have time for that.

But if you came to me and said, “Listen, from what I know so far, that this is going to increase our bottom line by 10%, or it’s going to engage our people in a way they haven’t been engaged before, so we cut retention,” now we’re talking, now I have some concrete things that I can go on, so I will make the time to listen to your questions.

And so, the last thing I’ll say on questions is make sure you come prepared with a couple of really good – we call this the question funnel – open questions, meaning, “So, tell me, based on what we know, why is this project important to you?” Detailed questions, so that when somebody says, “Well, it’s important because senior leadership said so,” that instead of like, “Okay, fine,” knowing that’s not a real answer, we can ask a detailed question of, “So, what does important mean to you? What does that mean to the organization?” and you drill into it.

And then a closed question, meaning confirm what you heard. When somebody says, “Well, I think we’re going to put $100,000 towards the budget.” Don’t run off and go, “Yay, we have $100,000.” You want to confirm it and say, “So, you said $100,000. Are we final on that? Do we need some meeting on that? What’s the next step to make sure that that’s the budget?” So, we close it up and get confirmation.

So, those three, the question funnel, in addition to make sure you don’t feel that it’s silly asking questions, and having a good outcome so somebody pays attention to you, and then these questions, you’ll be really set to clarify expectations.

Pete Mockaitis
I like the visual of a funnel there in terms of open at the top, it makes sense at the beginning that we can be a little more exploratory, broad, expansive, make sure we don’t constrict too early. And then, yes, at the end, making sure that we’ve got what we need, those key bits of finality and closure. Can you share with us any particular specific questions that you have found often open up oceans of clarity when folks take the boldness to go ahead and put them forward?

Kory Kogon
Well, it depends on the situation. I don’t know if there’s any magic bullet, and one that I said before, knowing what we know about the project, “How do you see its importance to our team, to the organization?” That, I think, is a main question. One of the questions that I said to you before, this idea of confirmation to knock out assumptions, which are killing a lot of organizations, because everybody assumes they know what somebody else is thinking.

And so, just every step of the way, without being obnoxious, “So, is that how we want to move forward? Is that how you want me to write that down?” So, just really making sure we have the confirmation. And any question that will lead to a more measurable outcome. So again, in that detailed question, “But what will success look like for us?” So, I should be able to answer that and other people should be able to answer that for you. If we’re doing an event to improve customer satisfaction, how will we measure the outcomes of this? That is key to an agile project management world we live in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s huge in terms of moving past fuzzy language to concrete language, like, “We really want to delight our customers,” or, “We want to grow. We want this to be a big opportunity,” is okay. So, is any positive incremental amount growth, and thusly we get to celebrate victory, and what did you mean by a lot, “Oh, wow, your ‘a lot’ is way, way bigger than my ‘a lot’ assumption”? And so, driving to that extra level of confirmation can really be quite eye-opening.

Kory Kogon
It can, and this whole notion of squeezing out assumptions. So, I think a key principle for project management, which is a little bit out of, not left field, but I think will be of interest to everybody, is this notion that words are only the code by which I’m describing the picture in my mind. And so, when somebody says, to your point, Pete, “Well, make sure this is done in a quality way.” “Okay, boss, got it,” and off I go, and I do things in what I think is a quality way, and I come back and show Pete, and Pete’s like, “What the heck is that? That’s not what I meant.”

But the word quality goes back to those detailed questions. The word quality means something different in your mind than it does in my mind. And as a good project manager, if I understand that principle around language, quality, trust, any words you can think of, feast, any kind of word, we call it a fat word, because there are so many different meanings that it’s imperative that people ask questions to make sure we are on the same wavelength, “What do you mean by quality?” And you continue to drill down until you feel, without being obnoxious, but until you feel like you’re on the same wavelength with the person you’re talking to. That’s a life lesson, not just a project management lesson.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly.

Kory Kogon
As I know from my own home.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s funny is the word quality, it seems like, “Of course, we all like quality,” but that could actually be pretty dangerous. Like, Kory, if you tell me, you want something to be the high quality, I mean, watch out, because I’m thinking, “Okay, high quality means this is the best in the world in its category, or at least top 1%. Therefore, it’s probably going to take dozens or hundreds of hours to execute.” It’s like, “Oh no, no, no! When I said quality, I don’t want you to go deep into the land of obsessive, hardcore craftsmanship. I just mean it needs to not break.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, quality.” I’m glad I asked.

Kory Kogon
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, so that’s one huge piece of failure there, is unclarified expectations, and we fix that by clarifying, asking a lot of questions, being bold, getting super clear. What is another major cause of failure and the antidote?

Kory Kogon
Well, I’ll give you sort of this overarching mindset that we say that project success equals value, plus people, plus process. And without getting into the details, the Project Management Institute updated their standard to one that more resembled the agile world, which means, “Are we bringing full value to the customer? And how are we being agile along the way to get there?”

So, we actually updated our mindset from people plus process equals project success, to value plus people, plus process, equals project success. So, to your question, the people part and the leadership part, much failure comes because project managers, in some cases, never intended to be leaders. In some organizations, they chose a technical track or a genius track, not a leadership development track, and a lot of people just don’t get it that people do the work. So, “Am I somebody that is inspiring people to want to play on my team and will play to win?”

So, with that, there are five behaviors. We said, out of all the leadership stuff out there, because if you think about it, Pete, when you think about the failure list – lack of clear expectations, lack of communication, wrong people in the wrong job, scope creep, all of that stuff – and then we’re saying, “Okay, yippee, we have this project to do,” and the people that are doing it are living inside that failure list unless a leader is its own failure, unless a leader knows how to pull them out of that, using a good process, and inspiring people to want to give their best.

And so, out of all the leadership behaviors out there, all the leadership development that people can take, we’ve narrowed it down and said, “You know what? For this, for now, if they just master five behaviors, that will go a long way to inspiring their team to want to do the work and want to win.” And those behaviors are: demonstrate respect, listen first, clarify expectations, extend trust, and practice accountability. And those five behaviors come from what we call the 13 Behaviors of High Trust Leaders. So, just those five.

And I always say our parents taught us to do those things, right? And when you’re under pressure, listen, I’ve been in leadership for many years. I’m born and raised in New York City. You probably can tell from my accent. I move fast and hard, and my default nature is just, “Let’s go get them.” And under pressure, not that I don’t want to respect people, but I have to be really careful, because my demeanor, I live in Arizona, my demeanor can be one that’s really to the point and a little gruff from time to time, and people could feel like I’m not respecting them.

So, when I’m under pressure of a big project, I really need to take a deep breath and think about it. Listening first also can go out of the window when you are under pressure. It’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I just need you to do it the way I said so,” which is I always say it’s so much easier to be a bad leader than a good one because I have to really think about being good, kind of thing.

So, all of these, clarifying expectations, for the team member, not just the project, but it’s not just, “Pete, just do this task with blinders on.” It’s, “Pete, let me explain. For you to do this task means that it’s the piece of the puzzle that’s going to make sure this all happens.” Like, “Whoa, okay, now I get what my task is as a contribution, not just a thing to do.”

Extend trust. People struggle with delegation. You got to let the team members do the work. And then practice accountability. If I am not a model of accountability before I hold you accountable, and if I let you show up late three days in a row, and the team sees that there’s no accountability, everything’s going to fall apart. So, those five behaviors are key to a project manager leading a project and staying off some of the failure list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now you also mentioned you’ve got five project phases: the scope, plan, engage, track, adapt, and close. Can you walk us through those and some of the best practices there? It sounds like we got a little bit of goodness on the scope side. Any more you’d add to that?

Kory Kogon
I would. A key thing that people struggle with that they should be aware of, I mentioned, well, first of all, is how you get access to stakeholders, and I explained a little bit about that before, is you’ve got to have the right story to make sure people will make time for you. But then the other thing in scoping is making sure that you are able to get key stakeholders on the same page. That when they have differing opinions, are you good enough using those behaviors to get them in a room and help negotiate getting clarity on the scope? So that’s a key thing as well.

And I’ll also say within that first one around scoping is identifying key stakeholders. And it’s interesting because we give a little thinking tool called the key stakeholder dance, which is, “Who makes the decisions? Who has the authority? Who has the need?” Those are all the signers. The last two, C and E, is, “Who has the connection? And who is the energy?” And those are not signers. Those are people, like connections, I have people out in the field that they have so much influence in the organization that when I have somebody with negative energy or there’s politics, I can call them to the table and they can help smooth things over.

So, a lot of times that’s a big takeaway for people to really go back and revisit their key stakeholder list, and say, “Did I forget those people?” Because I usually go for just the signers and the ones we know. So, that’s scope. In plan, there’s really two key things to do. One is, “How do I identify and get my arms around risk?” so risk management. And people are working on a lot of projects at the same time. So, if we identify 10 or 12 risks, can we manage a million things? So, how do we prioritize risks and just focus on the ones that are really key?

And the second part of plan is the project plan, which is always everybody’s favorite part because they just tremble at the idea of a Gantt chart. And the interesting thing is it becomes this great visual scoreboard that once you know some project management principles, you’d be amazed at how easy a Gantt chart can be and how strategic it can become to your entire project and your team. So, that’s a little bit about a plan.

Scope and plan together, make up, “I’m ready to go, and now we just need to execute.” So, I’ll pause there, see if you have any questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. So, with Gannt charts, for those who are not familiar, can you describe this life-changing magic and what makes it so amazing?

Kory Kogon
Yeah, and people will say, “Kory, get a life. You get so excited about a Gantt chart.” And sometimes they’ll say, “Demystify success for the unofficial project manager,” because it is a demystification. So, a lot of people, when we ask them, what do they used to you know plan a project or to track it, and most times, and we do poll after poll after poll the, answer always is in the majority, Excel. And then some people are using some things like Monday.com. I mean, there’s a bunch of things out there, Google Sheets and all that kind of stuff.

And they use Excel, and it’s interesting because the Gantt chart program, so think, and I don’t represent them, Microsoft Project or Smartsheet on the Google side, and I have no allegiance to any of them, but essentially, they are Excel and project management principles included. So, here’s the big demystification, which I love, is when you understand the concept of dependencies, that one task must get done before the other task gets started, as an example, and you tie those things together, the software will allow you to tie those things together, and you learn the difference between work hours and duration.

So, work hours is, “Oh, yes, Pete, I can get that list to you, or the customer list together, in four hours, no problem.” Really? You have seven other projects going on, your team is busy, also somebody’s on PTO, and really the duration is two or three days to get those four hours of work done. So, if you input dependencies and duration in your task list, then you’re going to end up with what’s called the critical path. Another terrifying term to so many people.

The critical path is a wonderful thing. The critical path will light up in a Gantt chart and show you the shortest amount of time it’s going to take to get those tasks done that must be done on exactly the way you have them in order to finish the project right here. It lights up. So, suddenly, you have this magical strategic tool that shows you how this project needs to go, and how you might need to put your best people on critical path items because they got to be done right then and there.

So, it’s not for the faint of heart and it’s not for like brand-new people training. You want to make sure that you have the right people on critical path items. And if a critical path item is in danger, it allows you to think about, “Okay, Mary, you know what? You’re on a task that isn’t so critical. Can you help Pete out because we really got to get this done?” So, it just turns an Excel spreadsheet into a magical strategic project management tool that’s not as hard as everybody thinks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, are you saying that you’d recommend, if you’re using Excel, try Project or something else? Or are you saying, “Get the magical plugins that make Excel do this for you right away”?

Kory Kogon
I’m not that good to know if Excel has the plugins, but I would say, and we say in our courses too, we’re not here to make experts of Gantt charts. And we’ll say it in the book as well, give it a try. So maybe it’s Microsoft Project, there’s a lot of online programs out there. Give something a try. Take a deep breath. Learn those principles, and then see how it works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think a cool thing to highlight in terms of those principles and the notion of the critical path is that there are some activities that we can do serially. Okay, not serially, but parallelly. We could do some things at the same time, and it’s all good. Team A is working on some marketing stuff, which they can do before Team B does the engineering to make the thing actually exist. That’s possible. We don’t have to wait until we could actually see it and touch the thing in order to start getting some marketing things together.

However, when it comes to photographing the thing, it needs to exist first in order for it to be honestly photographed. And so, that is how you really start to see that differentiation between, “Are things done in parallel or serially?” and then the stack of things that are dependent on the prior things extend outward horizontally to become the critical path on a chart. And so, it really is pretty eye-opening. And as you go, “Oh, well, we can get started on all these things right now, but we absolutely cannot start this until that’s done, so we really, really, really got to make sure that this piece doesn’t get delayed here.”

Kory Kogon
A lot of times we just intuitively think about that as unofficial process, “Oh, well, you know, yeah, we need to do that, but we’ll check with them, and we’ll probably get that on Tuesday.” This makes it very specific. And you said it beautifully, things can work in parallel and these dependencies are finish to start, start to finish. So, there’s a few different ones in there that link them together.

I always like to talk about Thanksgiving in the United States dinner is turkey, you know, turkey dinner. And when you think about cooking, how all that works, you sort of intuitively know, “Well, I need to put the turkey in four hours ahead, but the potatoes need to go in ten minutes before the turkey is ready.” So, it’s very similar. We’ve been doing it intuitively, but when we get it down into a chart and let the chart help us manage, it’s really amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, and then you start to have some fun thinking about the resources and the true bottlenecks, and it’s like, “Oh, well, this doesn’t even need the oven at all, so easy-peasy. I’ll just use the microwave for that, and away we go.” Okay. Well, so now let’s hear about the engage.

Kory Kogon
Well, that takes us right back to the people part because this is where, if we’ve got scope and plan, and we want to engage, this is where we need to help our people do their work and hold them accountable, so we say inspire shared accountability. And so, if you think about if we’ve got a good, or whatever you’re using, it should be a visual scoreboard, much easier in this day and age because everybody can go online and see what’s what, whether you’re working remote, or hybrid, or whatever. So, really good versus having to bring a chart into a room.

So, everybody has visibility into my well-done, whether it’s a Gantt chart, or however you end up doing it, and what we recommend, and we’re very famous for this at Franklin Covey, is what we call a team accountability session, because people are already rolling their eyes, saying, “Of course, you’re going to tell me to do another meeting.” We work our meetings and our accountability, we like to say, from the bottom up. That this is not about the leader holding the team accountable. It’s about the team wanting to play to win.

So, this team accountability session is maybe a once-a-week meeting, that is not a staff meeting, it’s not an operations meeting. All it is, it’s like, forgive me, using a sports analogy, but like a sports huddle. The team gets together and everybody commits to, “This is exactly what I’m doing this week to make sure this project stays on target.” And the job of the leader in that meeting is to only, what we call, clear the path.

So, everybody comes to this very short 15-minute meeting, of course, depends on how many people you’ve got on the team. Everybody knows where they are, and they are reporting out, “Hey, last week, I said I was going to do this thing, got it, done, moving on. Next week, I have a million things to do, but here’s the one thing I’m going to do to make sure this project stays on task,” and the project manager is in the background clearing the path, “You know what? I can’t get through to facilities, they’re not answering my calls. I can’t get my thing done to get the parking set up.” And so, great, my job as a leader, I’m going to call facilities so you have a clear path to be able to do that, and the meeting is over.

And that is just, so it’s the people are making the commitments to what they’re going to do to keep that project on track, not the leader, and so it creates this engagement by the team and they high-five and they go out. That’s sort of the cadence of accountability that we do. Doesn’t always go perfectly. Lots of times people come to the meeting, “I didn’t get to it.” So, what the leader has to really learn is, “How do I tell Pete? He didn’t do his commitments, and he just announced it in the meeting, how do I let the team know that I’m holding him accountable without embarrassing him in front of everybody else, and turning the team against me at the same time?”
So, there’s a lot of learning that goes into that, and also, “How do I, if somebody is chronic, where they haven’t shown up for three weeks, how do I have a performance conversation with them to understand what’s going on and set it right?” So, the pathway is to engage through this bottom-up team accountability. And I say bottom lovingly, meaning the people who are doing the work get to speak and make the commitments, the leader is behind them. And then, “How do I keep things going because something’s going to give because we’re not perfect?”

Pete Mockaitis
And, Kory, I’d love it for you to give us a demonstration. Indeed, let’s say I show up and I didn’t do the thing, how does one respond in that artful way that you described that checks all the boxes you’re looking to accomplish there?

Kory Kogon
It’s a great question, and I’ll do it with you. So, go ahead, tell me you didn’t do something.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, yeah, sorry, no, I didn’t quite finish that one up.”

Kory Kogon
“Thanks, Pete, for letting us know. Can you tell us a little bit about what went…? I’m sure we’re all so busy. What happened?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Yeah, that’s the thing. There’s just been a whole lot going on in a lot of directions, and, yeah, unfortunately, I just didn’t get to that.”

Kory Kogon
“Okay. Well, I get that and, again, I know, I can tell it’s on your face, too, how crazed everybody is. We’re all busy. You made that commitment last week. So, what is it? Is there anything that we can do to help you? Because now we have that commitment and we need your commitment for next week. So, what can I do to help you to make sure that we hit our commitments by the time we come back next week?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, yeah, I appreciate the question. I guess it’s just really tricky with my boy, my youngest kid just isn’t sleeping well, and so then the rest of us aren’t sleeping well. And then, I don’t know about you, when I don’t get the sleep, I’m kind of dumber and slower in everything I try to do on a given day. So, I don’t…it’s probably not practical for anyone to show up and tend to the children in my home. So, yeah, I’m kind of drawing a blank.”

Kory Kogon
“Yeah, it sounds a little frustrating. Everybody in this room is really nodding. Everybody has kids. Well, here’s what I would suggest so we don’t hold everybody up. How about you and I take this offline and then we’ll figure something out. Does that sound okay?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, sure thing.”

Kory Kogon
“Okay.” So, if I had gone any further with you, the tension would really rise. Somebody might have said, “Well, you know, I had these three other projects and I couldn’t get to it, and you made the commitment.” So, somebody might have said, “Well, you know what, I couldn’t get to it yesterday. I’ll get to it tomorrow. And here’s my commitment for next week. I’m going to keep it really light, but I can get this done to make sure that…” and we would agree and go on.

But you pushed me to the second part, which is we need to have a performance conversation offline because, had I gone any further with you, like I said, the tension was rising in the room, and it starts to become embarrassing for everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and they don’t need to hear about you and me troubleshooting a sleeping…

Kory Kogon
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of just like respectful of their time. But I really do appreciate how you made it clear. And it wasn’t super ominous, like, “You’re going to get a talking to by the principal.” But it was just clear, it’s like, “Okay, that’s not just going to get swept under the rug. Something is going to be done to address that,” and so the team gets that memo. And so, if someone was new, it’s like, “Oh, duly noted, not getting to it doesn’t work here.”

Kory Kogon
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“Okay, message received.”

Kory Kogon
That is the key, that when you do this well and don’t lose the respect of the team, like if it had gone further and we took the gloves off, that’s bad because what will happen is just group dynamics. The group will defend you more than the leader, like, “I can’t believe she’s doing that to Pete here,” that kind of thing. But what does happen, like you said, “I got the memo.”

And that’s the key, is by handling it when it happens somehow, what people are sitting there doing is exactly what you said, they’re like, “Okay, I am never, ever, ever, ever going to put myself in that position of not coming to this meeting without my commitments done,” or “I’m going to let Kory know beforehand so we can work it out.” And that’s the key, that’s accountability. That’s a great thing where people are thinking it up themselves instead of dropping the hammer on them, like, “You will do your stuff,” kind of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s powerful, is that you didn’t need to shout, or be mean, or do name calling, or, like frowny faces. You didn’t have to do any sort of a toxic behavior for it to feel plenty uncomfortable such that I wouldn’t want to do that again. Like, people love to complain about their bosses, nor do I think I could be like, “Can you believe what Kory said to me?” It’s like, “I kind of can. Like, that’s seems kind of like a reasonable response from a leader, even though it sucked for you. Sorry you had to go through that.”

Kory Kogon
Right. And even when you said no frowny face, for me, some of my best friends, I’ll be sitting with them and I’ll get a nudge, and they’ll say, “Talk to your face,” because I could be showing my hand on my face. This whole thing around leadership, and even with these five behaviors, leadership is a choice. And project management, again, we didn’t choose to be people leaders, but if you’re a project manager, you’re leading people, and you have to talk to your face, and you have to be very measured about this and very self-aware, and emotionally intelligent in dealing with people and getting things done.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, so track, adapt, and close, we might do the quicker version of those.

Kory Kogon
We can, because if you get the first two groups done well, and we’re engaging, then track and adapt, we’ve been doing it all along. Track and adapt is really about the whole agile movement that we did have a scope, not that we want scope creep, but are we building in feedback loops, really listening to people to make sure that we are delivering value on the project? Market forces change, things change out there, and so track and adapt as a team. Do we have the agility to be able to do that? As a leader, am I leading my people in the right way around that?

Close is always so interesting because if you talk to people, one of the things they’ll say is, “Do you have a bunch of projects that never end?” And people will laugh and say, “Ugh, all the time.” So, we got to finish them because it’s easy to start them, hard to finish them. But we finish them and the most important thing, again, remember we want an engaged team, is to have that closing meeting. When I get that meeting notice, I roll my eyes, like, “Ugh, the closing meeting.”

And then when I’m in it, I’m like, “I’m glad we did it,” because the team gets recognized, the key stakeholders are there, and it’s a place where people can share a retrospective, “What went well? What didn’t?” people can voice their concerns, we can celebrate people, and it really sets people up to be even more engaged for the next project. So, that’s track and adapt and close.

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

Kory Kogon
I think what I said, this is not for the faint of heart but it can be done. And whether you are a solo project manager, these principles are in play. Or, if you’re leading a group in a large organization, the same things apply when you put your mind to it. So, I think that’s a final statement on that.

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

Kory Kogon
Yes, I do have a quote, and that quote is by Dr. Stephen Covey, and it goes to everything that we’ve been saying. And what he said is that, “Fast is slow, and slow is fast.” And I really get on board with that in so many ways as a leader when it comes to projects, when it comes to managing home life, and 30 years in a relationship. Fast is slow. Slow is fast.

If you go too fast on a project, you’re going to pay the price at the end. If you go too fast as a leader trying to get work done and don’t take care of the people, it’s going to slow you down at the end. If you slow down, because I’m sure people on this call, Pete, also were going, “Hey, I don’t have time to scope and I don’t have time to go find other key stakeholders and all of that,” but we call it front loading, and so if you slow down to do the work up front, it’ll speed things up in the end. So that’s my favorite quote.

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

Kory Kogon
I’m a fan of Dr. David Rock, who is the founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, for many years, and I was lucky enough to be able to get a certificate of NeuroLeadership Foundations. So, I love following his work because it’s very, obviously, research-based and has everything to do with how the brain works. And in this world of knowledge work, we have to optimize our brain.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Kory Kogon
A favorite tool, I think it’s interesting, here’s my old school-ness – tables in Word.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Kory Kogon
That is helpful to me because I write so much, and it’s always interesting when I see people write text in Excel, but a table for me is really good. And Notion now is a favorite tool of mine as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Kory Kogon
A favorite book is actually Quiet by Susan Cain, because I am a raging introvert.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Kory Kogon
My favorite habit is walking. I like to walk. Again, going back to the brain, that I work really hard, like so many people do, and continuously, and that is not a good thing, even in the day-to-day. You need to take breaks, and that break will increase your productivity by a certain amount. So, when I take a break, I like to go out and walk, and on the weekends, I live in the desert, so it’s a great habit to help me think. And a lot of times, I’ll come in my office, look at my computer, read something, and then go take a walk to let it synthesize.

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

Kory Kogon
We would point them to, you know, you can get the updated version of Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager at any of the booksellers, Amazon, etc. You can find me on LinkedIn, and you can go to www.franklincovey.com to see this and all of the other things that we have up there on people development.

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

Kory Kogon
Remember that it’s about the people, number one, if you’re a leader; and number two, regardless of your role, that you have every opportunity to work in your circle of influence if you let go of some of the things that you can’t do anything about. It’s a tough time in the world right now and in the workplace, and so if you just really take a deep breath, count to 10, and focus on things that you have control over, you’ll find that it’s easier to get through the day-to-day with a pretty good contribution at the end.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Kory, thank you. I wish you much luck in all your projects.

Kory Kogon
Well, thank you, and thanks for taking the time with me today, Pete.

945: How to Master Your Inner World and Flourish During Stress with Mawi Asgedom

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Mawi Asgedom shares four tools anyone can use to master their emotions and thrive.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Easy ways to keep your cool when things go awry
  2. The key investment that improves both happiness and success
  3. The powerful reframe that makes you feel unstoppable 

About Mawi

Mawi Asgedom is an award-winning author and expert on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) who has inspired over 1000 audiences with his uplifting speeches. 

Mawi founded Mawi Learning, an organization that unlocks human potential through evidence-based social emotional learning. Under Mawi’s leadership, Mawi Learning won the prestigious CODiE award for excellence and innovation in educational technology, and achieved CASEL-designation for evidence-based Social Emotional Learning.  

In 2023, Mawi launched his newest venture to help youth unlock their potential: Inner Heroes Universe, a media company that helps parents, educators, and therapists equip kids with crucial mental health and social emotional skills. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

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Mawi Asgedom Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Mawi, welcome back.

Mawi Asgedom

Oh, it is so good to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

This is crazy. So, you were episode number one. That was a wild eight years ago on the show. We’ve been talking in between, but nobody else has been listening.

Mawi Asgedom

Hey, it is incredible. It’s hard to believe. I still remember that first episode. And what is it 800 episodes later now? Like, you’ve been at it 900. How many done?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s right, 940-ish. Totally.

Mawi Asgedom

Oh, my goodness. Well, it’s been fun to see the growth. I’m proud of you. It’s so cool. I’ve got to ask you, Pete. You’ve talked to so many world-class people throughout the years here, what has been the one most important or interesting learning that you’ve gotten? Let’s flip the table on you, get you to answer a question right off the bat. When you think about all the journey that you had here, the whole journey.

Pete Mockaitis

If I boil it down to one thing, it’s caring.” It’s like, “Do you care? Do you care about your job, your colleagues, your teammates, your boss, your customers, your stakeholders, the investors? Do you care or do you not?” It’s like, “I just got to get through the day. I got to try to get through the day, get to the paycheck.”

Versus when you care, it opens everything in terms of, “Well, why do I spend the time to learn this thing? Oh, because I care. Why do I really try to listen and understand where someone’s coming from? Oh, because I care. Why do I invest in learning this stuff when it’s hard or it’s uncomfortable or it’s unpleasant? Oh, because I want to improve it.”

So, I think it just makes all the difference when folks are plugged into that versus just trying to get through it. And so, many of the tidbits of advice in terms of being likable or being persuasive, if you just keep drilling down to the why, why, why, it’s “Well, because this just matters to me.” And being awesome at your job is sometimes, quite literally, a matter of life and death, and other times you’re making an impact on a smaller level.

I was just chatting with someone who sells lots and custom homes for planned developments, and she says, “For me, family is the most important thing, and a house is one of the most important things for a family’s experience of family and togetherness, so it really matters to me.” And it shows in terms of how excellent she was at what she was doing. So, that’s my soapbox, is it really boils down to caring.

Mawi Asgedom

Thanks. So, you reminded me as you talked, Pete, I gave a keynote a long time ago, maybe 15 years ago, at Vernon Hills High School in Illinois. They’d all read my book, Of Beetles and Angels, and I gave what I thought was a great speech, and everybody was saying, like, “Wow, that was great.” And then one of the kids came up to me and said, “Hey, are you happy right now, because you don’t seem like you’re really happy up there?” I was like, “Wow, this kid could see right through me. I’ve been having like a bad streak, I hadn’t been doing self-care,” and I really wasn’t happy, and it showed.

And to your point, it’s a tough thing to hear from a kid after you’ve been paid to go present at their school, right? But then it forced you to hold up the mirror and answer the question that you just asked, really, like, “How much do you care right now?” And if you’re not where you need to be, in terms of your happiness, joy, energy, what you bring to the table, well, you need to step back and do something about it. And so, that is one the stories I’ll never forget from over the years.

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, that’s great stuff. Well, it’s good to be back, Pete. Man, the world of podcasting has changed. It was pretty nascent still when you were doing it. It was pre-pandemic when we did the first episode a while back. And to see just how much it’s changed and grown. And to be a part of that must be pretty cool for you.

Pete Mockaitis

It has been, and new fun opportunities have opened up, and it’s been fun to explore those. And I want to talk about your new fun, cool thing, The Inner Hero’s Universe. It’s a series of books for children. So, first, we should address why are we talking about this on “How to Be Awesome at Your Job?” And it’s not just because we’re buddies. Even though we’re buddies, I don’t let people on here who don’t have something to say that sharpens the universal skills required to flourish at work. So lay it on us, you got a book series for kids. I can see how it’s useful for us grown folk, but tell us what are we doing here today?

Mawi Asgedom

Well, look, I just asked you what the sum wisdom was that you collected from people in your 900 interviews with all sorts of leaders and CEOs about how to be successful in the world of work, and it came down to caring, which is really something that we should pick up, start picking up very early when you’re three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, how you’re raised, and the things you’re taught. And there are enduring lessons about all these things.

And so, in any case, the whole Inner Heroes Universe actually has tremendous application, I would argue, for the world of work and just for the world of humanity, of just being adults in life, because it’s really rooted in psychology. And what I wanted to do, Pete, was, my first company focused on what’s called social-emotional learning, which is the way that kids learn about things, like mindset, relationships, goal-setting, all the personal development kind of stuff that you talk about on your podcast, but from an education and kids’ lens.

With the pandemic and the challenges that our country has had in the mental health area, I wanted to translate the world of psychology, that clinical world of psychology, into simple, easy tools that kids could use, and those same tools can be used by your listeners. And we can talk about what that means in each of the four areas of psychology that we started with, but think of us as the Marvel universe of the inner world.

Like that movie “Inside Out” that Pixar did, Pete, where it showed that young girl’s inner journey, but it only focused on emotions. We’re bringing the entire inner world to life through books, through media. And as we continue to talk, I’ll share how these things are so relevant in four of the initial areas of our inner universe.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s so cool and it’s powerful. And I totally resonate with that. And we had Kwame Christian on the show, he’s got the podcast Negotiate Anything, and he’s so cool. I think in his book, Nobody Will Play With Me, he talks about our inner toddler. And I totally connect that notion, is that when I observe my own children, and they’re upset and yelling or crying because they can’t play a game that they wanted to play, and we see we’re not really above that.

I think we are experiencing the same kinds of feelings of disappointment, frustration, “Oh, I was really looking forward to that, and this is being taken from me, and I don’t…aargh, it’s not fair,” we’re feeling all those things, and we just dress it up a little bit more professionally in terms of like, “Oh, this is a disappointing change in schedule. Is there a way we could return to the original agenda?” And so, I think that there’s loads of truth to we have an inner toddler, and the messages that connect for children, and sometimes are among the most profoundly impactful to us at a deep, I don’t know, limbic or something, level of our human experience.

Mawi Asgedom

Exactly. I’ll give you one specific example of how that works. In education, in kid psychology, one of the things that we talk a lot about is regulation and dysregulation. And a good way to think about it is that, as human beings, whether we’re kids or adults, whether you’re a five-year-old or a CEO of a major company, when we go throughout our day, we all detect threats, right? Like our nervous system, our bodies, the way we evolved has learned to wonder, “Hey, is that a lion over there? Is that lion going to come for me? Or is that just a tree?” Like that kind of thing, right?

And so, we all respond differently when we see those threats. A lot of times when we’re a kid, what psychologists talk about is, the kid will go into like the red response or the blue response. That might be a kid who, all of a sudden, runs out of a room and the teacher doesn’t know where they went. Or a kid gets really angry and won’t let go of a point, like they keep arguing, they have low inflexibility, they will not stop talking about something.

I’m wondering if any of your listeners have ever worked with someone in their jobs that is inflexible, that gets attached to something, they won’t let it go, they just will not let it go, or when a conflict comes up, they just kind of like leave, they retreat, and they close off and they lose. What’s happening there is that we’re actually, like when you said limbic, we’re losing access to our thinking brain, and we’re going more in that survivor mode.

Well, with Inner Heroes Universe, what we do is we teach kids very basic, simple strategies to first reconnect with their bodies because it’s the body that’s dysregulated. We try to talk to someone logically, right, and say, “Oh, Johnny didn’t mean to say that to you,” or, “They didn’t mean to exclude you.” You’re using logic. What really needs to happen is we need to connect to the body first. We teach kids things like spider fingers. We teach kids things like box breathing.

And you know what? Some of the best leadership thinkers working today with adults and CEOs, like, I don’t know if you’ve had Shirzad from Positive Intelligence on your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis

Not yet.

Mawi Asgedom

You got to get him on. He’s one of my favorite thinkers. He sits down with CEOs, and he just tells them, “I want you to take 10 seconds and just feel each of your toes. Okay, just feel each one of your toes.” What’s he doing? He’s turning the thinking brain off for a second and reconnecting people to their bodies. And when you do that, you actually think at a higher level.

Like, for type A folks, like us and maybe many of your listeners, who are used to believing that logic and thought and what our conscious brain can do is the sum game of progress and how we should think about things, it can be difficult to accept that these breathing exercises, regulating our bodies, doing things like spider fingers, they’re as important for the 36-year-old, 56-year-old, as they are for the 6-year-old, and it helps us lower our stress. It helps us kind of moderate the temperature of our bodies and our thought. And that’s a very specific example, Pete, of where the world of kids is actually not that different from the world of adults.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Mawi, I’ll totally second that, and it’s really fun. We talked about spider fingers. My daughter, Mary, has done this, and I actually was not familiar with spider fingers before reading this book. And if listeners have not heard of it, it is the practice of simply touching your thumb to each of your fingers in succession, “My thumb to my index, my thumb to my middle, my thumb to my ring finger, my thumb to my pinky.” And just doing that with some awareness of, “This is how my body, my fingers are feeling,” gets your brain in a different gear.

And if you’re feeling angry and you can’t go take a walk, you could do spider fingers anywhere and everywhere. And I had not heard of this before. I have found that it’s useful, and my daughter Mary has done it numerous times. So, it was really cool. It’s like these books are full of, like, superheroes, super villains, battling inside the kids’ minds, and yet I’m learning useful stuff here, so spider fingers. Well, Mawi, tell us, where do you even discover it? Like, I Googled it and it wasn’t all that common.

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah. So, the way I discovered it is, so with Inner Heroes Universe, I hired a team of mental health experts that I work with very closely, and my criteria for them was they have to sit down with hundreds of kids every week – like I didn’t want someone who wrote research papers off in some university, no offense to those folks who are listening, but they weren’t grounded in the reality of what kids experience every day.

And what my mental health experts told us is, the kids they see, they’re having problems because someone is messing with them and they can’t control their reaction to that, and they’re getting in a lot of trouble in school. Or, they’re having problems where they’re not able to pay attention and their mind is wandering a lot, and they’re getting in trouble for that. Or, they’re having deep anxiety and they’re afraid to go to school for any of a number of reasons.

And so, the spider fingers were, actually, created by one of my mental health experts, a woman named Carrie, came up with it, and my son uses it. I use it. But it’s really like, “How do we translate all these clinical tools that you have to go to a counselor to get them, typically, or read a dense book on mental health? And how do we translate them and make them accessible for everybody using like art?” So, like this example of a book. Here are some art with the characters and making it interesting and fun.

Pete, let me give probably my most stunning example of regulation from my career, okay?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, please. All right.

Mawi Asgedom

I was working on the most important deal, up to that point in my life, the most important deal I’d ever worked on, and I was having a lot of problems, a lot of problems. It was going very poorly, and I was really struggling. I consider myself to be somebody who gets along with everybody, but sometimes when the stakes are really high, that other part of who we are comes out that we don’t want to acknowledge. Maybe your listeners can identify with that. Like, “Hey, I’m usually a nice person. Everybody loves me. What just happened? How come I’m having all these battles and people don’t seem to like me anymore, and I can’t get…?”

Well, a lot of times it’s because something is at stake and you have to negotiate things and you’re fighting over things. And what that does is that gets us more in that survivor brain I was talking about, and your thinking brain gets compromised. You think you’re being logical, but you’re not. So, I described all this to a friend of mine who’s a very, very wise woman named Ranjini, and I just said to her, “I don’t understand why I’m not getting any progress here?” And you know what she said to me? She’s a woman who teaches at a top business school. She didn’t give me any business advice.

She said, “I want you to start every single day praying for the people that you feel are tormenting you and the problem with this thing not moving forward.” I was like, “It ain’t going to happen. Forget about it. Why would I do that? I’m right, they’re wrong. It’s pretty simple, okay?” A neutral outsider looking into the situation, 99 out of 100 times would say, “Mawi is correct. They’re wrong.” I truly felt like that.

Maybe some of your listeners… Listener, can you identify with that? And in situations where you’re pretty sure you’re right, you’re being jacked up by some folks who shouldn’t be doing whatever they’re doing, and you’re stuck there. And the last thing you’re going to do, the last thing you’re going to do is waste a minute in the morning praying for these people. I was desperate, Pete. I was at a point of desperation where I’ve tried everything else. But I tried it, Pete. No joke. Everything moves forward within like five, six days, things start moving forward.

It turns out, unbeknownst to me, my own energy was having a lot bigger contribution than I thought. And by me praying for them, put that aside. What is that? That’s a regulation technique. That’s like I was dysregulated and didn’t know it. I always thought I was being logical. I thought I was using my best intelligence; I was right. And then this is a simple technique of taking things away from my perspective, a simple act of getting on my knees and praying for someone else who I didn’t think should be prayed for, changed my body, changed my energy, and the transaction ended up being one of the best in my career.

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Mawi Asgedom

So, if it was just as smart as me making an Excel sheet and mapping out the pros and cons, and that was the only way to think about business, then you wouldn’t need something like Inner Heroes Universe. You wouldn’t need that world of things, but it’s not like that, right?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s powerful. So, now, well, hey, I’m a believer in the power of prayer. But as you understand it, it’s not so much that the Almighty parted the seas for you, so much as you were putting out some, I don’t know, hostile, contentious, unpleasant, difficult, inflexible – don’t let me throw you too far under the bus here, Mawi – energies in the course of the negotiation, the conversations, with this deal, and it was just getting things sort of jammed up.

You’re like, “I don’t really know how to make progress with this guy over on their side,” is what was going on. But then through the prayer you got into a more chill vibe that you were able to have some back-and-forth and progress. Is that an accurate summary of what went down there?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, definitely. Another way of thinking about it was in my previous state, I had access to 70% of my intelligence. Like, my previous state had got me so worked up I thought I had access to 100%. And once I started praying, my energy shifted, I started to think differently, and I regained the 30 additional units I would need to understand where I was being inflexible, to understand, “Oh, well, if I don’t like this person, I’m going to find ways to still get it done rather than just being mad at them.” Like, you’re able to kind of make additional distinctions.

So, it wasn’t that the Almighty did this, necessarily, not that I doubt the Almighty. I think that if there is a lesson from the Almighty here, it’s that, “Hey, there might be a plank in your own eye, as the scripture says, while you’re looking at the peck of dust in somebody else’s eye,” and we have to take responsibility for that as leaders. Well, this is the same thing that we can teach a kid. If you’re upset with somebody else, don’t focus on them for a second, like, “Hey, let’s do some box breathing, let’s do some spider fingers, and then after that, we have a few strategies for you that you can use to exit the situation that are now available to you, now that you’re not completely dysregulated.”

And so, it’s similar because we all have bodies, we all have emotions, we all have feelings, and we all get stuck. The inflexible thinking is a big part of it. Inflexible thinking is a big problem that happens when you get so into somebody, like being against you, or out to get you, or the enemy for a particular thing happening, we kind of get stuck in that quicksand of inflexible thinking that I think that prayer helps out. Yeah, and I think that would be something that would work, Pete, in my opinion, for someone who is an atheist, if they took time to just pray and think about, wish good things upon that person’s the way, I would say it, and shift one’s own energy, like that kind of thing. That makes sense?

Pete Mockaitis

That is good. And when you said box breathing a couple times, so just in case folks are not familiar, Mawi, what is box breathing?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah. So, I’m still learning a lot about this from the mental health experts, and it’s a variety of breathing techniques, like box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, where you’re just counting your inhales and your exhales very intentionally. And you could say something like, for example, here’s this book that I have here, shaped like a box, you could say that, and you could breathe in and out, as you’re noticing the contours of the box and feeling that alongside your hands. You could count as you’re doing it.

But the point is you want to pay attention to your breathing. So, it’s all these strategies that are intended to interrupt your thinking through your body or your mind. So, for example, another one, Pete might be something like this. Hey, Pete, tell me your three favorite neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure thing. Let’s just go with East Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and Old Town.

Mawi Asgedom

Okay, so that’s an example of something called ABC mindfulness we teach kids. You just ask someone to list off three things that you know they know about. And as they’re thinking about those things, their mind kind of moves away from what they were focused on. And that’s very useful for kids where you’d be like, “Hey, tell us your favorite Pokemon.” As they’re reciting their Pokemon, their five Pokemon, or if the kid is into rollercoasters, “Tell us your five favorite rollercoasters.” They recite those rollercoasters, their bodies are calming down because they’re being distracted, and then when they come back, you can ask them to engage in the problem.

So, whether it’s the spider fingers, whether it’s the breathing techniques, whether it’s ABC mindfulness, each person listening to your podcast should have a repertoire of, like, five to six things that they can do. Like, one simple one that I like to do, that Shirzad talks about from Positive Intelligence is just take your fingers and rub them closely so you can feel the contours of your fingers very closely, and you can kind of feel it.

I would literally do that under the table at certain meetings when I was getting stressed out. When someone was saying something that I didn’t like, I would just do that, calm myself before responding. Nobody knew I was doing it because it was under the table, like while I’m sitting at a meeting, I’m calling myself, reminding myself, “Hey, let’s do a little regulation before you jump into something with somebody.” So, that’s kind of like what that world of regulation is all about. Have a few strategies that work for you.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, you mentioned that these books cover four areas. We’ve talked a good bit about the soothing, the regulation, which is handy if we’re stressed, overwhelmed, getting angry at folks, and not having our full intelligence. What are the three other areas?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah. So, we picked regulation because we’re seeing so many challenges post-pandemic, with that in schools and in society at large. Another one that’s massive for today’s world, Pete, is relationship and connection isolation.

And so, two of our characters deal with…one of our characters, bad guys is, one villain is named Iso, we call him Khans, his name is Iso. Then we have Link, whose job is to connect with people. And, Pete, if there’s anything we learned during the pandemic, I would say it’s that we need each other. We need human connection.

And the Surgeon General has said that loneliness and being isolated is the same as smoking, or just being a heavy smoker in terms of what it does for your life expectancy, for example. It’s a devastating kind of issue. So, I would say relationships are a key area. Like, if regulation is the first area, relationships would be the second area, and I can double-click on that if you like.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, so could you just give us a pro tip or tool that fits in there, sort of like we talked about spider fingers for the regulation? Any relationship power tools?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, definitely. A couple power tools I would say is that, one is that pay attention to who your real champions are. What I mean by that is there’s three to five people in your life, Pete, and in every listener’s life that, for whatever reason, these people have been there for you above and beyond what you might even think is deserved, are there.

These people are your ultimate champions. You might view yourself, let’s say, you just like have amazing self-concept, and you think of yourself as a 10 out of 10. These people think you’re a 50 out of 10. They throw opportunities your way that are 50 out of 10. They treat you like that. And God has provided these people to each of us, I would say it’s like angels that help us, but a lot of times we don’t really value them. We don’t connect with them. We don’t thank them.

And following the 80/20 rule of understanding who these people are, really over-invest in them, I would say, is a top relationship strategy. And I think everyone here can think about two or three folks in their network that have really done that for them. Another one, Pete, is that one thought that’s been really helpful to me, professionally, is that I know a lot of people, I’ve made a lot of friends professionally, it was hard for me to admit, Pete, that my relationships were atrophying, that my relationships were, over time, depreciating.

I still know a lot of people, but I haven’t talked to that person in seven years. I haven’t talked to that person in four years. They moved to a different country and they now have like, you know, they’re busy caring for their kids, or whatever it might be, or they did this. And the reality is if I called them, they might be like, “Why is Mawi calling me?” because they thought either someone died, or you just haven’t talked for so long. So, we have these rich relationships over our time but then understanding that, like, “Hey, we have to continuously intentionally renew and build up our relationships.”

And so, I was talking to you before, briefly before our interview, and I was telling you, for example, I joined a club that does cost money, a decent amount of money, that has been really helpful to me over the last year and a half, it’s called 3i, that has really helped me connect with people all over the country, really fun, and it connects me with people that are more in my current stage of life.

Like, I sold my company, I’m post-job right now, really, in how I live my life. And being able to connect with a lot of folks who are in that same kind of stage of life, and have some of the same interests as me, has been a great fit for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t have my old friends or that I’m not connecting with folks, but I kind of like analyze, currently, from my current stage of life, what do I need?

And I would ask every listener to do that. And I would just ask them, for your current stage of life, like what are the new relationships you have to create? Where have things atrophied? Where have things depreciated? Where do you need to step up and really invest in it? I have four kids, Pete, if they were to ask me what’s the single most important thing that I can tell them, other than their life philosophy around their faith and things like that that will help them the most, it’s the people they have around them, without any doubt. That’s the thing in life that makes you happiest and most successful, is having those relationships from mental health, from professional, from happiness.

And so, that’s why we focus on this area. It’s critical for kids. A lot of mental health challenges are rooted in relationship challenges, or accelerated by them. And as adults, we have to nurture our relationships, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, we got regulation. We got relationships. What’s next?

Mawi Asgedom

I’d say a growth mindset is critical. Growth mindset has been defined many ways by many different people. I actually had a chance to work with Dr. Carol Dweck, who wrote the book Mindset. I created an online class with her, went to her office at Stanford, and so I feel like I got really a bird’s-eye view of just everything that was happening at the industry, but also learning directly from her and her team.

And a growth mindset is really the idea that our skills and abilities, they’re not fixed. They’re malleable. They can always grow, that we can get better at anything. And the fixed mindset is that we can’t grow, we can’t get better at things. And we want to teach kids these concepts because a lot of them think they’re not as good at math, or something like social anxiety where, “I don’t have any friends.” Well, we can help you make a friend.

Like, if any of your listeners who are anxious, for example, there’s a lot of anxiety out there, one of the most powerful therapies and solutions is you don’t run from the things that make you anxious, you get exposure to it. A lot of the counselors we work with, they actually help people take little steps to gain exposure to those things so they can build those muscles and grow.

So, professionally, the best one example I can give you, Pete, of how this mindset really mattered for me, and I’d ask your listeners to think about this, is when I was selling my company, I engaged with DLA Piper to help me sell the company. It’s one of the top law firms in the country. And there was a part of me that wanted to think “I’m just going to let DLA Piper handle this, okay, because that’s what I’m paying them for, they’re the best.”

Then, one of my friends, who’s a lawyer, who I really respect, a really smart guy, works at a private equity firm, and one of my high school friends, he told me, “Hey, you need to understand every single word in that contract even if you didn’t go to law school. Like, it could be hundreds of pages. I don’t care. You have to take it upon yourself as an intelligent person who believes they can learn about anything.”

So, Pete, I did that. Like, I made sure, if I had questions, I got them all answered. And actually, you’d be surprised how many people I found out signed something without having understood everything that’s in it, like, “Well, I’m agreeing to do this for this amount of money.” Well, it’s only because I had a growth mindset that I was able to do that, that I knew about growth mindset. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be afraid. Don’t say things like, “I didn’t go to law school, so I can’t understand this.”

Well, if something’s important, assume you can get better at it and learn about it. And that actually made the deal a lot better because then I could ask a lot of questions and unearth sources of value and not be intimidated. So, I’d ask the listeners, is there an area where you’re currently intimidated, or you think you can’t learn it, or you think it’s only for the pros to learn about and you can’t do it? That’s a fixed mindset. You should assume, even if you don’t have the same knowledge as a lawyer, you can get smart enough, like you can get smarter, you can get better at it, to be able to make some progress in that critical area.

So, that’s why a growth mindset is critical for kids and adults. We all have to be aggressive, avid learners. I actually take it personally, Pete, even with my kids, they’re like, “Well, calculus, they’ll take that when they’re 17.” I’m like, “Nope, I’ll take that challenge. I’m going to teach my five-year-old the basics of calculus. I’m going to get a couple boxes, and I’m going to show them how to calculate the area outside, then we’re going to add those up, and that’s basically what calculus is, kid. And you’re going to be able to use this to estimate how much water is in that water tower in a few years when you take a class on this.”

But if you have that orientation that, “I’m so committed to believing that things can be learned,” that I will even take on the challenge of assuming I can start to teach a four-year-old calculus or a six-year-old calculus, I’m not going to back down. It becomes part of one’s professional orientation and life philosophy.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s super. And when it comes to growth mindset, it’s funny, I think that in some ways, folks think, “Well, yeah, okay, I understand there’s a growth mindset, there’s a fixed mindset, and the growth mindset means I believe that I can grow, learn, change, and improve. And fixed mindset believes, ‘Nope, you’re either good or bad at a given thing.’”

And so, what I think is interesting, as I’ve reflected on this lately, is it’s a lot more than just philosophically aligning yourself to the notion that, “Yes, a growth mindset is true in terms of what humanity is capable of and an individual,” but rather like a day-in, day-out experience or mental discipline of, like, sometimes something happens, like, “Oh, I feel like a loser. I’m just not any good at this.”

And it’s funny, like, I will hear myself say these things to myself, and I know that that’s “wrong,” like, “Oh, that sounds like a fixed mindset. That’s incorrect. I’m supposed to have a growth mindset.” So, do you have any pro tips if folks are like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what a growth mindset is, but sometimes I just totally fall back into thinking about things in a fixed mindset kind of a way”? Any hot takes for when you’re in the heat of battle there, what to do?

Mawi Asgedom

Yeah, no, definitely. It’s one of those terms that’s become a platitude that, like, everyone, “Oh yeah, growth mindset, I have a growth mindset.” A lot of folks have no idea what it is or how to think about it. And, quite frankly, there’s a lot of definitions of it flying around out there, so I was particularly grateful that I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Dweck and do a lot of research on it in my own life.

Pete, one of the most useful ways I think about it that’s really helpful is think of a circle, like imagine my fist here is a circle. Let’s call that the can-do circle. That represents all the things we can currently do right now. Like, I can speak a certain level of Spanish. I know how to make these kinds of friends. And what we teach kids and we find to be really powerful is then to tell them, “Hey, look, outside of that is a not-yet circle, there’s things you haven’t mastered yet right.”

And when you’re feeling that feeling of frustration and despair, what we teach kids is that’s actually like a really exciting thing, and that’s where we can train ourselves to say, “Hey, that emotion that I’m feeling, that despair that I’m feeling, that’s the signal for, eventually, maybe not that second, we’re going to process that, but that’s where our inner dragon slayer is going to come out, and say, “I can grow through this and pass this.” It’s like an exciting thing.

And also understanding, as human beings, it’s only normal to fall back to the can. Everything you just described is perfectly part of the human experience. It’s, “I have a challenge.” “My business is not getting the sales I want it to get.” “I’m not getting the promotions.” “I’m trying to learn this new programming language, and I’m not learning it.” And that’s when we have to ask ourselves, “Hey, are we going to push through?”

And so, having those visuals of the can-do circle that’s right there, but then right outside of is that not-yet circle, and then what I like to do, Pete, is I like to set a small goal into my not-yet circle. Like, let’s say I’m trying to grow sales. I’m not achieving my sales goals. I’m really frustrated. I’m feeling bad.

Well, what I can do is I can set a small goal into my not-yet circle, and go into what we call the almost-circle, just outside your can-do circle, it’s right there, and we’ll set a goal, “You know what? I’m just going to reach out to seven people who I’ve already worked with in the past who know me, to get advice about how I can think about this and how I can expand this. Maybe some of those will turn into sales, maybe some of those won’t.” And then from there, I’ll continue to grow. So, I find, Pete, that taking those little actions in the almost-circle, just outside the can-do circle, helps us to continuously grow at the margins and the edges, and that helps a lot.

One of the tools we taught kids in my previous company that we still teach kids was we’d say, “Set a MAD goal, a measurable, attainable with a deadline, a goal that’s measurable, attainable, and with a deadline.” Smart goals are too confusing. There’s too many to remember, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

There’s five letters. You can’t deal with that.

Mawi Asgedom

It’s too many. It’s too many. What do you think this is? I’m going to have a fixed mindset there and say, “I’m going to go to MAD goals, there’s only three, reduce that,“ but that’s what I’d say. Set a MAD goal just outside your can-do circle and get into it that not-yet circle.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And then the fourth area?

Mawi Asgedom

Fourth area is my favorite, Pete. You heard me talk about the turbo button for a long time. And what that is it’s this area of agency, that as human beings, we’re meant to be agents. That there’s all these external thin

And all that does is it takes away our agency. It makes us feel like we can’t do anything.

And so, it’s a skill, it’s a skill to constantly put oneself back into what we call the turbo zone, like hitting your turbo button, taking action, being able to move by focusing on what you can do. And we teach kids this because a lot of times kids feel like they’re powerless. They live in a world that adults create, and adults are making all the rules, tell them where to go, they got to raise your hand to go to the bathroom, they got to sit in a certain place, they got to eat the like adults do, so they feel like they have no agency, but we show them how to capture that agency and how to recognize that.

I actually thought that one of the most provocative things I ever heard in the world of leadership was when Stephen Covey, in his book, I believe it was The 7 Habits, he says, “The person who takes action, the person with high agency, they’re not a little bit more effective, they’re 5,000 times more effective.” It’s a massive shift, which is a tall claim to make, I mean, to go from twice as effective.

And I actually have found that to be true, that when we’re not acting as agents, Pete, we lose all access to our intelligence, to our relationships, to our connections, to our problem-solving because we’re thinking about something outside of us, by definition, that we don’t control. And so, being able to shift back into agency land is a critical and fundamental tool for any professional who wants to accomplish a lot of things in their life.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And I want to hear your favorite perspectives on how that’s implemented, but one thing I find really handy is if I’m just sort of like, you know, tired, not feeling it, unmotivated, stressed, under stress, whatever, like all the things. I guess, you know, “Hey, there’s some self-regulation.“ But the question I like to ask myself is, “How can I make all this suck 1% less?”

Mawi Asgedom

Ah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis

Because when I’m in that space, I don’t feel like dreaming big dreams. I don’t feel like much is possible, but I know there’s always a little something I can do. It’s like, “Well, you know what, I can drink a glass of water. You know what, I can stretch. You know what, it’s dreary and rainy outside, and my eyeballs would appreciate some light, so I’m just going to point my eyes at a light bulb for a little while, and that’s a little bit rejuvenating.”

And, sure enough, I find that you just build that momentum, and so it’s like little thing by little thing by little thing. It’s like, “You know what? I’m feeling okay. Let’s go do something.” And likewise, I think that’s often the case with any number of domains. It’s like, “It’s true, we don’t have control over worldwide geopolitics. We don’t. But what do we have control over? Oh, well, I guess I can tidy up this desk, and then I feel like I’m in control. I’m ready to rock and roll.” So, anyway, that’s how I think about agency. What are some of your favorite moves?

Mawi Asgedom

It’s a big one. And you’re right, a lot of agency, the good news is that we can actually plan for a lot of these things. Like, for example, for our podcast today, I know I just perform better in general for anything that involves other people, anything that’s recorded, anything when I’m speaking, if I’ve done a couple things.

One of those things is like if I’ve done a workout. So, I always do a workout before I have any, and that’s an act of agency. Like, I don’t have to wait till I’m tired, or depleted, or having to recover. I just do that, and so I find that even 15 minutes is better than nothing. When you’re talking about like, “Oh, I feel like I can’t do enough,” 15 minutes makes a big difference. If I really get my heartrate up for 15 minutes, bam, I’ll just do that in a hotel room. If I don’t have any weights with me, I’ll do squats, pushups, some circuit training in a room real quick.

Pete, I have this master account, like Google Doc for my life that I recommend to people. It has five or six tabs, but one of those tabs is things I’m grateful for, not just made-up stuff, like, “Oh, yeah, I got to be grateful.” Like, things that I’m genuinely, like, “Wow, like I’m really grateful for…” I have one of the tabs, Pete, has my worst-performing financial year of my history since I was 22. And the reason I look at that is I can’t help but feel tremendous gratitude. I say, “Hey, God, I’m not any smarter today than I was before. I’m not working any harder.”

And that Mawi got that response, got that, and then this other Mawi got this, I’m just going to choose to be grateful for that. And when you see those stark numbers of dismal, abysmal, like, I’m looking at cell phone plans I can switch to, to try to save an extra $3 a month to survive kind of thing, then you feel really grateful because you remember that.

So, I feel you can build things into your life, and I try to look at that Google Sheet each morning while I look at the different tabs, including where I’ve been grateful, where things have been challenging but where things have gone my way. Like, I have a meditation in there, Pete, that I really like, that I look at each day.

And so, I think we can exercise a lot of turbo and agency in recognizing each day presents its own challenges, and we can also put some things in place to boost ourselves each day, to elevate our things each day. There’s certain music that I listen to. It’s not accidental that where I’m doing this call, like the way I structured my office, Pete, is, it’s like out by some windows because I love light. And there’s a guitar right behind me because I’ll screw around on that a little bit.

So, I try to build into my work environment that, if I needed to, I can just look out the window and feel a little happier, because I love light. I got a little guitar I can screw around with really quick, if I’m in one of those moods you were talking about, it’s literally two feet from me. I’ll just grab it. I’ll strum something really quick. I’ll feel better. And so, I think these are the kind of things that I would encourage your listeners to think about how can you surround yourself with those little things? 

One thing I’ll ask myself, too, Pete, is for any situation, if I have the wherewithal and I feel stuck, I’ll just say, “Okay, how can I turbo this thing?” And that just means, “How can I operate from an internal locus of control instead of external locus of control?” Because when you operate from the internal locus of control, it’s like you’ve got that turbo energy. Like, those movies where someone hits a button in the car and it zooms and flies, has all this energy that no one knew was there until that button got hit. Well, I’ll ask myself, that’s a good metaphor for me, Pete. I’ll say, “How can I turbo this thing? Like, I’m stuck right now. I feel bad.”

And it could be, “Play that guitar real quick. Look out the window. Take a walk.” Like, all those little things. It could be like, “Call a friend.” That’s a big one. “Call a friend” is a huge one. They’ll change a different perspective. I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.” So, I think we all got to develop that toolkit to kind of boost ourselves in those moments, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mawi Asgedom

All right, Pete. So, I know you got a lot of listeners out there, Pete, who are at different stages of their life, and now that I’m becoming a few years, I’m going to be 50, Pete. I got four kids. I’ve got a kid who’s a teenager. So, you know what happens when you get a little older, Pete? You start to think, “Man, what are some of the things that I wish I would have known?” So, I actually wrote some of those down when I was a little bit younger, that I would love to share with your listeners, just purely as an act of like, hey, maybe this is the only time I’ll connect with them, and this will help somebody out there.

A couple things that I think are interesting, and this is random, okay, random stuff that I came across. Pete, I think it’s really interesting that my biggest financial mistakes I’ve ever made in my life have been after I had my biggest financial wins. There’s something that lulls your brain, I believe. Like, right after I got on the Oprah Winfrey Show when I was younger, and I had a big book deal with a publisher in the same year, I was on top of the world, I had more money than I ever thought, I made the dumbest financial moves, and it wasn’t that I bought a Ferrari. I wish I would have. I just made really bad investments and things that I thought would work out and they pretty much all went to zero. I felt like an idiot.

And I say that with humility to all your listeners, to say, “Hey, right when you have your biggest win, be extra humble and talk to your friends.” What would have saved me was if I would have talked to my friends more, smart friends. Talk to your friends, take your time, don’t rush. Just don’t rush. You don’t got to do anything. So, that’s one, Pete.

And another one that I would say is, in terms of entrepreneurship, I’d say my biggest leadership mistake, like CEO mistake, was being attached to things that weren’t working for too long. Meaning, like I would work on the same thing for five years and not pivot when the data was really clear that it wasn’t getting traction.

And that thing I had in my heart from being a former refugee of never give up, it actually can be really bad idea. There are times to give up. When the data is all pointing in the same way, it’s foolish to keep doing it again and again and again. You should pivot. 

It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb. It doesn’t mean that what you did should have never been done. It just means you’re being intelligent. And I didn’t understand that, Pete, because I was trained to always be a hard worker, and I believed one should never give up, and I believed if I could just work harder, things would work out, and that just was fundamentally wrong in some of those situations.

And then in terms of I would say the thing that helped me the most, conversely that is, where I showed the most wisdom was, I noticed in a couple key instances when something was working better than it should have. And then once I saw that it was working better, I over-invested in that. That’s how my company got into online education, and we became the market leader in social-emotional learning from an online perspective, where we trained more students than anybody else before we sold to ACT.

But that was all an industry I knew nothing about in terms of being online but I kept kind of reinvesting in it as the data came in. So, I’d say it’s the converse of what I learned with the first business is, it’s really like, be very curious and listen to the data, and don’t be over-attached emotionally, particularly if you’re passionate about something. Be willing to shift, be willing to shift, and I say that because I’d hate for there to be a brilliant listener out there who could have so much impact had they pivoted a year earlier, two years earlier.

And then they might think, “Well, I just wasn’t cut out for that business. I wasn’t good enough to succeed in that business,” or “I couldn’t make it.” Actually, that’s not true. You could have made it. You were smart enough. You just need to adjust a little quicker, that’s all, and you would have been fine. That’s why I point that out. That’s just something that I experienced as an entrepreneur.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Mawi Asgedom

One that has been very useful to me and my four kids, are those experiments, Pete, that basically show how addicting variable rewards are.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah.

Mawi Asgedom

So, if you give a mouse some cheese, and it’s predictable, it’ll stop asking for the cheese. It just won’t. But if you vary when it gets the cheese, it’ll keep hitting that lever until it dies basically. And I show that to my kids because I wanted them to know that’s how their phones are set up. Like, all those notifications that come up, every time I sign up for a notification, they’re giving permission to somebody else to send them cheese and addict them at that person’s choosing for their own interest.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite book?

Mawi Asgedom

In the world of fiction, which I’m a big fantasy science fiction advocate, there’s a tremendous author named Robert Jordan. Really sad kind of thing though. He wrote this 15-book series but he died after the 14th book, so somebody else had to finish the book 15. It’s like a huge mega-seller. Actually, Amazon is making a series of his called Wheel of Time. You can watch a couple season of that. It’s really cool.

But his best book that he wrote, in my opinion, is called Dragon Reborn. And the reason I like that story, Pete, is it’s just an incredible fairy tale for adults.

And then, in terms of personal development, the book that I think had the most impact on me, although I didn’t like it the first time I read it, I really didn’t. I thought it was just boring, I couldn’t get through it. But then, I read it again, and I mentioned it before, but I really liked that The 7 Habits book. I like that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. That book makes a lot of sense to me, Pete. 

Pete Mockaitis

Well, tell us, do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mawi Asgedom

A lot of us end up doing what we’re doing because we thought it’d make our parents happy. We thought it’s what we should do. We felt like we had to do it. 

And I’m at a spot now where a lot of my friends are asking, like, “Hey, did I even want to do this? Like, why did I do this in the first place? I never wanted to do this.” It’s been pretty tough for me to kind of help my friends think through that. So, I’d say, particularly for those who are younger, but at any age, really like, are you doing what you really want to do? Because we only live once. And it would be really sad to have spent that entire time not at all doing what you want to do. To me, that’s sad. And so, think, take some time to reflect, and think about, “What do you really want to do? What is it?” And it’s not something that anybody else can answer. Nobody else on the planet can answer that other than the listener who’s hearing that question, and being honest with yourself.

And then if you’re not doing what you want to do, well, what are you going to do about it? It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, but what are you going to do about it? And being honest with yourself about that, because that’s been one of the joys of my life, Pete, I would say, is I have gotten to do what I want to do, and it’s been a joy to like work with kids and to feel like I’m doing what I wanted to do. Even when I was broke, I could wake up and say, “Hey, I’m doing what I want to do,” which gave me a lot of joy.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Mawi, this is fun. Keep doing your awesomeness, hitting the turbo button, being an Inner Hero. This is awesome.

Mawi Asgedom

Hey, fantastic to be on with you again, Pete, and I look forward to the next time, maybe episode 1,742 we’d be back on.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s a good one.

Mawi Asgedom

That’s a good one, right? We’ll be back on. Thank you. Keep it up, Pete.

944: Becoming a Leader that People Want to Follow with Jon Rennie

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Former submarine officer Jon Rennie outlines the leadership principles that make people want to follow you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to deepen your connection with your team
  2. Why to let your colleagues fail more 
  3. Your fastest path to standing out 

About Jon

Jon is the Co-Founder, President & CEO of Peak Demand Inc., a components manufacturer for electrical utilities. He is a former U.S. Navy Nuclear Submarine Officer who made seven deployments during the end of the Cold War.

Before starting Peak Demand, he led eight manufacturing businesses for three global companies. He is the author of three best-selling leadership books and hosts the Deep Leadership podcast.

Resources Mentioned

Jon Rennie Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Jon, welcome.

Jon Rennie

It’s good to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

I am excited to have this conversation. I’d love for you to kick us off with a riveting tale from your days in a nuclear submarine during the Cold War. Bring us into the scene.

Jon Rennie

Well, can you imagine 155 guys getting on board a submarine, then locking the hatches for 100 days, where you deploy out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for 100 days, and you’re with the people that you deploy with, you have to get all these very difficult things done? We had 24 nuclear missiles, a nuclear reactor, and the average age was about 20 years old, and I did that seven different times in my life. So, it’s kind of an interesting experience. It’s certainly a great place to learn how to deal with people, how to get along with people.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. And, jeez, you know, Jon, do people ever just go nuts down there? Like, how does that work? How do we prevent for that? Because that seems like there’s a reasonable probability that at least a couple of those folks would just mentally lose it. I don’t know if I could handle it. Like, how do you train for that?

Jon Rennie

I don’t know if they train for it, but they do screen, they do a lot of psychological evaluations, but here’s how they really test you. On your first deployment, they actually have you climb inside of a torpedo tube all the way with a grease pencil to write your name on the end, on the outer door of the torpedo tube, and then they shut the inner door while you’re in there. And that’s their test to see if you’re claustrophobic.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so you’ve got a couple books here in terms of sharing what business professionals can learn from sailors and their experience in submarines.

Could you give us a cool example of a story, of a principle that you know you’re right, you teach about it, and how it really came to life and transformed someone in their profession, or, in particular, into a leader worth following?

Jon Rennie

So, one of the big things about being on a submarine is that there’s a shared level of responsibility, so every sailor is critical to the operation of a submarine at sea, and no person is more important than another. So, we have a shared responsibility to operate the submarine correctly, complete the mission and get home safely.

Now, the other side of it is we have a shared vulnerability, so if anything goes wrong, if your most junior sailor turns the wrong valve, everyone perishes. So, there’s not like one person dies, we all die. So, there’s a shared level of responsibility and vulnerability that is kind of unique to just about any other organization.

And you can imagine, when I came out of the military and went into the corporate environment, I didn’t get that same feeling.

There were certain people that had certain privileges and other people that had other privileges. And when things went bad, the people with the lower privileges are the ones that get laid off. So, the manufacturing workers or the call center people, they’re the ones that always got the brunt of whenever there were layoffs.

But when I started running manufacturing businesses after I got out of the Navy, I took that philosophy of “We’re all in it together and we need to have a shared level of responsibility and accountability to the business results.” In fact, my second belief, “All in the Same Boat,” because, literally, I learned leadership in a boat, all of us together working towards a common objective.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And could you share with us a tale of a time where you shared these principles with folks and someone really latched on and incorporated it, made it their own, and put it into practice, and saw some cool stuff happen?

Jon Rennie

Yeah, my first plant that I took over, I was young, 32 years old, I was the youngest plant manager in that plant’s history. And I came there and I noticed that there was an us-and-them attitude in the manufacturing plant. So, the hourly people kind of stuck to themselves, they had their own bathroom, they had their own areas where they congregated, and the salaried people had their own areas, too. And I kept thinking to myself, “How do we become one team?” We have sort of two separate areas, we live two separate lives, we didn’t have a lot of shared experiences.

And I wanted to get back to those days, like, for example, on a submarine, you stood long watches, six hours at a time, with your coworkers, and you really got to know them, they understood what your challenges, you understood their challenges. We just didn’t have that in the corporate world in this manufacturing plant.

So, I implemented this process called Fridays on the floor, where the first Friday of every month, I went out on the shop floor for four hours, and I work, and every month, I go to a different department and I work. And so, I’d actually operate the equipment, I would get to know the people, they would get to know me, and I learned that there was a tremendous amount of information on the shop floor that most of the salaried, most of the manager, they weren’t even aware of.

So, it was like there were two different worlds we live in. We weren’t one boat; we were two separate boats. And when I started doing that, I kept learning more and more about the way things operated, and the concerns that people have, tooling that was bad, procedures that were bad, all these things that I learned when I was doing it. And when I would come back and talked to the other managers, they didn’t understand my passion, they didn’t understand what I was talking about.

So, over time, we actually created Fridays on the floor for all of our management team, so we all would go out every Friday, we’d rotate different areas. And then after those four hours, we’d come back into one of the meeting rooms, and we would talk about what we learned. And what was interesting is that we basically started bridging that gap between the hourly and salaried people on that site, and we started fixing all these problems that have been going on for years and years that kind of have been ignored.

So, just by doing that, by getting out on the shop floor, and actually spending time with people, we actually built that bond, we built a connection, and we sort of built a common view of the businesses. And so, we ended up on that business, well, I was there for almost four years, and we were able to just improved our processes, reduced our scrap. We ended up having record-level of sales, record-levels of profitability, and a very high-performing operation, and we became sort of the top factory in our division.

But it was all about connecting the people. Instead of having two worlds, we brought them together into one world. And this came straight from the ideas from the military.

Pete Mockaitis

That is good. Back in episode 149, we had a guest S. Chris Edmonds, who said, “People in the organization see stuff that’s dumb all the time.” We see stuff that’s dumb, and then, whether or not that gets shared or implemented upon is, I guess, there’s all kinds of variables that might speak to it in terms of what’s the culture, what’s the psychologically safety in the organization.

And what’s fun about your approach there is we don’t actually have to rely on someone speaking up to get the information. And, hopefully, as you do that over some reps, we build some real trust and communication lines that go both ways so that people will just say, “Hey, our mallet is worn down.” “Oh, got you. Okay. Well, boom, here’s a new one.” So, you see these sorts of ongoing improvements in the communication, the culture, and the ability to fix the stuff they see that’s dumb all the more quickly and readily instead of waiting for years to get a fresh mallet.

Jon Rennie

Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing, too, is I think we built shared experiences, and that’s one thing that we had on the submarine, is we had all these shared experiences where I’d noticed, when I got to the corporate world, they had different experiences about what work life was like. A lot of people on the shop floor didn’t even know what the people in the office did, they’re like, “I don’t know. There’s just a bunch of people over there. I don’t know what they do.”

And so, part of it was them getting to know what we did every day. And I think that was one of the eye-opening things about this Fridays on the floor, is that the people were actually thankful, they were like, “I never knew what you guys did all day long. I never knew what marketing did. I didn’t know what accounting did. I just knew there’s a bunch of people in the office, they got to sit. I had to stand all day.” Really interesting, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so I want to hear about you got a few books. The title I love the most was I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. A fantastic subtitle. Generally speaking, how does one become a leader worth following?

Jon Rennie

Well, it comes with the title, which is “I Have the Watch.” I was a Naval officer, and part of that, when you took over the watch, you’re responsible for the mission and the people. So, if I was the officer of the deck, for example, I was responsible for six hours for the mission of that submarine and everybody inside of it.

So, in the case of, maybe, the midwatch, the captain was asleep in his rack down in his estate room, and I was responsible for that shift, everything that happened on that shift for those six hours. And so, it’s the idea of mission and people, and that’s really critical, because a lot of times people get promoted into management jobs, and they sort of go back to what they were used to doing, maybe as an individual contributor. They do emails, they go to meetings, and they forget that it’s about the mission and the people.

And so, the idea of “I Have the Watch” is that you have responsibility, you take ownership of the mission, you take ownership of the people, and that’s a really critical part of leadership. And a big part of this book I talk about is that leadership is a people business. It’s about people. So, if you are doing and not leading, then you’re really not doing your job as a leader. So, your job is to lead, your primary function is to lead.

And it’s different than when you’re an individual contributor, like maybe an engineer or an accountant. When you become the manager, you have leadership responsibilities, and sometimes we forget about that. Oftentimes, I saw it in corporate that people forgot their people responsibilities.

Pete Mockaitis

Could you share with us an example of a common people-responsibility that people forget?

Jon Rennie

So, the big thing I saw is busyness. So, we stay busy as managers, and in a lot of cases, it’s fear-based, where managers really don’t want to deal with people because people are messy. I always say that, too, people are messy so they don’t want to deal with it, so, “It’s easier to be in my comfort zone and answer emails, or be on the phone all day, or be in conference rooms all day than going out to the uncomfortable place where my people work, and they may have complaints, or they may have concerns.”

And maybe you’re overloaded, maybe you got a lot of things on your plate, and you don’t want to spend that time getting out and talking to the people so you isolate yourself. And I see a lot of managers, in my 22 years in corporate, I saw the managers isolating themselves, and mostly it was fear-based. They just didn’t want to take the time and listen to the challenges that their employees are having.

And so, I always challenge managers to get out, to go where your people are. It’s an essential part of what we do, is to get out of our offices and spend time to where our people are. So, I have a manufacturing company that I run, and in the afternoons, I always push myself away from my desk, and I go out. I pretty much can work any job on the shop floor, so I’ll just jump on the line and help out the employees. And I’m not there to help, I don’t really do a lot helping, but I’m there to listen, I’m there to talk, and I’m there to communicate because that’s really what’s important. We have to be present as leaders.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, Jon, I’m wondering, so manufacturing is really cool because, well, one, it’s just fun to watch how stuff gets built and it’s unfolding along the process. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

If folks are in other industries that are a little bit less hands-on or tactile, how might we implement that with regard to that joining together on the frontline and observing? I’m just sort of imagining, I’m thinking about my audio people, like, “So, how do I hop in on that?” It’s like, “So, you’re many miles away from me, and you’re doing audio stuff and software, which I appreciate, I love it.” How might I apply some of these Jon principles in these contexts?

Jon Rennie

So, we’ve seen a lot with remote and hybrid work these days, and the concept, by the way, is not something that I developed. It’s called Gemba, it’s part of the Lean Manufacturing principles that come from Toyota. And the principle of Gemba is to go where the value is added. And, usually, in the case of any type of business where most of your people are, that’s where the value is added. So, you want to go to where your people are.

So, now the question is, “What do you do with hybrid and remote work?” Well, you have a normal check-in process. So, you have a check-in process where, in this case, I would say probably more like once a week where you check in on individuals, and you have a one-on-one, and you say, “How are things going? How are things going with this project?” And you have that chance to be able to touch base. It’s a little different than pushing yourself away from your desk and walking out to where your people are.

So, it’s the idea of Gemba where the value is added, go where the value is added, and it’s going to be different for every type of business.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Thank you. I guess I’m also thinking about sort of screen-sharing type stuff, like, “Hey, here’s what’s up. Here’s a software I use, etc.” and they could just behold, “Oh, what’s going on there? Oh, wow, that’s really cool.” It’s like, “Wow.” But I think you could still learn some things, like, “Wow, it seems like you’re spending a lot of time dealing with this.” Like, “Yeah, man, we get the audio, it’s a mess.” It’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I had no idea. Maybe I should be sending guests microphones,” and we do.

Okay. Cool. You’ve got a number of interesting turns of phrase, which I like to dig into a little bit. What do you mean when you suggest that we let people fail?

Jon Rennie

Failure is a powerful teaching tool. We don’t like to fail, right? So, as humans, we don’t want to fail. We want to succeed in everything we do. One of the things the Navy taught us was that was the best way to learn was to fail. And the way they did it was they put you in a position as junior officer of the watch, so you would have like an officer of the deck, and you have a junior officer of the deck.

And so, when you were junior officer of the deck, you were under the supervision of a more senior watch stander. And so, typically, then you take that junior position, and they would throw all sorts of different casualties at you – flooding, fire, you name it, an incoming torpedo. And they wanted to see how you fought the ship as a junior watch stander. And, inevitably, they would throw everything at you, and you would fail because it was impossible. They threw too many things at you.

And then they would stop the drill, we’d get the ship safe, and they would start talking to you, “What do you think you did right? What do you think you did wrong?” And it was the teaching session, the coaching session, and through that, we became better watch standers because we failed, we learned, and we got better at each of these individual tasks.

Now, what do we do in corporate a lot of times? And one of the things I noticed, kind of coming into corporate, is that we take our really difficult jobs and we give them to our senior people because we don’t want any mistakes, we don’t want failure. We take our junior people and we give them grunt work, and we make them do grunt work until you’ve been around long enough to take on a more important task.

And I think we miss out on opportunities to give younger people challenging assignments and a mentor to help them through that process, so they get exposure to the difficult things in business instead of just doing grunt work. The problem when you give a junior employee grunt work for two years is that they get frustrated.

They might come into your company very excited, very happy to be there, with a lot of passion, and that goes away as they continue to just do stuff that’s beneath maybe their skillsets, or beneath the things that they trained for in college, or maybe they got a certification in something that they never got a chance to use.

So, I really do believe that we need to allow our employees to fail in a controlled manner if we want them to learn and develop and become better.

Pete Mockaitis

Can you give us some examples in practice of folks failing in controlled manner, specifically in terms of what’s a person’s normal responsibilities versus new stretch responsibilities? And how is that controlled manner executed?

Jon Rennie
So, in my case, I’m always looking for leadership potential in employees, like someone that can maybe step up to the next level. And so, one of the things I like to do is to give them a stretch assignment. So, this might be anything from, “Develop a marketing literature for this new product that we’re coming out,” or, “Give me a market study for this particular region for this product,” or, “Lead this effort to setup pricing for this new product.”

So, I’ll give them a stretch assignment that might be outside, which is almost always outside their comfort zone, and then I want to get a chance to meet with them and assess how they do with that, so how did they with the project that was outside their comfort zone. And you learn a lot from those sessions, so you get a lot of feedback. A lot of times, the employee is excited, they get an opportunity to do something different. They’re going to mess up and it’s a great chance for coaching.

You find some employees aren’t ready to step up, and they even say that, like, “Wow, that was way beyond what I want to do. I’m maybe not interested in that.” And others are just energized by it, “Can I do it again? This was fun. This was what I want to do in my career.” So, I think finding great employees and giving them stretch assignments is a great way to evaluate their skills and give them a chance to do something kind of exciting and different.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, then with the marketing study, for example, I suppose if they give you a terrible study, nothing disastrous has happened there, it’s just like, “Okay, we’re not going to use this information to make any decisions,” like nobody has died, injured, or millions of dollars have been destroyed. Like, they just said, “Okay, you’ve produced a document that is of no value,” so that is a failure, but it’s controlled in the sense that no major damage has been done. Is that how you think about it?

Jon Rennie

Yeah, I think so. And, again, the more you get a chance to see somebody in action, the more you’re going to give them more responsibility that may have higher risks associated with it. But, yeah, so you do where failure is not going to be fatal.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so failure is not going to be fatal. And then you’re sharing with them great feedback associated with, “Hey, thanks for taking a crack at this marketing study. Here are some ways you can make that useful for us, etc.”

Jon Rennie

And also, too, is the feedback of learning from them, like, “How did it go? Where did you struggle? Where did you have a hard time finding information? How do you think you did on this?” Just hearing their experience helps you understand kind of their mindset going into it and coming out of it, and how you can coach them to even be better.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And do you have pro tips for how you do deliver that coaching?

Jon Rennie

I think it’s kind of being honest. I think being honest is really important. Obviously, you’ve got to be sensitive to people’s feelings. I’m maybe a little more sensitive to that. I don’t want to be too harsh but I do think we need to give them the honest feedback. And I would tell you, I’ve had people where I’d given them stretch assignments, and they have failed, and when I say to them, “This isn’t really working out,” and they know it’s not working out, they’re like, “Yeah, I recognize that, and it’s probably not something I want to do more of.” So, I think both parties recognize when this is not a good fit.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Jon, just for thought, I’d love to zoom in. Let’s say I handed you a marketing study, which clearly appeared to be assembled in 45 minutes with Google and ChatGPT and had factual inaccuracies but a couple of cool-looking charts, and so it’s no good. How do you share that with me?

Jon Rennie

Yeah, I would ask the process, “So, how did you develop this? Where did it come from?”

Pete Mockaitis

“Oh, I did some research across the internet.”

Jon Rennie

“Yeah. Well, what kind of research?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I was looking to see different competitors and their potential revenue associated with these offerings.”

Jon Rennie

“Did you talk to anyone else as you went through the research? Did you talk to anyone in the marketing department or anybody in our sales department?”

Pete Mockaitis

“Oh, no, I didn’t talk to anybody.”

Jon Rennie

“Okay. Why not?”

Pete Mockaitis

“Oh, it didn’t occur to me.”

Jon Rennie

“Hmm,” so I think there’s the discussion, there’s the sort of finding out what and where that they could do…where they see the aha moments, like, “Maybe I should’ve talked to more people.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, I’m wondering, how do you also convey kind of the standard or what good is?

Jon Rennie

Does it answer all the questions we’re looking for? Typically, with an assignment like this, we have things that we want to get out of it, and if they fall short, then we’re going to have those discussions.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, there you go in terms of, “Okay, the study to go into a little bit more detail, these are the particular questions we were looking to get answers for, and this deliverable does not presently answer those questions, or has false answers to those questions.”

Jon Rennie
Right. Exactly, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. You also have the turn of a phrase “earn your oxygen.” What does that mean and how do we apply it?

Jon Rennie

So, we have an expression on the submarine that was, how do I say it, it’s a little controversial because there was a high level of positive peer pressure on a submarine. I mentioned earlier, every sailor has to have, “We have to trust you with our lives.” And so, when you first come on a submarine, we call you a nob. A nob is a non-useful body. Until you could earn your oxygen, until you could be responsible for some area of the submarine, then you were a useful body.

So, you were taking in the oxygen and the food from people that were useful, and so there was a high level of positive peer pressure to get qualified, to become a qualified operator. And so, what qualification meant on a submarine was for the sailors, junior sailors, to work with more senior sailors to prove their competencies in various operations, procedures, watch standing.

And so, as they prove their proficiency, they would actually have, what’s called, a qualification card, a qual card, and they would get signatures that, “Okay, a senior watch stander says this person understands how to use the torpedo launch system. This person knows how to repair a steam fitting.” So, you would get qualified over time and become qualified.

So, earn your oxygen means that everywhere you go, not even in the Navy, but in the civilian world, “What are you doing to earn your oxygen? What are you doing to add value to the business that you work for, the organization that you work for?” So, I often talk to high school students, and that’s one of the messages I say, is, “Don’t be a nob.”

And so, the concept there is that there are so many people in our world that are consumers and not creators. They’re consumers and they’re not builders. And so, I really encourage high school students to “Not be a consumer, not spend your time online just entertaining yourself. What are you doing to build? What are you doing to grow? What are you doing to add value?” So, the idea of earning your oxygen is becoming valuable to your organization, whoever you work for or whatever you’re doing in the world.

Pete Mockaitis

And I think that’s important to consider. And I think about in business-y terms, there’s the value you consume associated with there are costs, associated with keeping you employed with a salary and benefits, equipment, office space, etc. and then there’s value you, hopefully, are creating through your work. And so, I guess if you talk about oxygen versus dollars, it’s interesting that in some fields it’s very clear, like sales, like, “Okay, man, this is what you sold, this is what I’m paying you,” or a fundraising, it’s very clear.

And then it gets a little fuzzier the farther away it gets from that in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, well, I am doing accounting or finance work.” And so, it’s like, “Okay, well, that needs to be done, we have to stay compliant, that’s valuable.” And so, it’s tricky to precisely assess that, and yet I think, it’s my belief, as we see layoffs and such, that the more clear and massive the value you’re contributing is, the safer your job and the more likely you’re going to be on an upward trajectory there.

Jon Rennie

Yeah, absolutely. And I would say a lot of people will kind of come into a job, and they say, “Well, this is your job responsibilities,” and people will do the bare minimum, or they would just do that job responsibility. And I also say look for the extras that you can add value to in the organization. So, I started out in corporate world as an associate design engineer in a cubicle. And five years later, I was running a manufacturing plant.

Well, it didn’t happen that I just magically got there. It was through earning my oxygen and adding value in everything that I did. And, in my case, going from a cubicle to the corner office was all about volunteering, learning new skills, being there when the company needed me, and doing anything I could to support the organizational objectives. And that eventually got me the opportunity to lead a plant.

But I think if you haven’t put the extra work in, you say, “Well, I want to be promoted, I want to move up the corporate ladder but I’m not willing to put the work in,” you’re not going to get there. It does take extra effort if you want to get noticed, if you want to achieve goals that you have in your career. I didn’t necessarily have a goal to run a manufacturing plant at 32 but it happened because I was adding a lot of value in everything I did.

Pete Mockaitis

And, Jon, I’d love to hear the counterpoint to that in terms of if employees are doing that and have seen, “Hmm, the meritocratic forces do not seem to be operational here. My added value appears to amount to squat and it feels like I’m just sort of burning the midnight oil for no extra compensation, and it feels like a raw deal,” how do you speak to that perspective? And how do we assess whether extra efforts are likely to result in extra goodies?

Jon Rennie

Well, it doesn’t always work out that way, does it? So, I have a good friend, John Brubacher, who always said, “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.” And I think a lot of times that we are in positions, or in organizations, that don’t recognize that kind of extra effort, you have bosses that don’t care necessarily, or they’re looking out for themselves and not looking out for their team, so there are times when you can do a lot of extra work and not get noticed, and maybe that’s not the right organization that you should be in.

But I think it’s good to have a discussion. You’re always going to have those opportunities to have a one-on-one with your boss, and a lot of companies it’s once a year. During annual performance review, you get a chance to sit down with your boss. And at that point, you can have that discussion, “Hey, I’ve been trying to do this. I’ve got this dream, or this desire, or this goal, to get to this level. I’ve been doing a lot of extra work. What else could I be doing to try to earn or move into the position I’m looking to do?” Have that frank conversation. But I would also say is be willing to move to find those opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jon Rennie

I think the one thing I would say to this, when it comes to like a similar analogy from the Navy to the businesses is that without a crew, the ship is just a hunk of steel sitting in the harbor. It takes a crew to bring a ship to life. It takes people to bring our businesses to life, our plans to life, the things we’re trying to do. So, I think people are very critical to our business, and without them, we’re not going to go anywhere. So, I think we sometimes overlook the importance of people in our organizations.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now, Jon, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jon Rennie

Well, I like Teddy Roosevelt just as many of the things he said, but “The Man in the Arena” quote is probably been best for me. So, the idea of being in the arena is where I want to be, not a critic in the stands. And I always say be a builder, not a critic. It’s hard to be a builder. It’s easy to be a critic.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And could we hear a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jon Rennie

I’ve been doing a lot of work right now in my Ph.D. program on perseverance and grit, and, especially, in small teams, “How do you develop grit in a team?” So, Angela Duckworth did a lot of work on grit. I love her work. So, yeah, perseverance has been something I’ve been into lately.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite book?

Jon Rennie

First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. It’s the one book that sort of changed my outlook for how leaders can lead.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite habit?

Jon Rennie

I get up at 4:00 a.m. every morning. So, I write until 5:00, and I work out from 5:00 to 6:00. So, I’ve been doing that for about 10 years, and so I feel like I get a lot done in the early morning.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear them quote it back to you often?

Jon Rennie

The big one is leadership is a people business. I see that quite a lot.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jon Rennie

My website JonSRennie.com, and I’m on every social media @jonsrennie. I’m pretty active on Twitter, so. X, I guess, now.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jon Rennie

Hey, you want to be awesome at your job, don’t be a nob, don’t be a non-useful body. Be useful in everything you do.

Pete Mockaitis

All right, Jon, thank you and good luck.

Jon Rennie

Thank you, Pete.

943: Crushing the 9 Barriers to Taking Action with David Nurse

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David Nurse reveals how to identify and overcome the roadblocks preventing you from taking action.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to bridge the gap between knowing and doing
  2. The nine reasons why we don’t take action
  3. The force that’s more powerful than motivation 

About David

A former professional basketball player, David Nurse is today a mindset coach who has trained over 175 NBA athletes including seven-time All Star Joe Johnson, “Linsanity’s” own Jeremy Lin, NBA champ Brook Lopez, Domas Sabonis, Norm Powell, Keegan Murray, and Top 10 player/All Star Shai Alexander. As a coach, David also took the Brooklyn Nets from 28th in three-point shooting percentage to 2nd overall in the NBA in just one season.  

David is also the author of the best-selling books Pivot & Go, Breakthrough, and the 2023 release, Do It: The Life-Changing Power of Taking Action. He was named by Real Leaders as one of the Top 50 Motivational Speakers in the World, and his podcast, The David Nurse Show, is one of the fastest-growing podcasts on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. David resides in Marina del Rey, California, with his wife Taylor Kalupa. 

Resources Mentioned

David Nurse Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

David, welcome!

David Nurse

Pete, it’s an honor to be here, man.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. But first, I’d love it if you could kick us off with a super riveting tale of your adventures with folks in the NBA.

David Nurse

All right, here it is. 2018, it’s the summer, it is NBA pre-draft. So, NBA pre-draft is before the players are superstars, they have to go through the draft process. Some players get the benefit of having great hype and potential and not having to do NBA pre-draft, but there was a kid who walked through the Santa Monica gym doors, his name was Shai Alexander. Shai Alexander from Kentucky, no one really thought he was going to be this top player, like he would have a good career and people thought maybe, you know, middle of the first-round draft pick.

Now, with pre-draft, I always like to crush the players on the very first workout. You got to test them, “How much do they have? Are they able to go through this grueling process of working out for team after team? Do they have that insatiable drive?” The insatiable drive, I slow down to say that term because I think that is the factor that nobody looks at for NBA players to determine their greatness. I’ll tell you more on that afterwards.

So, Shai walks in and I put him through this workout. It’s like two and a half hours and he’s soaked in sweat. It’s grueling. It’s difficult, and most of the time, at the end of the workout, the players, they kind of, you know, just lay down on the court, or they go to the locker room. The last thing they want to do is more drills. But Shai comes up to me after that workout, he says, “Coach, when are we going tonight?” And I knew from that moment Shai Alexander was built different. I knew he had insatiable drive. The desire to continue to improve even when somebody’s not making you.

The desire to improve even when it’s not on social media. Nobody knows about the workout. It’s the unseen hours put in. Shai Alexander had that. We went every morning, every night, throughout pre-draft. Now, currently, four or five or whatever years it is later, Shai is on pace to be the MVP of the entire NBA. He is arguably one of the top three players in the entire NBA. This coming from a guy who did not have the hype, he did not have many people who knows who he is, he’s also created this incredible brand, he’s like the fashion guy of the NBA with millions and millions of followers.

The point being is, if you have a desire for greatness, you have to have that insatiable drive. You can’t become great at something without this internal fire burning inside of you, and I can tell within the first five minutes of working out with an NBA player if they have it or if they don’t have it.

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing. Intriguing. Okay, so he said, “Coach, when are we going tonight?” was the indicator to you that it’s there. But it sounds like it may be even beforehand, you witnessed what’s happening within the minutes of the workout. So, can you paint a picture for us for what does a “having it” workout look like like versus a “not having it?”

David Nurse

Well, there’s also a term that I’ve developed over working out with NBA players and training them for 12 plus years, it’s what I call the 17-second rule. It’s mental dictatorship, basically. So, this goes back, and then I’ll bring it back here, of training players for 12 years, I would bring a stopwatch with me because I was interested. I always thought at first that every NBA player loved training, they loved practice, but that’s far from the truth.

So ,when they did not want to work out that day, I would press the stopwatch to see how long it took them to be able to get past that moment of, “Oh, I don’t want to do this,” and then they’d be okay, and on average, it was 17 seconds, meaning by the time I said, “Start the workout,” and I could tell they weren’t feeling it, they did their first few drills, they did their first few shots, then they were okay. They got past that initial sticking point, and that’s huge for people. Like, think about it, most people won’t go work out because they don’t want to start. Most people won’t do something because the start is hard.

After you start, after you do the first couple of reps in the gym, it’s easy. Your body gets in the flow. Your mind gets in the flow. After you make the first few cold calls, if you’re a salesperson having to make cold calls, the first suck. They’re not easy, but after that, you get in the rhythm. So, coming back to the workout with Shai is like I had my stopwatch ready, but there was no need for that. He had the desire. You could see it just in his body language, in the way that he attacked the workouts, the way that he was present, the way that he was asking questions.

And the workout, I mean, I don’t remember exactly what the workout was, but it’s every difficult drill, like defensive slides, all these different conditioning drills, shooting when you’re tired, physical body contact. I used to have this big BOSU ball, if you can imagine doing ab workout in the gym and the guys would have to drive to the hoop, and I would just level them with that ball to see if they could take the contact and finish. All types of physical, mental, the most challenging drills that I could do. And when I knew that a player was able to embrace those, and want more of those, and not shy away from those, then I knew it was different.

And then it goes on to their competition against NBA current players. So, this is going on past the workout when you can tell, like, “Okay, this guy, does he have the killer instinct?” because that’s another one of the attributes that I don’t think you can really teach somebody. I’ve tried to teach it for years in all different fields. You either have the killer instinct or you don’t. You can probably increase it a little bit, but killer instinct meaning, “Do you want this so bad that you will give anything for it?”

So, when Shai was in workouts with the NBA, the current NBA players, like NBA All-Stars and Superstars, a lot of times young players will kind of shy away, like, “I’m not there yet. These guys are the authority. I better just play my role.” Not Shai. He was trying to win every single drill. He was going for their throats. He didn’t care if they’d been a nine-time NBA All-Star. He was going at them. That’s the killer instinct. So, there’s two aspects. You can help somebody develop them but you can’t give somebody these if they don’t have them, and that’s the insatiable drive and the killer instinct.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Understood. Well, so you’ve put a number of this wisdom in your book, Do It, or, “Don’t Quit,” depending on how you read the cover. Very clever, David. So, when I read “Do It,” I can’t help but think of Shia LaBeouf’s video in which he’s screaming, “Do it!” So, is that what you had in mind as you were assembling this work?

David Nurse

Yes, I wrote the whole book based on Shia LaBeouf and his…No, actually, I did not know that about that until you told me about it. But I will take any type of marketing that comes to it. Anytime somebody says “Do it,” or “Don’t quit,” you now think of the book. I’m planting that seed in everybody’s mind.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, we will link in the show notes to Shia LaBeouf’s screaming, “Do it!” repeatedly in front of a green screen, very meme-able, and you’ll think of this book.

David Nurse

I love it. But the reason that I chose that title, I mean, I’ve got to give credit to my wife who is the creative genius in our family, for sure. She’s an actor, a producer, has done a lot of big work, and I always look to her for creative advice. But the reason it’s “Do It” and “Don’t Quit,” if you look at the cover of it, people are motivated in different ways. You’re either motivated by you want the positivity, you want to see what the gains can be, or you’re motivated by the resistance of failure. That’s the “Don’t Quit.”

If somebody say, “Hey, you got to do this. You can’t quit.” That will motivate somebody. Or, “Hey, go do it. You can achieve this.” So, it’s either the positive or the negative side. People are motivated by different things. So, if you read it, you see it in the way that you read it.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, is it fair to say that the difference between taking the action and not taking the action makes all the difference in terms of other results? Is that kind of your main thesis here?

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. I think it’s the biggest misnomer today in society, is there’s so many people that are just taking up so much knowledge. There’s content, content, content, YouTube, podcasts, going to Masterminds, events, and you soak in all this knowledge, but the huge disconnect is the difference between knowing and doing. So many people will know and know the right thing to do, but very few will actually do it because this bridge between knowing and doing, there’s a valley. And in that valley, there’s roadblocks, there’s resistance, there’s the unknown, the uncertain, and ultimately everything is based on the fear of the results.

So, “If I take this chance, if I actually take action on this, what will happen? I don’t know. That’s uncertain.” And true taking action, confidently taking action, is taking the step without knowing where it’s going to land. It’s having the faith that if you do take action, something positive will come from it, but most people hold themselves back based on the nine different archetypes that I outline in the book. And what I mean by an archetype is, “Which type of action-taker are you? What holds you back from taking action?” Everything is rooted in fear. That’s literally why people don’t take action. They are afraid.

And the different reasons, some of those reasons are what I call the allodaxophobic, and that simply means fear of other people’s opinions, “Do you not take action because you are worried what other people will think of you?” Fear of the being burnt by the past, meaning, “Do you not take action in the present because something of your past did not go the way that you wanted it to, so you are taking that past example, bringing it into your present?” There’s a thing called traumatic age regression. That means somebody had something happened in their past, they have not addressed it, they have not forgiven that situation, and it holds them back from actually taking action in the present. Seventy percent of Americans have this traumatic age regression.

So, like, hey, you got dumped by somebody you thought was going to be your spouse. You’re not going to put your heart on the line again because you got burnt in the past. That’s a very common one. And there’s many more. There are seven more archetypes that I outlined. And the point of this is you read through, and you see which ones you align with. It tells you what’s actually neurologically going on in your brain of why this is happening, these are real things. And what is going on in your heart or the feeling of it so you’re able to see, “Okay. Well, yeah, you know, what I suffer from perfectionism. That is what’s holding me back. I think it has to be perfect,” or, “I underestimate myself,” “My parents never did anything great,” “I come from this small town. Like, why should I have something?” And you align with these.

Now, the great thing is, on the other half of it, you’re able to see a tool for, “All right, if this is what I struggle with, if this is what’s holding me back from where I am today to where I want to be tomorrow,” that ultimately is the mission everybody is on, whether you know it or not, you are where you are today currently, that’s obvious, and there’s somewhere you want to get tomorrow. In between that is this radical strategic action. So, you read through it, you understand, “Okay, this is what I struggle with, this is how I get over it,” and there’s also a story from some historical figure that you probably haven’t even heard of honestly.

When I first read Malcolm Gladstone, everybody probably knows Malcolm Gladwell, I was really intrigued with the way he told stories of historical figures, you’re like, “Where did you find this story? Who the heck is this person?” I did something similar where I found somebody who struggled with this exact fear archetype, each one of the nine, and I told their story leading up to the point where they had this decision to make, the decision, “Do I go for it even though the odds are stacked against me? Or do I just go with the flow, and do what everybody else is doing, and don’t change the world?”

They obviously make the decision to go against any of the easy route, and they end up changing the world and I show how that is done. Like, for example, a guy named Lewis Latimer, probably haven’t heard of him. Lewis Latimer was the person who pushed forward Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone and Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb. Without him, he was the guy who made this happen. It was an incredible race. It’s a fascinating story. They should make a movie about the race for the incandescent light bulb, and Lewis Latimer was the one who pushed it forward for Thomas Edison.

But he also had been burnt many times in the past. So, he was the action archetype of the burnt. He thought about it. He debated it. He talked with his wife about it. He almost did not take on this challenge. But he did, Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, because of Louis Latimer.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so let’s talk about the nine archetypes here. You say all of them, they’ve got a fear of results, and it sounds like there’s a different kind of a result that each is fearing. So, the allodoxaphobic is fearing others negative judgments; the burnt-in-the-past person is fearing, “Oh, this bad thing that occurred last time I did something like this is going to happen again, and it’s going to hurt and suck all over again, just like when I was dumped or whatever.” So, could you unpack for us the other seven types and what it is they’re fearing?

David Nurse

Yeah, the inopportune. So, the inopportune is you just think it’s not the right time, you thought, “You know, I’m just too young for this,” or, “Ah, I’m just too old to start this.” It’s never the right time and it will never be the right time. So, there is no right time to take action, you’re not too old, you’re not too young. And a great way to take this away from your mentality is just do a Google search of people over the age of 50 who have done something great, and it’s an incredible list, or people under the age of 20 who have done something great, so you can align with either side that you’re on.

The blamer is another one where you’re blaming somebody for your situation. You’re blaming your parents. You’re blaming where you were born. You’re blaming God. You’re blaming somebody. It’s so easy to blame and it’s not very often that someone’s going to come back at you, and say, “You know what, that’s actually wrong.” It’s like in the court of law, there’s always a cross-examination. In the game of blaming, there’s not a cross-examination, you’re just pointing the finger at somebody else.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s a good point. Folks will rarely just interrupt you to tell you that you’re wrong.

David Nurse

Yeah, they won’t.

Pete Mockaitis

Like, “I can’t do this because my dad never believed in me and dah, dah, dah.” It’s like, because people you’re talking to have little to gain and much to lose by saying, “No, actually, you’re full of malarkey, sir. And this has nothing to do with your father.” It’s like, “Whoa, dude, who are you?” as opposed to the reaction will very rarely be like, “You know what, thank you. That is a wakeup call that I really needed, and you were a bright light of truth for me.” Probably not going to be received that way if you were to speak up.

David Nurse

No, it really isn’t. I mean, you can blame and people are going to let you off the hook. Unless you have a group, and I say this, like, seek wisdom from the wise. Have people in your life that you know that you can come to with something and they’ll give you the honest truth. That doesn’t mean it’s your mom or your dad. They’re going seek your safety. They’re not going seek your best interest.

So, have people in your life that you can say, “Hey what do you think of this?” and they’ll say, “You know what? That’s terrible, that sucks. You shouldn’t do that,” or, “That’s great.” Seek wisdom from the wise. Don’t just seek wisdom from anybody that’s going to agree with you, or be your yes-man, or feel your remorse in your blaming situation.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, now with the inopportune and the blamer, the inopportune says, “It’s not the right time,” the blamer blames parents or God or someone. So, what is it that they fear? They fear that there’s just no way this is going to happen for them because of these circumstances?

David Nurse

Yeah, their fear is there’s no way it’s going to happen for them because it’s almost, too, that they’re afraid of success. Have you’ve been around those people that they just blame themselves into a way that if they find success, they’re going to work their way out of it? It’s almost that they’re scared of this success. They’re scared of, “Well, what happens if something does good happen to me?” And they fall into this rut of constant blaming. Or they just really don’t want to put in the work, and it’s easier to blame than it is to actually go through the process.

Pete Mockaitis

And, David, tell us about this fear of success. I mean, why would we fear success? Success is a good thing we want, isn’t it?

David Nurse

It is until you get it, and then a lot of people don’t know how to deal with it. That’s why so many people crash and burn when they do taste success because they don’t know how to appreciate it, and they don’t know how to live with it. Like, an example that I give is one of my close friends is Jeremy Lin, and he went through this time called “Linsanity.” And this was when he was almost cut from the NBA, and he got put into the game, and he just blew up.

He took off. He had an amazing game and he was going on game winners, and 30-point games, and this incredible streak, and he was the number one trending thing in the world. He was on top of the NBA world for weeks and weeks and weeks, and he’d never had that success. He never tasted that, and when he got there, he didn’t necessarily live in the appreciation for that moment. He was living in the what-ifs,
“What if I can’t keep this up? What will people think of me?”

So, when people reach success, who aren’t ready for it, that’s what they think of. They’re like, “Okay, well, what if this goes away?” They think worst-case scenario thoughts and the “what ifs” that ends up eating them alive, and they normally self-sabotage.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Understood. Well, let’s hit the rest of the archetypes.

David Nurse

So, the fifth one is the test believer. And the test believer, it sounds kind of ironic saying the test believer when this kind of looks like an Enneagram type of test that we’re going through, but far too often, people will see, “Oh, it’s there,” they read their zodiac or their Myers-Briggs or even their Enneagram, and they label themselves with that’s who they are. That’s how they have to act because that’s what the test says.

Similar to the example that I give is, “Are you an extrovert? Are you an introvert?” So, people will say, “No, I’m introverted so I can’t go talk to anybody.” But introvert doesn’t have anything to do with, “Are you able to go talk with people in communication?” It has everything to do with how you recharge. So, it’s an excuse people make that they’re not able to connect with others because they say they’re introverted, and that’s just a label somebody has given themselves and they live into.

So, if there’s a label that you’re giving yourself, whether it’s a test believer, or it’s you label yourself according to your profession, you think you are what you do, that’s where you need to eliminate that from because that will never fulfill you. It will ultimately fail you. So, that’s the fifth one.

Pete Mockaitis

How about the perfectionist?

David Nurse

So, the perfectionist, I think a lot of high performers, this is the one that they struggle with that holds them back. I think they have to have everything perfect before they even start, but you can never achieve anything great unless you actually start. And people will hold themselves back, they think, “Well, I can’t put this out there into the world if it isn’t perfect,” and, really, it will never be perfect. It’s always a work in progress, anything that you do. Perfectionism also goes hand in hand with the term procrastination, which has been actually something that people have said, “Oh, I’m more creative when I procrastinate. I can think better if the buzzer is coming up.”

Well, actually, there’s been many studies done, and there was a study done on thousands of people in Canada, that they found that 90% of people that procrastinate are much more stressed and anxious than those who don’t. So, yeah, maybe you’ll produce a better-quality product at the buzzer but you’ll also live a life of increased stress and anxiety, which I don’t think anybody wants to do. So, the perfectionist just comes down to the mindset of “Ready, fire, aim,” where it’s never going to be perfect. You put it out there and then you continue to.

Refine and define it, and that’s like anything with life. It’s never going to be perfect. You just got to start, and it’ll continue to work its way there. But it holds a lot of people back, especially high performers.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And then the scarcest.

David Nurse

Yeah, so the scarcest is this mindset of you’ve got to hold on to whatever you have. It’s there’s a 100% of the pie. If you’re looking at a pie with a 100%, you got to take your little slice and you got to hold on to it. This was the whole mentality of hoarding, or people in 2020, they went to the grocery store to get toilet paper and just hold on to it because there’s never going to be any more.

It’s the same thing when they think of opportunities, why people will just hold on to what they have and not give anything else to anybody else because they live in this mindset of there’s a scarcity amount when, in reality, there’s an abundant amount. So that pie that you were taking, that little slice of, and holding on for dear life, like it’s only yours, think about a pie that’s a double-decker pie, or you put a la mode ice cream on top. Like that is why these burger chains, In-N-Out and McDonald’s, and why they’re all together next to each other. It’s not because they’re competing against each other necessarily, but they’re actually competing with each other.

If someone knows, “Hey, this is the area of town to go for a burger,” they’re going to get more traffic there. So, my concept here is what I’ve seen worked so many times, is not the competition directly against somebody else. It’s competition with, “Can you get other people within your industry, in your market, to be on the same team you compete with, and you end up completing with each other?” So, completion through competition leads to more abundance than it will actually the scarcity mindset.

It’s the same thing with if you have the scarcity mindset with money. Usually, if you’re just trying to hold, hold, hold, hold, hold, that’s the best way to never actually earn any or gain any revenue or long-term money by just holding on to it and hoarding it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And then the distracted and the underestimator.

David Nurse

Yeah, so the distracted is, this is the one I struggle with the most. And when I say distracted, I don’t necessarily mean it’s distracted by notifications, or your phone, or your tablet. But more so the distracted for this is distracted from, “What is your great? Like, what is the thing that you are on a mission to do?” That is your vision. That’s “great.”

Now there are so many shiny objects that are going come along the way, these opportunities, there’s all these goods that can take you away from your great. That’s what the distracted is. And I feel this a lot, like, I get blessed with many, many opportunities, like, “Hey, do you want to do this business?” “Hey, do you want to go to this mastermind?” “Hey, you got to be here.”

It’s almost like the FOMO that sets in. And if you continue to take these opportunities that you off the path of the mission that you’re on, you’re never going to eventually get to that mission because it’s not the enemy of great is bad. That’s pretty obvious. The enemy of great is good, and that’s the distracted that keeps you away from what you were called to do.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And the underestimator?

David Nurse

And the underestimator is simply the mindset of you’re either a person who views life as a why-me person, or “Why do I deserve this? Why little old me? I don’t deserve anything great.” Or, you’re of the mindset of, “Why not me?” Somebody’s got to do it. Somebody has to be the top in their field. They have to be the best at what you want to do. Someone’s got to do it. Why not you? And it’s simply looking at any kind of decision or anything that comes upon in your life of which way do you view it?

Do you underestimate yourself? Do you already count yourself out? Do you self-sabotage before it even happens because you view yourself as a why-me person? Or do you view yourself as, “Well, somebody’s got to do it, why not me?” And there’s a lot of things that can go into being an underestimator, but ultimately it comes to that and there’s only two camps of people. You’re either in “Why me?” or “Why not me?”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, so now, David, as I think through this lineup, I’m trying to categorize myself. And my situation is I just don’t feel like doing a thing. So, let’s just say watching the calories and the weight. I think I have successfully gained and lost 10 pounds, maybe five or six times. And so, I know what it takes, and I think, “Okay, the name of the game is tracking those calories and eating less food. That’s what does the trick.” And so, I think, “Okay, that’s what I can do. That’ll make it happen, I think, but I don’t want to.” That sounds unpleasant and annoying to do that, and it’s more comfortable and enjoyable to not do that. Where do we plug this one?

David Nurse

Yeah. So, the question I would ask you is, “Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to lose the 10 pounds, or get in better shape? What is the end result of that?” So, you say that you do, but why do you want that?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m a bit more energetic, a bit more confident. I like the way I look in the mirror. I could enjoy not stepping on the scale and not being labeled overweight, according to the body mass index, which makes me kind of feel like a loser. I am overweight by two pounds, David, because of the body mass index said so, and I don’t like underperforming in anything.

David Nurse

Yeah. Well, there you go. I mean, there’s two things right there that you just said in that sentence, which could go into the allodoxaphobic, fear of other people’s opinions. It doesn’t actually have to mean just people. It could mean the society norms and what they have placed upon it, and also the perfectionist, where you don’t want to underperform in anything. So, there’s two that can work together in that one.

But I also would say there’s three different levels to it as well. There is the motivation, which will show you the “there,” which is the motivation is there to lose weight, get in great shape. There’s also the discipline, so that’s the second level of it. The discipline will get you there, and you’ve got there. You’ve said it before, you’ve got there before. So, you have the discipline.

Now, the third level to this is devotion. So, devotion means, “Who are you devoted to? What are you devoted to?” That’s the next level of it. Like, “Are you doing this for a bigger purpose?” If you’re only doing this for yourself and the aesthetics of it, it’s probably going to waver. But if you’re saying, “Hey, I am going to get in great shape and stay in great shape for an amazing example for my kids,” or, “Because I have to be the healthiest and most energetic, I can possibly be at my job.” It’s the devotion that’s the long-term.

Motivation is a spark. Discipline is an up-and-down kind of riding the waves but devotion is the long-term. And once you make that commitment to devotion and you understand why you’re holding yourself back, “Is it, okay, this is the society says this, or I need to be perfect in this, or maybe I’m blaming something in the past of, well, I did it before but this happened?” And you work your way through that.

Now, you decide, “All right, I’m devoted to it,” and you make that devotion, you make that declaration of devotion, it’s almost signing a contract with yourself, and you’ve got a much better chance. I’m not saying it’s not going to still waver but you’ve got a much better chance.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s interesting. So, it seems like what’s going on there for me is more, like, “I don’t actually care all that much about this outcome.” It’s like, “Whether the body mass index says I’m three pounds overweight, or I’ve got three more pounds to go before I hit the threshold, I don’t actually care that much about what the BMI has to say about me.”

David Nurse

That’s good, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, when push comes to shove, it’s like, “Well, I could track all my calories but I don’t feel like it so I won’t.” And it sounds like that that, too, can be an acceptable choice. It’s like, “Go pick something that’s more worth your time and effort.”

David Nurse

It’s exactly it. You can’t be devoted to everything. If that’s not the thing, like it’s the difference between if you see a bodybuilder, who is literally tracking every single macro, and weighing on the scale, like, to me, that looks miserable. It sounds like that sounds miserable to you as well. So, that’s not your choice of devotion. You can’t be devoted to everything.

You pick and choose what’s the most important things to you, and you’re choosing lifestyle, life rhythm, over being an incredibly crazy person out to eat where you can only eat broccoli and chicken breast, let’s say. Yeah, you’re not that interested in being a bodybuilder, and I don’t think you’re performing on stage at the World’s Strongest Man competitions coming up.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m insulted but…

David Nurse

Maybe. Maybe.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, thank you. Well, now maybe could you share with us a story of someone who went through this process, in a professional work type of context, in terms of they weren’t doing it, they were quitting, and then they had some insight, like, “Aha, what’s going on? This is the category I fit into,” and what unfolded?

David Nurse

Yeah, totally. So, I’ve been working with a CEO for the past year, and when I started working with him, he’s at a massive company, runs an amazing Fortune 500 company, and he was going through a very difficult time, and just feeling really down, personally in his life and in the business, so we had to figure out, like, “Okay, why? Like, what is the cause of this? You grew this amazing business. Now, what is happening?”

So, we realized that there were certain people that had been hired and they looked like all-stars, they came from other great companies, and they brought the business down. They weren’t on the same mission as he was. It was more for, okay, how much money can they make, but they didn’t really care about the end result product. So, he found this out and now has become blaming-the-past situation that he couldn’t get past. So, it’s very hard especially for someone that successful when you get hit with this, when you have a major roadblock in your career and your life.

So, really, we just had to forgive this situation, had to address it and had to say, “Well, you know, what did we learn from this?” So, one of the most important things from the blaming situation is not just go over it and pass through it, but it’s, “What did we learn from this situation?” So, we really went in depth on this, and the takeaways, the positives that came from very incredibly big losses and negatives that could have driven somebody to just quit or give up altogether. So, worked through the blaming situation to find out, “Okay, now I need to figure out the right team that I have.” So, that was one of them.

But it was also a part of underestimation, too, where there had been repeated history of these types of failures, if you want to call them, and just come over the fact that these don’t have to happen, like, “People aren’t always going to fail. You don’t have to underestimate you or your team.” He built this amazing company despite having these types of action archetypes holding him back from living the life he’d want to live.

And when I say that in terms of the underestimating, it was also the underestimating of giving himself permission to enjoy the journey. That’s a really important one for high performers, or any driven person, giving yourself permission to enjoy the journey. Even if the journey is a struggle moment, if it’s difficult, if you’re going through a fire, you can still enjoy the journey of it because it’s never going to be easy. God never said, “Hey, you’re just going to have this easy life.” No, it’s going to be difficult, but it’s going to be worth it.

So, having that underestimator, working through the underestimator, individually, personally, in his own life, and also the blamer, the things that had happened to the company in the past, to be able to move through it, knowing that there was going to be, you know, it’d be difficult to work through that, but they’d eventually get through it, and now he’s thriving, the company is doing amazing, stock prices are up.

So, it was a, yeah, working through those two archetypes, and I’ll continually go back through all of these with them to make sure, “Are you good here? Or, is this one coming in?” because it can change. It’s very actionable. That’s the example that I give it’s an actionable version of kind of like the Enneagram.

Pete Mockaitis

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

David Nurse

Just check out the book. I think it’s helped a lot of people. It’s a fun read and it can really show you, “Do you have any roadblocks?” I always go back through it because there’s different things that will come up in my daily life and I’m able to identify it, the self-awareness, and then work through it. So, I would just encourage you to check out the book for no other reason than, honestly, it will help you. If it doesn’t, please reach out to me and tell me it’s the worst thing ever and I’ll get you your refund.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Nurse

“What would you do with your life if there is no way that you could fail?”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And could you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

David Nurse

I’ve got another book coming out in, I don’t know exactly when it’s going to come out, but it’s a very immersive study that I’ve started into now on the focus and flow, putting those together, and how you can find the deepest flow state, and tap into it more regularly and for a longer time. So, now that’s becoming my next study and research project.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite book?

David Nurse

Essentialism, Greg McKeown, has been one of my favorites; The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer, it’s a great one; The Energy Bus by a good friend of mine, John Gordon; any of my other books that I wrote, of course, are at the top of the list. Those are some of the best.

Pete Mockaitis

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

David Nurse

I use the power of the “I am” statement. So, I start my morning off with coffee because I love coffee, prayer time. I’m reading something from the Bible or a devotional, and spending my first time in the morning, the first few minutes in the morning with God, but then I write down “I am” statements.

And I think these have been really powerful for me because the doubt comes in the morning a lot, “Can you make it through the day? Can you do what you want to do? Is it really going to happen?” And when I write down “I am” and then I fill in the blank with what I’m voting for in that day, it gives me a lot of confidence, it gives me a lot of boosts, a lot of self-belief.

It eliminates these self-talk negative thoughts, which they say there’s 50,000 self-talk thoughts daily, and 80% of those are negative. So, I’m eliminating those from the start. So, I’ll simply say, “I am courageous,” “I am brave,“ ”I am going for this dream,” and it’s a vote for myself in the morning. So, that’s one of my favorite tools that I use, have been using for years.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, and a favorite habit?

David Nurse

A favorite habit of mine also is, in that morning routine when I’m writing, I write, “How can I pour into my wife? How can I fill my wife’s love tank, Taylor’s love tank?” So, I write in there, when I’m doing this morning journaling, of one thing a day that I’m going to do to fill my wife’s love tank.

Pete Mockaitis

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

David Nurse

Website, DavidNurse.com has everything on there. Podcast is right there too. I have daily confidence boosts that I put out five-minute episodes daily on the David Nurse Show. Social media, DavidNurseNBA, or come out to Los Angeles and, you know, we can kick it and eat some great food.

Pete Mockaitis

Yum. And a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

David Nurse

I would say, “Just what is that thing that’s been on your heart that you want, that you’ve wanted to do, that you keep putting off, you keep finding an excuse for why not to do it?” Just do it. Take that first step. The first step is so powerful. The momentum of one step forward daily, I mean, think about this. I’m not a math major, but the one math equation that I do know is 1 to the power of 365 is 1, but 1.01, 1% more, one step forward, to the power of 365 is 37.8. That’s how powerful just taking one step forward a day is. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re dancing on clouds with that step. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re trudging through mud, but just keep taking that step forward.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. David, thank you. I wish you much luck and fun with all the things you’re doing.

David Nurse

Thanks, Pete. Appreciate it, man.