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397: Making the Shifts Necessary to Grow Your Influence with John C. Maxwell

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Renowned leadership author John C. Maxwell discusses how to shift yourself so you can continually grow and influence on a bigger scale.

You’ll Learn:

  1. John’s approach to mentorship
  2. How insecurity kills effective leadership
  3. The ACT method to make the most out of your reflections

About John

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 30 million books in 50 languages. He has been identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazines. He is founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and The John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, organizations that have trained millions of leaders from almost every country of the world. The recipient of the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network, Dr. Maxwell speaks each year to Fortune500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders. He can be followed at Twitter.com/JohnCMaxwell. For more information about Maxwell, visit JohnMaxwell.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

John C. Maxwell Interview Transcript

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

John C Maxwell
Hey, it’s great to be with you Pete and your listeners. We’re going to have a wonderful time. I’m looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thank you. Well, me too. You’ve been a role model for me for years and years. I’m excited to dig in. First, I kind of wanted to get your take on, you really taught leadership to millions. Can you tell me who taught you the most about leadership and maybe could you share a story of a key lesson that has stuck with you?

John C Maxwell
Well, my father, who’s 97, by the way and still alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

John C Maxwell
I  grew up in a leader’s home. I just watched it. I saw it before I understood it and kind of probably as a kid thought everybody had that kind of a home as far as leadership and just really great direction. I would say my father because I’ve been with him, watched him of course his whole life.

Then  I had John Wooden as a mentor. He was a phenomenal teacher and probably as just a quote an unofficial mentor, Pete, he probably taught me more than anyone else. He taught me about when opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare and just how to always be ready for that moment. Make every day your masterpiece. It just goes on and on. He was a phenomenal mentor.

But  I’ve been very fortunate. I just had people come into my life from my early age and even today, just people that sneak into my life and help me and add value to me. I don’t have one mentor. I think one mentor is kind of a – I think it’s kind of a little bit misguided. I’m not sure one mentor is good enough to mentor you in every area.

I  pick my mentors based upon the areas that I need assistance in. I have a couple mentors for leadership, a couple mentors for team development in work, couple mentors maybe for attitude development and tenacity and that kind of thing, and a couple of mentors for an area of communication or relationships. It depends on where I am and kind of what I need. Even then I just kind of pick the mentor that kind of that’s where the strength is.

When  people come to me and they say, “John, would you mentor me?” I tell them, “I’m not that good. The answer is no. I’m just good at a few things. I’ll be glad to help you with a few things, but most of things in life I’m still just trying to grow and learn and not too hot myself in.”

I  know this, every day of my life I’m standing on the shoulders and I’m better because of people who have invested in me and given me time. Of course, I just turn that around and try to mentor others also and be a mentor to other leaders. It’s a beautiful journey once you understand that we’re all to be a river, not a reservoir and just kind of let it flow through you and help other people and add value to them. That’s kind of where I am in the area of my mentoring world right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. When you talk about the journey, I like that. You have unpacked it a few kind of key moments or lessons in your journey in your latest book, Leadershift. What would you say is the main message in this book?

John C Maxwell
Well, I think the main message is that you can only strengthen and sustain your leadership if you continue to make changes or make shifts in your life, that there’s not one way to lead and there’s no way to lead continually and that we have to be agile and have to adjust and have to understand the times.

Leaders really understand context. What all leaders have in common, Pete, is that they see more than others see, so they see a bigger picture, and they see before others see. They not only see that picture larger than others, they see it quicker than others. That being the case, they’re the first ones to know or to sense at least or maybe to begin to grasp.

The more they can adjust and the better they adjust, the quicker they adjust, the more effective they’re going to be as a leader. The book really is all about adjustments that I’ve had to make, leader shifts, that I’ve had to make in my life to continue to be effective as a leader today.

It’s very easy to begin to kind of rest on your position or your title and expect it to do your work for you. When that happens, we’re no longer on the edge, we’re no longer are seeing more and before, so therefore we’re no longer on the cutting edge as far as leading people.

The book is really all about how do you stay on that cutting edge? I had an interview recently. The person commented about the fact that I’d been doing leadership for 40 plus years, writing books, teaching, speaking on leadership, learning, doing my best to be a better leader. They asked me, they said, “Well, how have you for so long stayed in the game?” I said, “Well, I guess the main way I’ve done it is I realized it’s not the same game.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John C Maxwell
Yeah, it’s kind of like baseball to use an analogy. The game is baseball and every day there is a baseball game, but no game is alike. You can’t depend on what happened in yesterday’s game to be what’s going to happen today. Yes, the game is called baseball, but pretty much after you’ve finished the rules, everything else is going to be fluctuating.

Babe Ruth said? “Yesterday’s home run won’t win today’s game.” I find that very true. Whatever I was doing yesterday, I’m glad that I could do it, hope I did it well, but that really doesn’t mean that I can do the same thing today.

In fact, I think the greatest detriment, Pete, to a person’s success is or the greatest detriment to tomorrow’s success is today’s success. The moment I kind of get settled in today and kind of say, “Oh, I’ve got this for me. I’m going to hold on to it. I want to keep it,” it’s just not going to happen. It just doesn’t happen that way, especially in the times we live right now. With social media there’s such an incredible awareness that’s happening.

I was getting ready to speak for a company. What I do when I go speak for a company is I have a pre-call to kind of find out where they are and how I can best serve them by finding out what’s your theme, what’s your objectives, etcetera. This company I was going to speak for, their theme was fast-forward.

The person on the call said, “John, what does that theme mean to you?” I said, “Well, let me just tell you what each word means to me. When I think of fast, it means to me, when I think about today it’s fast is faster. Faster, it’s faster than it’s ever been before. … I’m just going to hold for a while and wait until things kind of slow down and make sense actually.” I said, “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to die for that to happen. It just isn’t going to be there.”

Fast is faster and forward, Pete, is shorter. What I mean by that is when I started leading, my gosh, when they talked about – when I was working on a business degree when they talked about a long-range plan, they talked about ten years. A medium-range plan was five and the short-range, the short-range plan was two. Well, that’s a ridiculously long-range plan today, two years. You kind of say, “Boy, can you get it down to 12 to 18 months.”

Forward is shorter and fast is faster. Well, if that’s the case, which it is, then a book like Leadershift is essential. If we are not continually looking over the land and adjusting ourselves and being very agile, being very quick to go, we’re not going to be very effective.

One  of the things in the book – one more thing Pete and I’ll shut up – one of the things in the book that I really am glad I addressed was this issue of uncertainty because a lot of people say, “Well, I want to be certain before make that move or make that decision.” I talk about the fact that’s not possible and that leaders, the best leader shift leaders, they’re very comfortable with uncertainty.

They  understand that they are having to move before they have all the answers or before they have all of the direction or all the steps. They realize that it’s in the movement that they get clarity and they get more direction. In fact, what I tell people if you really want to kind of know what’s going to happen in three months, start moving now. The resources, the events, the experiences, start flowing toward you in that process.

I  think leaders need to be clear in their vision, but I think as far as the journey is concerned, we just have to have a real sense of openness and authenticity with people and say I’m making all of my moves based upon what I think and what I believe, but I don’t have total clarity on this at all. We’re just going because, again, speed, the ability to move quick is so essential in leadership today.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. With that said in terms of the importance of being able to make those shifts, you lay out 11 key shifts as examples. We’ll dig into a couple of those. But I’d like to first hear across the board, what are some of the key perspectives or best practices when it comes to how we go about making a shift?

John C Maxwell
Well  I think first of all, security. I just feel that a leader that is insecure won’t be agile enough and so I think that’s essential.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say insecure, I’m intrigued there. Can you give you give some examples of what are the things that make leaders insecure? What are they worried about?

John C Maxwell
Well , I think an insecure person, first of all, most times is not comfortable in their own skin. They themselves haven’t yet come to a real sense of who they are. It’s very difficult to help people become who they would like to become if you’re not really sure who you are.

I  think that insecure people are those who mainly want to be liked and like people to always applaud them. Leadership is tough. There’s just – you’re going to make decisions that are not going to be always popular.

I  think an insecure person, most of them are controlling. I think controlling is a very damaging thing in the culture we live today. Again, if you’re relying on agility and speed, if you have to control every person and every decision and every movement, you’re just in deep weeds.

I  think maybe Pete this will illustrate it as good as I can. Gail Devers, that’s probably a name many of your listeners can recognize. She was a tremendous Olympic athlete and track star for the United States. I think, I’m not sure, but I think as a female track star, I think she won more medals than any other American Olympian, but anyway terrific athlete and won medals in three different Olympics, so just think of that span to be a world class athlete.

In  fact, the night I was having dinner with her and her husband in Atlanta, she was really training for her fourth Olympics if you could imagine. She was running races against young ladies that were young enough to be her daughter.

We’re  having a great meal. She had read a lot of my books and she wanted to ask some questions about leadership. We were having a good discussion. Towards the end of the meal, I said to her, I said, “Gail,” I said, “I’ve been thinking about this all dinner. I think if you and I ran a 100-yard race, I think I could win.”

I  wish you could have seen her face. I mean she looked at me in such disbelief. Of course an athlete this good is highly competitive. She looked at me and then she looked at her husband. She said, “Did you hear what he said?” Her husband said, “Yeah, I heard that.” Then she looked back at me, kind of disgustingly because I’m not in that kind of shape. I kind of look more like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

I  can see that I’ve got her almost to the place where she’s ready to take off those heels and go out front of this restaurant and say, “We’re going to run a block and I’m just going to show you how delusional you are.” I got her right to that point, which was a lot of fun.

Then  I said, “No, now Gail, really honestly, I do think I could win 100-yard race with you if I had an 80-yard head start.” And she goes, “Oh, well, shoot, yeah. Okay, yeah. Hello.” Now to be honest with you, I really wanted to say 70 yards, but I wasn’t sure I could do it with 70. I thought, eh, no, but 80 I could kind of roll across the line. I think I could do that. Of course, then we all had a good laugh.

But  the point is very simple. The fastest person doesn’t win the race. It’s the person who gets started first.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

John C Maxwell
Starting  first is everything. Again, leadership is all about starting first. It’s all about being, again, quick and ready to move and being flexible and while others are kind of considering it, you’re already there.

When I think of the 11 leader shifts in the book, there are, my gosh, there are probably 100 leader shifts a person has to make. I made more than the 11, but these are the 11 in the book that are like what I would call the Mt. Everest type of stuff, the big stuff that not only I had to make, but probably every person that wants to lead is going to have to make in their life, sometime in their life.

I think that the greatest thing in life for me to do and one of the reasons I write and speak all the time is to create awareness. You just can’t fix what you don’t know needs to be fixed. The moment that a person who is hungry to learn, and grow, and get better, becomes aware, all the sudden everything begins to change.

Once you’ve had the light turned on for yourself, you want to go into a room of people and turn the light on for everybody. This is kind of a turn-the-light-on book. It’s just kind of a book that basically says, “Here, my name’s John. I’m your friend. Let me turn the light on. Let’s talk about a few of these shifts you need to make. Let me kind of tell you how I did it and cheer you on while you make them yourself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Let’s talk about a few of them here or maybe just a couple. Choosing here. What would you say if you had to pick, which one do you think is the most critical for leaders to make or perhaps the most overlooked, like, “Oh, I need to do that and I was not yet aware. Thanks for turning the light on.”

John C Maxwell
Well,  one of the ones I find when – I taught on this before I write on it. Basically the way I write books is I teach stuff and when it sticks I think, “Oh gosh, if it’s sticking with the audience, I probably need to put it on paper.”

I  think one that has given me maybe my greatest reward that people don’t think of very much is the shift from what I call ladder climbing to ladder building. In that chapter I talk about the fact that we all start off as ladder climbers. I did. I got my first leadership responsibility and the question was how high can I climb on this ladder. I’m taking off. How high can I go?

I  think for every person that is going to be a successful leader, they have to be a good ladder climber. They need to get to the top. When you think about it-

Pete Mockaitis
And get there first.

John C Maxwell
The  credibility I have, Pete, as a leader is that I’m successful. Do you think somebody wants to follow me if I’m not successful? Whoever gets up and says, “Wow, gosh I’m not doing well financially. I’ve got to go find somebody that’s gone bankrupt a couple times and get some advice from him” No, the first thing we turn to is we turn to somebody that has done it well. We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. We turn to that person.

I  started off ladder climbing and did pretty good. I was a pretty good ladder climber. I kind of got to the top quickly, but I understood then that that really had very little to do with leadership, but had a lot to do with some competence that I had and some giftedness that I had.

But  I decided that I needed to start thinking of others and what am I doing, so I went from ladder climbing to what I call ladder holding. That’s basically where I go over to you, Pete and say, “Hey, could I hold your ladder for you?” What I know about somebody that holds the ladder for somebody is that they provide security for that person, they provide a solid foundation.

What  I know is, Pete, if I hold your ladder, you’re going to climb higher than if I don’t hold your ladder. I’m going to allow you to what I would call achieve a couple of extra rungs in your life. You’re going to go a little bit higher than you’d go if I wasn’t there. That’s kind of a shift that I made from “I’m just going to climb my own ladder and build my own thing and do my own thing” to “Well, shoot, why don’t I go help some other people.” I made the shift to a ladder holder.

Then , this is very – again, it’s a journey, so you don’t know this stuff on the frontend, you always know it during the process and on the backend. As I was holding people’s ladders, what I discovered is two things. One is they climbed higher because I helped them and served them. Number two is some of them really can climb high.

All  of the sudden I realized as a ladder holder, I was able to find out who the potential successful people and leaders would be. Some just climb higher than others with my help. Ladder holding became the qualifying exercise I did to go to the next shift, which was ladder extending.

If  I’m holding your ladder, you get completely as high as you can go and I’m saying, “Gosh, let’s extend this thing. The only reason you didn’t go any higher is there wasn’t any more ladder there. Let’s get you some more ladder feet and go for it.

Ladder  holding allowed me to qualify really who I mentored because that’s who I would put in the ladder extending areas. It’s just – it’s now all of the sudden you’re taking them to another level and you’re helping them just go to heights that they never would have gone.

Then,  again, all this does is evolves into the next natural shift. As I’m extending your ladder, we’ve got that baby up pretty high. Pete, you take that extension, just keep on climbing. All the sudden I realized you could basically climb as high as we can extend. There’s really no limits to you.

Then  it’s kind of like, “Wow, this is the ultimate.” I’m extending people’s ladders and they’re going higher than they ever thought was possible and making a bigger difference than they ever would have dreamed. I’m just getting all excited about it. Then I realized, no there’s another shift yet. This is the one that’s really going to make the big difference for people.

I’m  going, if you can see me from ladder climbing to ladder holding to ladder extending to ladder building. I just look at you and I say, “Pete, you need to build your own ladder. You don’t need to use my ladder. I need to empower you. I need to release to you. I need to bless you. I need to let you go and let you build your own kingdom, build your own business, build your own work, be your own entrepreneur. You don’t really need me.”

What’s  incredible is that when I became a ladder builder, that’s when I developed all these incredible leaders that I’ve had the privilege for so many years having watched them, many of them do better than what I could have. That’s for sure. To me I think the greatest fulfillment is not seeing how high I can go. When I was climbing my own ladder I figured out pretty quick I can go pretty high, but that’s kind of an end in itself.

I  thought, okay, I know what I can do, but I wonder what I could do with people. I wonder if I could help them to go high. Those shifts, I have a fondness for this whole ladder shifting because I just – it’s kind of almost like – it’s kind of like the story of my life, where I’ve been and what I’ve done and kind of where I am and really what I love to do.

My  greatest joy today is just fathering a lot of leaders and just blessing them and watching them, again, excel incredibly. It makes me very proud and just – and very humble to have maybe a little part in it. That’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. When you’re doing this ladder holding, and ladder extending, and ladder building, what are some of the particular practices or key questions you’re asking? What are you doing in practice when you’re providing this support on the ladder?

John C Maxwell
Well,  I lead by questions. That’s how I lead. Probably one of the big shifts I had in my life was that I – in the beginning I led by direction. I just kind of basically pointed and gave people direction on where to go and what to do.

I  made the discovery really that that wasn’t the highest or the best way to lead, so over time – again, it’s all maturing and learning and growing – I went from giving a lot of directions to asking more questions because kind of the whole principle is based on the fact you’ve got to find your people before you can meet them. Pete, one of the great disasters in leadership is leading by assumption. Wow, gosh, I see it all the time.

I  had a wonderful friend, Pat Summitt, who passed away a couple years ago, but she was the University of Tennessee lady volunteer basketball coach and I think the most successful women’s coach ever in basketball, college basketball. I think she had over 1,000 wins. But she was an amazing woman, an amazing leader and an amazing person.

She  would feed her team my books and got to me and talked to me and asked me to come up some time and talk to the team and go to the game. I said sure, so I did. It was an incredible experience because at half time, the lady volunteers when into the locker room and I kind of followed them and the coaches. I just said, well, sit right here in the room with the basketball players for a moment. Her and the coaches went off into another room. One of the-

Pete Mockaitis
It’s all you.

John C Maxwell
No,  this is incredible. One of the basketball players, one of the lady volunteer gals, there was a marker board at the front of the room. The marker board had two questions: what did we do right, what did we do wrong, and what do we need to change.

They  went into this exercise where one player led the other players. “Okay, in the first half what did we do right?” They wrote down three or four things they did right. “Okay, what did we do wrong?” Wrote a few things down they did wrong. “What do we need to change during the second half to improve and get better?” They wrote these things down. This exercise didn’t take them long because they were used to doing it. Took them five minutes maybe.

Here  comes Pat into the locker room, goes straight to the marker board, looks at what did we do right, what did we do wrong, what do we need to change, made a couple comments, not very many, maybe a minute or two, just a couple comments, affirmed what they were thinking, and maybe tweaked them if they weren’t or maybe if they missed something. Out on the floor they went and played the second half.

After  the press conference Pat and I went out to dinner. I said, “Pat,” I said, “that was an amazing exercise.” I said, “Talk to me about it.” Here’s what she told me, she said, “John, my first year and a half as a coach I was not a good coach and my teams were not successful.” She said, “I kept asking myself, okay, what am I missing?” She said, “I just knew that there was something that was obvious that I was missing as a coach to help me out.”

She  said, “I came to the conclusion after about 18 months that I was assuming that these players knew what I knew. I was assuming that they had basics under their belt. I was assuming that when I talked to them we were all on the same page.” She said, “John, I wasn’t on the same page with them at all. I wasn’t even in the same book with some of them.” She said, “I all of the sudden realized I was trying to lead them and I hadn’t found them yet.”

She  said, “I started asking questions, so I went to this exercise.” She said, “I can walk in now and while I’m walking to the marker board, by the time I get to the front I already know if they’re aware and if they understand. If they don’t,” she said, “it’s my job as a coach to get them on the same page I’m on as far as awareness is concerned.” But she said, “It just changed everything.” She said, “Now, I coach from where they are, not coach from where I think they are.”

When  you talk about shifting and where I am, and this book, in fact I had – one of the leader shifts that I talk about in the book is going from directing to connecting. That directing to connecting is you connect by asking questions.

Today,  pretty much I lead everybody, everything I lead I basically go in and ask questions and find out where they are. As soon as I find out where they are, then leadership’s pretty – it’s pretty simple. I put a whole chapter in the book on just that because I thought my gosh, if they just learn to find their people and it will be life changing for them. That’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Those questions are so great. You talk about the assumption is that you can very clearly see, “Oh wow, you have a completely different perspective on what you think you did right and wrong than I do, so okay, this is where we’re going to start,” as opposed to, “Okay, perfect,” and to just sort of facilitate ownership along the way. That’s huge.

John C Maxwell
Yeah, they say this Lombardi, of course, the great Super Bowl coach of the Packers, they say what he would bring all these pros together for their first practice at the beginning of the season. The first thing he did is hold up a football and he’d look at these pros. Now think about it. They played high school. They played colleges. Their pros. They’re the best in the profession.

He would start off every year with the same speech. He’d hold up a football and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He wasn’t about to assume anything. He’s just, “Let’s just talk about it. Let’s start from the basics and work our way up.”

I’m blessed I have several companies and got a lot of balls in the air. I just have found and discovered that if I just go and ask questions, very quickly, very quickly, kind of find out what they know, what they don’t know, where they are, it just answers everything for me. I think learning to ask great questions helps us to connect on common ground, which becomes pretty amazing to be honest with you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. If I may, I’d love to hear maybe just a couple bullets, like what are some of your favorite, powerful go-to questions that have served you well again and again?

John C Maxwell
Well,  for example, if you and I were in any kind of a meeting, let’s say we’re in a creative meeting. We’re talking about the brand or whatever. When we’re all finished meeting, I’ll just say, “Okay, let’s just go around the room and give me what you think is the most important takeaway right now that you just got out of this time, out of this session.” It kind of helps me to know very quickly if they’re assessing what I’m assessing in that meeting or not.

With  my children, even with my grandchildren today whenever we have an experience, I always ask them – as soon as the experience is over, they know I’m going to ask them two questions. My children if I did this once, I did it ten thousand times. With my grandchildren probably about that many too. I’ll just look at them when we’re done with the experience, I’ll say, “Okay,” they know it’s coming, “What did you love? What did you learn?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John C Maxwell
I  start with kids with ‘What did you love?” because they always know that because they feel that emotionally. But ‘What did you learn?’ and it’s just phenomenal because, you see, experience is not the best teacher, Pete. You hear it all the time. People say, “Oh, experience is the best teacher,” but it’s not. It really isn’t. If experience were the best teacher, then as people get older, they’d all get better.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

John C Maxwell
Because  they have more experience. Again, I know most people I know, they’re getting old; they’re not getting better. They’re getting worse. Experience is not the best teacher. Evaluated experience is the best teacher.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful.

John C Maxwell
Taking  time to come out of an experience and then pull away and reflect, reflection really takes experience and turns it into insight. What I do is I constantly ask myself – in fact, when I’m done with our time together, I’ll take three minutes because it’s just a habit, it’s one of my hopefully better habits, but I’ll – it’s practice that’s for sure – I’ll take three minutes and I’ll go over what we just talked about.

I’ll  say, “Okay, when your time with Pete and the listeners today, what do are you taking out of that, that 45-minute experience? What do you glean out of that, Maxwell?” Again, evaluating, reflection, asking questions.

Boy , the moment that you begin to – when you begin to understand – I had a mentor named Charles Blair who said, “John, always have an understanding so there’s not a misunderstanding.” I just live that kind of a leadership life. I’m very comfortable with asking questions. What’s beautiful, it doesn’t take a long time.

In  fact, I … all the time, because I get some push back on this from kind of choleric-type top-down leaders. They say, “John, when you start asking questions, you give up control.” I say, “No, no, you don’t understand. When you start asking questions you’re in total control because you’re in control of the questions you’re asking.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John C Maxwell
That’s  what pulled me back to the discussion, so go back to the Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee illustration. She was in total control when she walked in that room because she was getting out of the girls exactly what she needed. “What did we do right? What did we do wrong? What do we need to change?” She was in complete control, but while she was in control, she was also getting information that was very essential to her to lead them to the next step.

Leadership is a very exciting venture when you just understand how to ask the question. In fact, I wrote a book five or six, maybe seven years ago – gosh, time goes so fast – but I wrote a book that – I just wanted to write it because I love to ask questions, but it just went kind of crazy, it took off, called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. I have a chapter in there, Questions I Ask Myself, Questions I Ask My Team.

I  just went through and helped people kind of understand. Questions are kind of like keys; they unlock the lock. You’ve got this lock and you can’t get in, but if you’ve got the key you can. Questions just kind of open up the doors for me and allow me to do that, so I love it.

That  chapter on directing to connecting in the Leadershift book was, gosh, it was a lot of fun because I think it’s just going to be very enlightening to a lot of people. I think they’re going to have a lot of aha moments when they’re going to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that’s cool. Well, I want to talk about sort of a big key and a big question that’s particularly to shift into an explicitly Christian context for a moment for our listeners of faith. When I’ve got John C Maxwell, I can’t not ask. Tell me what’s your take on how we can most effectively listen to God’s voice and take the appropriate steps and make the shifts that he wills for you?

John C Maxwell
I made that shift about four years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Only four?

John C Maxwell
Yeah , I really did. I think I was typical. Most people in their prayer time, I had a list. When I took some time with God, I would go down the list, typical choleric, and kind of talk to him about it and check it off.

About  four years ago, I was just thinking of basically the scripture principle that God’s ways are higher than ours and that God knows what we need more than we know what we need. All of the sudden I started getting a little bit amused and I thought how ironic that I’ve spent all my time with my agenda when I pray with God. I’m much more interested on my agenda than I am on his agenda.

It  kind of came to me – one time I had a person who I was in a conversation with them, they said – they were talking to me and they just said, “Well,” she said, “I would just like to directly hear from God.” I started smiling. I said, “No, you don’t. You don’t really want to hear from God. If you did, trust me, it’s not on your agenda. It’s not what you think he’s going to say or what he’s going to hear.” I was kind of amused by it.

Then  I thought to myself, I wonder what would happen if I just took that approach to prayer. I switched, well, four years ago and I have no agenda in prayer anymore. I have an agenda and that is to listen and to be still and to hear his voice. I take a legal pad and my four-color pen and I sit and I have the Word with me. I just open my heart and basically share with God that I want him to speak.

He  may speak through an experience that I had recently or he may speak through a passage of scripture to me, he may speak through some music, but I’m just going to listen to you. It’s really changed my life. It’s made me want to spend more time with him.

Before  it was like I wanted to spend more time with him so I could get through my list, but now it’s kind of like I wonder what surprise he has for me. I wonder what he’s thinking today that is going to really add value to me or take me in a direction I wouldn’t have even imagined.

Anyway,  I kind of made a – I guess you could call that a prayer shift in my life. But I found it to be – I really found it to be very effective. I’m kind of grateful for it to be honest with you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Now I want to get your take on how do you differentiate in those moments, like something pops into your head between what you think is you and what you think is the Lord?

John C Maxwell
Oh, …. I think it’s – I’m asked that question often and I think I have a really good answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy.

John C Maxwell
Is –  well, I really do. I tell people all the time, well, a whole bunch of it’s me because I’m human and so even though I have a great desire to hear from him, I don’t say that I don’t have a lot of John in that thought pattern. But where it really helps me is the fact that when it’s him, it stays with me.

What  I basically do is I say, “Okay, these are the five things I sense from you today. I think I’ll table them for 24 hours. I’ll come back and let me just see if any of them resonate.” I find that tabling them, for the right reason, not for a reason of disobedience, but more of a reason for discernment, I come back the next day and the wood and the hay and the stuff just kind of separates. The chaff separates from the real thing.

If  I keep coming back to it three or four times over a week, Pete, then after a while I say, “Okay, yeah, this is something I need to really learn from and spend time listening to him.” One of the beautiful things that has come out of this, just really beautiful, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned out of it – I don’t know, but it seems to be the biggest one to me is obedience. Whatever he says to you, just do it.

In  John chapter 2 Cana and Galilee and the wedding feast and the water turned to wine, if you can imagine those servants taking those jars and filling them up with water, they have got to think, “This is the stupidest thing …” And then when they were asked to take the jars to the host, I think they said, “And this is the day I get fired. This is the day I get fired because they’re asking for wine. I’m bringing water.” Of course, when it was poured out, it was wine.

It  said, basically a passage says, the people didn’t understand what had happened, but it said the servants knew. Well, the reason they knew is because they were in the act of obedience of putting the water in the buckets or in the jars. The point being, Pete, it’s very simple. Obedience is never understood on the frontend; it’s always understood on the backend.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that and particularly that Bible story. Interesting fact, when I got married my wedding gift to my groomsmen was a little corkscrew wine opener that had inscribed on it that verse, “Do whatever he tells you.” It just seemed like a good-

John C Maxwell
I love that. I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like hey, it’s wine and it’s good advice.

John C Maxwell
Oh my gosh, I’m going to steal that.

Pete Mockaitis
Steal it away. Yeah.

John C Maxwell
Oh, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

John C Maxwell
See, shoot, this is going to be such an easy evaluation when I’m done with you. It’s going to take me five seconds to figure out what my takeaway is today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m honored.

John C Maxwell
That is a beautiful, beautiful gift, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

John C Maxwell
Gosh. You had it inscribed on the opener.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. The corkscrew, there’s a metal part, so I had an engraver put that in there.

John C Maxwell
Okay, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

John C Maxwell
I hope I’ve done for your listeners today what you’ve done for me. Of course, you’re doing it for them too because they’re hearing this. They’re all going out and getting their Christmas idea. I’m going to sit down and talk – I’m going to talk to my wife about this. I think that would be a fabulous Christmas gift.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’m so glad to be able to contribute. That’s cool.

John C Maxwell
Oh gosh, I love that. I love that. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, yeah, in our last couple minutes we like to do what I call the fast faves, get a quick perspective from you on some of your favorite things. Could you kick us off with a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

John C Maxwell
Well, I have so many of them, but the one I’m talking about the most now is “Everything worthwhile is uphill.” Love that quote. In fact, I visually just raise my arm when I teach it that basically what I tell people is there’s nothing you have in your life worthwhile that didn’t take time, effort, energy. It’s all uphill. In fact, if you’re going downhill, I don’t know what you’re going to arrive at, but it’s not worthwhile.

The only way that you can go uphill – if everything worthwhile is uphill, the only way you can go uphill is to be intentional. That quote means a lot to me because no one ever climbed a mountain by accident. No one ever talked about accidental achievements in their life. It’s intentional.

In fact, I wrote a book three or four years ago called Intentional Living. The whole book is all about the fact that most people accept their life instead of lead their life. If you accept your life, you just come up with much less than what can you have in your life if you were intentional. “Everything worthwhile is uphill,” I think that’s probably mine.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

John C Maxwell
Well, of course, the Bible is my favorite book. By the way, when I do leadership and of course most of my world is secular, but people sometimes will say, “Where did you really get your leadership stuff?” I’ll tell them, “Everything I learned about leadership, I learned from the Bible. Everything.”

In fact, I’ve had some great Q&A interaction times with secular community basically saying, “You give me your best leadership thought and I’ll give you a biblical foundation for it.” It’s startling. It’s startling. It’s the greatest leadership book ever written.

In fact, the favorite thing I’ve ever done is not writing books as much as I had the privilege several years ago to do the Maxwell Leadership Bible and put my leadership lessons that I taught out of the Bible in the Bible.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

John C Maxwell
That Leadership Bible is just – a million Bibles later it’s just still going crazy. I’ve done – in fact I just finished my third edition. I have, Pete, over 600 lessons on leadership in there. Every page has another leadership lesson, but it’s all on the Word.

I’m reading a book right now called Leadership: In Turbulent Times. Fabulous book, but I’m a fan of this author. Her name is Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right.

John C Maxwell
She’s basically a presidential scholar. She spent her whole life studying presidents of the United States. She wrote a Team of Rivals about Lincoln and she’s written one on Kennedy, one on FDR, one on LBJ, one on Teddy Roosevelt. I consume all of them. But this one is she took Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, LBJ and Lincoln and basically wrote a book on how they lived during turbulent times. It’s a fabulous read. I’m loving it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Well in our last moment here, could you share a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

John C Maxwell
Yeah,  well I would just say whenever I listen to something or in an experience, I always do what I call ACT: what should I apply, what should I change, and what should I teach someone else. It’s just simple, ACT.
If it’s like a long session, I may get three or four A’s, a couple C’s, maybe five or six T’s. I look at them and I categorize them. I just put ACT in the margins on my notes so that I can find them. What’s one A, what’s two  – or what’s one A, one C, and one T. Whatever those are, those three A, C, T, I just take the next 30 days and I do them every day, the one A, one C, and one T, every day for 30 days until it kind of becomes a habit. I’ve done this for 35 years. It just works.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, John, this has been a real treat. Thanks so much for all you’re doing in the world. It’s greatly appreciated. I hope that Leadershift is another hit. Just keep on rocking.

John C Maxwell
Doing my best, friend. Every day I have a great job. I just get up and add value to people. It’s pretty good gig, isn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm.

John C Maxwell
Thank you Pete.

396: Insights into Embracing Emotions at Work with Liz Fosslien

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Writer and illustrator Liz Fosslien shares why we should listen to our emotions instead of suppressing them at work. She also reveals how to be considerate of others’ emotions while protecting our own.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we should inspect instead of suppress our emotions
  2. Two ways to protect yourself from emotional contagion
  3. How to decode the wisdom your emotions are pointing to

About Liz

Liz is an author and illustrator whose projects have been featured by NPR, Freakonomics, The Economist, and CNN Money. Liz spent the past three years designing and facilitating workshops that empowered executives at LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, BlackRock, and Nike to build cultures of belonging. Previously, she led product and community projects at Genius and ran statistical analyses at the aptly named Analysis Group.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Liz Fosslien Interview Transcript

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

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. Well, I’m excited to dig into this. First I want to hear the backstory behind you have been eating the same breakfast every day for seven years. What’s the story here?

Liz Fosslien
I have. Yes. The breakfast is seven mini-scoops of non-fat plain Greek yogurts and then a granola bar that I crush into it.

It started as morning is my most productive time and so I just wanted to remove as much decision making from my morning routine. I just wanted to be able to know what I was going to do and then immediately sit down and kind of let all the ideas that had been going around in my brain out onto the computer page. But now it’s a really nice source of emotional support too when I’m travelling or just when life is getting really hectic; it’s just nice to always have the same breakfast.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s review. What’s the brand of Greek yogurt?

Liz Fosslien
Trader Joe’s. I’ve done-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes.

Liz Fosslien
I’ve done a blind taste test because people have questioned my loyalty and I get a perfect score every time, so it’s – I think it’s by far the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I agree that it is excellent and it’s a good price. Which amount of fat? Is it the zero and then there’s the two and then there’s the full.

Liz Fosslien
Yes, I do zero. I tried the two and the full, but I thought it just tasted so good that I ended up eating a lot for breakfast, so yeah, I go non-fat.

Pete Mockaitis
How about the granola bar?

Liz Fosslien
It’s LUNA Bar.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I love them.

Pete Mockaitis
I got into this weird debate with someone about whether LUNA bars were made for women.

Liz Fosslien
I think they are, but I don’t really know beyond that being somewhere on the labeling why they’re made for women.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, they’re delicious and I’m a man and so-

Liz Fosslien
They’re definitely delicious. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular LUNA Bar flavor that you’re working with?

Liz Fosslien
It was the Nuts over Chocolate and then Trader Joe’s discontinued stocking that flavor, so since then I’ve been doing the lemon.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve also learned that Trader Joe’s is your go-to shopping location or grocery spot.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, it’s there. It’s convenient. They have samples. I’m not being paid by Trader Joe’s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I love Trader Joe’s and I just wish they could deliver to us because we get most of them delivered.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess we’re too far away from the nearest Trader Joe’s, but when we go we end up stocking up and it’s usually in the frozen section like their chicken tikka masala and their chana masala.

Liz Fosslien
Oh, so good. Yeah. Yeah. So easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, I ask the hard-hitting questions here on How to be Awesome at Your Job, so I’m glad we’ve got that settled. Now tell us, you’ve got a book, No Hard Feelings, coming out. What’s the story here?

Liz Fosslien
The story is the book’s central idea is just that emotions are inevitable, so we should probably learn how to deal with them. It doesn’t sound that revolutionary on the surface, but I think there is a long-standing tradition in the workplace, this idea that you should check your feelings at the door. That is biologically impossible. We’re emotional creatures regardless of the circumstances.

By suppressing our emotions, we actually miss out on what could be really useful signals. The idea between No Hard Feelings is that you – take for example envy.

With envy, which is one of my favorite examples of something that might be thought of as a hard feeling, is actually really useful information that’s contained within that. I think there is some stigma around if you’re jealous of someone, people might worry that that turns into bitterness and it often does.

But if you just let yourself sit with that, you might realize that you’re envious of a certain person because they have something that you really desire. Then that can help you figure out how to channel your energy and where you might want to go with your career.

We talked to Gretchen Rubin, who’s lovely and she wrote The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies. She said when she was a lawyer and kind of thinking about what she wanted her next career move to be, she was reading about alumni from her school.

When she read about someone who had an amazing law career, she found it interesting. But when she read about people who had amazing writing careers, she said became like sick with envy. That to her was this really clear signal that maybe she should try pursuing a career in writing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s funny, when you say envy I think of it in like a sinful context, like, “They don’t deserve that. Why them?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I think a lot of emotions have this stigma around them. Again, I’m not endorsing that if you’re envious you should walk up to someone like, “I’m envious of you.” It’s more just if you hold these emotions that we think of as bad and that should be always thrown in the trash, if you instead hold them up to the light and inspect them, you might find something really useful in there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Then this notion that we’ve all got emotions and they can’t go away even if it’s quote/unquote unprofessional or whatnot.

Boy what do we do with that in a context or culture, environment where you’re sort of not supposed to express that you’re angry at your boss for doing something that inconvenienced you or made your life difficult or you are sad that this thing that you poured your heart and soul and so much time into is getting scrapped and going nowhere. What should we do?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I think something that might be a relief to people who are uncomfortable expressing emotions or in offices where maybe it isn’t as accepted to express emotions, is that there’s a lot you can do internally first. I think the very first thing when you’re experiencing a hard feeling is to try and understand the need driving that emotion.

Last year I was managing a design project and I found myself a few days ahead of the deadline just getting irritated with everyone I was working with. When I kind of went to my office and closed the door and sat by myself and thought about it, no one was doing anything that was super irritating. I really liked the people I was working with.

I realized that I was just irritable because I was extremely anxious about meeting that deadline. The need driving that anxiety was that I just wanted to make sure that we had the structures in place to meet the deadline.

We had a team meeting and kind of went over what the plan was over the next few days and ended up cutting a few things because we just wanted to make sure the core product was impeccable. I felt so much better and suddenly I wasn’t irritable anymore. I think a lot of the work is just what is the need driving this hard feeling.

Then I’ll say the second thing that’s really useful is in some cases to flag hard feelings in a way where you’re talking about your emotions without getting emotional about it. There are days when you’re going to have just a bad day and there maybe isn’t anything you can do about the need driving it. Maybe you’re just generally blue that day or it’s a personal issue that you can’t fix immediately.

In that case, people are going to pick up on the fact that you’re having a bad day, especially a leader, like your emotions have an outside impact on the people around you. If you don’t say anything, you’re just going to cause all this unnecessary anxiety.

Imagine we work together, I walk into an office. I just seem a little subdued. I’m not really responding that quickly or my responses are really short and curt. It’s super likely that you imagine that I’m upset with you or that you’ve done something bad or even worse case, you’re going to get fired. But if I instead say to you, “Hey, I’m having a bad day. It has nothing to do with you, but just want to let you know if I seem a little off, it’s fine. It’s just I have some stuff going on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Liz Fosslien
I’m not going into detail, but you now get it. I think it also gives you the opportunity to treat me with a little more empathy, so we’ve really done a lot for our relationship without me breaking down, saying that much, oversharing. It’s just that little flag that is so crucial.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so helpful. I remember once I was consulting and there was a partner. We were talking about I don’t even know what, but he said something about his anxiety and that he gets it from his mother. I thought, “Ahh.” I was just so relieved, just like, “Man, whenever I’m around you I just feel like we’re screwing something up.” It’s like, “No, you just tend to be anxious and that’s sort of been that way your whole life and I can chill out a little bit.” It was like, “Ahh, what a relief.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, it doesn’t require crazy teambuilding thing. It wasn’t like a retreat. It was just one comment.

I think putting structures into place when you’re working with people, where you maybe just go around at the beginning of a team project and everyone answers really quickly what are some things you should know about me, what are some things that have come up in the past that people felt when I was on a team with them, what do sometimes people misunderstand about me. Just quickly answering those and having everyone do it, maybe half an hour, can save so much grief and avoid so much strife.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to dig into what you said about the spreading of emotions. We had a previous guest, Michelle Gielan, and her book Broadcasting Happiness talked about it’s not so much the person who has the most intensely positive or most intensely negative emotion, so much as the one who is most expressive in terms of what’s showing up in that kind of spread.

How should we think about our spreading of emotions and maybe defending ourselves from the spread of something we’d rather not catch?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. The spreading of emotions psychologists call emotional contagion. It happens when we’re in person. I think like you said, this person you worked with was really anxious. I’m sure that you fed on that anxiety and found yourself often becoming anxious around that person. It also happens over text messages. If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone and they suddenly just start responding like, “Sure period,” “Kay, period,” you become stressed.

Humans we just pick up on these signals and start to mirror each other’s emotions. If someone is really stressed or anxious or even they are expressing that and they’re coming to you and they’re venting a lot, I think one of the easiest things to do if you can is just to keep physical distance.

MIT professor Thomas Alan found that people are four times more likely to communicate regularly with a coworker who sits 6 feet away as opposed to one who sits 60 feet away. If you’re in an open office space or if you have some flexibility to move around and someone just seems to be in a really difficult position, it’s okay to kind of separate yourself a little bit to preserve your emotional state.

Another tip that we give in the book that I really like is if someone’s consistently coming to you with the same problem, try and push them towards action. Something you can say is like, “Well, what could you have done differently?” or “What can we do to fix this situation?”

Just one question kind of forces them to – one it helps them because maybe they just have been so bogged in venting that they’re not thinking proactively anymore and two, it really does a nice job of gently shutting down the negativity. I think it’s really about putting a stop on the negativity and then also forming a little bubble in whatever way you can.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I want to dig now a bit into you mentioned different emotions can be providing us with sort of signal information. I remember, boy, back in the day I read – it was a Tony Robbins book, Awaken the Giant Within. What a title. He even had a whole chapter where he was like this emotion can mean this, like guilt means you have violated one of your core values.

It’s like, in a way it seemed kind of elementary, but at the same time when you’re in the heat of your emotions, it can be nice to just make it real simple. Okay, what can be going on here? Can you give us a little bit of the ‘if this, then that’ recipe book in terms of how we might go about decoding the signal from different emotions?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, so two that I really like. One is if you think about – let’s say you’re making a decision and not doing or choosing one option over the other fills you with regret. I think this is also not groundbreaking. But you should maybe think about why you feel so much regret or why it hurts so much to give up one option.

I say this because I think when it comes to decision making, especially around work, there is again this idea of – I think people come down really strongly, either always listen to your gut or never listen to your gut. There’s some useful emotions and some emotions that aren’t useful, but regret is usually very useful. That’s an important one to listen to.

When I was thinking about taking a new job or staying at my existing job, when I thought about not taking the new job, I felt a lot of regret, so I realized that I was excited at the challenge and I didn’t want to give that up.

The other thing I felt was fear. I think fear can often be a really important signal around maybe you just really want this. I’m often the most fearful when I’m emailing someone that I admire. When we were writing the book, we interviewed a lot of people. I found that writing emails to people whose books I love, like I would put Gretchen Rubin in this camp or Daniel Pink, who wrote Drive and then just came out with the book When. It was – I was so afraid of emailing them.

I realized that I shouldn’t put off those emails because I was afraid. It was just I thought it would be so amazing if these people – if I could speak to them and learn more about them and kind of get to know them. The fear there was just a signal that this was really important to me. Instead of avoiding it, I should just put some more thought into how I went forward.

Pete Mockaitis
So both the fear and regret are pointing to what’s important to you. On the regret side, you’re sort of imagining a scenario in which you have chosen one thing or forsaken another and sort of observing the emotional response.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I think it can be incredibly illuminating into kind of how you’re feeling because your brain is doing all this calculation and then sometimes what it spits out is a feeling.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I think about that fear in terms of emailing folks who have a real impact perhaps on your fate and then there’s fear and then that fear sometimes knee-jerk reaction is just to oh, do something else instead of maybe asking a better question might be “What could I put in this email that would make it all the more compelling and engaging and answerable?” as opposed to “What else am I going to do?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I’ve actually started using fear as a way to prioritize my to-do list in the morning. When I think about – I have just a running list with everything I need to do. In the past I found that I kept falling into this trap of just going to the easiest stuff first. Sometimes that was organize my desk. Organizing your desk is important, but it’s not going to move your career forward in a meaningful way, unless you’re a very, very disorganized person.

What I would do is look at this list and then I would identify the three things that I was most afraid of doing or just had the most emotional resistance around. It usually meant it was because they were hard or they were important. Those are the things that I would do first if it did seem to bear out that these are really important things to me. Then I would leave kind of the little stuff for later in the day when research shows that our productivity starts to wane, we’re less able to focus.

Really, again, I think it’s just a great example of you’re afraid of sending that email, maybe that’s the thing you should spend your morning focusing on doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. Since you have been there, done that many a time when it comes to “I’m afraid of this email. It’s high stakes. I want to send it out. I’ve got to make sure it’s right.” What have you found to be some of the best practices particularly in sending emails that you fear that get them responded to?

Liz Fosslien
I think one is just to write like a human being. I think that especially earlier in my career I definitely did this, put people off and get into business mode, which is like, “To whom it may concern, I am deeply passionate about,” whatever. That might be true, but just I think having some personality show through makes it – it reads more naturally. It doesn’t feel so much like a form letter, like someone is pitching you on something.

I’d say that’s one of the most important things, which also ties into a nice piece of advice that we have in the book, which is just always emotionally proofreading your emails, so trying to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.

Something that I have done before with really important emails is I think so often when we find a typo or we find something we could have fixed immediately after we hit send. A way to avoid that is to write an email and then send it to yourself. That forces you to actually click on it and open it and read it.

I think that helps literally put yourself into the recipient’s shoes. Then it becomes clear as you do that, “Okay, what could be better? Where could I put in more specific example? What information is missing? How am I coming across?” I think really just having – putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes goes a long way.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s really cool. I’m sort of imagining myself doing that and trying to get some even extra distance, like I’ll take a little walk and then return to it. It’s like, “Oh, what do you know? I’ve got an email from Pete. Let me take a look. What do you know?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, yeah. I love that. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I actually – this idea for sending it to myself came from – Mollie is my coauthor. We wrote the book together. There are eight chapters and we split them up into four chapters each and each did the initial draft and then we swapped the draft.

Mollie called me after a while and she told me that my emails were making her feel really bad. I was surprised because I thought that I had been responding in a really fast manner. I was giving her great tips on what we needed to change, what should be edited, what wasn’t working. But then she said, “Why don’t you just read one of the emails you’ve written to me from my perspective.”

I did that and basically what I was sending her were just long bullet point lists of all the things I thought needed to be better in the chapter. Nowhere in that email was like, “Thanks for taking a stab at this. Here’s what I really liked.” That emotional proofing, all of that was in my head, but I had never put it in the email. Mollie has no idea what’s in my head, so she was just getting these walls of critical feedback.

I think that really helped me understand, “Oh, I need to take some of the stuff that’s in my head and put it in the email because it is relevant, it is important and she’s not a mind reader. I can’t – I need to step away from only focusing on efficiency.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very well said. I think sometimes it’s impressive just how fast it came. That’s a quick thing you can say is like, “Wow, great job on a quick turnaround. You’re really cranking through some words this morning,” and then that makes me feel good, like, “Well, yes, thank you. I was cranking on some words this morning. I appreciate that.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about the feedback point there. Feedback is boy, emotionally rife or rich, shall we say, in terms of both on the giving side and the receiving side. If you talk to managers behind closed doors, they’ll admit they’re sometimes terrified to give feedback to their direct reports. Certainly on the receiving side, feedback can make you defensive or angry. How do you think about feedback and what are some of the best practices for giving and receiving it well?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, so I’ll start with giving feedback. I think really the way to come at it is to consider how do I give feedback that doesn’t pack a really painful punch. Great feedback allows the recipient to more quickly move past this inevitable defensive reaction and move on to determination and action. To that end we really encourage people to do three things.

The first is just focus on specific behavior. When we give vague feedback, it’s so easy for the recipient – first of all, they don’t know what to do with it. It’s much easier for them to ruminate on it and just think and think and then it becomes this big issue that more and more seems like an attack on their entire sense of self.

As an example, if I say to you, let’s say you send me an email and I give you feedback. The first is, “This email just could have been better. I think it missed the mark,” versus “The second sentence in your email was a little repetitive. I think it’s unnecessary and you should delete it to be a little more succinct.”

It’s so easy. You just delete the second sentence and go about your day. Whereas the first when I say, “It just missed the mark. It wasn’t good,” it’s much easier to go home and be like, “Oh my God, it wasn’t good. What do I do? I don’t know how to improve, so what else isn’t good.” Again, it’s about reducing unnecessary anxiety.

The second tip that I really love is present feedback in a way where it’s about building the person up. A great way to communicate that is just to start with saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations of you and I’m confident that you can reach them.” That immediately puts them on “I’m here to help. This is advice. I’m not here to tear you down. I’m not here to make you feel bad.”

Then the last thing is just really trying to understand. I think this goes back to the earlier point about taking the time to figure out how do people like to work with each other and how to they like to receive feedback. I love feedback. I love it in the moment. I just always want people to be telling me how I can improve.

Mollie, for example, that makes her really uncomfortable. She would always rather receive it over email and then have some time to think through it and also process her initial emotional reaction. If I’m just spitting feedback at her, I’m going to make her feel bad because I’m operating around how I want to be treated as opposed to how Mollie wants to be treated.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. I like that actionable piece. I think about reviews in particular. How sometimes it’s just so vague, like, “Be more professional.” That’s one thing I loved about consulting at Bain was that the reviews, well, boy, they were extensive like five pages single spaced like every three to six months.

My ‘be more professional’ would be like, “Pete would sometimes use language such as ‘cool beans’ or ‘word’ in front of the clients and these word choices don’t convey as much of a professional demeanor.” It’s like, fair enough. I can see where you’re coming from there. That’s way more actionable, “Don’t say ‘word’ or ‘cool beans’ to a client until you’re really chummy,” than “Be more professional.” What does that even mean ‘be more professional?’

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, just thinking about what can you do to really help this person and ‘be more professional’ is just not that helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Then how about on the receiving side of things?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, we like to say that you need feedback to improve. If no one is ever criticizing you, if no one’s telling you what you’re doing wrong, you’re never really going to set yourself up for success because everyone has areas that they could be improving on. You want to make it awesome for people to come to you with hard feedback. I think the best way to do that is to be able to regulate your initial defensive reaction.

One thing is just keep reminding yourself that you need critical feedback to improve. Again, from the other side see it as this person trying to help you. A friend is going to tell you that you have spinach in your teeth. A non-friend is not going to tell you because it’s uncomfortable. It might hurt your feelings. There’s going to be this awkward moment. Really try and see it as this person is here to help me.

Another thing is to use the word ‘what’ instead of ‘any.’ People, I find, often say like, “Do you have any feedback for me? Is there anything I could be doing differently?” It’s really easy for people to respond to that with, “No, I thought it was good.” But if I instead say, “What are two things I could have done better?” it’s hard to say, “Ah, nothing.” People usually can come up with one or two things. Phrasing the question can invite feedback in a different way.

Then my final piece of advice I’ll give here that I really love is keeping, we call it a smile file, but it’s essentially a folder, that can be digital or physical, where you just keep – it can be a folder in your inbox, where when you get feedback or someone thanks you for doing something or says something really nice about you, you save all of that to a folder.

Then when you receive critical feedback, you can go back to that folder and remind yourself of all the things you do well. Then you’re better able to see the criticism as one data point in the entire picture of who you are. It’s like, “I need to work on this, but it’s not devastating because there’s all these other things that I am doing well.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that. That reminds me of when I was in college and I was feeling a little shaken in my confidence because I think I was rejected from all these clubs I tried to get into as a freshman. It was like, “What the heck? I was Mr. High Achiever in high school. What’s the deal here?”

I made a little notebook in terms of all the things that I sort of achieved or sort of gotten great feedback on. Sure enough, you make a big list of 100 plus things, you’re like, “Well, damn. These are minor setbacks. I’m going to find my place real soon here. It’s all good.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I think it’s so nice to have that to go back to. Again, whatever works for you. I have a folder in my inbox, where I’ll just put a nice email in there. Then even when I’m not receiving critical feedback sometimes it’s still nice to just go back and be like, “Oh, I did some cool things.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m going to put you on the spot Liz. Can you share a favorite bit of feedback or accomplishment that consistently brings a smile to your face and gets you in a good place?

Liz Fosslien
Yes. The book is also illustrated and I drew the illustrations, so they’re-

Pete Mockaitis
They’re really fun.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. Some of them kind of show the research or communicate an idea and then some are just meant to be light-hearted.

It’s not specific, but I think when people email me, I also have them on our website and then on Instagram. I’ll get comments from time to time especially around illustrations about anxiety and feeling stressed about work or feeling overwhelmed at times and normalizing that and saying everybody feels like this.

I’ve gotten comments from people saying, “I struggle with anxiety especially in the workplace and just knowing that you feel the same has made me feel so much better.” That is really meaningful to me I think connecting with people on that level and realizing that a little stick figure can have a profound impact on someone’s mood is incredibly motivating and lovely to hear.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very lovely. You’re bringing back memories for me. I think my favorite from a listener was “Every day an episode comes out, I make sure to wake up early so I can listen to it twice.”

Liz Fosslien
Oh, that’s so nice. I feel like I just got a warm glow from that ….

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you listener.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, that’s ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Now we’re both smiling. That’s good. Well speaking of smileys and emojis, how’s that for a segue?

Liz Fosslien
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to communicating digitally, that’s tricky because you don’t have the facial expressions, the tone and all that. If we’re texting and emailing and Slacking – not skipping work, but using Slack as a communication channel – then how do we communicate in these digital ways with regard to this emotional piece of things?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. The first thing I would say is when you’re first getting to know someone, don’t just rely on digital communication. If I get a short email from my mom, whatever. We have a good relationship. We’ve know each other for 30 plus years. It’s fine. I’m not going to read into it.

If I’m working with someone new, that’s kind of all the information I’m going on, so I’m going to read a lot more into that email. That’s generally bad because digital communication is lacking in so many non-verbal cues that are really important in communicating actually your meaning and your feelings.

I would just always advise, start with video calls. Even just get on the phone if you can so you can hear tone of voice, cadence, how fast someone is speaking. These are all really important emotional signals.

Then the second is again, it just goes back to really trying to be as explicit as possible to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Let’s say that I’m a manager and I email one of my reports because I’m in a rush, I just say, “Hey, got your email. Let’s talk tomorrow.” That’s horrifying to receive as a report. If my manager sent me that, I’d be really anxious.

By I might have just meant, “Hey, I thought this was really good. There’s a few minor edits, but I can give them to you tomorrow,” but that does such a different thing for the recipient, so really being explicit.

Then the last thing I’ll say is that just typos communicate a lot of emotion. We liken them to just emotional amplifiers. Let’s say I send an email and I’m just slightly upset about something, but it’s filled with typos. Let’s say I send this to Mollie, my coauthor.

When she reads it, she’s going to see the typos and she’s going to imagine me banging away at my computer in a blind rage and not even caring about typos whatsoever. She’s going to perceive it as really angry when maybe I just meant it as “Hey, here’s this small thing that kind of upset me a little bit.” Just paying attention to these really small things that have big effects on how people perceive your email.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing when you call it an emotional amplifier. I guess can it work in a positive way if you think something is excellent and you’ve got some typos, like “Wow, he was so overwhelmed with joy and enthusiasm for my work product that he is blurting it out all over the keyboard.”

Liz Fosslien
Definitely. I think – immediately comes to mind is text messages when you share really exciting information. Then you get back like a ‘OMGQ exclamation point.’ The Q, it does convey you were just so excited to respond to me that you didn’t care about the typo.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Well, now I’m tempted to do it deliberately, but then I’m like oh, is that inauthentic? Is that deceitful?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, you have to use this information for good, not for evil.

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

Liz Fosslien
I would say one last thing is just I really am a fan of the concept of selective vulnerability. I think more and more people are asked to be authentic, to be vulnerable around each other and it can be confusing to understand what does that even mean. How vulnerable can I be? If I am going through something and I’m really stressed about it, how much of that should I share?

We encourage people share, again, talk about your emotions without getting emotional, but then in a work context, it’s still important, especially if you’re a leader, to follow that up by painting the most realistic but optimistic picture of something.

Again, let’s say that there’s a round of layoffs. If you as a leader don’t show any emotion, people are going to think you’re a robot. Obviously, this is affecting you in some way. But you also don’t want to be standing in front of your employees having a panic attack.

One thing you would do is “I know this is a stressful time. I am feeling it as well, but we are making changes on our end to make sure that we’re going to be in a good position and that we won’t go through this again. We’re also working with people who are laid off to do X, Y, Z.” Just sharing information that provides some hope for people, but also not making them feel alone in their emotional state.

Things are going to be hard at work. It’s normal to be affected by them. I think if we don’t acknowledge that, we risk – we’d lose trust. There’s no trust anymore.

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

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I really like it’s a small mindset shift, but it’s “Any time you find yourself saying ‘I have to do something,’ instead try saying, ‘I get to do something.’”

I am sometimes nervous about public speaking events or about just giving a presentation in front of people. I will often the night before find myself just thinking, “Why did I do this to myself? I’m so scared. I have to do this presentation tomorrow.”

And taking a movement and just saying, “I get to do this presentation. This is a cool opportunity for me. I get to share what I’ve been working on. Maybe someone will respond to it in a way that makes me feel good. Maybe someone will be so interested in it that we have fascinating conversation that deepens our bond also on a personal level.”

A lot of things that we’re afraid of, again, are opportunities. We fear them because there’s a big potential upside, so always reminding ourselves of that. I think that ‘I have to’ switching to ‘I get to’ is a really simple way of doing that.

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

Liz Fosslien
Yes. My favorite study is out of Baylor University. They found that emotions can go viral. Earlier I mentioned that concept of emotional contagion, where we catch each other’s emotional emotions. They found that emotions can spread from one office to another. It works like this.

I come home from work and I’ve had a really bad day because I’ve just been sitting next to someone who is incredibly stressed and I have not successfully wrapped a little nice bubble around myself. I come home and I’m really grumpy towards my partner. We get in a fight and then we go to bed angry. He wakes up the next morning and he’s irritated. He goes into his office and now he spreads that among all his coworkers. This happens.

I think that’s just a fascinating look at how important it is to have some kind of emotional flak jacket and to learn the skills to protect yourself but also to create a great environment for the people around you.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Liz Fosslien
Oh, I’m going to go with Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock, who led HR at Google for ten years. I think their people analytics department is fascinating. They do a really interesting and fun job of quantifying a lot of things around emotions, so what makes a manager good, what makes a good team good, and putting numbers and real experiments behind that I think.

It’s also useful for skeptics around emotions to say, no, here’s quantitative data showing why it is important to make people feel safe throwing out ideas or taking risks.

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

Liz Fosslien
Favorite tool. Is this an emotional tool or an app tool?

Pete Mockaitis
It could be either or both. I’m intrigued. I mean just something that you use regularly.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I would say just flagging how I’m feeling. I know I mentioned this before, but it’s just so useful. Also, I actually use this a lot in my personal life too. I think just any interpersonal thing, just flagging for someone, “I’m a little grumpy.” I done a lot like, “Hey, traffic was really bad today. I need half an hour to get over it,” or like, “I haven’t had coffee. I didn’t sleep well. Feeling a little grumpy right now. Maybe let’s talk in 20 minutes.” It’s just so, so useful, so I’m just going to bring it up twice in this interview.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite habit?

Liz Fosslien
Besides breakfast, I think taking photographs of things. I do a lot of design work, so taking photographs of things I find inspiring.

I will broaden that to say if you just see someone setting an example or doing something really well and you want to emulate it, writing it down in some kind of file or a journal. I think you can screenshot. If someone writes an email that makes you feel really good or you think was really well done, screenshot it and save it somewhere. Just always being aware of the lessons that are out there and keeping them in a file so that you can refer back to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Liz Fosslien
Just that we all have feelings. I definitely experienced this. My parents are stoic, academic immigrants, so I grew up in a pretty emotionally unexpressive household, so just this concept around permission. You are going to have feelings. It’s okay. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a flaw. I think that – which maybe is a little sad – but I think it’s really useful to hear that. It can make people feel a lot less isolated wherever they are.

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

Liz Fosslien
I’m going to point them to our website, LizAndMollie.com. Mollie is spelled M-O-L-L-I-E not M-O-L-L-Y. They can preorder the book, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, at your local independent book seller, wherever books are sold.

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

Liz Fosslien
Acknowledge your emotion. Next time you feel strongly, sit down, maybe journal about it, and really think about why you might be feeling that way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, thanks so much for sharing the good word and good luck with the book, No Hard Feelings, and all you’re up to.

Liz Fosslien
Thank you so much. This was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

395: How to Learn Faster with Andrew Geant of WyzAnt

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WyzAnt CEO and Founder Drew Geant discusses the best and worst ways to learn, particularly when engaging a tutor one-on-one.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most in-demand hard and soft skills
  2. When you should consider engaging in one-on-one lessons
  3. How to give and receive good feedback

About Andrew

Andrew Geant is co-founder and CEO of WyzAnt, which brings the proven impact of personalized learning to all learners via the largest tutoring marketplace and community. WyzAnt has one of 75,000 tutors available within 10 miles of 97% of the US population offering their services in-person and online. Drew co-founded WyzAnt in 2005 with his Princeton classmate, Mike Weishuhn. Today, WyzAnt has 80 employees in offices in Chicago and San Francisco.  With now over 2 million tutors and students that have used the platform, the company was bootstrapped with just $10,000 and has been cash flow positive since inception.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Andrew Geant Interview Transcript

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

Drew Geant
Yeah, thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m happy to have you too. Could you first orient us a little bit? Your company, Wyzant – thank you for telling me at last how it’s pronounced. My curiosity is satisfied. What does it do?

Drew Geant
Yeah. Wyzant is an online tutoring marketplace. We have about 75,000 tutors across hundreds of different subject areas. We help match up those tutors with learners who meet with the tutors one-on-one. It used to be in person. Now it’s all happening online or the vast majority of it through our online platform. You can picture a video chat, virtual whiteboard, a bunch of other tools that create this really rich online learning experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. I’ve been dying to – this is sort of fun – to get your take on this because back in the day, previous podcast guest, Muhammed Mekki, brilliant guy. We were both into education and had sort of the entrepreneurial streak. We got to talking one day and ended up creating this little offering and company we called Tutor Trail.

Drew Geant
Nice.

Pete Mockaitis
The principle was it was also online tutoring, specifically for math. The angle we were going for is it would be super affordable, like 20 dollar an hour sessions. The way that was working financially was we had folks in maybe India, Pakistan, Philippines, who are paid less than sort of the US minimum wage and be okay with it.

Drew Geant
Sure, geographic arbitrage. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
If you will, yeah.

Drew Geant
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
It was cool. We got it working in terms of okay, we’ve got some platform, we’ve got some people, who’ve got skills and are reliable and can execute some good experiences. We had a few students try it out and they were having some good times. But the challenge that we ran into is that we had zero revenue and customers.

Drew Geant
Well, revenue and customers are important. Right, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It was so perplexing to us. We thought okay, people are paying for tutoring. Okay, check. This is a great price and people like saving money. Why the heck isn’t this thing seem to be gaining any traction taking off? I figured if anyone would have a great speculative answer it would be you. Where did we go wrong?

Drew Geant
Oh man, the name of the game is – well, you have to have a great product, which sounds like you guys had a good product, and all that good stuff. It’s a big marketing challenge for sure. Unfortunately if you build it, they will not come. You need to figure out how to get it out to the market. What were you guys doing for marketing?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we had a friend who was a superintendent, so we said, “Hey,” we started chatting there. We were – I went to a conference about No Child Left Behind.

Drew Geant
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
We said how can we get the government dollars.

Drew Geant
Yeah, totally. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
With the program there. Turns out there’s a lot of hoops. You’ve got to be kind of established before you can get those dollars. Yeah, we were sort of telling our friends and family and putting the word out, a little bit of Facebook ads. It wasn’t a huge push. We didn’t have funding. We parted with I believe fewer than $3,000 total, which is a great way to fail in a startup if you’re going to.

Drew Geant
Right, right. Yeah man, it’s a tough space. There’s been people – it’s super fragmented as you probably know. There’s plenty of individuals who hang a shingle and that’s great. You can start your own business and do your own marketing. There’s plenty of – there’s brick and mortars. There’s plenty of the online tutors in India and Pakistan. That model exists as well. It’s just crowded and you have to figure out how to differentiate yourself.

For us, we’ve always spent a lot of time on online marketing. I’ve gotten pretty sophisticated there. That’s been a big angle for us. But back in the day, when you’re talking about super early stage, it was pounding the pavement, it was signs on telephone poles, it was – we would literally stand outside a school and directly solicit the parents. We would do anything required to get those first few customers.

Then once we got the marketplace with a certain amount of activity and volume, it began to have some amount of organic growth. But getting it started is the toughest part for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We talk about a crowded market place, well, most of our listeners are not founders looking to create a business at least right away.

Drew Geant
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But I think there’s a great lesson there associated with how did you think of what made you unique, distinctive, and the place to go if you wanted tutoring as opposed to those other options?

Drew Geant
There were a few problems we were trying to solve from the outset.

One was price, which we talked about, and really from the tutors’ perspective in particular. If you’re a tutor and you want to go work for a tutoring company back in 2005 when we started, they would probably bill you out at $50 and pay you $15 to $20. That felt a little bit off. We said there’s got to be a better way to – there’s got to be a way to invert that using the internet. That was one problem we set out to solve.

Another one was we had this belief from the very beginning that it was the match between the student and the tutor that really mattered, so what we did was we created these really robust tutor profiles and search capabilities, such that you could really find the perfect fit. That I think continues to prove to be the right sort of way to create the most value is getting that – dialing in that fit.

Today it’s done algorithmically and there’s a lot of data behind it. Those are some of the differentiating factors for us.

[6:00]

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Perfect fit sounds huge. I remember we had a previous guest, Steve Ritter, was saying that there’s some really compelling research that if you’re working with some sort of professional for an intervention, be it a coach or a mentor or a trainer or you name it, counselor, it’s like the fit and rapport between learner or client and provider accounts for just like a substantial proportion of whether or not this thing is going to be successful and deliver what they aspire to deliver.

Drew Geant
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re thinking in the professional context often it may skew a little bit more toward mentoring, although I’m sure we’ll talk about the actual tutoring that happens among adults as well, but it’s all about that. You have to have trust. There has to be accountability. You have to be able to have really sharp communication, be able to give honest feedback, all those things that with a stranger, somebody that you don’t quite connect with, become a lot harder.

It’s crazy how these relationships get built and how strong they become. You see tutors will reach out to their students years later. Their relationship will still be an important part and birthday cards and the whole thing. It becomes very personal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well so that’s a bit of the story for how Wyzant came to be. I’m enjoying saying it correctly with confidence.

Now what I found rather surprising was that – so your publicist informed me, which is kind of how we got connected here, that adult learners, not high school, college students studying for the GRE or the ACT/SAT, but rather adult learners like me and listeners, are in fact now your largest segment of users of the platform. Is this true and how did it come to be?

Drew Geant
Yeah, it is true. It really happened in the last few years. To be honest, it was something that occurred naturally in the marketplace. We were surprised, to be honest, especially with sort of the higher education learner that we didn’t think would necessarily have the disposable income to invest in tutoring.

Then once we saw the growth in the adult learner, the career learner, that made a lot of sense to us once we stopped and looked at the broader trends of rescaling and upscaling that are going on with the knowledge economy and jobs getting more technical.

We got very excited about that and leaned into it and now that’s really where we want to take the business. We still support a lot of K-12 academic tutoring, but it turns out that we can have sort of an outsized impact for adult learners who are learning very specialized things because that’s what we do. Like I said before, it is really the match between the tutor and the student.

It’s very hard to find a tutor for some super specific technical skill or career-specific discipline. That’s where we’re I think the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well now you’ve got my wheels turning because I’m thinking about specialized skills. It seems like almost no one is familiar with how to use Google App Maker. Listeners if you know, talk to me. We’d like to make something.

That’s pretty cool. That’s what you’re seeing is it fair to say that it’s less about, “Hey, let me help you with your communication skills or your creativity,” and more about, “Okay, you want Perl, you PHP, you want C++, or a programming language,” more that sort of thing?

Drew Geant
Yeah. There are some soft skills. Presentation skills are a big one. Public speaking is a big one. But the vast majority are technical. I’ll sort of take through what we’re seeing in terms of the subjects.

The first is the computer programming languages like you just said. Also, a lot related to analytics, whether that’s basic Microsoft Excel or visualization tools like Tableau or machine learning and much more advanced analytics topics. We see a lot of software, so people want to learn how to use Salesforce, they want to learn how to use Adobe Creative Suite or AutoCAD.

Having somebody sit down with you, or in this case virtually, but walk though that, share your screen and help you with your project or just generally familiarize with the toolset and how to navigate the software is a perfect use case for 101 sort of tutoring.

We see language. ESL is a big one. People learning Spanish, Chinese for professional purposes. Let’s see, those are some of the biggies. Oh, the other one is professional licensing exams. Almost every career-

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like CPA.

Drew Geant
Right. Finance you have CPA, you have CFA, you have your series 7, 63, 24. That’s just finance. Teachers have to pass the … and the Praxis and nurses have to pass the NCLEX. Even if you want to be an online marketer, people want to become Adwords certified and Salesforce web developer certified. It just goes on and on. Again, perfect use case, have an expert help walk you through it. It can really shortcut your learning curve in a big way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. You said 75,000 tutors. It sounds like the odds are good that you’ll probably find someone who’s covering what you need covered. That’s pretty interesting.

Then financially – I guess well first tell me, what is sort of the situations that users find themselves in terms of like “Oh shoot, I need some help. I’ve got to go somewhere?” Is there a particular kind of a catalyst or prompt or inciting incident that gets you – get these folks saying “Oh boy, I need to hop on board and get some help?”

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s a really good question because there is. We’ve positioned ourselves and we’re quite happy to be sort of the support layer. People do come to us and say, “All right, I want to learn JavaScript from scratch,” and they start with a tutor, which is great too, but in most cases there’s some sort of struggle, some sort of – there are a lot of great self-directed learning tools out there from YouTube to Google to on and on.

We think that’s a great place to start, but some percentage of those people are going to get stuck. They’re going to reach an impasse. That’s the point in time mostly where we see they turn to us to get them back on track, to get the boost they need, and help get them unstuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Maybe even backing it up before they even embarked upon trying to learn these things. Are they going after just for the love of learning, like, “This is cool and fun and interesting,” or is like, “Uh oh, I’ve got a new role that’s freaking me out and I’m not ready for it?”

Drew Geant
Yeah, that’s actually a surprisingly common use case. We do customer research a lot and you see people get in over their head. They, “Yeah, I know how to do SQL and analytics,” and so they get hired for a job and they’re expected to know those things. Then they say, “Oh crap, I have this project. I don’t know how to do it. I’m not really comfortable going to ask my coworkers or boss because I said I know how to do this thing, so I’m going to go find someone out there that can help me,” which is great.

Sometimes it’s a bit more proactive, where somebody has their sights set on a new career or advancing within their current career and they know what they need to learn and maybe they’ve been trying to do it on their own and they need, like I said, a little extra support.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right, let’s say that if I were to meet up with a tutor to help me with some learning here, maybe it’s the Google App Maker that I’m after.

Drew Geant
That one seems to be on your mind right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it is just because I was looking at Upwork.com for some folks who could do it for me and I was like, there’s two people. Really? I’m accustomed to seeing hundreds and hundreds for anything I might want.

Drew Geant
You seem like the sort of guy, you want someone to teach you to fish though, right? You want to be able to get in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes and no. It’s fun. I really do love learning. It’s enjoyable and it kind of is a thrill. I feel sort of empowered and equipped in a cool way. But in practice it’s sort of like well, I’ve got to a lot of highly leveraged demands for my time that I’d probably – I would see more business results if someone else were doing this for me and I was elsewhere. But I would have fun doing it. Similarly with Photoshop. I’m not great at it, but it’s really fun.

Drew Geant
That’s fun. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, oh, I could play around with this for three hours and make it look okay or I could have a professional do it for 30 minutes and look excellent and I could do something else. Anyway, that is an ongoing internal challenge with me.

But let’s say I did want to learn the skill, what have you discovered are some best practices associated with folks. They’re engaging in the learner/tutor relationship and they’re after maximum improvement. What are some of the key things they need to make sure to do or not do?

Drew Geant
Certainly I would say on the front end invest in finding the right expert. Out whole product is designed around giving you the opportunity to interact and ask questions with a variety of tutors before making your decision, before making any sort of commitment or payment.

That’s really important because you’ve got to find someone not that just has the right skillset, but like we said before, that matches your learning style. We know everyone learns differently and every tutor teaches differently.

Beyond that, you do have to make a commitment. It’s not a silver bullet. It’s not 30 minutes of tutoring and you’re going to have a concept mastered. On average we see people using between 8 and 12 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Drew Geant
Yeah. It’s a lot, but you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars necessarily to get a lot of value out of a tutoring relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool because I recall from my Tutor Trail research back in the day that in order to show statistically significant gains above what they just expect for normal growth and coursework as you age, like, “Hey, now you’re halfway through fifth grade, so you should be smarter just from your classes,” like the minimum effective dosage, it was substantial, like it was well over 20 hours in terms of programs that could prove and show the results.

But in the context of a super specific professional skill, you’re saying you can get some real gains in 8 to 12 hours.

Drew Geant
Yeah. The skill is specific but also the intervention, if you will, or the actual dialogue is 100% personalized and customized for you. Here’s the exact thing in the app builder where I’m hung up, so you go right to it, whereas if you’re watching a video or taking a course or a class, there’s so much wasted time until you get to that part you need. A tutor comes in and you put your finger right on the issue where you’re struggling and you go from there. It’s very efficient in that sense.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. You said pick the right person and match your learning style. How do you think about the segmentation of learning styles?

Drew Geant
Yeah. We don’t profess to be the learning experts. Our whole approach is let’s get the experts and let’s help make them available and accessible to the learners. That being said, we know that a lot of students respond better to visual learning. When you look at our online platform, it’s designed with that in mind, where you can bring in diagrams, you can use the virtual whiteboard as a drawing tool, all that sort of thing.

There’s a lot that happens between the tutoring sessions. There’s this homework aspect of it. That’s a big aspect of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. I’ve seen that as I’ve done coaching that those who pursue their homework diligently in between sessions tend to – surprise, I learned this lesson from piano back in the day – they advance the quickest when they really make the time for the homework in between.

Drew Geant
Right, it’s sort of this back and forth, that ping pong game, where you have to wrestle with something on your own, then you go get the – the tutor comes in and sort of helps you tune it up and figure out where you’re doing well and not so well, then you go back and wrestle with it some more. You go back and forth is what we see happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Those are some of the best practices. What are some of the worst practices?

Drew Geant
The worst practices. Well, certainly – there’s a whole market around this, but we try to avoid it, which is “I have a test tomorrow” or “This is last minute.” Our tutors hate it because they know they’re not setting the student up – they’re not setting themselves up for success. “I have two hours and I need to learn all this material.”

You’ll actually see this when the tutors and students are interacting with one another. Tutors will say, “Hey, what are your goals? What’s your timeline?” They want to make sure that the student has realistic expectations. Give yourself plenty of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay, certainly. Plenty of time, that makes good sense. Anything else?

Drew Geant
Worse practices. To the use case before when you take a job and you act like you know stuff and you don’t and then you have to scramble to backfill your knowledge, I would suggest that that would not be a best practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. At the very least, start before they give you the offer. Or you get the offer before your first day of work, that interim window would be good before you’re found out. Okay, cool. Well, tell me, anything else you want to talk about learning, tutoring, one-on-one growth development, how it’s done well before we sort of shift into your favorite things?

Drew Geant
Yeah. As I’m thinking about the learner or the listeners who are all on their sort of learning journeys, we talk a lot about that among our employees, we have about 75 people, in terms of the culture we’re trying to create. In fact our number one core value at Wyzant is always be learning. We’ve dug into that a lot. For us it kind of breaks down into a few component pieces.

One is giving and receiving feedback is critical. It has to be direct, timely, and actionable. Another thing we talk a lot about and Karen Martin, who was on the show the other day, mentioned this – sort of the inverse of what we talked about.

In fact Karen Martin, who you had on the show a we days ago talked about this. She said people who act like they know everything and know all the answers or think they do is actually a form of arrogance.

The way we talk about it is sort of the opposite, which we say in order to learn you have to have some amount of humility. You have to be able to say, “I don’t know that. I don’t know how to do this. This is a bit out of my comfort zone.” That’s step one, which is a huge component.

We also talk a lot about learning from your mistakes and failures. We relate this back to our users, our tutors and our students as well. Some of the most high-impact time between a tutor and a learner is when the learner comes back with, let’s say in an academic sense, a bad test. What do you do? You got through every one you got wrong in detail and you learn from that.

We really preach that about a project that misses a deadline or an investment that doesn’t have the expected results. That’s okay. It’s going to happen. In fact, it’s going to happen more often than not, but the key thing is to go back through that and diagnose it and learn from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the feedback is a recurring theme on the show. I’d love to get your take in terms of how do you – you’ve given some perspectives for what makes feedback great in terms of it’s direct, it’s actionable and such. I’m wondering if feedback is not normative in a certain culture and it’s often not, how do you recommend folks make the request for it and keep it coming?

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to give really direct feedback sometimes. It’s hard to receive it sometimes. It really revolves around trust, so getting to know your coworkers, understanding sort of that – and giving them the benefit of the doubt that we’re all here because we have the same agenda, which is we’re trying to accomplish the company goals, we’re trying to advance. The way we do that is by helping each other.

Really framing it as we talk about it in terms of if you’re a team and you’re looking out for your teammate. This is a way to have your teammates back is by making sure that they – you’re sort of a second set of eyes and ears for one another.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good.

Drew Geant
I think that helps people sort of frame it as not this tough conversation or I’m criticizing somebody. It’s like, “No, I’m actually looking out for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to receiving it, how do you do it well?

Drew Geant
Again, I think it starts with you have to believe that it’s coming from a good place. The opposite of that obviously would be being defensive or whatever it may be. I think asking questions, like trying to really understand it, even if it doesn’t sound right at first, instead of going into defensive mode, “Help me understand that a little bit more. You said this once thing. Can you try saying it a different way?”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I think examples make all the difference. It’s a real shame if the only feedback that exists is what is on the annual review and it’s more perfunctory in terms of “Oh, I’m going to click these boxes and all done.” Not ideal. Word. Cool, anything else you want to share or shall we hear about some of your favorite things?

Drew Geant
Let’s go into favorite things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Away we go. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Drew Geant
Oh man. We have in large letters on our office wall a quote from Benjamin Franklin that resonates a lot with me, which is “Investment in knowledge pays the highest return.” Obviously we like to think that is true because that’s what our customers are investing in.

I think from my experience as a tutor, and I would imagine this is true from your experience as a coach, the one-on-one teacher and learner dynamic is just so powerful, especially when you get it right between the fit. I believe very strongly that that is the highest return.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is a fine quote by an authority. I’m sure I will place that somewhere in my future. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Drew Geant
In the academic tutoring context, there’s a study from the 1980s called Bloom’s Two-Sigma study. Have you ever heard of this?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard of Bloom. Is this the taxonomy person … Bloom?

Drew Geant
He’s done a variety of things. This particular study was comparing different types of learning. One of them was one-on-one. If you ask any academic researcher, they’ll all say this is sort of – it’s now accepted as a truth, that one-on-one tutoring is the most effective way to learn. In this case he proved two standard deviations above sort of the norm of other types of learning.

Now if you take that as a truth, you say, “Okay, if we know one-one-one tutoring is the best way to learn, fine. But how do we scale it?” Because it’s inherently expensive. There’s a person on the other side of this. You see a lot of different approaches in terms of using AI and they talk about tutor robots in the sky.

Our approach has been how do we make it more accessible, more affordable with real people? But it all comes back to that belief. I think that again is commonly universally accepted among academic folk that one-on-one tutoring is the best way to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Drew Geant
Favorite book. I thought you were going to ask me a business book, so I thought of a business book.

Pete Mockaitis
It can be business. It can be … book. Favorite business, favorite fiction. We can do it all.

Drew Geant
Well, a book we’ve been using a lot lately as we’re working through strategy is a book called Playing to Win. It gives you really nice actionable strategy framework, so I’d definitely recommend people check that out.

Pete Mockaitis
Now is that – I think I’m getting that mixed up with the Jack Welch book. Is that-?

Drew Geant
It’s not Jack Welch.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s-

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe … Winning is Jack Welch.

Drew Geant
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a little different.

Drew Geant
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. What are some of the provocative takeaways from that?

Drew Geant
Well it’s very simple. The first piece that is have a winning aspiration. That’s where you start. What does it mean to win? You sit back and you ask, “Well, of course we want to grow the business, but how are you going to know when you got there?” What is the outcome? They do a really good job of probing and make you realize, “Man, I don’t even know what we’re playing for.”

Then the second part is well, what’s your playing field? You get to define your own playing field, which is a cool concept. It’s like where are you going to complete, where are you strong, where are you not strong. It sort of goes through these five steps from there.

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

Drew Geant
A favorite tool. I’m a huge Google Suite user.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Maybe Google App Maker would enhance ….

Drew Geant
Right, right, right. Lots of docs and whatnot. The fact that all that stuff is obviously in the cloud and you can use your phone as – good and bad. You can access your work from anywhere. That’s a whole other conversation that I suppose is sort of where remote work is headed. Have you had people on the show talking about that?

Pete Mockaitis
A little bit. I’d say I don’t know if we have a consensus opinion on the future. Well, now you’ve got me intrigued. You got the answer, Drew? You’re going to lay it on us?

Drew Geant
No, I just think it goes back to what we’ve been talking about, about feedback and about learning. I think the technology is there to support it for sure now in terms of the tools, which is how we got on this topic, but you have to double down on things like feedback and communication. It becomes that much harder.

We’ve had some mixed experiences. We had an office in San Francisco that didn’t work out. But now we have a fairly flexible remote work policy that is working out. It’s not easy, but I think it’s doable in terms of accessing the best talent, which at the end of the day, your company is really just a sum of the talent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ll find the best talent in Chicago, right here.

Drew Geant
Yeah, even in Chicago, you live in Naperville, coming into the office every day, it’s a grind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that is far away. We did not buy a home in Naperville largely for that reason. Even though Naperville has got a lot going for it. ….

Drew Geant
Yeah. I didn’t mean to hit on Naperville.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely downtown.

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s wonderful.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a whole city and yet also a suburb.

Drew Geant
Yeah, if you’re commuting into Chicago, you spend a lot of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s see that was the tool. Can we talk about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Drew Geant
Favorite habit. I would say exercise. I’m not exactly-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks like you’ve got some guns. When you’re live in the studio.

Drew Geant
I’m not exactly a picture of fitness necessarily, but I think what that does for your mind is – just clearing your mind is a huge part of being able to get the most out of your day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular workout focus or time of day that you zero in on?

Drew Geant
Yeah, I have a very modest home gym.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Drew Geant
I try to do that in the morning before work.

Pete Mockaitis
That is one of my dreams for this home is turning our basement-

Drew Geant
I see a treadmill right here.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got a treadmill right here. I really do use it just about every day, especially when it’s snowy and nasty out in the winter. But, yeah, I hope to turn the laundry room into also a little home gym with a bench.

Drew Geant
Yeah, you don’t need much.

Pete Mockaitis
I think a squat rack is really what makes the difference between a true gym and a non-true gym. Even though I hate squats, but if I had my own rack I would do them more.

Drew Geant
I think as a general rule the more you hate it, it’s probably the better the exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh probably. It just takes it out of me and hurts the next day so much. That’s habit. How about is there a key nugget you tend to share with your team or others that really seems to connect, resonate, they quote it back to you often?

Drew Geant
A key nugget. One that we have some fun with that is sort of like I think we mean it when we say it, but we realize it’s not necessarily the most diplomatic was we often say, “Let’s not confuse effort with results.”

Sometimes you can deceive yourself into thinking all the activity is productive, but it kind of goes back to the winning aspiration, what are you actually trying to achieve, what are your goals, and is the activity actually moving you forward? It’s kind of like work smarter, not harder as well. Two things that we talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a great distinction not to confuse effort with results. I remember my buddy Ronny when he was doing some intense football training. He even wrote in huge letters “Effort equals results.” That might be true in the sense of if you push yourself harder in a physical training endeavor, so long as you recover wisely, then maybe effort equals results. But in sort of knowledge work, effort may or may not equal results and it may equal a smidge of results or 20 times that more per hour.

Drew Geant
Sure, absolutely. We bring it back to business too, our just conviction in tutoring and the impact and power of that form of learning is – you can be spending hours and hours and hours watching a video on YouTube. That’s not working smarter. Whereas we think for many cases, hire an expert, you’re going to get the results a lot faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. If folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Drew Geant
Wyzant.com, download the app. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn as well. It would be always fun to connect with folks.

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

Drew Geant
Just always be learning and recognize it’s hard. Learning is a hard thing, but it’s rewarding. Sometimes I think people shy away from it because it’s hard. It’s like, “Oh well, I must not be good at this thing,” but just know that that’s part of it. That’s what I think makes it worthwhile.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, Drew, this has been a ton of fun. Thank you and good luck. Hope you equip all the more adult learners in the years to come and keep on rocking.

Drew Geant
All right. Thanks.

394: De-Stressing Work with Better Language and Requests with Andrea Goeglein

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Workplace psychologist Andrea Goeglein shares how language impacts workplace stress and how to successfully ask for help from others.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key causes of workplace stress
  2. Two verbal habits that exacerbate workplace stress
  3. How to ask for help optimally

About Andrea

Often called a “Success Sherpa,” Andrea prides herself on carrying the information that nourishes her clients careers and personal success. She’s the Creator of the trademarked “Don’t Die” book series, which is licensed to the renowned publisher Hay House and served as Chairperson of Speaker Selection for TEDxUNLV.

Not only does Andrea Goeglein have the scientific knowledge that helps business leaders thrive, she has owned and operated several successful companies herself, including Evening Star Holdings, a hospitality operating business with $4 million in revenue and 60+ employees. Andrea also Founded the CEO Forum in Las Vegas, a senior executive think tank and boutique consulting practice.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Andrea Goeglein Interview Transcript

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

Andrea Goeglein
Thank you. I’m pleased to be here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear the story first of all about you were working in a Wall Street brokerage when you were 14 years old. How did that happen and what was it like for you?

Andrea Goeglein
Well, how it happened was a friend of one of my brothers called to offer him a few-day job during an Easter break. My brother wasn’t available. I said, “I can come in.” He said, “Well, just don’t tell them that you’re 14. Tell them that you’re 18,” so I did.

At the end of the few days everybody else was let go, but they asked me if I was interested in staying and working the rest of the break. Then offered me a summer job to which I said yes, except I had to tell them the truth. They said to me if I could get working papers, they would allow me to do the job because it was filing for a brokerage firm. I went and got working papers, which hang in my office today. I am as proud of that piece of paper as I am any master’s degrees or PhD that I have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I wasn’t aware the process associated with the 14-year-old acquiring working papers. How does that happen?

Andrea Goeglein
I was born and raised in Queens, New York. At the time, now remember this is 1970, as you went to – in order to get a social security card, they would give you a social security card, but for you to actually be employable, you could only work in certain categories. You couldn’t work with dangerous machinery and things of that nature. Filing punch cards at a brokerage firm wasn’t in the category of dangerous jobs, so I got to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that’s cool.

Andrea Goeglein
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve been working hard ever since.

Andrea Goeglein
And liking it. Everyone has their thing that becomes the thing that allows them to propel forward and to overcome various life adversities. For me it has always been being involved in business or working for a company, working with people. It has always been my joy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. I also want to talk about some things that may not be as joyful that is the stress that shows up at work. You’ve done quite a bit of research and writing on this subject. I’d love to get your take when it comes to stress, first of all, what are sort of like the top causes, the top culprits to pinpoint that make stress appear?

Andrea Goeglein
Well, if you ask those in workplaces, they will always give you a name of someone. What’s causing stress? There’s always a name associated with it.

But generally what it is, is a combination of the expectations we put on ourselves, what we think about those expectations, and then how we respond to the people that we are working for and with in our organizations. You put that whole little pile together and add commutes and family responsibilities and community responsibilities.

If you’re the owner of the business, the financial burden whether or not you will have a successful business but the fact that all of these people who are feeling stressed are actually your responsibility to make sure that their lives and their financial lives are in order. There’s a combination, but it really has to do with how we think and how we speak about the situation that really starts the ball of stress rolling.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples of ways we think of and speak of stress that make it proliferate versus keep it under control?

Andrea Goeglein
Sure. I call certain things talking in overwhelm. There’s a terminology that I stay away from known as crazy busy. You’ll meet someone and they are so proud of how crazy busy they are. Eh, not the best way to identify how you’re spending your days.

Why can’t you be happy busy? Why can’t you associate the fact that you are actually progressing and have lots of involvement to do with a word that is positive versus something that may be not so – that you may be seeing as a negative, that I’m crazy. If you speak overwhelm, you will be overwhelmed.

One of the very quick things to catch about the people around you is how they like to dramatize how many hours they’re working.

There was a time in my career where I worked for telecom companies and they were actually proud of the fact that they had maxed out their 100 message voice mail systems. I would go into meetings and people would be announcing the fact that – someone would say to someone, “Oh, I went to leave you a voice message and your voice box was full.” Then they would proceed to be really proud of how full that voice message was.

Pete Mockaitis
You just never clear it and you’ll fill it up no problem.

Andrea Goeglein
Thank you. And but it is also, it speaks to the culture of the organization and all of these little things that seem totally unrelated build a culture of mental stress because stress actually doesn’t exist until we put a name to it. It’s a response. It doesn’t exist until we create it. We create it with how we speak.

When you think about all the different ways that an organization and people within the organization do it, it starts with trying to stand out.

In a construction firm I was once associated with, people were proud of – there was like – I used to call it a game, but who made the coffee. They would start saying “Well, I was here at 4:30,” or “I was here at 5 o’clock.” Then I would have to put the damn towel and say “Did you achieve the goals? Did you meet the customer’s needs? Was the project brought in on time? That’s what you’re actually supposed to be measuring, not who makes the coffee first.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s intriguing view then. You’re saying that stress is not sort of an intrinsic reality. It’s like I’ve got a lot of expectations and responsibilities and I don’t know if I have the resources to accomplish them. You’re saying that’s not what produces stress, but it’s how we respond to that state of affairs.

Andrea Goeglein
I would clarify that a bit. Those things exist. The things that we mentally speak about as causing us stress do exist. We are asked to do a lot more with a lot less. When you go into an organization, when you are creating a company – it happens across the board.

I just heard Elon Musk talk about how when the company within the last year was at a point when no one believed they could make the production of their lower-end Tesla, their engineers thought of creating a tent-like system and set up a production line under this huge tent.

During that period of time when the environment has turned against you and you still have a problem to solve, it is real. You are losing sleep. How you respond to that either allows you to be highly creative or crash and burn.

Pete Mockaitis
So one piece is language, that you’re not crazy busy or happy busy or thrilled busy, excited busy. How else do you think and speak about it in a way that will put you in a better place?

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. One of the things – when things aren’t going well, taking the drama out of whatever trauma has occurred within the company.

A company that I admire their product was Chipotle, a fast-food restaurant that I have observed. I’ve only been an observer of this company in the media for the last few years because I feel that as a corporation external things have happened to them.

I don’t know what the impact of romaine lettuce was on their production, but I know they used romaine lettuce and that was after a whole series. Well, when they come together in that organization, if the conversation is about how everything and everyone is against them – now I don’t know that to be true, but let’s just play it out – they’re actually not going to get to solve the problem.

They have to take the drama of what has occurred out of the conversation so that when they go in meetings, the frontal lobe kicks in and they can make the clearest conversations. That becomes very critical. Language keeps touching and correcting, pivoting how you make decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
How does one take the drama out?

Andrea Goeglein
It’s a pausing. It’s that taking the breath and catching – hearing what you’re saying. It really is amazing how many times we will dramatize a situation in order to get attention without even knowing it.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and someone arrives late and instead of quietly sitting down and joining the meeting and contributing at the appropriate moment, the next amount of X minutes is why they’re late. It’s a discipline to manage that for yourself.

All the things I speak about are disciplines that as an individual, if you contribute them to your workplace, you will not only be reducing stress for yourself, but also for those around you because if you are not the person who overdramatizes, if you are not the person who comes into the meeting and then has to have all the attention put on you, which when you think about it, do I really want to reinforce with everyone and cement in everyone’s mind that I was late or do I want to quietly sit down and contribute when it is productive?

Pete Mockaitis
Very good.

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. These are the things that we – I work very much at the individual level. That is the greatest point of control. When everything is out of control in your workplace, the one thing you can still control is how you speak and how you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed, indeed. All right. Then we’re controlling how you think and how you speak. You also have some perspective on asking for help and conquering the fear and resistance associated with doing that. When is the best time to ask and how should you do it?

Andrea Goeglein
I’m going to put that actually ahead of the other two things. I want to put that in intentional relationship building because I work in the area of positive psychology where everything is about PERMA and how do you flourish, how do you actually go from place to place wherever you go and actually be able to flourish no matter what is going on in the external.

One of the components is relationship building. Well, relationship building should actually start long before you need the help on that project that crashed and burned on you. That happens by you paying attention to the people around you.

See who actually has a more emotionally mature way of explaining situations. Befriend people who you admire what they contribute to the organization. Enter into the conversations before you need the help and it is amazing what will happen when you do need the help.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you recommend going about doing that befriending in a great way?

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. One of the things in the workplace is always to offer help before it’s needed. When you hear someone explaining a situation of something they’re working on and if you truly believe you can be a contributor, offer that. Do something that allows the person to know that there is a resource if they want it because that allows you to stay at their front of their mind. I’m talking whether this is a peer, whether this is a superior.

You want to be the person who in fact observes what others is happening and then be able to offer if it’s appropriate. I stress that a lot. Make sure you are not – this is the difference between – I know what the slang term is, but you don’t want to kiss someone’s butt. This is not what I’m teaching. I knew what the slang term for that was, but I needed the podcast version of that.

You don’t want to be seen as the person that’s kind of kissing up. What you do want to be seen is a person who is a resource and a level-headed resource so that as in these rapidly changing environments that we all live in across all organizational structures that we participate in, that in fact you can be a contributor and someone to come to, sometimes is just that calm sea. Someone may just want to come because they know you will not overreact if they tell you what they’re facing.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Andrea Goeglein
That’s a resource. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then you’ve built up some good relationships, you’ve proactively offered help, got some reciprocity working for you. Then when it comes to making the actual request, how do you recommend we go about doing that?

Andrea Goeglein
Okay, again, watch your words. People don’t like to help victims, especially in the work place. If you need help, if you realize that doing it alone or you’ve really done it alone and realized you’re not getting the best result, be really clear when you approach someone. Actually use the words, “I need some assistance,” or “I need your knowledge. Are you willing to work with me on this?”

Actually acknowledge that the person has something that in fact could be helpful and you’re making a request. Human beings like to help other human beings contrary to a lot of – as long as you stay off Twitter, you’ll believe that’s true. There’s only certain things I can control. That’s one of them.

Use language that shows that you are not a victim, but attempting to really be a victor and you’d like to take others with you. Also make sure that others know that if it’s appropriate they will be acknowledged. Acknowledging others is a way of showing your appreciation, but you have to do it very specifically. When I got stuck on this project, I went to them and just having this conversation helped me to think clearer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so acknowledge their particular expertise or knowledge or value or perspective that’s valuable. Then you say the words, “I need the help.” What else?

Andrea Goeglein
Well, it depends on the situation. I want to take the opposite side. When not – how not to ask because that’s actually something that as humans we fall into, especially if we’re upset. The same way we’re crazy busy.

If you were in a meeting and someone inappropriately – and I will say inappropriately – decided to call you out on how bad the report you did was. You leave that meeting and the first thing you do is find people to complain about how bad a manager that human being is. You have to remember that if you’re talking to that person about the other one, they’re going to know that someday you may talk about them that way too.

You want to take responsibility as quickly as possible. People look for that very quickly. It is the thing that people unknowingly – are you talking about someone else or are you taking responsibility?

If you leave a meeting and say – and be very honest, “Gosh, I did not think that that was that bad. I wish he had not responded that way, but I hear clearly that I didn’t give her what she wanted. Can you help me think through this better?”

That allows the person to really step up and not get into a conversation – If you come at them and say, “Can you believe what that woman did? No manager should be allowed to speak to anyone that way.” The whole conversation will be about her behavior, the executive’s behavior. What you really need in that moment is a better report and a better outcome.

I would put, again, that ahead, checking how you – what happens when something goes wrong and how you speak about it because that adds to your stress in the moment. You have to actually build your own courage back up.

That’s the whole thing about this asking for help and the stress. It has a lot to do with feeling incredibly vulnerable. Our jobs also dictate whether or not we eat most of the time. It dictates whether or not we have homes and our children get educated. It’s just not a job. It’s just not a report. There is a lot behind how all that goes down and why it feels stressful.

Cleaning up your language and being very careful if you have bad habits today, how to clean that up, will help you move forward in an easier way. I can’t stop how fast everything’s changing. I can’t stop organizations doing really well or really poorly and causing stress. I just can’t do it. I can help you guide your language.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really interesting when you mention that the job is more than just the job. It’s sort of like the livelihood. There’s kind of high stakes there, which can naturally give rise to some stress. That makes me wonder in terms of the stress alleviating impact of just having a real clear set of what are your options. If the worst case scenario goes down, they can, you are fired, that you know you’re going to be just fine.

Andrea Goeglein
Yes, you know Pete, any time I work with someone literally within the first meeting we have a conversation of what I call the low water mark. I ask them – and it’s very interesting as a business coach that this is one of the first things I do.

I need to know what your financial situation is. One, to know whether or not you’re aware of it and two, to make sure that as we talk about options – if you want to tell me how bad the organization is and that you’re putting up with all of this horrible conduct, there has – there’s reasons why you’re doing it. Some of them may be behavioral. Some of them may be financial and we need to know that fast.

That is one of the things that I ask. No one has to give me absolute numbers. I can deal in percentages. Do you know what your monthly nut is? How close to that do you get in income? How much are you over? How much are you over? We speak in percentages. Once we have built trust, we speak in absolute numbers.

But I need you to focus on that so you can’t use it as an excuse as to why you’re staying in a place that is actually not one that you’re able to rebound from because that’s – a stressful situation is only stressful through my eyes. It may not be stressful through your eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting with regard to the numbers. I guess with that still I think some people feel a sense of stress even if they say, “Hey, I’ve got ten years of assets. Ten years of living expenses stashed away in assets no problem.” They’re still worried about the impact of losing a job.

Andrea Goeglein
There’s a lot of different pieces of PERMA. One of them is achievement. We have different things that drive us at different times. There’s combinations of them.

Achievement, sometimes you’re so devoted to why you joined the organization and the project you were involved in, that you don’t want to walk away from it until you see it to a completion because you have certain attributes, whether they be behavioral or through character strengths, that in fact go against you walking away. There’s actually more stress if you walk away because of the lack of completeness.

That’s all the kinds of things you find out at an individual level. When we talk globally, the things that cause stress within organizations, I would say language, language, language. How you speak about the place you are and the people you are with, start your day and end your day, you better make a good decision.

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

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. I would say that’s the most important thing. Wake up and know that in fact from the first thought you have, words are coming out of your mouth, put a check on them. If they are not positive, begin the recrafting process as you’re brushing your teeth. It will matter and it will change your day.

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

Andrea Goeglein
One of my most favorite quotes has – I just in fact it was so funny that I looked at it because I like to – being trained academically, one of the things that I was always required to do was attribute. You must attribute very clearly where a work comes from. I’m going to tell you the quote and tell you where it was attributed, but know that there’s many.

The quote is this, “Watch your thoughts for they become your words. Watch your words for they become your actions. Watch your actions for they become your habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.”

That version I just read was attributed to Margaret Thatcher. In fact, it has been attributed to so many different people.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite study?

Andrea Goeglein
Oh, the marshmallow study. It’s the one about self-control. Because one, I believe I would have failed it if I was one of the children and two, delaying gratification is so important to success.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. How about a favorite book?

Andrea Goeglein
So many, but the one that I use the most is Return to Love.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Andrea Goeglein
It’s three in one: reading, writing, and reflection. Every day and every way, if you start that way, everything in your life will be different.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there particular questions you ask with the reflection?

Andrea Goeglein
It changes, but one of the things – one of the fun ones is “If today was to be extraordinary, what would happen?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is fun. Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Andrea Goeglein
Again, I’m a little anal. Of the reading, writing, and reflection, daily writing is my favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you write at a particular time of day?

Andrea Goeglein
Yes, I write every morning. Well, I write for my work. There’s that portion of it. But I write every morning. I use one of the main things of positive psychology, which is gratitude. I start each day listing five things from the day before that I was grateful for. Some of them can be negative, such as “I am grateful that I lost that client. It helped me to look at what I need to improve in my work.”

But I find that using that helps put those things on paper and you put it away. It’s one of the reasons why we tell people to write down goals and aspirations because it stops the mind from wandering, looping back to them. I use that within the gratitude process because gratitude is the one human strength that we teach that if you do not have it, you should learn it because it builds on your resilience to keep moving forward, so things like stress are easier to handle.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Andrea Goeglein
If you believed and truly lived that you had a choice of every thought that you had, your life would be the best it could ever be.

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

Andrea Goeglein
I would point them to my website at ServingSuccess.com. That’s S-E-R-V-I-N-G-S-U-C-C-E-S-S.com. There is a whole list of videos. There is actually the reading, writing, reflection videos are there under the free courses. I would love to have that be a gift to all of your listeners.

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

Andrea Goeglein
First thing tomorrow when you walk into work, make eye contact with someone, smile and say, “Today is going to be a great day.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Andrea, thanks so much for sharing the goods and good luck in all your adventures.

Andrea Goeglein
Thank you so much Pete. I appreciated the opportunity.

393: Freeing Up Extra Time Through Optimizing, Automating, and Outsourcing with Ari Meisel

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Ari Meisel breaks down his secrets to greater productivity…from virtual assistants, to the best productivity apps, to easier ways to make decisions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How working at your peak time makes you many times more effective
  2. The power of the 20-second rule
  3. Why you should consider using virtual assistants

About Ari

Ari is the best-selling author of “The Art of Less Doing“, and “The Replaceable Founder.” He is a self-described Overwhelmologist whose insights into personal and professional productivity have earned him the title, “The Guru’s Guru.” He can be heard on the award-winning Less Doing Podcast, on international stages speaking to thought leaders and influencers, and for those who prefer the written word, Ari’s blog posts on Medium offer immediate and actionable advice for entrepreneurs seeking replaceability.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ari Meisel Interview Transcript

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

Ari Meisel
Well, thank you for having me Pete. It’s good to talk to you again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Well, I think we’re going to get into so much good stuff. I am all about less doing. But first I want to get your take on what’s the story behind you being on the cover of a Rage Against the Machine album?

Ari Meisel
Yeah, it’s the 20th anniversary of that. It’s funny. It’s been coming up a lot lately. The Evil Empire album from Rage Against the Machine, I was 11 years old and Mel Ramos, who is a famous artist and was a friend of my father’s, who’s an art dealer, made that painting for me as a birthday present when I was 11.

The band saw it a few years later in one of his books and they just liked it. They used it for their cover. I never met the band. I was never a fan of the band. I had a billboard of my face in Times Square when I was 15 years old.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, check you out. Well, and your fame has grown since then.

Ari Meisel
Yes, totally. I think it all stems back to that very moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, starting early, that’s good. Can you give us a little bit of a quick background on your company, Less Doing? What are you all about?

Ari Meisel
I empower entrepreneurs to become more replaceable. That’s what I do. That means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but the ones that get excited by that are the ones that I usually do the best with. Essentially we’re teaching people how to optimize, automate and outsource everything in their business in order to be more effective. We do that through a number of systems that we teach and processes and methods, but essentially we teach people to be more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love effectiveness here. Most of our listeners are not entrepreneurs, but I definitely thing that there are some applicable tidbits. Now, you unpack a number of these in your book called The Art of Less Doing. Is there a unique spin that the book takes?

Ari Meisel
Yeah. Originally when I got into this sort of world, the focus was on individual productivity for the most part. I was helping individuals be as effective as possible. Over the last several years, this has developed into much more of a business methodology for growing faster with less pain basically. The Replaceable Founder really takes that framework of optimize, automate, outsource and applies it to businesses.

The goal is to make people replaceable. The reason we do that is so they can have more focus, freedom and flexibility. The way that we do that is through looking at the way that they communicate, the way that they manage and execute processes, and the way that they have their project management system set up.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. I like your alliteration here. You’ve also got the three D’s. What are those?

Ari Meisel
That’s for email and decision making in general, which is to deal with it, delete it or defer it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, tell us, how do we navigate? When is it best to choose to do versus to delegate, to defer?

Ari Meisel
We use email to teach the concept, but it’s not about email. The email problem for most people is not an actual email problem, it’s a decision-making problem. The first thing here is to understand that the three of them are there because those are the only three choices that you should have to make.

Most people treat not just email but decisions in general as if it’s a unique opportunity to make a thousand different decisions every time. It’s not.

If you limit yourself in your choices to three, then you can say deleting is saying no, dealing with it means you can deal with it right now, which could include delegating it, so you get in that sort of habit as well. Then the third D is for deferral, which is the most interesting because that’s really taking into account how you use your time and when you’re best at different things.

Every one of us has a different time and sometimes place where we do different kinds of activities better, such as podcast interviews for example. You would not have gotten this energy from me a couple hours ago, which is why I try not to schedule a podcast interviews before noon my time. It’s something I’ve learned about myself.

Not to mention that my peak time, which is a period when any one of us is 2 to 100 times more effective than any other time of the day, that peak time for me is usually between ten and noon. I can’t do creative work before eight o’clock at night because there’s just too much going on in my head and I can’t write or be really creative.

Knowing that is really powerful because you can make an active decision. You’re not procrastinating; you’re saying, “No, I’m going to do this more effectively at this time, so that’s when I want to look at it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that. We had Dr. Michael Breus on the show talked about the power of when and just some fascinating stuff associated with circadian rhythms and there’s actual biochemical things going on in your body at somewhat predictable regular times that point you to different states that let you be excellent at different sorts of tasks. Can you lay it on us again? What are your times and what are the capabilities you find you have uniquely available at those times?

Ari Meisel
Again, for me, the peak time for me is ten to noon.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say peak, you just mean, “I am unstoppably energetic,” or what’s peak mean for you?

Ari Meisel
The research basically says that for every person it’s different. There’s a time of the day that’s usually 90 minutes and you are 2 to 100 times more effective in that period. What they mean when they talk about effectiveness in that situation is that you’re most able to easily drop into a flow state.

Flow state for most people, that generally equates to a dilation of time. If you’ve ever found yourself in an activity where it felt like minutes had gone by, but it was an hour or two, that’s a flow state. We want that because our brain is just firing on all synapses in that moment.

My peak time is between ten and noon. In theory, I should be using that time for my highest and best use, which in my case is usually coming up with content or really interesting problem solving for whatever the problem might be.

Now, I know that I’m not good on the phone or podcasts before noon. That’s just something I’ve learned about myself. It’s not because I’m not a morning person, but maybe it just takes me a little while to sort of get in that mood or that mode.

Creatively, I can’t do creative work before eight o’clock at night because there’s a lot going on in my house first of all, but also we tend to be more creative when we’re tired because we’re less likely to sort of shoot down the bad ideas and things can flow a little more freely. But it’s different for every person. Some people, their peak time could be five in the morning. I’ve seen that. Some people it’s eleven o’clock at night and that’s when they do their best, best, best.

We all work out at different times or we should. We eat at different times. A lot of that you can see in Dr. Breus’s work. He’s been on my podcast three times because he’s so awesome. A lot of people think, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But you really can dial it in and use that timing to your advantage.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m right with you there. The peak then is you’re most likely to drop into a flow state. The creativity is a different animal than the peak?

Ari Meisel
Right, right, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. That’s nice. I guess we’re already digging into a little bit. You talk about optimizing, automating, and outsourcing. One of the components of optimizing is knowing thyself. We’re already talking about some knowing thyself in terms of the times that you’re best for different sorts of activities. Are there any other key parameters you really recommend folks zero in on knowing thyself/themselves well?

Ari Meisel
Sleep I think is another one too. Not everybody needs to sleep eight hours a night in one block. Many people should, but not everybody needs to. That’s not the optimal thing for everybody.

In fact if you look back at old research, well even new research now, the natural pattern of human sleep seemed to be these sort of two different bulk sleeps, where you got this core amount of sleep, then you’d wake up for a little while in the middle of the night and do things, and then go back to sleep for what was then became known as beauty sleep.

Understanding that just because the rest of your team or your environment or your friends or family, whatever, might be on a nine to five work schedule and a ten to six or ten to seven sleep schedule, it doesn’t mean that that’s what you should be doing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great, so get clear on your real sleep needs and what’s optimal for you and not just sort of caving to the norms around you.

Ari Meisel
It’s so individual. It’s so, so individual. That’s the big thing. Understand that you can figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Any other knowing thyself things to know?

Ari Meisel
I think a lot of people are just generally unaware of how they use their time and their space and their resources and their money and everything. There’s usually a huge benefit in just tracking sort of anything that we do. You can track things like with RescueTime, you can track how you’re using your computer or your Apple watch and see how you’re moving around or not. That kind of information can be very powerful if you just take the data that you’re producing all day every day and actually look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you give us an example of let’s say Apple watch or Fitbit, you’re looking at your steps or movement data and how that can inform a useful decision?

Ari Meisel
One thing I would say is just challenging what you might inherently think you know about yourself. There’s so many people – there’s a lot of people who when they use these tools, they can guess the number of steps they’ve taken in the day and they’re probably pretty accurate.

Most people before they do that kind of thing are very – they’re usually pretty off. Somebody might think that they were on their feet for ten hours; it turns out they were only on their feet for two hours. Or they think that they walked five miles, but they didn’t even walk a mile.

That in itself, being aware of the unawareness I think is huge and the discrepancies because once you get into this and you sort of get to know your body and you sort of inherently understand these things a little bit better. We can make better decisions or we can even understand when we shouldn’t be making decisions because if we’re tired or not in a good place to mentally do things, a lot of people just sort of power through it and then make bad choices. Then those sort of build on each other.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Can you recall a particular bad choice you made when you were tired or poorly resourced?

Ari Meisel
I mean a lot of it usually comes out with my wife and arguments that I wouldn’t normally have. But there – it’s funny actually. I think about a month ago my wife and I had a fairly aggressive argument. It was so out of the norm that she actually stopped and she’s like, “You’re acting like one of the children right now. You should go take a nap.” I can usually operate on pretty low amount of sleep, but this was a bad few days for some reason. I stopped and I realized I was acting like a toddler.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s well said. Cool, that’s a little bit about knowing thyself. Can you dig into a bit of the concept of the external brain? What is it and how should we tap into that power?

Ari Meisel
For the external brain is the idea that we really can’t use our brains the way that we think we can. The human brain is really, really bad at holding onto information. It’s great at coming up with it, but really not so good at keeping it. We try to use working memory for something that it really isn’t, which is long-term storage.

If we have systems in place – and when I say systems it’s important because a lot of people have tools or methods maybe or gadgets, but a lot of people lack systems. If you have a system in place to actually track your ideas, capture your ideas and put them in a place where not only you can save them, but actually act on them later, that makes life a lot less stressful and a lot more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, I’m so with you there. I’m thinking back to David Allen, episode 15 here for us. He said it very well, I might not get it perfect, but says, “Your brain is for having ideas not for holding them or for remembering them.”

Ari Meisel
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s been so huge for me is getting it out of my head and elsewhere. Personally, I love OmniFocus for the actionable things. Someone said, “Oh, this is a great restaurant,” “This is a great podcast.” “You should check out this church,” or place to go. I was like, “Oh cool. I will.”

It’s sort of like all those rich little life ideas don’t float away. They land somewhere and they can be acted upon in sometimes a year plus later, like, “Oh, I am going to watch that movie someone recommended a year ago. I’m so glad I had that recommendation ready to be accessed.” I dig OmniFocus for that and Evernote for more words basically in terms of maybe paragraphs plus. What do you dig for your external brain?

Ari Meisel
Trello.

Pete Mockaitis
Trello?

Ari Meisel
Yeah, I use Trello. I was a really big Evernote user for a long time, but I sort of fell away from it because with Trello it’s more speaking to that idea of having a system. I might capture things all day long from various sources, whether it’s a voice note to my Amazon Echo device or to Siri or a picture of something or a screenshot or I’ll forward an email, and they all go to one place. They all go to one list in Trello as an individual card, each one.

Then at the end of the day, it’s one of my sort of nightly routines is I look at that list and I can sort those ideas into various places. One might be for someone on my team to deal with, one might be for my wife to look at, one might be for me to read later, whatever it might be. But that sorting process is very important to me. You can’t really do that in something like Evernote. With Trello you have that sort of visual idea, like moving things around. It feels very congruent for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. Can you unpack for us the categories? They start by getting dumped into a singular kind of inbox, collection bin. They then go to, “Hey, read this later.” They go to teammate or wife or another person. What are the other kind of categories that it might fall into?

Ari Meisel
Let me think. It could be assigned to a virtual assistant. That’s certainly one. It could be something that I want to talk about in one of my webinars. That would be like, I do a tech talk Tuesday webinar, so it could go to that. There’s not too many. That’s the thing is you don’t want to have too many different options.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I’m wondering over time I imagine, if you’re anything like me, you have way more ideas that you’re excited about than you can take action upon. Let’s talk about some of the automate components, the decision matrix. What is that and in particular how might you apply it to, “Hey, do I do this or do I not do this?”

Ari Meisel
Well, that decision matrix is the three D’s. Saying no, for example, there’s just a lot more things that we should say no to. If anything, for some people it needs to be the default is to say no. If it’s not a heck yes, then it’s a heck no kind of a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for the children who listen to the show.

Ari Meisel
Yeah, right. That’s one thing. Dealing with it means you can deal with it right now like in the next three minutes. If you can’t – and in dealing with it right now, that could include delegating it – but if you can’t do that right now, and you can’t say no, then you have to defer it. At that point you pick a more optimal time for you to do it. That’s the point of it is you don’t have to put too much thought into what, when and why.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious to hear then when it comes to the heck yes and heck no, it sounds like that’s kind of a visceral your whole person is resonating with something is what lands you at a heck yes or do you have a more systematic approach by which you are determining “Yes, I shall pursue that and no, I shall not pursue the other thing?”

Ari Meisel
One is just understanding your resources, knowing if something is even possible, which part of that comes honestly from having that clarity of thought that comes from having a system like this. It sounds very circular, but it’s true. That’s the big one.

But the other one is also having the places to sort of delegate into that can possibly deal with it. What I mean by that is I have a number of virtual assistants. I have people on my team that I might think it’s a yes, but I have a system in place to sort of send it over to one of them to then validate that idea or at least move it a little bit farther down the field.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. You’ve also got a concept called set it and forget it. How does that work? Is this an infomercial?

Ari Meisel
Yeah. That’s how I think through automation. Automation to me should be something that we just sort of set up and then it just runs in the background and we just don’t have to think about it anymore. That could be simple things like a trigger through an IFTTT, for example, that if something happens here, then do something else over here. Or a process that is in place that people can go through a very detailed checklist, but it’s still that – that’s how you should be thinking about automation.

It’s not something that you should have to monitor or watch. I forgot who it is actually, but somebody, a friend of mine describes automation is just something that means he doesn’t have to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, automation means I don’t have to do it, which is great because in a way, that expands your mindset or how you’re looking at it beyond that of software, robots. Automation can very much include people, people engaging processes, which include a high or low-tech application there. If you don’t have to do it, then that means it’s been automated as far as you’re concerned.

Ari Meisel
Right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, you mentioned IFTT, if this, then that. It’s so funny I’ve looked at this app several times and thinking, that’s just cool. I’m sure I could probably find some use for it and yet I haven’t. Tell me, what are the most game changingly useful things you’re using IFTT for?

Ari Meisel
First of all, any time you find yourself in a situation where you say ‘every,’ so like every time this happens, every time a customer signs up, every time I book a podcast or video, every time I record an interview, every time I send a Tweet, every time I hire or fire someone, that ‘every’ should be a trigger to think about automation because typically that should mean it’s something that’s repetitive.

That’s one way of thinking through it. All those things that we do on a regular basis, on a repetitive basis, those are things that should be automated. I’ve automated hiring processes, content dissemination, even using machine learning to segment out potential customers from people on my email list. All of those things can be done with automations.

But at a really simple level, if you want to look at the things that you know you should be doing, but not you’re not doing them, that’s a great case for automation, like, “I’m on Facebook and I know I should be on Twitter and Instagram, but I’m not.” Okay, well you can automatically at the very least post all the things you put on one place into all the others.

I know that I should have consistencies so that if I change my Facebook profile picture, I should probably change my Twitter one as well. But those are the kinds of things most people are just like, “Ah, I’m busy so I’ll just let that one go for now.” A lot of those things where you should be doing them and you’re not, you can pick up the slack with automation.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say things you should be doing, I think one of the first things that leap to mind could be exercise, meditation, and sort of things that are boosting your effectiveness across the board. You talked a bit about attaching a new habit to an existing one, how does this work?

Ari Meisel
There are a lot of people who are way better about habits than I am. My friend James Clear, who wrote Atomic Habits, is one of the better ones to be honest.

But if we have a good habit in place already, like most of us probably brush our teeth, then you – and you want to bring in a new habit, then you can associate it with the existing habit. That’s like an anchoring effect. It just makes it a lot easier to implement that habit.

The other thing that I like is generally if you make something 20 seconds easier or 20 seconds harder, you can make or break a habit that way as well. The most obvious example of that is if you want to drink more water throughout the day, have a big thing of water at your desk, you don’t have to get up and go get water. If you don’t want to eat cookies, don’t have cookies in your house.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice, so 20 seconds easier or 20 seconds harder can make or break it. Well, then I’m wondering then if there’s a threshold number of seconds that’s like beyond that, “Ah, it’s just too much,” like “If it’s 35 seconds, okay, okay, fine, but if it’s 55, forget about it. Ain’t going to happen.”

Ari Meisel
Yeah, all the research I’ve seen is around 20 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good. That’s helpful. Okay, cool. That’s a bit about the automation side.

Now let’s talk about the outsourcing. You mentioned virtual assistants a number of times. Most of our listeners are employees and not entrepreneurs or business owners, but I can tell you that when I was an employee, I used virtual assistants to great effect. Can you unpack a little behind this? Virtual assistants, what are they really, really good for and where do people go wrong when they try to make good use of them?

Ari Meisel
Even in your personal life you should be using virtual assistants because it allows you to focus on what you do best and delegate the rest as has been said before. I use the VAs for over 100 hours a week in my personal life with my four kids and booking travel for me and my family and signing up for after school things and insurance.

You have to understand the return on investment there is not necessarily something that you’re going to be able to directly measure in dollars. It’s just going to make your life better.

The biggest problem with outsourcing in general is if people try to do it as a first step and they can’t. If you take an ineffective problem and you just hand it over to somebody else who has less information, less context than you and expect some magical result, it’s just not going to happen. You have to start with the optimizing first, then the automating, then you can get to the outsourcing.

Because also if you give work to a human being that an automation could do, then you’re effectively dehumanizing them, which doesn’t work either. We have to get better at communicating what our needs are. A lot of that comes from going through and creating an optimized process to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great point in terms of “I don’t like this. You handle it,” often doesn’t give you some great results on the other side.

Tell me a little bit when you talk about that optimization, what I found is some of the hardest thinking that I do, which has been just tremendously rewarding in terms of the return has been how do I take this gut feel type decision and turn that almost into an algorithm that we can use to determine – to get pretty far.

For example, I get tons of incoming podcast guest pitches. It’s like, “Oh my gosh.” One by one by one, I was sort of looking at them is like this is nuts, but every once in a while there were some really amazing people who came in. I thought “Well, I can’t just ignore them all.”

I really had to stop and think. It’s like, I want guests who are relevant, who are authorities, and who are engaging. Now, what exactly do I mean by relevant? What exactly do I mean by authoritative? How would I assess or measure or evaluate that? What exactly do I mean by engaging? Now, I can have that – it just goes in terms of the pitch lands and someone evaluates it per all my parameters and then I only look at a small set of finalists.

That’s been huge for me. Is there a particular way that you think about turning things from, “Okay, I can handle this,” until it’s so darn clear that someone else can handle it repeatedly?

Ari Meisel
Delegation is a muscle. You need to practice it and do it and it becomes a lot more natural. It’s not necessarily even so much that there’s an algorithm. But if you say there’s only three choices in these situations and that’s it. There’s only three choices. You sort of create innovation by artificially restricting your options.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, I dig. Can you give us an example of that in practice?

Ari Meisel
I mean, that’s one, the three options. If you say there’s 20 different things you could do, but you say, no, you only have three options. That’s a good one.

For me, if you artificially restrict time. A lot of people say “There’s no time in the day. There’s no time in the day.” It’s just not true. It’s just that priorities are messed up and people don’t have good systems.

If I told somebody that works a nine to five job what would you do if you could only work till four, you had to leave at four? For most people that’s pretty straightforward. That’s a fairly easy way to think through it. “Oh, I would skip lunch,” or “I’d take one less meeting,” or something.

But if you say to the same person, “What would you do if you could only work an hour a day?” that’s a very different question. That creates a whole different – you need a totally different way of thinking to make that work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You’re already getting the wheels turning for me. It’s like, “Well, I would have to figure out how to have other people do the things that I’m no longer doing,” is what I would do with that hour, kind of like wishing for more wishes, if you will.

Ari Meisel
Yeah, right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. When it comes to these virtual assistants, boy, how does someone find them? Where would you recommend they go, they research, they explore? What are some first steps there?

Ari Meisel
I’ve worked with over 20 different virtual assistant companies over the years, including owning one myself. In that time my favorite one is a company called Magic. People can go to Less.do/Magic to get connected with them. There’s a reason for that. There’s dedicated assistants, which I think create just another bottleneck that you give to somebody else. Then this is what’s more of an on demand model.

Magic has 15 people. Half of them are in the States. Half of them are in the Philippines. They work seamlessly as like one giant entity that really knows your preferences, understands what you need, and their response time is about 30 seconds 24/7. They can do all the different things. They charge I think it’s like 51 cents per minute or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. I’ve seen ads for Magic, but I’m like, okay, well, I’ve used a lot myself. Are they any good? It sounds like you’ve been around the block. You say, “Oh yes, Pete. They are legit.”

Ari Meisel
Oh yes, Pete. They are ….

Pete Mockaitis
That’s valuable information. One of my favorite places I’ve gone to is OnlineJobs.ph, which is for hiring people in the Philippines, but you’re going to significantly more work upfront in order to select that winner. That is a bit of work, but I found that on the backend it’s oh so rewarding when you have those champions.

Ari Meisel
Right, yeah. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. You also talk about outsourcing your outsourcing. What does this mean?

Ari Meisel
I’ve had Magic manage other outsource reliers. In outsourcing we generally have the generalist and we have specialist. Generalist would be the admin sort of VA. The specialist is more like the graphic designers and the programmers and stuff like that. I’ve had Magic manage them in some cases, so then I’m not even having to deal with them. I can have sort of one point of contact.

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

Ari Meisel
No, that’s the main thing. We have a couple different programs that we offer. We have something called a Replaceable Founder, which is a really great online course and now a one-day intensive workshop that we actually offer here in New York City. That’s something that I would recommend people checking out at Replaceable.fr.

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

Ari Meisel
Yeah, I sure can. I just have to pull this up. Too long, but it’s long enough that I can’t remember it. It’s a Robert Heinlein quote, if you’ve heard of Robert Heinlein.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I see his name in text in my mind’s eye, but I don’t recall anything more.

Ari Meisel
He wrote Tunnel in the Sky. He wrote some of the – he was sort of an Isaac Asimov contemporary.

But anyway, he said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Ari Meisel
Oh, that’s a good one. The Zeigarnik Effect probably. Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s in Berlin was a Russian doctoral student. She discovered this part of the brain that not only pushes us to complete the uncompleted, so it’s like the voice in our heads that pushes us to complete the uncompleted, but it’s also where we sort of process open-ended information.

Pete Mockaitis
So we know that that part of the brain exists. Are there any kind of key implications for how we live our lives differently knowing that?

Ari Meisel
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a really important understanding for us because we actually are more able to recall that kind of information than in any other setting.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Ari Meisel
My favorite book ever is Emergency by Neil Strauss.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ari Meisel
Favorite tool. That would be Trello, really Trello.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Ari Meisel
Favorite habit. My nightly sort of brain dump, sorting of ideas that I do in Trello. It’s huge for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your folks, that gets them nodding their heads and retweeting and telling you how brilliant you are?

Ari Meisel
Well, I hope so. I think just this concept of being replaceable. It opens up a lot of ideas and philosophies and emotions for some people to understand that that’s a really good thing. It’s not just about replacing yourself in terms of the functions that you do and bringing other people to do them and empowering them, it’s also about re-placing you to the sort of glory and comfort and happiness that you once had.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s clever. Re-placing, to place again yourself.

Ari Meisel
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s profound. Thank you.

Ari Meisel
Thank you. There we go.

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

Ari Meisel
They should go to LessDoing.com. We’ve got this really cool little free mini course that people can go through. That’s a bunch of videos. Actually, if they go to Less.do/Foundations, they can get into that.

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

Ari Meisel
Seek replaceability in everything that you do. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well Ari, this has been a real treat. Thank you for taking the time and good luck in all you’re up to.

Ari Meisel
Thank you.