This Podcast Will Help You Flourish At Work

Each week, I grill thought-leaders and results-getters to discover specific, actionable insights that boost work performance.

730: How Leaders Can Succeed by Mastering the Eight Paradoxes of Effective Leaders with Dr. Tim Elmore

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Tim Elmore says: "I need to speak as if I believe I’m right, but I need to listen as if I believe I’m wrong."

Dr. Tim Elmore sheds light on the eight paradoxes the leaders of today must embrace to more effectively inspire and connect with their teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why leaders say it’s more difficult to lead today
  2. The eight conflicting demands of great leaders
  3. The two behaviors that set aspiring leaders apart 

About Tim

Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder and CEO of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization created to develop emerging leaders. Since founding Growing Leaders, Elmore has spoken to more than 500,000 students, faculty, and staff on hundreds of campuses across the country. Elmore has also provided leadership training and resources for multiple athletic programs. In addition, a number of government offices in Washington, D.C. have utilized Dr. Elmore’s curriculum and training. 

From the classroom to the boardroom, Elmore is a dynamic communicator who uses principles, images, and stories to strengthen leaders. He has taught leadership to Delta Global Services, Chick-fil-A, Inc., The Home Depot, The John Maxwell Co., HomeBanc, and Gold Kist, Inc., among others. Committed to developing young leaders on every continent of the world, Elmore also has shared his insights in more than thirty countries. Tim’s expertise on emerging generations and generational diversity in the workplace has led to media coverage in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, Investor’s Business Daily, Huffington Post, MSNBC.com, The Washington Post, WorkingMother.com, Atlanta Business Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, and Portfolio.com. Tim has appeared on CNN’s Headline News and FOX & Friends discussing parenting trends and advice.

Resources Mentioned

Tim Elmore Interview Transcript

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

Tim Elmore
Thank you, Pete. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to chat. You’ve worked with a lot of leaders over a lot of years. I’m curious, what’s one of your most surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discoveries you’ve made about us human beings and leadership across your career?

Tim Elmore
You know, this won’t shock you, but meeting with C-level leaders and finding out they’re just as humans as the intern at the office. We gain experience and we gain wisdom, I think, I like to think we do, but then you find out, “Bob puts his pants on one leg at a time, and he struggles with his daughter and his dog,” that sort of thing. So, I think that’s liberating a little bit because I think we think we have to perfect something by the time we reach 50, and that just doesn’t happen.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I find that really reassuring and true to my own experience. I remember in consulting, the first time I was in a meeting with, like, “A CEO is going to be in the meeting and I’m going to be there too? Oh, my gosh.” My first sighting of a CEO up close and personal in real life. And then he asked us a very basic normal question, it’s like, “Oh, so does that number include the benefits or just the salaries?”

Tim Elmore
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “That’s what I would ask if I were him. Wow!”

Tim Elmore
Yeah, maybe becoming CEO means you get the guts to ask those questions that we’re afraid to ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. All right. So, your latest work is called The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership: Embracing the Conflicting Demands of Today’s Workplace. That’s cool. Tell us, what’s the big idea behind this book here?

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, I think it’s not hyperbole to say we’re living and leading in very funky different times. This is my 42nd year leading something as a paid leader and I’d just never seen a time like this that we’re in. So, I don’t mean to exaggerate or create drama, but I think I just look around. In fact, I tell you what, the genesis for this book actually was a green room conversation I had with 16 CEOs.

So, it was right before an event and I thought, “I’m going to capitalize on this moment and talk to these people about what they’re experiencing.” So, Pete, I asked the question, “Do you think leading people today is harder than it was when you first learned to lead?” And I thought I’d get a mixture of answers, but every single one of these people said, “Absolutely.” One of them said, “A hundred and ten percent.” They were ready to wave the flag.

And then I kind of pushed back, and I said, “Now, that’s kind of odd that you would say that. Wouldn’t you think leadership would’ve been harder when we were in our 20s and we first started leading something but we didn’t know much?” But everyone of them stuck to their guns. And that set me on a search, really, “Why is it that we would say that?”

And part of the reason, I think, is that we do live in just complex times. Post-COVID 19 pandemic is just weird and we don’t know what normal will look like two years from now. It may look much like this. We thought we were coming through the Delta variant, and then there’s another variant. But here’s what I also note. When I look around at leaders and teams, I feel like people come to our teams today with higher levels of education, higher levels of expectation, what they expect from a leader today, higher levels of entitlement, meaning, “I feel like I’m entitled to more perks and benefits than ever before.” That’s not wicked or evil. It’s just true. Higher levels of emotion.

Pete, I remember when I first began my career, it was very common for bosses to say, “Leave your personal problems at the door. Come and get the work done,” and then we say, “Okay.” Today, it’s, “Bring your whole selves to work,” and that’s awesome. We keep it real that way but we bring emotions, we bring baggage, we bring personal problems with us, and so it’s just a different day. And that’s perhaps why leaders go through decision fatigue.

I heard a leader say recently, “I feel like I’ve made a year’s worth of decisions in one month, last year. So, I’ll stop there but just feel like, because of the complex times, there are paradoxes. Here’s the premise of the book. There are paradoxes that all involve social and emotional intelligence. So, they’re doable for all of us, we can learn these, but we’re often not practicing them, and then we see a resignation that didn’t need to happen or a retirement that didn’t need to happen so soon because we just weren’t leading as effectively as we could.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Tim, I love what you said there because, well, as you might imagine, I’ve read a lot of business books, and, as we know, the first third-ish, I don’t know, it varies, of the book is convincing you how critically necessary, “This book is right now.” And a lot of times it feels a little trite, because you’re, “Oh, with globalization and competition,” it’s like, “Yeah, okay, globalization and competition has been going on for a while now.”

But, no, I think you’re keying in on something in terms of genuinely the human experience and expectations, it’s cool, like, “Bring your whole self to work,” has advantages in terms of, “Oh, yeah, we’re getting some, we’re tapping into some creativity and some passion,” which you just can’t get when it’s like, “No, no, no, leave that at home and you crank through the task list that I need you to crank through.’ You just don’t get that.” Well, you do with bring your whole self to work. But you also have a new whole set of challenges and expectations to live up to and deliver upon effectively. So, yeah, well-said. Thank you.

So, let’s hear about these paradoxes. You’ve, in fact, listed eight specific paradoxes. What are they?

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, let me be the first to concede, there might be 8,000 of these things we need to learn but I found eight. So, just to list them or, at least, a handful of them, the first one in the book is I believe effective leaders, uncommon leaders, must be confident and humble. And very often, you get one or the other. At least you lean toward one or the other. You’re a very confident leader. In fact, some people wonder, “Are you too confident now, Bob?” Or, they’re very humble and that’s winsome for us, but with a humble leader only, you kind of wonder, “Are we going to get to the goal or we’re just going to be nice to each other?”

So, I think the best leaders bring both – confidence and humility. And what I do in this book, Pete, just so you know, is I center on a case study for each of these paradoxes. And my case study for this one was Bob Iger, the former CEO of Disney. Bob took that role, followed Michael Eisner, and Michael was this very, in all due respect, cocky, kind of just full of himself, and actually was so arrogant that he stopped conversations with Steve Jobs when they were trying to buy Pixar, and never got it done under Michael Eisner.

Bob Iger comes in, knows less about leading an empire like Disney because he’s never done it before, and calls Steve Jobs up, and says, “Steve, it’s Bob. You don’t know me. We’ve never met. I’m heading up Disney now, and I just can’t help but think that we might be better together. What do you say?” And Steve Jobs goes, “That’s not a crazy idea. Let’s talk.” And he gets it done. Disney buys Pixar.

But then what I love about this story about confidence and humility is when they buy Pixar, Bob and the Disney enterprise put Pixar in charge of all Disney animation, “So, I just bought you. Now, would you tell us what to do?” That, to me, is confidence and humility, and that’s rare but I think it needs to not be rare. So, that would be the first one in the book, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, once again, I love what you’re saying here. It’s like we have an idea, we have an example, and it’s like, “Okay, I get what you’re saying.” So, can you just do that for the next seven, please?

Tim Elmore
Absolutely, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re crushing it.

Tim Elmore
Well, let me give a homework assignment to listeners on this one. I am trying to practice these eight paradoxes. I didn’t write them because I know them all. I wrote them because I’m trying to be them. My assignment for this one is when I’m in a meeting, I need to speak as if I believe I’m right, but I need to listen as if I believe I’m wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s kind of thing will re-tweet, Tim. That’s well-said.

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, thanks. It’s a great assignment for me because I don’t do that listening thing well. I listen as if I believe I’m still right and I’m just waiting for my next turn to talk. Anyway, that’s been good for me. So, the next one is even more, I think, challenging. I believe uncommon leaders, paradoxical leaders, leverage both their vision and their blind spots, which sound like, “No, you can’t have those together.” But I actually believe, in all the leaders I interviewed, they actually said, “No, I ended up benefiting both from my vision, ‘Here’s the target we want to hit.’”

But isn’t it true, when you talk to leaders, a lot of them will look back, and go, “Man, if I had known then what I know now, I never would’ve started this enterprise. I learned so many things.” And it was because they didn’t know the protocol. They didn’t know how it was done before that enabled them to find a whole new way to reach the goal.

So, my case study on this one is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. So, she created this industry, shapewear for women, it’s kind of a combination of pantyhose or stockings and girdle, and she ends up calling Neiman Marcus, and ends up talking to a female executive, and says, “Hey, can I come have 10 minutes of your time?” She gets the meeting, she tries them on, she tries on Spanx in front of a lady in the restroom and, of course, sold, “This is great.”

Well, later, when Sara was doing a Q&A session for a large group of business leaders, one of the people in the audience stands up and says, “Sara, how did you get the attention of a major department store in a trade show where there’s a thousand exhibitors?” And she said, “Tradeshow? I never went to a tradeshow. I just called up this executive.” And Sara looks back and says, “It’s what I didn’t know that saved me. I didn’t do the normal stuff that people wade through that most people die in.” It’s what she didn’t know that helped her.

Pete Mockaitis
So, she didn’t know, “This is not how this is done, Sara, the whole process by which we onboard new products into our merchandising lineup.”

Tim Elmore
Yes, that’s exactly right. And isn’t it true, the more experience you gain, the more you know what the protocol is, and you can get stuck in doing it the way we’ve done it before. So, Sara says, “Hey, it may be what you don’t know that may completely put you in a blue ocean where there’s nobody there yet.” And that’s what happened.

I feel like, when I started Growing Leaders, I didn’t know what I was doing. Thank God, I didn’t know what I was doing in some ways. Anyway, I’ll stop there but that was a really, really important one for me to learn from as I wrote it down.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, let’s hear about the third paradox.

Tim Elmore
Okay. The third one is I believe effective leaders practice both visibility and invisibility. And all I mean by this, and everybody listening that’s a leader will go, “I know exactly what you mean.” When you’re up front, in other words, when you’re beginning any project or product or offering that you are going to sell, people need to see their leader very visible. We need to model the way. We need to set the example. We can’t just give a lecture. We need to show them the way.

But along the way, if we stay visible, other people aren’t going to step out. They’re going to defer to us in the meeting. They’re going to lean on us. They’re going to say, “Well, I can’t say anything. Tim, go ahead.” I think there comes a point in every leader’s journey that he or she says, “I need to be invisible now. I need to perhaps not show up at that meeting because John or Susan needs to step up.”

So, my example on this one is Dr. Martin Luther King. Between 1955 and 1963 in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King was a very visible leader. He marched, he protested, he boycotted, he, on purpose, got himself thrown into prison. There were 29 times Dr. King was imprisoned. Part of it was just setting the example for making sacrifices.

From ’63 on, you begin to see him do something different in his leadership. He didn’t show up at some meetings. And when young John Lewis would call him and say, “Dr. King, we need you here,” he’d say, “John, you know what to say.” He knew that young John Lewis wouldn’t speak up if Dr. King was in the room because, “I defer to Dr. King.”

So, there’s a point in our training process, in our equipping process, we’ve got to be not absent emotionally, or not purposely absent because it was a hard meeting…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, didn’t feel like it.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, exactly. And that’s a problem today, absentee leadership, because we didn’t feel like it is a problem. But I’m saying, now we start strategically saying, “You step up, you step up, you step up.” And I just think the greatest leaders always find their way to do that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Keep it coming. Number four.

Tim Elmore
All right. Here’s another tough one for me. I believe uncommon leaders are both stubborn and open-minded. Now, does that not sound like an oxymoron? How can you be stubborn and open-minded? But here’s what I would say to this. I think, at the beginning of any venture, leading any company, you have to be stubborn about a few things. You’re not going to reach a goal unless you’re strong-willed, and you say, “Doggone it, we’re going to do this.” You just have to have that. Obstacles will throw you if you don’t.

But I think any leader would say, “If you’re only stubborn, you’re not listening to anybody, you’re not open-minded to new ideas, you don’t think you need anybody else, aargh, that puts us in trouble.” So being stubborn means you got a chance at reaching the goal. Being open-minded means you have a chance at taking others with you to that goal.

So, my example on this one was Truett Cathy, long time ago founder of Chick-Fil-A restaurants. Truett only had one restaurant for 10 years, and he was tweaking his recipe, not just for chicken but for the way he was going to run this restaurant. And you and I both know he was very different. You’d like him or hate him but they’re closed on Sunday, “This is our values,” so forth and so on.

So, I discovered Truett was extremely stubborn when it came to some core issues. He was very open when it came to almost anyone else. And what his core issues were, Pete, was his people, he really erred on believing in his people. He would keep people long just because he so wanted them to know they were believed in, but he also had his core values. I know that sounds cliché, but he had a core set of beliefs, that he said, “This is how we’ll run the company. I don’t care if it’s 2021 or 1951.”

And those cores were what he was stubborn about, and everybody knew this is sacred here, and I think it’s actually served them. I think they’re becoming a leader in the quick-service restaurant industry. Now, McDonald’s is copying them. Now, Kentucky Fried Chicken is copying them because, I think, they had that core that they’ve never left.

Pete Mockaitis
And there are some of the things that they just totally throw out the window, like, “You know what, let’s do the opposite of what we were doing. That’s fine.”

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, so you might know this. I don’t know how often you get to a Chick-Fil-A, but wherever a Chick-Fil-A is, you know if you walked in that restaurant and you order something, and you say, “Thanks,” they’ll say, “It’s my pleasure.” That’s their phrase, “It’s my pleasure.” It doesn’t sound like a big deal.

But Truett Cathy introduced that phrase at their big annual conference for all the operators, all the owners, and he didn’t push it. I mean, he did push it but he didn’t demand it. He didn’t say, “Now, you’re going to get fired if you don’t use this phrase.” But he kept creating a tone and a spirit and a culture of, “Let’s say, ‘It’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure.’” Ten years later, it stuck.

And I would say what happened was originally people were going, “I’m not going to say that phrase.” First of all, in quick-service restaurants, they’re not asking for great customer service. They want speed and cheap. In other words, most of the time you go to a fast-food restaurant, you want it really fast and you only want to pay $2.50 for a burger or something like that. He kind of introduced a whole new…and they adapted along the way to introduce some things that they just became open-minded about.

So, the way they’ve gone about it, the new menu items on the restaurant, it always involves chicken in some way, but there’s all kinds of menu items they were adaptable about. At 92 years old, Truett Cathy actually designed a brand-new restaurant called Truett’s Luau. It was a Hawaiian restaurant. It wasn’t just selling chicken. He came up with all the décor and the menu at 92 years old. He’s still learning. He’s still growing.

He wrote me a thank you note in his 80s for a book I’d written, and just said, “Here’s what I learned,” and I thought, “Oh, my gosh. He’s in his 80s, he could teach me everything.” So, I’m not sure if that answers your question but that’s what I think of when I think about what you asked.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that open-mindedness, that really shows in terms of it’s not like, “Oh, we’ve already figured out restaurants. That’s how it is.” Like, “Nope, here’s a new kind of restaurant.” As well as, “Hey, I read your book in my 80s, and here’s some learnings,” and that’s got to feel good to get that letter.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Let’s hear number five.

Tim Elmore
Okay. Next one, yup. This one really is geared at the heart of a leader, and I think sometimes leaders maybe aren’t as aware of their heart issues, not just head issues, we need to master. I believe uncommon leader practice this paradox. They hold high standards for their people but offer gracious forgiveness. So, high standards and gracious forgiveness.

What I mean by that is…well, let me put it to you in the opposite way. If we only have high standards and not gracious forgiveness, our people aren’t going to take any risks because they’re going to be afraid for their jobs. If you just have a bunch of high standards, “I may get fired if I make a mistake,” they’re going to be scared to try certain things that we need them to try to move the company forward. But if we only have gracious forgiveness and not high standards, people are going to give you mediocre work. They’re going to go, “Oh, he’ll forgive me. He’ll forgive me if I’m lame on this one. It’s no big deal.”

So, I think we need to say, “We got these high standards.” This about Amazon, think about Apple, these great companies that set these ridiculous high standards for the industry they’re in. But I think the best leaders say, “I’m calling you up to this high standard but just know I love my team members. And if you shoot for the standard, you give it everything you got and you miss it, you’re going to be forgiven.”

So, if you don’t mind, I want to double-click on this one because this is one I often talk about, and people go, “How do I do that? I don’t know how to do that.” One of our habitudes images,- we teach leaders with images. One of our habitudes images is called the Golden Gate paradox, and it’s actually a paradox for this one.

You’re familiar with the Golden Gate Bridge. It was built way back in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Because it was built during the Great Depression, they had a whole line of people that joined the team to build the bridge that were just regular workers, they were just looking for jobs, so they weren’t engineers, they never built a bridge before, but they needed money.

So, they hired these workers who were up on the scaffoldings, building this incredible engineering feat in San Francisco, and people were falling. They were falling to their death. So, they have a meeting with the foreman, Mr. Strauss, and Strauss is asked by the workers, “Could we put a safety net underneath this bridge?” Well, that was not common because it was going to cost a lot of money and that was just not common at the time. But Strauss, thankfully, said, “You know what, it’s going to cost us some money so we’re probably going to go overbudget, and it’s going to cost us some time to build this net so we’re probably not going to finish on the deadline, but I owe it to my people to do this.”

So, they put a $300,000 net, and back then, $300,000 was a lot of money. They put the net up and quite the opposite happened. They actually finished on time and on budget. But here’s why. Now, the workers, because they had a safety net beneath them, could focus on succeeding not surviving.

Pete Mockaitis
More attention on the thing itself, and so it’s like, “Whoa, don’t do this wrong or you die.” Okay.

Tim Elmore
Yeah. And, by the way, don’t you know companies, everybody is just trying to survive, not succeed. I mean, if they were honest, they’d say, “I just don’t want to lose my job.” So, I’m saying if we find a way, figuratively speaking, to put a safety net, and say, “Go for it. Give it everything you got. I’m going to catch you if you fall,” oh, my gosh, people stay.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a beautiful image, yes. And I guess what I’m thinking about, I’m thinking about the infamous, or it can just be famous, it’s both, the Netflix culture document, which is funny that that’s achieved such fame. Part of me thinks like, “Well, every company should just have that and be clear on that,” but it’s rare and that’s why it’s famous.

And I think one of the points there was, “Hey, you know you’re going to perform at an exceptional level or you’ll be given a generous severance and you’re going to be compensated top of market as well, so it’s kind of how we operate.” And I get the vibe that there’s no animosity, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, you’re just kind of not delivering at this level, and so this may not be the place for you.” That’s not going to feel good, of course, to get that messaging but there is a bit of that net.

And I’d been on the receiving end of that as well. I remember a notion of…it was an expectation that in consulting that I was to perform zero defects analysis, which is really kind of intimidating when you’re a few months out of college, like, “So, don’t make any mistakes. That’s our expectation.” Like, “Really? Is that fair?” But I guess no mistakes mean like the clients will notice or your manager will notice so just take the time to double-check in advance, basically, is the practice.

And so, I remember falling short of that and also receiving sort of gracious forgiveness in terms of like, “Hey, well, it’s just work. Nobody died but, yeah, this is why we believe in this because it can hurt our credibility, and we’re backtracking a little bit, and so let’s figure out how we can do that.” So, that is nice and it feels good.

It’s interesting, like, I remember the word forgiveness is interesting in that…well, I believe we all make mistakes and we all need forgiveness. And, yeah, I remember one of the first times someone actually said to me, “I forgive you,” it was sort of off-putting. One, people don’t say that very often.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, literally, “I forgive you, Tim.” It felt a little odd to me because it was like, “Oh,” because it’s sort of like, “You’re not telling me I didn’t screw up,” which is what most people would say, “It’s fine. No big deal. It happens, Tim.” In fact, it almost double-affirmed, “Yeah, you screwed up, Pete.” But then it also… so at first, I didn’t like it, it’s like, “Whoa, that’s kind of intense but also very true and right and big of you, and I like and respect you more.”

So, yeah, just that…it takes a little getting used to but it’s awesome. That’s my take. What do you think about forgiveness as a word and a term and a social vibe?

Tim Elmore
Yeah, no, I think you’re spot on. It’s weird. It seems spiritual, like, maybe in church we’d say that, or maybe God says to us in church. But, you’re right, when someone says, “I forgive you,” it can feel at once, like, “Well, that’s patronizing or that’s condescending,” “I’m the holy one here and I’m going to forgive you. I am perfect and you’re not.”

But I think what I love about what you just said was that person didn’t say you didn’t make a mistake. They’re actually saying, “Yeah, I’m sorry. It was really bad. It was bad. It’s wrong.” But then they let you off, and say, “Let’s do better next time.” One phrase we try to live by at our organization, Growing Leaders, is this, “Let’s shoot for perfection but settle for excellence.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, because excellence is pretty good. We know we’re human. So, I worked for John Maxwell for 20 years, and I feel like John modelled this for me right out of college. I was in my 20s at one time, and, gosh, I did some wingnut foul-tipped bonehead things. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I went to John with fear, thinking, “Oh, my gosh, he’s going to let me go,” and he didn’t. He said, “You know, we learned from that, didn’t we? And let’s talk about what we learned,” so I had to come up with some things I learned.

But I built some confidence up, and thought, “I’m going to keep pushing myself because he’s not going to let go of me.” And for 20 years, I stayed there. So, anyway, it was just a great, great lesson for me to say there’s a heart issue to leadership, and I think that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful and John is beautiful, and we’ve had him on the show a couple of times.

Tim Elmore
That’s neat.

Pete Mockaitis
I actually keep forgetting I need to send him something.

Tim Elmore
That’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Listeners can hunt down that episode if they’re really curious about that.

Tim Elmore
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Okay, so high standards and gracious forgiveness. And so, maybe while we’re on the topic, like, in practice, when someone screws up, what do you recommend we say? So, that’s a good phrase, “Hey, we learned something today, didn’t we? I forgive you.” For some personalities, it can really be powerful. For others, it can be very off-putting. What do you think?

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it can be. Of course, people bring different experiences to the workplace so that might be I don’t know how they’re going to respond. But I tell you what, the classic story for this one is…it’s not my case study. My case study for this one is Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. She’s a brilliant picture of this. But the story, I think, we’ve probably all heard, the business story, is Tom Watson who was a former executive at IBM. He was quite famous for having a young manager under his care that made a million-dollar mistake decades ago.

And Watson called him into the office, and the guy came in and spoke first, he thought, “Man, I’m going to just rip the Band-Aid off,” and so he said, “I suppose you want to fire me for my mistake.” And Watson said, “Why would I want to fire you? I just spent a million dollars on your education? Let’s keep going.”

And I thought, “What a great attitude that is.” But it sounds cliché but that’s essentially what a boss needs to, “We learned from this. Let’s make sure we did learn from this. Let’s not repeat it but now let’s move forward but let’s keep the standard high.” And I think most people need a leader to keep the standard high.

Most of us would begin to settle in for average, “Whatever my teammates are doing, if it’s average, I’ll be average.” And I think leaders need to keep calling people up to a standard that’s above and beyond what we would do on our own.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you. All right. Well, let’s hear about the paradox about being both deeply personal and inherently collective.

Tim Elmore
Yeah. So, all of these are different categories of paradoxes. This is the paradox of vocabulary. This paradox is, have you ever noticed when a leader is communicating with a team of people, or any audience, for that matter, the best ones are inherently collective, meaning when they speak, you can tell they see the big picture? They have a grasp on the gravity of this issue, they see the whole, not just part, they see the whole, and yet, as they communicate, you get the feeling they’re talking to you. They’re deeply personal in their language.

So, I can think of great speakers I’ve heard before. You hear them talking, you go, “Man, he gets it. She gets it,” but then they start telling a story, and you go, “Oh, my gosh, did he read my mail last week?” that sort of thing, “How did they know I was feeling that right now?” So, I think this ability we need to develop of being inherently collective but yet deeply personal is brilliant.

My case study on this one was Mother Teresa. So, most people have heard her name, she’s now a saint in the Catholic Church. But Mother Teresa was a great leader. She started this order The Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, India, and it became the largest order of its kind, thousands and thousands and thousands. And she didn’t start thinking, “I’m a great leader. I’m going to build the biggest company.” She didn’t do that.

But what she did was she grasped a big-picture issue, there were people living in poverty and dying on the streets, and she thought, “I’m going to address that issue. We’re going to do it one life at a time so I can stay personal to the needs. And when I go to a donor, I’m going to have a story to tell, not, ‘Well, did you know that 53% are actually dying?’” She didn’t do that.

So, she would talk to people that would say, “Don’t you think a government program would be more effective than a bunch of nuns and Catholic Church?” And they would say, “This is going to destine your plan to fail,” and she would say, “No, it’s going to destine us to scale.” Ain’t that brilliant? And the reason she said that was you scale when people see you setting an example but you’re not leaving the personal touch, and people go, “I know that’s how life ought to look.” In customer service, we don’t want to lose the personal touch.

And so, she was doing it so beautifully, people just kept joining and joining and joining. So, she’s in Calcutta, then there were men and women, then there were this group and then that group, and now there’s groups all over the world. I think the brilliance of it is it is counterintuitive. She never lost sight of the big picture. This is huge. But she never ever, ever lost the touch.

Let me tell you one cool story from her life that might be a cool thing for your listeners to hear. One day, she’s in Calcutta, on the streets, even though she’s heading up this huge thing. She’s wiping the leg of one of the people that are living in poverty. She’s wiping the leg because it’s leprous. They have leprosy and it’s pretty gross. Well, there were some business people that were touring the building, and they saw her on the ground wiping this leg that’s just “Aargh.”

And one of the men turns to the other man next to him, and says, “Aargh, I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa looks up, and says, “Neither would I.” Her point was, “That’s not my motivation.” And it’s moving to me but I’m just thinking, “I never want to lose why I got into this gig in the first place, which is to serve these people. And I need to feel what they’re feeling, and so when I address them, they don’t feel like I’m in some ivory tower that can’t be touched, and I’m some lofty guru now that’s written a bunch of books or whatever.” I don’t want to lose that touch.

So, yeah, Mother Teresa is my great example on that, and, one, I feel like that’s an aspiration that I want to have – collective and personal. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful and quite beautiful, indeed, that in having the personal touch and such, in this case, compassion or…I guess there’s many virtues or dimensions of excellence, just depending on your flavor and vibe and organization that you’re working with, when done at an exceptionally high-caliber level, inspire and touch and motivate. And that is hard to quantify exactly what impact that it has but it is vastly greater than the one, even though your focus is on the one. So, I’m picking up what you’re putting down with regard to the word paradox here.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it really is weird. It’s almost oxymoron kind of what it feels like until you dig, and go, “Oh, I see. I see how those two can go together.” So, yeah, it’s really fun. Okay, so let me…let’s see, what am I missing? Oh, two more. Is that right?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Tim Elmore
Okay. So, one of the paradoxes is one that I think we’ve all said to ourselves at one point, “I need to be both a teacher and a learner.” So, Angela Ahrendts is my example on this one. Angela Ahrendts was asked to leave the United States and take over Burberry coats in London, this high-end fashion coat, plaid coat that usually was purchased by rich old ladies back in the day, back in 2006 when she took over. When she came in, the brand was on a decline, not an incline. They were losing money, and they thought, “Oh, my gosh, we may be on our way out.”

So, Angela comes in, and her job, the board said, was to save this brand. The first thing she does after she meets her fellow executives is she meets with the youngest team members at Burberry, I mean, 20 somethings, interns were in the room, and she says, “I want to learn from you. What do we need to do different that will build the brand again and start reaching your people, your colleagues, your peers?” They weren’t reaching the millennials. And at the time, it was the millennials that were the new adult consumer.

Well, this group of people came up with a bunch of ideas, these were young professionals. One of the ideas they came up with is the Art of the Trench, and they said, “Let’s, on our website, put a place for our customers to put pictures of themselves in our coats, which will prompt them to buy our coats.” Now, it sounded kind of funny but it worked. In fact, the Art of the Trench is a page on their site. You scroll through it, there’s all kinds of pictures, mostly of young adults, young professionals, in a very nice coat. The brand began to take off, tripled in size, it was crazy.

But, Angela, if she were here today, she would say this, “I had to be a teacher and a learner. I, obviously, went in as a teacher. I had to lead the way. I had to run point on saving this brand, but I knew one of my first jobs was, if we’re going to reach new customers, I got to talk to some people that understand them, and say, ‘Here’s what you need to know.’” So, it’s just…I actually have found that most leaders will confess to me, “I’m either one or other. I’m either really good at learning,” or, “I’m really good at teaching but not learning.” And I think this is one we have to kind of juggle together.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And uncommon leaders are both timely and timeless.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, the last one is timely and timeless. This would probably make sense. I have found that, in today’s world of rapid change, this is cliché, but we have to be timely, meaning we’ve got to keep up with the times. We need to read the culture before we lead the culture, so we need to be relevant with technology. We need to be on the cutting edge with our offerings, our products and services, but, at the same time, I think the best leaders are also timeless, meaning they don’t leave behind those timeless skills and values that made the company what it was when it first began in 1901, maybe.

So, Walt Disney is my brilliant, brilliant example, I think, here. If you think about it, if you walked into Disneyland in Anaheim, California, the original theme park, you look to your left, it’s timeless. You see Frontierland, Adventureland. He looks back at the past, and says, “Here are the heritage of our nation. Here are the virtues that built us into a great country, integrity and honesty.” But you look off to the right, there’s Tomorrowland. He was fascinated by science fiction and technology and science and animatronics.

So, Walt Disney was this leader that said, “I’m going to use cutting-edge technology to message timeless virtues that we dare not leave behind as we progress into the future.” So, I think great leaders jump on a swing set. They swing backwards in order to swing forwards. Swinging backwards is what enables a swinger, a person on a swing set, to swing forward. A swinger, that’s right.

So, I think we need to say, “What was our beginning? What problem were we trying to solve? What was the mission? Why were we doing this in the first place?” And then swinging forward, “Does that need still exist today? How can we repurpose our mission? Are there changes that we need to make?” So, I think that timely and timeless, I saved it till last because I think it’s so important that we master both being pioneers along the way as well as originators. Let’s hold onto the foundation that we built ourselves on.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s really interesting, you talked about the Walt Disney example and timely and timeless because, as we speak, I’ve got two toddlers at home. And so, they went through a bit of a Frozen phase, which I guess most American toddlers have, it seems.

Tim Elmore
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I just noticed at the end that it was based on…the whole story was based on the fable, like the Ice Prince, or Ice Princess, by Hans Christian Andersen, or one of those, or not them, but it’s like Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen. Then, at the same time, we’ve got these books of like Aesop’s Fables and fairytales and just sort of books like these classics, like Jack and the Beanstalk, and all these things, and then you see Pinocchio.

And what’s fascinating, it’s like many of these stories are like old, like centuries old, and yet we’re bringing in the most cutting-edge storytellers, musicians, designers, animators, to make something like Frozen happen. And, sure enough, it’s like if you just really sit with some of the emotions and some of the songs, it’s kind of like deeply moving, “Oh, my gosh, this person feels so isolated. Whoa.”

And then if you open up and get vulnerable, and think about the ways you feel isolated, that can really be moving. So, Tim, look, you and I are both tearing up in one interview.

Tim Elmore
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you’re like, “This is a child’s cartoon. What is going on here?”

Tim Elmore
I know. I know. Well, can I volley back really quick, Pete? I think one of the shows that Disney+, speaking of Disney, just put on their channel was Hamilton, you know, the Broadway play. Hamilton is such a great example of this. It’s a rags-to-riches story that is timeless, the story of Alexander Hamilton, and they’re doing rap music, they’re hip hop on the stage. So, here’s a timely medium to share this story to kids you might not want to read in a history book but you’ll go to a stage show.

So, I think that’s the need of the hour. We have some pretty cool principles that our nation was built upon, and perhaps every civilization down through history was built upon, but we’ve got to find new ways for the next generation, your kids, my kids, that will say, “Oh, I can embrace that because you found a fresh way to say it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Tim, I really appreciate the rundown here, the clear ideas that are powerful and vast in their implications along with very clear illustrations, stories, case studies, that bring them to life. So, perfection. Thank you. So, lay it on us, for professionals, maybe they’re not yet leaders or they’re just starting to lead, if you had to boil it down to one starting action that you recommend folks take that gives a big bang for the buck, a high ROI in terms of your time and effort and energy, and the leadership shot-in-the-arm it gives you, what should we start doing or stop doing right away?

Tim Elmore
Wow, that’s a great question. I’ll be honest with it; two quick items are coming to mind. Let me see if I can share them quickly. One is, and, by the way, we’ve done a course, Habitudes for Young Professionals. So, when it’s kind of beginning of the journey, one of them is a principle or an image we call coffee step, and it was built off a story.

We had some interns, when I was working with John Maxwell, that I was overseeing, and one of the gals that was an intern told me this story way later when she became a professor at a university. But she said to me, “I was immediately asked to get the coffee for the executives on the team as an intern,” and she goes, “I was actually kind of put off by that. It was off-putting to me,” because she thought to herself, “Do you not realize I got a college degree? Are you asking this because I’m a girl?” that sort of thing.

And then she said, “I made a decision that I’m going to get the coffee,” and she said, “It was the smartest decision I made. When I was willing to kind of stoop and do that menial task, it got me in the room. I’m meeting the executives. I’m meeting the VPs and I’m starting up conversation. Pretty soon, they asked me to sit down with them and talk. Next thing I know, I’m interacting, they know me,” she starts moving up.

And so, coffee step is simply this challenge. Don’t be afraid to do the small thing even though your talent enables you to do way more than that. If you’ll execute the smallest of tasks, you might be amazed what will enable you to do. Because I think early tasks are not about talent; they’re about trust, “Can I trust you to do what I’ve asked you to do?” So, that would be one.

The other is an image that we call early birds or mockingbirds. And this is kind of cheesy but here it is. I think when people come onto a team at the beginning, they either start becoming a mockingbird, “I’m just going to imitate everybody else. What are you doing? I’ll do it too,” or an early bird, “I’m going to be the first one in the office. I’m going to be the one that sets the pace.”

Pete, you’re going to love this. I had an intern a few years ago, second week on the job, he was an intern, a summer intern, he said, “Dr. Elmore, could I get a key to the office?” I said, “What do you need a key for?” and I didn’t say it but I was thinking, “You’re an intern, you’re going to leave in August.” He said, “Well, I’ve been noticing, I got a lot to do here and I actually want to do a really good job. I may get here before everybody else. I’m going to need a key.” I said, “You’re going to get a key.”

So, my point of that, it seems so simple, but if you’ll be the early bird that’s just going above and beyond, that second mile, that whatever, and then don’t be afraid to do the small thing, it’s probably going to lead to bigger things. That would be what I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, that’s beautiful. We only have time for a couple of your favorite things, but can you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tim Elmore
Being a good parent has been very important to me, and one favorite quote I’ve tried to live by is this, when it comes to the next generation, “It’s better to prepare the child for the path instead of the path for the child.” I think so many parents are trying to pave the way for their children and make it easier. I think we don’t need to make it easier. I think we need to build strong kids that are ready for whatever comes their way. So, prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Tim Elmore
One book I re-read every year is a book called Leadership and Self-Deception. Have you read that one?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it’s one I re-read probably because I tend to be selfish, and that book just gets me out of the box, that whole thing of…and I think we don’t realize it as leaders but, even though we say, “Well, I’m a leader. I’m about everybody else.” Really, we’re about getting our stuff done, and now we have everybody at our beck and call. So, that book has been so rich for me.

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

Tim Elmore
Well, you can go to TimElmore.com, you can find the book there at Amazon prices, and I do events. But the nonprofit I lead for the next generation is called GrowingLeaders.com, and that’s where you can find me there.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, this has been a real pleasure. I wish you much luck and fun in navigating these paradoxes.

Tim Elmore
Thanks, Pete. Great to be with you.

729: A Veteran Broadcaster’s Top Tips for Great Listening and Speaking with Jane Hanson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Jane Hanson says: "You make people feel when you listen to them."

Emmy-award-winning journalist Jane Hanson shares the secrets of communicating like the pros.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we’re listening wrong–and how to fix it 
  2. How to communicate through body language 
  3. The words that undermine your credibility 

About Jane

Jane Hanson began as an anchor and correspondent for NBC New York in 1979. In 1988, Jane was named co-anchor of “Today in New York,” a position she held until 2003 when she became the station’s primary anchor for local programming and the host of “Jane’s New York”; She covered events ranging from the tragedy of 9/11 to the joy of Yankees victory parades to Wall Street and Washington; has interviewed presidents, business magnates, prisoners, and celebrities; traveled as far as the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and the great depths miles below New York City for her special reports.

Jane has won 9 Emmy Awards. In addition, she was named Correspondent of the Year by New York’s Police Detectives and received a similar honor from New York’s Firefighters.

She has also been the recipient of numerous other awards for her service to the community. Jane has served as the March of Dimes Walk-America Chairman, honorary chair for the Susan B. Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure, and as a board member of Graham Windham, Phipps Houses, the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, and Telecare. She has taught courses on communication at Long Island University, Stern College, and the 92nd Street Y. Hanson is a Past President of the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome. 
  • FSAstore.comUse your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! 

Jane Hanson Interview Transcript

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

Jane Hanson
Well, thank you very much for inviting me to be here because, obviously, you’re awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you. And you have had an awesome career, and I kind of want to start by hearing, perhaps, one of your favorite or most thrilling stories from 30-ish years of being a news correspondent and anchor.

Jane Hanson
Well, I have to tell you that everybody always says, when you’re an anchor or a correspondent, your best story is the last one you did because there are so many you can’t even remember them all. But I will tell you one of the most awesome ones ever is the day that, because I worked in New York City for most of my life for NBC. And so the day that was sent down to interview a guy named Desmond Tutu, who worked with the apartheid movement in South Africa.

And he was in town, I think he was going to the UN or something, and so I go down to do this interview, I do my prep work, I start talking, and reporters are always like we always got to move, move, move, move, move, move, move fast. So, I get down and I’m sitting on this bench talking with him, and the people that were with him interrupted and said, “I’m sorry, we have to stop.” I’m like, “Oh, come on. I’m almost done. Please, just let me finish.” And they said, “No, you really want this to stop.”

So, they pulled him aside and they told him that he had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. So, he comes back and sits down with me, and tears are streaming down his face. I start to choke up and cry. It was just one of those moments where you’re watching this incredible human being, who had just been told that all of the work that he’s done for the people that he represents, for the good of the world is being recognized in that way.

And, of course, being the kind of person that he was, the awesome human being, he simply said, “This is all about them. I don’t deserve it; they all do.” And it’s a moment I’ll never forget because it was just kind of out of the blue but, there, you’re watching this incredible little piece of history being made in front of your eyes.

I saw history all the time but it’s the result of that, and the poignancy, and the beauty, and the knowledge of what somebody had accomplished, and me just watching it in that moment was probably one of the greatest things I ever saw.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool. Thank you. Well, now, I want to hear about some of the greatest things you ever learned in terms of anything particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive that you’ve made about what makes for effective and powerful communication.

Jane Hanson
Well, one of the things that I’ll tell you is I think that great leaders are people who are much kinder and more thoughtful and more approachable than you can imagine. And I think that’s what makes them great leaders and great communicators. I also have discovered that people really like to be asked for help. You’re always afraid of asking somebody and saying, “Oh, no, they’re too big a deal. And what do they want with little old me? And I’m afraid to ask them because they’ll say no.”

But, again, back to the greatest people and the greatest communicators, if you are very specific in asking them for what you need in that moment, or would like to know from them in that moment, they’re extremely gracious about actually helping you and granting you that, and so don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to do that. I think that’s one of the best lessons of all. And then I think virtually the most important thing is listening. If you don’t listen well, you’re never going to get anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. What did you say, Jane? Sorry.

Jane Hanson
Maybe if I say it louder. That’s the other thing. People think, “Well, if I just talk louder then maybe they’ll hear me.” It doesn’t work, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s hear about listening first in terms of how does one listen well effectively versus kind of what do we get wrong about listening? Because I think we all say, “Well, of course, I listen.” Well, what’s missing, Jane?

Jane Hanson
What’s missing is we’re too busy thinking about our answer to really listen. So, for example, you have a conversation with somebody, and they’re telling you a story, and instead of really taking in that story, thinking about what it means, and maybe just having a little bit of empathy or understanding, we’re immediately thinking, “Oh, yeah, that happened to me,” or, “Here’s what I’m going to say back,” and we haven’t even heard the full story.

So, listening involves truly caring, truly having that kind of empathy, and truly believing that this person is important. And how many times have you been talking to someone when you can see that their eyes are glancing over your shoulders at somebody else or they’re not giving you that great body language that means they’re listening? Listening isn’t just about what your ears are doing. They’re about what you’re doing with your eyes and your facial expressions, and maybe you’re leaning in or not leaning in. There’s so much more to simply listening that has nothing to do with what’s coming in your ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. Thank you. And then, so a lot of that really seems to boil down to “Do you actually care? Is that person actually important to you?” And so, well, you tell me, Jane, sometimes you don’t care, you’re not interested, the person is not yet important to you. Not that you’re a sociopath who is like, “Everybody is a means to my end and move on from me.” But just sort of like, “I don’t know this guy yet. I’m not really captivated yet.”

So, how do you recommend we kind of get there because I imagine over the course of 30-ish years of broadcast journalism, there were occasionally times you weren’t feeling it. How do you get in the mood? How do you feel it?

Jane Hanson
Well, that gets back to, then, kind of “Why are you there? And why are you talking to this person? And what’s the purpose?” because purpose is a really big deal. I have had some of the best stories come to me because I actually asked someone a question, maybe in an elevator, maybe on a street corner, maybe because they were sitting next to me on an airplane, only because I just, I don’t know, I got curious about something weird, like maybe a tie, or a piece of jewelry, or a bag they were carrying, or a book they were reading, and I’d ask them a question.

And, all of a sudden, I’d hear, or they’d tell me this story, and I go, “Oh, that’s amazing.” So, yeah, there’s a lot of times that we really don’t care, but if you can find one little common thing, it’ll set you down a completely different path, and an interesting one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. Well, so that’s the listening side of…

Jane Hanson
So, that’s like, look, I’m looking at you now, the audience isn’t, but you have an Illinois sweatshirt put on.

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

Jane Hanson
Now, I’d say, “Hey, did you go to Illinois?” and maybe you’d say, “Nope.”

Pete Mockaitis
I did.

Jane Hanson
Oh, there we go. Well, so, obviously, you lived in the Midwest, I lived in the Midwest. Oh, my God, we’re Midwesterners, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Jane Hanson
And then we could get into a whole long thing about complaining about the winter weather, or we could talk about how people…

Pete Mockaitis
New Yorkers.

Jane Hanson
Yeah, how they ignore us and how they think that the middle of the country is a flyover place, or we could get into a whole conversation because you’re wearing that sweatshirt.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yes. And you have a monkey playing a cello painting behind you, or is it a vase?

Jane Hanson
Wait. On that side, I have one playing an accordion.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so I’m curious about this work of art, and maybe it’s famous and I just don’t recognize it. But what’s the story here?

Jane Hanson
It’s actually a screen so you can take it off the wall.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Jane Hanson
Use it as a screen. I happen to like monkeys and I have a lot of monkey stuff in my house, and so that’s just one of it. But I think it’s really funny because, first of all, do you know anybody who likes the accordion?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I knew someone who was into dancing polka, but she didn’t explicitly say she liked the accordion. I just inferred that.

Jane Hanson
So, polka dancing, I mean, look, if you grew up in the Midwest, like I did, there’s a lot of polka dancing going on and there’s a lot of people that played the accordion. And so, I like having an accordion not because I like music so much but I think it’s funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it is. There’s something comical about it. Like, Steve Urkel played the accordion and it just fits. There’s just something funny. I don’t know. There’s something funny about the accordion.

Jane Hanson
Right. It is.

Pete Mockaitis
Weird Al, Steve Urkel.

Jane Hanson
I mean, it’s goofy.

Pete Mockaitis
Goofy, yeah.

Jane Hanson
Plus, you’ve got to be really talented because you got to pull, you got have the air going so you got to pull it back and forth, and then use the hand to play the notes. It’s a lot of work to play an accordion.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Well, Jane, this has been a really cool demo here because here we are, conversing about things, and I’m enjoying myself in terms of covering Illinois, Midwesterners, monkeys, accordions, so it’s good stuff just based on what was visually right there in front of us.

Jane Hanson
Which visual is really important, which gets me to the most, the stuff I like to talk about the most, which is about body language.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, let’s hear it.

Jane Hanson
So, man and woman have been walking on Earth for, depending on who you believe, anywhere from 2 to 14 million years, but we’ve only had a spoken language for 160,000. So, how did we communicate besides a few grunts here and there? It’s all about how we used our bodies. And to this day, we still do it even though it’s so innate, nobody actually recognizes how much they’re doing it.

So, I challenge you to do, I challenge everybody who’s listening, to do, take a little test. Turn on your television set and watch a show but have the sound off, and you’re going to be able to figure out the bulk of the story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, my wife does this sometimes. Like, “Oh, someone is angry. Someone has discovered something surprising.”

Jane Hanson
But you can do it because it’s the body language. And the body language, like the face alone, for something like 10,000 different expressions that we can use, some of them really fleeting, but every single one of them has a meaning, which is the really crappy part every time when we’re anywhere we had to wear those masks. You’re missing people’s smiles. You didn’t know what people were really thinking because you couldn’t see their mouths.

But, anyway, all I’m saying is that our bodies say so much more. I can tell you stories about which way your feet are pointing when you’re sitting in somebody’s office. What does that mean? About how you’re using your arms, the gestures, there’s everything, has got inner meaning to it that we subconsciously read and we don’t even know it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s juicy, yes. Well, Jane, please lay it on us. We previously had FBI agent Joe Navarro, who wrote a great book about body language, What Every BODY is Saying, which we’ll link to, and he had some great nuggets. But you are offering from a different context than law enforcement. So, tell us, what have you found to be the most useful and reliable body language indicators of something useful or good? So, we talked about some feet pointing. Lay them on us. What are your, say, top five favorite indicators that tell you something useful?

Jane Hanson
Well, I have to say one of the first is exactly what Joe Navarro probably told you about eye contact.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jane Hanson
Did he tell you about when people look up to the left that they were lying?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, he’s very nuanced and careful to not be as black and white about that. But, yes, that could be indicative, if I recall correctly, about, “I am accessing an imagined content in my brain as opposed to remembering factual content in my brain, so I could very well, potentially, be fabricating something.” And just to clarify, for listeners, is it their left or the left that we see?

Jane Hanson
It’s usually the left that we see.

Pete Mockaitis
The left that we see. So, if it goes left, as though we were looking at a piece of paper, and it’s on the left, that means, “Hmm, might be…”

Jane Hanson
They may not be telling you the truth or the absolute truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jane Hanson
Okay. So, eye contact is a really big deal because eyes are the gateway into the soul. So, when you’re talking to someone, and if you’re not looking them directly in the eye, they’re not going to trust you, they’re not going to believe that you really care, because I do a lot of coaching via Zoom now and via whatever other platform, and it’s hard because, in order to have good eye contact, you need to be looking right up into the little lens but your instinct is to be looking at the person that you’re talking to.

Now, when you’re doing a podcast, it’s much easier because you don’t have to look at anybody. However, you really need to think about having great eye contact because, if you don’t, people just don’t trust you. Okay, so eye contact is another thing. Another thing is crossing your arms. So, crossing your arms can mean several things. One of the things that it can mean is you really don’t care what somebody is saying, that you’re kind of bored, and it’s an indication that, “Hmm, okay. Fine. Mm-hmm, okay, whatever.”

It also can mean, especially for women, that you’re cold, because maybe the air-conditioning is on too much in a room, or maybe you need a sweater outside, so it means you’re cold. It can also mean, “Hmm, I want to get out of here. How am I going to do that?” So, there’s a lot of things with one gesture that can mean many things.

When you take your hands and hold them, what’s called the most visionary look is…you know, playground ball? Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jane Hanson
Okay. So, the playground ball, they’re not the size of basketball, they’re not the size of a baseball, they’re kind of in between. Those playground balls, when you hold your hands so it’s like you’ve got that in the middle, that means that you’re being extremely visionary, that what you’re saying is kind of a very well-rounded thought that we should take in.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, you think it is maybe.

Jane Hanson
Or, you think it is. But it’s the way it’s interpreted by somebody who’s watching you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so you’re saying that just by doing that, folks can assign more weight to what it is we’re saying.

Jane Hanson
When you hold your hands out and you’ve got that big wide gesture where your palms are up, kind of like when you see those preachers on TV, it may mean that you’re really asking for something, and maybe it’s asking for something that you might not want to give.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re asking for something you don’t want to give, like, “Who wants to sign up for this committee? I don’t.” Like that? “You want to give of your time to this thing that I don’t want to give my time to?”

Jane Hanson
Exactly. Exactly. All right. So, the way your feet are pointing, what I was referring to earlier, if your feet are pointed towards the person you’re speaking to, you’re being very open and you’re clearly listening to them. If your feet are pointed away, it means you’re not interested. Are you buying into any of this or do you think I’m just making it up? “I don’t know about you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I think the feet are good. I guess I’m just recalling Joe Navarro’s rant about opaque tables in interrogation rooms and how that’s a travesty and need to be transparent. So, I was like tracking and I was remembering, so I was imagining an interrogation room as you’re speaking. But it’s clear that you’re observing my body language as we’re talking.

Jane Hanson
Well, I’m observing, like, obviously, I can only see a part of you, so it’s harder to observe it as such, but you look like you’re sitting up pretty straight. That’s another big one. It’s when people slump, again, that shows a lack of self-confidence. Slumping means you’re not very…you’re kind of down. You’re not enthusiastic, etc. If you think about it, if somebody walks up to you and they’ve got their shoulders slumped, you’re kind of going, “Do I really want to speak to that person? That person looks kind of…like, this is going to be a painful conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
They don’t seem as open to that idea of talking to you.

Jane Hanson
Right. Exactly. But when you’ve got your shoulders back and you’ve got great posture…I have a wonderful little poster that has somebody standing up straight, and it says, “This is a good person,” and then somebody who is really slumped over, and it says, “This is an evil person.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, you think about that. Evil people tend to be slouched over and stroking hairless cats as a general rule of thumb. Like, there’s your telltale signs, “Excellent. Excellent.”

Jane Hanson
You’re good because I love how you’re painting imagery in people’s heads because that’s a very big deal, too, is that we create the imagery because we may not be able to be showing it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, you mentioned there are three core elements of speaking – what you say, how you say it, and body language. So, we talked about some body language pieces. Can we hear a little bit about the what you say and then how you say it?

Jane Hanson
Well, the how you say it is actually also having to do with body language because that’s about delivery, but a lot of that is about how we use our voice.
Voices, we barely use our voice. You have an excellent voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Jane Hanson
It’s nice and deep and solid, and that’s what we like. We like, think of hot chocolate, or bourbon, or things melting. That’s how we like voices. That’s how people have always done so well with commercials, how all those male voices have a really silky…that’s why we like them so much because we like those voices.

Women are usually told to use their lower pitches because lower pitches are considered to be more believable. We hardly ever use the full range of what we have. We need to think about things like pace, how fast are you talking. When you talk fast, or when you go like, “Well, let me tell you about this story because this story is really exciting. You’re really, really going to love it,” you think one of two things, either, “I’m so excited that I’m almost out of control,” or, “I’m so nervous, I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Then you think about your tone, which is really intended to be the interpretation of something. So, if I speak to you like this, and it’s important that you know this fact, you’re going to say, “Man, this is important because, listen to the way she’s saying it.” But if I say, “It is really important that you know this,” now I’ve taken an entirely different tone, and you’re going, “Nah, I’m not sure I’m going to care.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jane Hanson
Okay. So, volume, softness is being soft. It can be equally as effective as being loud because, in both cases, you’re making me pay attention in one way or another. Softness can speak volumes about credibility, about authority, and about leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I think about softness, it’s not like…I’m thinking about that sketch with Andy Samberg, “Shy Ronnie,” where he’s just kind of mumbling really quietly, and so that’s probably not the softness that you’re talking about, Jane, I’m guessing. But, rather, like you’re deliberately bringing it softer, like there’s something sort of touching or emotional or some gravitas, some seriousness about a thing, and so you’re deliberately going there as oppose to you’re like scared to own your volume, and so you’re mumbling.

Jane Hanson
Exactly. It is about technique. It’s all about technique. You’re absolutely right. Because people who are very soft spoken, sometimes that’s just their natural way of speaking, and that can be to their own detriment because, then, if you can’t hear someone, and it’s not a deliberate thing, like they’re not trying to get you to pay attention but you can’t hear them, you’re simply going to dismiss them, because if you can’t hear it, it doesn’t matter what you said.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Cool. All right. Well, so then we talked a bit about body language and then vocal bits, your volume and your pace and your tone. How about in terms of, I guess, the 7% or 8%, the actual word choice? What do you think about that?

Jane Hanson
Well, I don’t want anybody to think that it doesn’t matter what you say, because if you don’t have anything to say, who cares how you say it? So, content is important, and you’re usually speaking to somebody because of the content that you have in work, in a presentation, in a speech, in a video, because everybody’s doing videos these days. You’re doing it because you are the expert at something, because you have something great to say.

Now, how are you going to say, I don’t mean say, how are you going to give your best? So, you have to think about the message. And the message has to be really clear and concise. There’s a big movement out there to speak in threes, and I’m sure you’ve heard of this – three points. Okay, let me ask you a question. What’s nine times one?

Pete Mockaitis
Nine.

Jane Hanson
Not in messaging math. In messaging math, that’s zero.

Pete Mockaitis
Messaging math. Okay, so if I have nine points, zero are going to get through.

Jane Hanson
That’s right. So, you get one. You get one great point. In messaging math, three times three, you’d say it’s nine. It’s one, maybe two. So, if you have three points, and you say some three times, one or two of them are going to get through. So, the best thing I can say is to have a very clear message. And to make sure you get that message out there frequently by using other kinds of techniques throughout the duration of your presentation, such as telling a story, maybe giving a great fact. Whatever it is, you need to be sure that you don’t overwhelm the human brain with a bunch of different messages because it’s not going to work. They’re never going to remember it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one key message shared differently. So, maybe, could you give us an example of bad versus good here?

Jane Hanson
All right. So, it’s hard for me to do bad but I’ll try. Okay, so I want you to take away from this podcast that you need to make sure that you always use your voice in so many different ways that you never ever tell a story that’s more than 30 seconds long, that you always have three main points, that I want you to never forget about looking your audience in the eye, that I think you must always have perfect posture, that I think you must point your feet in the right direction, and I think you’ve got to make sure that your hair is always combed. All right, I just said like 12 different things that I want you to do. How many of those could you actually remember?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, almost none, kind of the last because it’s the last, comb my hair, and then my key, my toes pointed and my posture good. But, yeah, so not much.

Jane Hanson
Right. But if I said, “To be really an effective speaker, you must focus on how you’re delivering your message, and make sure that message has one solid point that’s very, very clear and concise.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there’s one point. Thank you. Cool. All right. Well, so that’s one key thing is to be concise. Any pro tips on getting to that brevity and trimming things down?

Jane Hanson
Yeah, I love mapping, like taking a big whiteboard and writing all my thoughts on it, and I’ll pile a ton of them on it. And then I’ll circle the ones that really connect. Then I’ll draw lines between them, and say, “Okay, this, this, this, and this,” I shouldn’t be pointing like this because this is a podcast. I apologize. Audience, I’m pointing. I’m like going pretending like they’re all connecting.

And then I see what’s the common thread. And that helps lead me to my kind of bottom line. So, it’s really about, “What do I want the audience to walk away with? What’s my key point I want them to walk out the door thinking?” And I always have to get back to that. So, it’s, today, I want your audience to walk away thinking, “I can be a great speaker.”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Jane Hanson
Now, how do I get them there? We’ve talked about how to use your voice. We’ve talked about how to use your body. And, right now, we’re talking about how to get to that key point.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And so, now I’m wondering, any key things you recommend we stop doing, some communication don’ts?

Jane Hanson
Oh, yes. How about like, you know, maybe, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Vocal pauses, right?

Jane Hanson
My favorite new one is, “Yeah, no.” How many times have you heard people say that recently?

Pete Mockaitis
That is another one.

Jane Hanson
So, those are crutch words. And you ditch crutch words by taking a pause, because crutch words are fillers, and we don’t like dead air. We don’t like dead air on a podcast, we don’t like dead air on television, we don’t like dead air on a conversation. We always think we have to fill it up. You don’t. And you become more credible when you take a pause. And a pause is the length of time it takes to tap your foot.

Pete Mockaitis
Tap it once.

Jane Hanson
Yup. That’s it. It’s no big deal but it takes guts because we don’t like to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, it does take guts. And I think there’s some fear that someone else is going to sort of like steal the stage or the microphone or the air time from you. If I’m saying something to you, Jane, and then I just pause, it’s almost like we’re worried, like, “Oh, I won’t get to say the thing that I want to say if I pause because someone else is going to take it, or people will think I’m dumb if I have silence.” So, it’s like there’s some internal fear or resistance to doing it. So, how would you persuade the reluctant pauser?

Jane Hanson
By telling them that if they do that, they will be considered a great talker. It will add volumes to their credibility. I dare you to watch any great speaker out there and note their pauses. Barack Obama, considered to be one of the greatest pausers of all time. I’m not kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, it’s true. I was like, when I hear impressions, that’s kind of like what happens, like, “We hear a few words quickly, and then pause.” So, that’s kind of how it unfolds.

Jane Hanson
Right. Bill Clinton is a good pauser. He’s also a great gesturer. And one of the things that Bill Clinton was told early on was that he had to keep…he liked to take his hands and go…he had lots of gestures and really wild. It’s so funny because sometimes I work with people and they’ll say, “I have to gesture a lot because I’m Italian.” I’m like, “It’s okay,” but the more you gesture that isn’t in sync with what you’re saying, then people are distracted and they’re no longer listening to you any longer because they’re wondering, “What the hell are you doing with your hands?” So, Bill keeps his gestures inside a square box around his torso, and it’s made him really effective, and it helped him not do all the distracting gestures.

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

Jane Hanson
Well, I love a Winston Churchill quote, which is, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” So, always prepare.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a great quote. I was just about to ask. So, how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jane Hanson
Well, I told you about like watching television with the sound turned off. I always like people to assess themselves before I work with them, and it’s really interesting how they are so self-critical far more than they need to be. So, I think if you asked people, when you’re there to help them, to give you a really solid decent assessment that it’s really good research into them, and it shows they’re willing to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite book?

Jane Hanson
I’ll tell you an interesting book that I just read was Huma Abedin. She was Secretary of State Clinton’s right hand person, and she went through a lot in her personal life. That was pretty good.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jane Hanson
A favorite habit of mine is yoga. I do it virtually every day. And every single morning, I listen to some sort of an inspirational thing about gratitude.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you tend to share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Jane Hanson
Yes, a Maya Angelou quote, which is, “People will forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.” And the reason that’s so important, getting back to that idea of listening, you make people feel when you listen to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. Amen.

Jane Hanson
And I think it’s really, I think that is. And it’s never been more important than it’s been in the last two years during what we’ve all been through because we all needed to connect more, we needed to feel more, and being able to help be vulnerable, to help be empathetic, to help show compassion, we’ve all needed it so much. And that just gets back to that notion of helping each other feel.

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

Jane Hanson
They could reach out to me at my website, which is JaneHanson.com, that’s H-A-N-S-O-N because, as any good Midwesterner knows, I’m Norwegian. And I’m really easy to reach that way.

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

Jane Hanson
Yeah, take risks. Dare to speak out. Dare to own your space. Dare to let your ideas come forth. Don’t keep them inside. What’s the worst that could happen? Somebody says no. But I guarantee you, they won’t. And the moment you start doing it, it only grows and you’re going to feel so much better about yourself.
And, also, I mean, even as simple as go onto a social media site, especially for business, like LinkedIn, reach out to somebody you don’t know and comment on something. Maybe you’ve seen something wonderful they’ve written or maybe they’ve gotten some…they have some huge accomplishment. Congratulate them. You can’t believe how many people and how many friends I’ve made by doing that. Just dare. Take a risk. It’s worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Jane, this has been a treat. Thank you. And I wish you lots of luck in your communications.

Jane Hanson
Thank you. Same to you. And you keep up the good work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

728: Uncovering the Hidden Elements that Influence Decisions with Eric Johnson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Eric Johnson says: "You are a choice architect. You are a designer. You make the decisions whenever you present somebody with a choice."

Professor Eric Johnson shares compelling research revealing the tiny factors that have a huge impact on what we (and others!) end up choosing.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How changing order drastically changes what we choose 
  2. The key to minimizing indecision
  3. The biggest decision-making mistake people make 

About Eric

Eric J. Johnson is the Norman Eig Professor of Business and the director of the Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia Business School. He has been the president of both the Society for Judgment and Decision Making and the Society for Neuroeconomics. He lives in New York City. 

 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease!

Eric Johnson Interview Transcript

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

Eric Johnson
Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom when it comes to decision-making. It’s one of my favorite topics. We’ve had luminaries like Annie Duke and others on the show, so excited to get into your perspective. But I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing a particularly tricky decision that you’ve had to make in life and kind what was hard about it and how did you, ultimately, come to that decision?

Eric Johnson
So, one of the things that was most devastating in my life was actually a diagnosis of stage 4 Hodgkin’s. Now, granted, that’s a buzzkill to kick this off, but one of the things that got me thinking about is how people make such serious decisions about treatment, and the way that people actually pose those options to people, changes what they choose. And I became madly obsessed with the literature, and that sort of kicked me off, a lot of my interests in choice architecture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, that’s fascinating right there. So, life or death, high-stakes decisions, you would think, unlike software where you have like a bold, blue, highlighted choice of the two, which is nudging you that way, that people might be a little bit more robust in working through this. But can you expand upon that? Like, how might presenting the options lead people to choose one treatment or approach more or less often than another?

Eric Johnson
So, my experience is interesting but there’s actually a nice study that makes the point even better, and that is they were looking at, actually, patients who were at the end of their life. For some reason, this is going to be a depressing day today but I’ll try it not to be. And they gave them the choice of two different kinds of end-of-life care, “Just pre-check one box or the other. One is called comfort care. The other is called, essentially, extreme care. We’ll do everything we can to keep you alive and the other case, we’ll just take care of your pain.” And there was a 30% difference between people’s choices.

And the question is “Why is that the case?” It’s because that’s not something we’ve thought a lot about. So, you might think an important decision is something where it doesn’t matter how you ask the question. Well, this is an important decision we don’t get to make very often. Hopefully, almost never. And so, lots of the decisions we make in life are things where we don’t have a clear preference, and that’s one of them, but some of them are pretty common.

Like, “What are you going to eat in a restaurant?” You may have a rough idea, “I don’t like liver,” but there are a lot of options out there. You’re trying to predict what you’re going to like in a half hour when you’ve actually finished the meal.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, yeah, that’s powerful and, in some ways, and I guess the why behind it being a number of things, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know, I guess this is what’s checked, that’s what most people do. I guess this is the standard or recommended go-to option if it’s the one that’s checked.” Or, maybe it’s like, “This decision is so overwhelming and intimidating that it’s kind of a relief that something has been sort of been checked for me, so I’m just going to roll with it.” We’re speculating here but what do you think is behind that?

Eric Johnson
So, you got two of the three things, I think, happens. One is basically it’s easier to take the default – ease. Second thing is endorsement. It’s as if the person who designed the menu, chose something for you so that must be the best thing. But there’s something that’s a lot more fundamental, which is we actually think about things differently depending upon how they’re framed.

So, there’s a great study I love, which actually gives people the choice between 70% lean hamburger or 30% fat hamburger. Now, you’re smart, your audience is smart, you realize that’s the same thing. But, yet, people, when they have the word fat as a description, think about the hamburger differently. They think about clogging their arteries. They think about it being juicy. When it’s lean, they think about protein and muscle mass. It’s actually as if they’re eating two different things even though the label is the only thing that differs.

When you ask about how much they’ll pay, they pay different amounts. Or, you ask people how good the burgers taste, they rate it differently. So, that study shows that when we’re in these situations, what I call assembled preferences, it’s actually the label that changes what we think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. And so, the 70% lean won on all the dimensions of measurement.

Eric Johnson
Except unless you like a really juicy burger.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Okay. Well, so that’s one big surprise right there in terms of just the way things are presented to us changes how we think about them, and, thus, what we select even if it’s high stakes. Any other really big surprises or discoveries you’ve made over your lifetime of work in this domain?

Eric Johnson
So, that first thing is called a default. I want to give it a name so we have a handy name. It’s not default like going broke. It’s like default in what happens when we don’t take an action. A second thing that surprised me, actually, as I was writing the book, is the effect of order. What you see first can be more attractive. This is why you go down to a supermarket, people actually pay to be in different positions of the aisle so you’ll see them. So, something at eye level is actually, typically, gets more attention and is seen first. So, it turns out when you look at the many studies that have been done, effective order is surprisingly large.

Pete Mockaitis
And first is where you want to be if you want to be chosen. Is that right?

Eric Johnson
Well, almost most of the time, particularly if it’s a place where the decision-maker is in control. So, they look at first, they look at second, and then they stop. So, on lots of websites, for example, people only will look at one or two options, click on them to look at them more carefully. But let me give you the counter example. Imagine, instead, we’re going back to the same restaurant we had the menu at before, but now the waiter, it’s a fancy place, is reading you the menu. Now, are you going to pick the first or what else is going on there?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so funny, that happened to me a few times, whatever that says about my dining choices, but I remember I feel like a little bit nervous, like, “Okay. All right. I really got to strap in, listen, pay a lot of attention.” And I’m thinking, I don’t know if this is what most people do, but like, “Okay, I got to think. I’ve got to give something, a judgment of like thumbs up or thumbs down.” Like, “You’re a finalist or you’re out,” like right away, or else I just can’t even process seven options given to me verbally.

So, I’m like, “Okay, don’t even need to think about that one. Okay, don’t even need to think about…oh, maybe. Prime rib. Interesting. Remember that one.” And so, I’m trying to hold finalists in my head, and then I usually have to ask them and repeat something, like, “What was the third one again?”

Eric Johnson
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s me but I might be an anomaly.

Eric Johnson
But you’ve gotten a great intuition for it. Because what happens, of course, is what’s the one that’s not going to be clobbered by the next one? The last one. And it turns out, in those situations, where the decision-maker is losing control, last has a big advantage. One of my favorite studies of this is, you may or may not have seen it, but there’s a famous song contest that’s been held for over 50 years in Europe called the Eurovision Song Contest.

And it turns out, people have done studies, last has a big advantage there because people remember it. Memory is really important in both cases, but, yeah, between the head, “Who knows what Estonia…” I’m sorry, any Estonian listeners, “But who knows what Estonia did in the second song?” You remember who was the last. So, order, to go back to your question, is surprisingly important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, it sounds like we’ve, maybe, potentially mentioned this, but just to make it explicit, can you give us what is the big idea, core thesis, behind your book The Elements of Choice? It sounds like we’re hitting it. There are things like this that are impacting our choices. Or, how would you articulate the main idea?

Eric Johnson
So, there are two main ideas. The first one is how questions are posed make a difference. But the second one that’s probably most relevant to your listeners is that you are a choice architect. You are a designer. You make the decisions whenever you present somebody with a choice, whether it be your spouse, someone who reports to you, someone you report to. Whenever you’re presenting choices, you’re actually a choice architect. You have control over many of these things, like what the default is, what the right order is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then give us some core principles then in terms of if I have something…Well, I guess, first of all, this presupposes that you’re offering people choices as opposed to saying, “This is what we’re doing now.” Now, I guess you may or may not have the authority or power, influence, sway, relationship, to just, by fiat, say, “This is what’s happening now.” But, maybe, before we delve into the how do we present choices, I’d love to get your take on under what circumstances is it optimal to present multiple choices versus just the, “Hey, I’d like to do this,” or, “How about we do that?”

Eric Johnson
Well, it’s interesting. You say it in a way that says, “How about if we do that?” and in your voice there was a question mark, as if I can come back and say something else. An extreme would be, by fiat, “We are going to go and order this,” and that certainly saves lots of work in decision-making but people often feel like they have lost a lot of power or input or it can be demotivating.

So, a slightly gentler version of that is how many options do you give somebody? Do you give them one, which is your extreme case, in which case, it’s not really a choice? Or, do you give them two, or four, or five? It’s actually quite an interesting aspect of choice architecture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes. And so, I’m curious, are there certain…what are the criteria or factors which might lead me to think, “Hmm, I’m going to go with one choice or option versus a multiple choice or option”?

Eric Johnson
So, how well do I know the person making the decision? If I know a lot of their taste, I can cut down the number of things I show them. So, a menu, when I tell my wife, “What’s on the menu?” Let’s say I’m calling her and saying, “What’s on the menu?” because she’s running a few minutes late and wants me to order for her, if I know her taste, I can give two or three. If it’s somebody I don’t know, I’m going to expand the number of options. I’m going to try and figure out what options are different. So, the more I know the person who’s making a choice, assuming I’m trying to help them, the fewer options I can give them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it makes sense certainly as a principle. Okay. And then I’m thinking if it’s just from a general, like influence-mastery perspective, I’m thinking in the course of, let’s just say, I want boss, or collaborator, peer, to come my way with something. And I guess there’s a whole another set – we had Bob Cialdini on the show who was awesome – of principles associated with being influential. But here, it seems like we’re specifically zeroing in on, in a world where we’re sharing multiple options and we would like them to pick the one we want them to pick, how do we do that?

Eric Johnson
So, I think we’ve covered two things already. One is default, say, “If you don’t have anything else in mind, here’s the default.” So, I’ll give you an example of that that turns out to be very handy in my life. I could say to somebody, “Oh, we should get together for a meeting. What’s good for you?” That’s giving them, in essence, an infinite number of options. Instead, I could say, “Look, 9:30 on Tuesday is good for me, but I’m flexible.”

Now, from my perspective, as the designer, as I call that person, I’m going to increase the probability that gets chosen and it’s better for me. From the other person’s perspective, it saves them a little bit of effort. Instead of having to go through their whole calendar, they can look first and start with that as a starting point. And so, that actually probably makes both the designer and the chooser, or the person making the choice, better off.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that. And then, it’s funny as I’m thinking about, I’ve had some conversations with some sales-type folk in which they’re reaching out, and they say, “Hey, would you like to meet at this time or that time?” And I’m thinking, “Well, neither of those times because I don’t want to meet with you at all.” Any thoughts on, I don’t know if you call that presumption, or when there’s a good possibility that they don’t want none of your options? Like, how does that come across in terms of this little…?

Eric Johnson
So, let me step back one second. The premise of the book is actually a little bit different than it would be if I was doing sales. And it’s basically you’re trying to make the chooser make the choice that’s in their best interest. And the world we’re talking about, of course, that may not always overlap but you probably want to get a time that doesn’t get somebody that has to drive into work an hour early for the meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. And if you’re an ethical salesperson, hopefully, your solution really is, worth their time and effort relative to the alternatives.

Eric Johnson
And, in fact, I’m an optimist, and I think they’re trying to get the right product to you or make you a repeat customer.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, I’m with you.

Eric Johnson
So, default would be one. We’ve already talked about sorting, what would be first, second, third. And if it’s a salesperson, that’s actually getting closer to a place where it’s a verbal list so you have to be careful that the last is going to be something that’s also remembered. You have to be careful in that decision as well. So, those would be two very concrete steps you could make in setting appointments.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And so then, let’s hear some of the others. We’ve talked about the ideal number of options. So, there’s the one or there’s the infinite, and then there’s some discrete numbers in between. How do we think about that?

Eric Johnson
Well, I think there, the issue is basically, again, a lot of us are going to be thinking about the decision-maker and how well you know them, but let me give you a sort of application that’s not exactly how to be great, at least on your job per se. But there’s a really nice example at dating sites. Dating sites differ in the number of options.

So, let me ask you how you do this. If you go to Tinder, the number is infinity. There’s actually something called Tinder thumb for swiping too much. Now, on the other hand, there was a site called Coffee Meets Bagel.
Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I utilized that back in the day. That’s great.

Eric Johnson
It gave you one option, originally, or a small number of options, and they were good. Now, the thing about the chooser who thinks about those two things differently. In Coffee Meets Bagel, you would read the profile and go beyond the picture.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have more time.

Eric Johnson
Yeah, you have more time and you’re not screening. On the other hand, with Tinder, you’re looking at pictures, I suspect, and then pictures get a big weight, and all the other things like personality get almost no weight. So, it depends on what you want the person to do. If you want them to make a good choice, it’s probably a reason to reduce the number of options.

So, if I gave them too many options, that can result in a poor choice because they may be more shallow in their evaluation, kind of like a Tinder effect, versus if I gave them a limited number of choices, like, “Hey, here’s three really good options,” as opposed to, “Well, there’s 14 things we can do,” then they’re like, “Well, I don’t know. That consulting firm seems to have a cool name, so let’s go with them,” versus, “Oh, three. Okay, I can kind of get into a little bit of detail here and think through the pros and cons of this.”

Eric Johnson
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so then, three, I said, was kind of arbitrary. But do you have some thoughts on two versus three versus four versus five?

Eric Johnson
Right. Well, one of the things that’s very tempting to write a book like this is to say five is the magic number. But imagine we’re designing an airplane, would I say, “Two engines is always the right number of engines”? No, it depends on the kind of plane it is. So, rather than say three, I want to give you the principles to think about, which is one thing is that you increase the number of options, people get more variety, but they tend to get overloaded.

So, there are lots of cases where you want to give people variety, particularly if they don’t know you well, but I don’t want to go, like the New York City school system gives kids 769 different high schools they could choose between. That’s a bit too many.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m thinking about my toddler, I kind of give him two shirts, generally, to choose from, and that seems to work pretty well. What do you think?

Eric Johnson
As they get older, they may want a little more, a couple more. But, notice, you’re doing something super important there, which is you’re limiting the choice or the options you want by assuming…you picked those two shirts.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s cold outside so I’d like the long sleeve situation, “This one is cleaner than the other one and a nice shirt.”

Eric Johnson
A friend of mine solved a problem, how to get their three-year old, so this might be useful, to bed by changing it to, “Do you want to go to bed or not go to bed?” to, “Do you want to fly in the bed or do you want to bounce in the bed?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I did that one.

Eric Johnson
No more fighting but, notice, control of the choice set is a lot of control there. And I think, as a parent, you’d argue it’s in both your and their best interest.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Like, “Do you want to fly to the car like an airplane or hop to the car like a kangaroo?”

Eric Johnson
You’ve done this before.

Pete Mockaitis
I can’t get away with that with grownup professionals. “You pay them with a check or with Venmo?”

Eric Johnson
Right. But you could, for example, limit…let’s take a common that many of your listeners have, which is pension plans. How many pension plans are you offered? Which ones? That’s a real-world example that I think is really important. And the funny thing is, for many of these things we’re talking about, people aren’t aware of their effects.

So, the defaults, people have actually done studies where they say, “Okay, now you’ve made a choice,” people see different defaults, they choose different things. And you say, “Did the default affect what you chose?” And they say, “No. It might affect other people but I made my decision based on what I wanted.”

So, the interesting thing for folks here is that the choices you make as an architect, as a designer, actually are things that will influence people and often they won’t realize the influence you have.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful and the results can be massive when you come to retirement age, like, “Oh, shoot. There might’ve been a whole lot more money had I chosen a different option,” or a whole lot less. So, okay, we got a number of elements. Any other key elements you want to cover?

Eric Johnson
I think we’ve gotten a big list. The only other one that I think would be important is when you give people choices, you often describe the choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Eric Johnson
So, what might be called attributes, so price, quality. For a car, it’s how many miles per gallon it gets, how fast it gets. Another thing that a designer does is present attributes. Imagine you’re giving someone a choice between two consulting assignments. You might use travel. You might use challenge. You might use opportunity for advancement. You, as a designer, get to choose which attributes are first and what’s presented.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true.

Eric Johnson
So, I know it’s a long list but these all are things that you, as the designer, have as tools.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you describe choices or attributes, are there any best or worst practices there? Because, again, I’m thinking about the overwhelm, I guess there’s relevance, like, “I might not care about your liter is a turbo horsepower or whatever. Like, those numbers don’t mean things to me.” And maybe I should be better educated about vehicles. That’s come up before. “But I’m just not.” So, any pro tips on best and worst practices for great descriptions within the attributes?

Eric Johnson
So, I think one of the things that is a classic result is imagine calories. Now, if you’re really concerned about your weight, you probably understand calories, but a very nice example is to convert that into the number of miles walked you would have to do to walk off those calories.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Got you.

Eric Johnson
The general principle is making sure the attribute is in a concrete way that people understand.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I think that’s a great in terms of I think like computer things, in terms of like I understand very much what the impact of a 1-terra byte versus a 2-terra byte drive is, and I just bought a 2-terra byte, versus others, like, “What’s that even mean in terms of movies or songs or pictures or whatnot?” Because I often find myself, if I’m reading something and I’m just sort of out of my depth, I don’t know, I’m thinking about power tools or drills or impact drivers or something, they have numbers, like, “Is that good? I hope. It’s probably not horrible if you’re telling me about it. So, certainly, it has to be kind of relevant and understandable.”

And I guess I’m also thinking about just like, “How much is too much?” And now I’m thinking about sales landing pages on websites. And some of them can just go for dozens of pages, like, “Wow, people are reading that?” And others are pretty darn quick in terms of header, subhead, couple bullets, and then that’s that. How do you think about how we make the decision for more versus less?

Eric Johnson
The really interesting thing about your point is that people seem to be very sensitive to the initial cost of information. So, if you land on a page that has an ugly font and it’s hard to look at, even if the offer is attractive, you’re likely to bail. So, we know a lot just by watching firms do their customer funnel, how they actually acquire customers, that each click is very important, and to minimize the effort for each of those clicks is terribly, terribly important in attracting customers. And, again, if you think about trying to get somebody at work to sign on for a project, very similar stories apply.

Pete Mockaitis
So, reducing the friction, making it as easy as possible to do that.

Eric Johnson
Particularly at the beginning.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then I’m curious about, so the flipside, any sort of like mistakes, or cognitive biases, or things we really got to be on our guard for when we are trying to make optimal decisions and present choices optimally to others?

Eric Johnson
So, the first big mistake is most of us don’t realize we’re designers so we’re doing this very haphazardly. So, we use what is first in our mind is what we tell people. So, if you’re saying, “Where do we go to lunch?” well, what happens is the thing that you think of first, it may not even be where you want to go. But, in general, I think neglecting choice architecture is the biggest mistake that we make. It’s because we don’t think it affects us, and, in fact, we don’t even realize how it affects other people. So, there are now a lot of studies showing that people don’t do things that would be in both their best interest and that chooses best interest.

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

Eric Johnson
Well, I think the only thing I would say is realize that deciding how to present information to people is almost a secret power that you have, that it’s actually something that is a source of your ability to help other people, that if you don’t know about it, you’re neglecting a really important aspect of your job as a boss, or as a colleague, or as a report, any of the above.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about power, that makes me think, can you share with us some more of the most sort of eye-popping sort of results or case studies and how little changes make huge differences? So, that pre-checked thing, that was pretty wild in terms of, “How do you want to be taken care of in your final years?” I mean, wow, what a huge impact just to pre-check can make. Any other striking examples or cases that leap to mind?

Eric Johnson
Well, let me talk about another of the tools we’ve talked about, which is order, what’s presented first. It turns out, on ballots, somebody is first, someone is second, etc. What research shows is the first choice gets about 2% more vote even in presidential elections. So, if we think about go back to the year 2000, Gore versus Bush, remember it all came down to Florida. In Florida, there was like 500 votes separating them.

It turns out, Bush, George W. was first in the ballot in Florida because the governor, his brother, Jeb, got to pick who was first. And, of course, any governor would pick the member of their own party. It wasn’t because it was his brother. That probably made the difference in who was elected president of the U.S.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. That was a big case study. Thank you, Eric.

Eric Johnson
It’s not my research but it’s actually there was a case, by the way, in Texas where two Supreme Court justices who ran against each other, Pete Greene versus Rick Greene, whichever Greene, there they randomized. That’s how we know it made a difference. They picked one first in half the time, the other first the other half the time. There was a 20% difference between who got the vote depending upon who was first.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! So, it was 20% when we actually got to randomized it, so it might be much bigger than 2%.

Eric Johnson
Right. In that case, because they had the same last name, and nobody knew who they were, that’s one of the reasons it’s 20%.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, fair enough. Well, that’s really heavy. I’m just sort of sitting and processing that for a moment. And then for our elections in the U.S., is that normally how it goes, the governor gets to pick? Or is alphabetical? Or does it vary state by state?

Eric Johnson
It varies a bunch by state by state but often it’s, in some places, the incumbent, which gives them an advantage. In other states, it’s the party in power that gets to be first. In Delaware, it turns out, just to be equally surprising, the Democrats always are the first slot in the ballot.

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

Eric Johnson
So, something I’ve thought a lot about is a quote that I saw when I was a young person reading science magazines, and it was a Browning quote, “For a man’s reach should exceed their grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” In other words, keep striving. You’re not going to get there, but go for it.

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

Eric Johnson
Well, I think I have to admit that I very much like one that I did, which used the default manipulation to change people’s willingness to be organ donors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us the result. What went down?

Eric Johnson
Well, basically, if you look at people’s willingness, not necessarily to be a donor, but to be willing to be a donor, there is a 40% gap between those people where you are a donor by default, which happens in several European countries, and countries like the U.S. where you have to choose to be an organ donor. So, the default actually can change people’s willingness to be an organ donor.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. And a favorite book?

Eric Johnson
When I was very young, I read two books at the same time practically, and they would change my life. One was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The other was Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. And growing up in New Jersey and not seeing much of the world, this really opened up my eyes.

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

Eric Johnson
I actually use, I’ve tried a lot, like many people, many different kinds of planning software. I use something called Marvin, but the important point is not the software. It’s basically sitting down every day and doing a to-do list that includes time, not just, “I’m going to do it in this order,” but, “I’m going to do it at this time.”

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share, something that really connects and resonates with folks you’re chatting with?

Eric Johnson
One of the things that I find interesting about using social media and, particularly, to promote the book, is to see what other people are saying. And I think one of the things that I hear people are repeating, so I let them choose, is basically, “Being a choice architect is something that’s a power that I didn’t know I had.”

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

Eric Johnson
Well, really good, Twitter is @ProfEricJohnson. And there’s also a nice website on TheElementsofChoice.com.

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

Eric Johnson
I think, basically, realize that you actually have the power whenever you present choices to another person that, if you don’t think about it, you’re going to waste an important part of what you can do on your job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Eric, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with all of the choices you make and present.

Eric Johnson
Thank you very much. It’s been a lot of fun, Pete.

727: How to Start Something New and See it Through with Michael Bungay Stanier

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Michael Bungay Stanier shares his three-step process for starting and achieving your most ambitious goals.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to crafting more motivating goals 
  2. Why we often falter—and how to strengthen your resolve
  3. The four people you’ll want on your journey 

About Michael

Michael Bungay Stanier is the author of six books which between them have sold more than a million copies. He’s best known for The Coaching Habit, the best-selling coaching book of the century and already recognized as a classic. His new book, How to Begin, helps people be more ambitious for themselves and for the world. Michael was a Rhodes Scholar and plays the ukulele badly. He’s Australian, and lives in Toronto, Canada. Learn more at www.MBS.works. 

Resources Mentioned

 

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome
  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease!

Michael Bungay Stanier Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome back to Home to be Awesome at Your Job.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m so happy to be back. Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your latest upcoming work How to Begin. Tell me, what’s something interesting you’ve began lately?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Oh, that’s aa very fine question. Well, I have begun, not exactly begun, but I’ve began to finally get better at ukulele. So, I have a ukulele and I have spent 10 years being absolutely and consistently mediocre at it. I pick it up every now and then and I play it, and I’m exactly the same as I always am. And then in the last three months or so, my wife got interested in ukulele, and I’ve actually been practicing sort of the next step up, and that’s hard because you suck more before you get better but I feel like I’ve come through the suck stage and I’m actually getting slightly better at ukulele. So, that’s what I’m celebrating now, anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, I wish you much luck and hope to hear some ditties.

Michael Bungay Stanier
No, you don’t want to go there.

Pete Mockaitis
In due time.

Michael Bungay Stanier
In due time, yeah. Call me in 20 years’ time when I’m back on the podcast then we can maybe have a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, looking forward to it. Well, let’s talk about your book here How to Begin. When I think of Michael Bungay Stanier, or MBS, or just simply Michael, I think, “Coaching, coaching, coaching. Like, don’t give advice. Where’s the coaching habit? Be a little bit more coach-like. Be curious a little longer.” And so, “How to Begin,” this feels like there’s an overlap there but it has a whole lot more, I don’t know, as I look through it, a little bit more like kind of juice in terms of inspiration, like a Don Quixote music is playing in my ear. What’s the story here?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s cool. I like the Don Quixote shoutout. Look, one of the questions that’s at the heart of The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap, is, “So, what’s the real challenge here for you?” And it just has as an insight that often, if we don’t interrogate the problem, we end up trying to solve the wrong problem. And this book is similar but different because it’s fundamentally asking a question, “What’s the real goal here for you? What’s a worthy goal? What’s something that is worth doing, worth your time, worth your life, worth your focus, worth your resources, worth your energy? Where are you going to spend your time?”

So, 12 years ago or so, I wrote a book called Do More Great Work and it said, “Look, everything you do is forced into one of three different buckets – either bad work, or good work, or great work.” Bad work, mind-numbing, soul-sucking, life-crushing work. Most people have some idea of what I’m talking about. Good work is like your good job description. Even if you don’t have a job but it’s like being productive, efficient, what your boss wants, what your bosses wants. But great work is the work that has more impact and the work that has more meaning, so stuff that lights you up and it’s the stuff that makes the difference.

And this book How to Begin is kind of deeper dive into that idea, to say, look, most of what we hear about goal-setting, particularly in the work context, is actually a bit underwhelming. It’s like, “Okay, this is what’s cascaded down from the bosses. Here’s how you do a smart goal,” and I’m like, “I don’t want a smart goal. I want a worthy goal. I want something that’s thrilling and important and daunting that will grow me, that will make a difference, that will light me up.” And that’s what this book is getting into.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thrilling, important, daunting, we’re going to dig into these components. I’d, maybe, first, love to hear an inspiring story of how this approach really made an impact for somebody.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, there’s been a community of people working at MBS.works using this kind of process to make traction on work. And what’s been great about it is the diversity of the different worthy goals that people have taken on, everything from writing a book, launching a training program in their organization, but one of the ones that I think is most moving is Michelle, who I have known for a number of years.

She lost her son to homelessness and a drug overdose some 20 years ago, and it’s meant that every year, when the anniversary of his…well, twice, birth and his death, have rolled around, it’s been a hard time for her, and she sat with that and sat with just the weight of being a mother who’s had that happen to a child. And coming up with this idea of How to Begin and the worthy goal process, Michelle has actually started a nonprofit to raise money to begin to create a shelter for other people who are struggling with homelessness like her son, Michael, was.

And she wrote to me on the anniversary of his death this year, just going, “This is the first time, in 20 years, that I felt I can be celebratory about this moment rather than carry some sadness and maybe some shame with it.” So, that’s a pretty good story to hear for me.

Pete Mockaitis
That is, yes. That’s beautiful. Well, so tell us then, we’ve got a three-step process: setting a worthy goal, committing, and crossing the threshold. Can you give us just the quick overview of what do you mean by these things and what do we get wrong? You said smart goals are not as exciting.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, smart goals, when you think about it, it’s like it’s not actually about the goal itself. It’s about, “Have you got it right so we can measure it, we can crack it, you can do it?” And you’re like, “Well, what if it’s the wrong goal?” And I just think that we don’t spend enough time kind of testing and interrogating and really making sure, “Is this the thing you want to commit to?” Because no matter what your context is, you’re going to give sweat, blood, tears, money, time to this, make sure it’s a good goal.

So, the first section of the book is three steps to kind of figure out, “How do you draft and re-draft and re-draft a worthy goal so you get to a point where you can be pretty certain that this is worth it?” The second step is where you actually pause for a moment and you actually weigh up, “Look, you got a good goal, but are you really up to committing to this because there’s a price to be paid for commitment?” You’re going to say yes to something and it means you have to say no to some other things, and you’re not always clear what you’re actually committing to and what you’re actually walking away from.

So, this is for all of us who’ve had those moments where we’re like, “I started a goal. I thought it was pretty good but then it all got too complicated and for some reason I just ran out of gas.” This allows you to kind of examine that a little more closely to make sure that you’re really clear about the choice that you’re making.

And then if you’ve made that choice, and you’re like, “You know what, this feels right. I know the prizes and punishments of starting this worthy goal,” the third step is to get you going. And there’s no promise to get you to the end point because a worthy goal is tricky and there’s no guaranteed outcome. But how do you get across the threshold? How do you get moving? Because, certainly, I’ve had moments where I’ve set a worthy goal and then being paralyzed, unable to act around it, I’m like, “Okay.”

Years ago, I read a book by David Allen, who’s kind one of the original productivity guys. He wrote a book called Getting Things Done. And one of his insights that stuck with me still is that you can’t do a project, you can only do the next step. And too often we get paralyzed by the weight and the size of a project, and I’m kind of building on some of his works, to say, “How do you figure out what the small steps are? How do you figure out the support you need? Who do you travel with? How do you figure out how to make progress in a safe way so you don’t blow yourself up along the way?”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, I’m excited to dig into each of these bits. So, let’s talk about identifying if a goal is worthy. So, you say it’s thrilling, it’s important, it’s daunting. How do we arrive at such a thing? And I guess if a goal is not one of these three things, does that make it unworthy? I guess it’s sort of like, “Well, my boss asked me to do this.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, well, exactly. Well, we’ve got reality to contend with, so for all us within work, we’re working within the context of, look, some of our goals are going to come down and be handed to us. And I still want you to be an active participant in actually how you think about this goal. So, once you get that goal, once you have that starting point, the question is to say, “Can I make this thrilling and important and daunting? And how do I make it as thrilling and as important and as daunting as I can because I know if I can do thrilling…?” And thrilling is all about, “Does this light me up? Do I care about it? Do I get some internal motivation around this goal?”

Is it important? Meaning, “Does this actually contribute to the bigger game? Does it serve the bigger play? Does it give more to the world than it takes?” And then daunting is to go, “Well, where’s the learning edge around this? How will I grow? How will I expand as I do this?” And, look, it’s true that some of stuff that we do at work, for sure, isn’t going to tick those boxes, but I want you to see if you can find that goal that will give you the most of that as best you can.

So, once you get a goal, and this might be something that you come up with yourself, or that you’ve done it in collaboration with your boss, or maybe it’s just been handed to you by your boss, you then can go, “Well, how do I turn up the volume against thrilling and important and daunting?” And I think you can start by holding it up against three different tests.

So, test number one is the spouse-ish test. So, imagine this, Pete, you go back to your partner, your spouse, or a person who just knows you, who gets you. It doesn’t have to be your actual spouse because some of us don’t have spouses and some of us don’t want to think of our spouses—our key person. But think of a person who really knows you, who gets you, and you go, “This goal, what do you reckon?” You’re going to get a reaction from them because they know you.

They’re either going to go, “Look, Pete, awesome. Yes, that is perfect for you. That’s going to light you up. Amazing.” Or they’re going to say, “No, that’s a terrible decision. Don’t do that. That’s an awful goal for you. You definitely don’t want to do that.” Or maybe there’s a middleman, and they’ll go, “Look, Pete, you’ve been talking about this for months now, or years, quite frankly. Stop yapping about it and get on with it. Sure, it’s the right thing but I’m a bit tired of hearing it.”

But what you’re getting is some triangulation from somebody who knows you around, “Is this a goal that’s actually thrilling for you?” And the power of thrilling is it’s a counteract against obligation because you’re this on, and “Do I care about this? Does this light me up?”

Then the second test is to hold it up against the FOSO test. So, FOSO stands for “For the sake of,” and this is where you go, “How does this goal, this worthy goal, this project, how does this contribute to the bigger game? For the sake of what am I taking this on?” And this allows you to make a connection to the strategy, or the business outcome, or some other outcome that you care about.

And then the daunting one is, basically, you weighing up and going, “Look…” I call it the Goldilocks zone test. The Goldilocks zone is that place and space where a planet is in the right relationship to the sun so that water is liquid. It’s not too hot, it doesn’t burn off. It’s not too cold and the water freezes. So, now you’re asking, “Does this goal have the right half?” Not too big that it’s just impossible, it’s not too small that it’s just tactical, but it’s actually the right type of goal that we’ll actually go, “You know what, I know how to start this and I totally know how to finish this. This feels like it’s going to be an adventure.”

So, I think that’s one of the ways you can start interrogating your goal, to go, “Does it have these three attributes?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. Now, I like what you had to say about turning up the volume. And, I guess, I’m thinking right now about…I’m thinking about how do I make something more thrilling because I’ve definitely encountered some things where it’s like, “Okay, yeah, that could impact a lot of people, make a lot of money, challenge me to learn and grow, but I don’t really care.” What do I do with that? Part of me is like, “Is there something wrong with me? Like, I like impact, I like income, I like learning, and yet I don’t really care. What’s going on?”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, you got a couple of choices. One is to go, “Look, if it’s not thrilling, it’s hard to sustain this worthy goal,” as you get going on it because after a while, you’re like, “I’m just running out of puff here. I’m running of things that I’d rather do instead of this because it just doesn’t light me up.” But another way of putting it is to go, “Look, the fact that this worthy goal has impact, it makes money for me, it drives my business forward, it propels me in a way that I want, that’s interesting. The fact that it’s daunting, like, this will be hard, this will stretch me and grow me, well, that’s interesting.”

So, then the question I would ask is, “Well, what needs to be true for this to be thrilling or, at least, more thrilling for you?” And what that does is it takes you to a place where you’re like, “Okay, you mentioned that this would be thrilling, is there anything there? Can you get there?” And it might ask you to kind of rethink and re-draft what this worthy goal is so that you can actually go, “You know what, this would be interesting for me.”

A parallel, Pete, is like I was thinking around, “How do I start a new podcast?” because I’m like, “You know what, I can see how I can frame my podcast to be important, and I can also see how I can frame a podcast to be daunting. I want to set some goals for myself around a podcast that would really challenge me and push me,” because I’ve done podcasts before, so I need a challenge around that. Then there’s, “How do I make it thrilling?” because I’ve done five podcasts where I’ve done basically a straight interview process. And you know what? That is not thrilling for me anymore. Even if I get interesting people on, I’m like, I can feel myself going through the motions.

So, with the podcast that I have at the moment, 2 Pages with MBS, I’m like, “You know what, they’re going to read two pages of a book, and I don’t know what the two pages are, and it means that I’ll have to be really present to hear what they read, and then react in the moment to what’s being read.” And, suddenly, that makes a podcast thrilling for me, I’m like, “Oh, I have to be on my toes, I have to be smart, I have to bring forward what I know so I can be in a good conversation with this person.” And that twist on it was what upped the ante around the thrilling for me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I guess what I’m thinking right now about some like procrastination-y things, in terms of, like, “Oh, I should probably call my accountant and get some things figured out associated with taxes.” And, in a way, it could result in a lot of tax savings, which is that’s cool, “Hey, money.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Important, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And I just feel kind of, as a husband, father, provider, that’s sort of like important and responsible thing, and this isn’t really my zone of strength in terms of compliance-y accounting stuff, so there’s some daunting-ness there. But, so, yeah, if I want to get some thrill but I’m having a hard time finding it, what do you recommend? Because just not doing it isn’t much an option here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, I agree. And I’m not sure I would call that a worthy goal. I would call that a tactic that needs to be done as part of this.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s an obligation, sure.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s an obligation, yeah. So, I’d be going, I mean, you can play around with this. And I’m just making stuff up at this stage, Pete, but I’d be going, “All right.” So, part of what your worthy goal might be to go, “How do I build an extraordinary business that keeps me out of the minutiae that sucks my soul?” Because that’s how I feel about it with some of this kind of the operational side of running a business, I’m like, “I know I should send this thing through to my accountant,” but, honestly, I’ll find anything to avoid that for some reason or not. So, I totally empathize with what you’re saying.

Now, if you’re like, “How do I double the size of my business without being sucked into the minutiae?” I don’t know. There’s a possibility that I’ll start opening the door towards thrilling and important and daunting, and then you go, “Well, what needs to be true around that?” Well, you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got to build some systems or I got to find an online business manager, I’ve got to find a solution to say, ‘You’re now following up with the accountant around this sort of stuff. You’re now doing this work for me.’” I’m just making it up but that’s one thing that comes to mind for me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right, that does start to get more thrilling in terms of it’s like, “Okay, so this year, sure, we’re going to have to make it happen.” But if I approach it in a way in terms of, “What if I sort of like document and make this the prototype or template or pattern for this is the last time I ever have to do this again because it will be systematized and outsourced and automated so that I don’t even need to think about sending a check to the United States Treasury.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, or anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
It just happens.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You’re like, “You know what…” And I get you on this because next year, I’m thinking of trying to write not just one book but maybe two or even three books in a year, and that’s really hard for that thrilling and important and daunting for me. And I’m asking myself the question, “What needs to be true for me to be able to write three books in a year?” which feels impossible at the moment.

And one of them is like I spend zero time talking to an accountant and trying to write checks and trying to figure out chasing down invoices or whatever it might be. I’m like, “Okay. Well, if that’s what needs to be true, how do I solve for that?” and things start happening.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, so there we go. So, we’re choosing a goal and it has those three components – it’s thrilling, it’s important, it’s daunting. It’s worthy, and there are some juice to it. Let’s talk about the committing stage.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Right. So, this is where we often get stuck, we’re like, “I don’t know why…” Somebody once gave me a metaphor, it’s like, for some reason, it feels like you’ve got your foot on the accelerator but at the same time, you’ve got your foot on the brake. And I’m like, “Why is it so hard for me to make progress on a goal that actually ticks the boxes for me?”

And here’s the kind of the deepest insight around this. You’re actually more committed to the status quo than you realize. Even though there’s a part of you that’s got a hunger for what’s there in the future, there’s a part of you that goes, “Look, however is the status quo is for me at the moment, I’m getting something from that, and there’s a part of me that is reluctant to leave it.” So, here, you’re doing one thing but you’re doing it twice. And the one thing is you’re weighing up the prizes and punishments of the choice. So, this is how I explain it in the book.

The first thing you want to do is, you’re like, hey, you’ve come up with a worthy goal. You’re super excited about it. You, then – thought experiment – you, then, go, “Imagine I didn’t take this on. I walk up to the edge and then I walk away from the worthy goal. What are the prizes and punishments? What are the pros and cons of that decision?”

Well, the prizes are often pretty obvious. It’s like you’re not putting anything at risk, you’re not trying out something new, you’re not moving into a danger zone, you’re not disrupting relationships, you’re not disrupting the status quo. There’s a way that the short-term prizes are often about the non-disruption and the comfort and the familiarity.

But then you go, “But the punishment of me not taking this on is I don’t get any of that thing that I’ve imagined as my worthy goal.” And then you try to weigh it up, and you go, “Well, what weighs more here? What’s got the greatest weight?” What you hope is punishments outweigh the prizes. The reward of…or rather the cost of you not taking this on is more significant than the prize of embracing the status quo.

Then you’ve got to do it again, this time imagining you are fully committed to the worthy goal, like you just go all in on it, and you’re like, “Okay, imagine I was really going for it.” Step number one, what are the prizes of that?” And here, you get to really kind of taste what are the outcomes you’d get from taking on this worthy goal.

Let’s imagine that you’re doing something, like, “I’m trying to double my business without being sucked into any of the minutiae.” You’re like, “I’m richer, I’m starting to dress better, I’m surrounded by beautiful women, my net worth is 3X or 5X or 10X. I’ve upgraded everything in my life. It’s fantastic.” Okay, so you’ve got all of that.

But then against that, you’ve also got to weigh the risks of taking on a worthy goal. What’s the punishment?

Pete Mockaitis
Paparazzi always dogging me.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Paparazzi, exactly. The divorce, that’s ugly. But, also, it’s the disruption that you cause because you’ve got to say yes to some people and no to some people. You’ve got to change things. People are expecting you to do something and you’re not doing that anymore, so stuff happens. But, again, you’ve got to weigh this up, and go, “Well, are the prizes outweighing the punishments?” And too often, we just don’t really look at, “What would it mean for me to really commit to this? And is the benefit I get from doing this worth the disruption that this will cause?” because stuff is going to change. You can’t add a worthy goal without stuff around you changing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, what’s interesting, and sometimes one of the bits in there that we don’t really surface and acknowledge, as I’m thinking about some bits of my resistance, is just sort of like almost embarrassment, in terms of maybe one of the reasons I don’t call the accountant is because he’s going to ask me some questions, like, “Oh, did you do this?” It’s like, “I don’t remember. I don’t know.” “Yes, what do you think this number is going to look like this year?” It’s like, “I don’t know. I haven’t been tracking.” So, it’s like there’s a lot of embarrassment or humility.

Or talking to a financial planner is like, “So, what are your goals?” It’s like, “I don’t know.” It’s just like, “What’s your deal? Are you a grownup? What’s wrong with you? Give some thought to this. This is irresponsible.” So, now, of course, professionals probably won’t speak to you that way, but sometimes that is what’s in the mix but it’s not surfaced. It’s like this emotional stuff.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I agree. No, I think it’s a really great insight. If we’re playing with this idea, there’s the perhaps embarrassment of the conversation with the accountant but it’s also like, “Okay. Well, I’m trying to describe my process for talking to my accountant. I don’t have a process. I have a sham-bolic, rambling around, collecting random bits of paper off the floor that I then give to the accountant, and go, “Maybe some of the receipts are in here.”

So, it’s like, “Oh, this is embarrassing to explain to the accountant. It’s also embarrassing to explain to my online business manager. You know what, it’s better if I just keep it under the rug and I just kind of manage this in my own barely adequate way rather than hand it over and have that moment of, ‘I’m not very good at this.’”
So, so often, we don’t take on the worthy goal because we want to protect our ego and our status and that kind of façade that we’re putting up, that, and I’ll just speak for myself, the façade that I’ve actually got it together and I know what I’m doing. Whereas, I know with some of this stuff, if I’m trying to delegate it, what it reveals is that I just wasn’t very good at it in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. This is powerful stuff. You know, it’s funny, when it comes to the commit stage, I think most of us underthink about this and either jump in…what comes to mind is I remember I was dating this girl, and someone suggested, it’s like, “Hey, do you want to do this half marathon?” And I was like, “Oh, wow, interesting. That sounds fun.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
“How far?”

Pete Mockaitis
“It sounds fun. It might be a good challenge. I like you. It’d be fun to run with you. It’d be a cool victory. And I have gained some pounds. This might be a nice structured goal challenge.” So, I’m really kind of like weighing it, and so I asked my girlfriend at the time, it’s like, “Yeah, so Dave suggested maybe do a half marathon. He’s asking folks to join in. So, what do you think? Would you want to do that?” She’s like, “Sure.” It was so funny, I was appalled. “Sure? Sure? Just like that. Sure? Are you serious? Like, do you know what you’re talking about?”

Michael Bungay Stanier
“It’s 13.1 miles.”

Pete Mockaitis
“You know what you’re talking about here? The training schedule, the sacrifice, and the things.” And it’s funny, she ended up dumping me, and we stayed in touch for a while, but it was kind of fun to say, “So, did you ever up doing that half marathon? Oh, no? Oh, yeah, well, we did. So, anyway, no big deal.” Whatever consolation prize you can get, I’ll take. So, yeah, it’s sort of like we can underthink the commit stage and either do it and then whoopsies, then we’re stuck in the middle, or we don’t do it, and it’s like, “Oh, we’re really missing out.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
As we’re kind of talking about this, it’s kind of moving into the New Year’s Resolution season, people are thinking about next year, they’re thinking about what they want to do differently next year, and from lots of people, it’s pretty similar to what they were going to try and do last year, they’re like, “You know what, this year, really, I’m going to run a half marathon and we’re going to get fit,” “I’m going to write a book,” “I’m going to be more present with my family,” “I’m going to watch less TV,” “I’m going to go for a promotion,” “I’m going to get better at whatever it might be.”

And there’s a frustration and a sadness, really, that comes on every year where you’re like, “Why didn’t I make progress on that because this wasn’t a trivial thing? This is actually something that matters to me and that I want to make some progress on. But, for some reason, I just don’t seem to be able to make traction with it, kind of make any kind of real gains on it.” And, often, what happens is we end up beating ourselves up, going, “What’s wrong with me? Am I weak-willed? Do I have no spine? What’s going on here?”

And my take on it is it’s really not that you’re weak-willed, it’s just that you haven’t got clear yet on what you need to say no to in the status quo so that you can say yes to in terms of this new goal. So, if you’re trying to go, “I’m training for a half marathon,” well, what you imagine, of course, is that moment when you cross the finish line, and you get the medal, and the crowd goes wild, and you break the tape, and you’re, like, just ran 20 kilometers, 13 miles. That’s amazing.

But it’s like, “What’s the punishment of taking this on?” Well, it means getting up regularly and getting out there, and running in the rain, and running in the snow, and this, and this, and this. And then you might go, “Well, what’s the prizes and punishments if I didn’t do this? I see this marathon, or half marathon, well, what are the prizes of not doing that?”

Well, prizes are obvious, “I get to eat whatever I want, drink whatever I want, sleep in, wear elasticated trousers, all of that stuff.” But what’s the punishment of not taking this on? “Putting on weight, getting a little soft, getting aerobically compromised, not having an adventure, being dumped by my girlfriend because I’m not training for the marathon like she is.” So, it’s exploring that level of commitment where you actually go, you can answer the question, “Am I really up for this or am I kidding myself?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then, I guess, how do we make that determination? So, you’re looking at the prizes and punishments in both scenarios? And then how do you render that verdict?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I think that’s it. You weigh up the prizes and punishments. You weigh up the prizes and punishments of “If I didn’t do it,” this is a bit of I’ve got a tricky mind thing, but you’re kind of like, you want the punishments of not doing it. It’s like a double negative, the punishments of not doing it to win out. And then you weigh up doing it and you want the prizes of doing it to win. And if the things balance like that, you’re like, “You know what, I think I’m up for this.” And then you can move into that next piece, which is around, “Okay, you’ve got the worthy goal, you’ve figured out that you’re willing to commit to it, how do you now cross the threshold? How do you get now get going on this?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us, how do we?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Crossing the threshold is language that comes from…and more people may have heard of the hero’s journey. And the hero’s journey is like you know the basic story. The hero hears the call, heads down, fights the monster, defeats the monster, takes the prize, and brings the prize back, and the hero is changed and the villain is changed. It’s the basis for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and all these classic fables.

But one of the steps of the hero’s journey that often gets overlooked is that the first time the hero hears the call, a call to adventure, he resists the call. He goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t think so. Yeah, maybe not. I’ll do something else instead.” And then the call persists and the hero crosses the threshold. So, I think, to cross the threshold, you need to think about how you’re going to make progress, because if you take on a worthy goal, something that’s thrilling and important and daunting, it’s not a straightforward journey. It’s not like you type in the address into Google Maps and it says like 60-minute journey, 17 minutes if you detour via the coffee shop.

It’s actually more like you’re standing on a hilltop, there’s a misty valley in front of you, there’s a mountaintop in the distance, which you think maybe the mountaintop that you’re heading for, but you don’t entirely know how you’re going to travel. So, I think you want to be thinking about three things. The first is you want to be traveling in small steps. So, it’s not striding confidently forward in this single direction, it’s feeling your way forward but taking small steps as you go.

So, what I recommend is one of the ways of doing that is you conduct experiments, which is like, “How do you do a little thing that doesn’t risk too much where you can figure it out?” So, if you’re running a half marathon, you’re like, “Rather than me commit to a half marathon, what if I spend, what if I commit to a week of seeing what it’s like going for a run for five minutes every day because that’s going to tell me a lot? It’s going to tell me, like, ‘This is ridiculous. There’s no way I can run a half marathon. I’d skip four of my five-minute runs.’” Or, you may go, “You know what, I did that and I feel okay, and I reckon I’m up for this adventure.” So, testing experiments is one part of crossing the threshold.

The second thing you want to be thinking about is, “Who do you travel with?” because I think if you’re doing a worthy goal, it’s tricky to do it by yourself. So, again, this half marathon is a great example because you’re like, you know what, you could try it by yourself, or you could say, “All right, who do I need by my side to help me run with this?” And in the book, I talk about four key archetypes that you can think about.

A warrior archetype. This is fierceness, willing to put your hand at your back and push you forward, create boundaries, kind of take on the enemy. So, sometimes it’s really helpful for that. You can imagine half marathon, you’re like, that person who’s like, “I’m showing up at your door every day at 5:30 a.m., Pete, and we’re going for a run. I’m that person.”

Then there’s the healer, or sometimes the lover, they’re called. This is like, “How do I get comfort? How do I get familiarity? How do I get a hug? How do I get softness? How do I get healing?” So, maybe there’s something there who’s like maybe this is your massage therapist, like, “I’m going to make you feel better after doing this.”

Then there’s the teacher or the magician. So, this is maybe going, “Okay, how do you actually run a half marathon? How do you train for a half marathon? I need to learn that.” So, you might go online or you might find a running coach to kind of go, “Okay, this is where I’m getting that information from.” And then the final archetypal role is that of the ruler or the visionary. This is where you are kind of like hold your ambition.

So, maybe this is someone who’s going, “Hold up, dude, we’re not just running a half marathon. This is the start of something. This is you getting into endurance racing. In two-years’ time, we’re going to do the hundred-mile Death Valley race together,” and maybe he’s holding that space for you. Now, I’m just making all this stuff up but the key takeaway is you want people around you because if you’re taking a worthy goal by yourself, sometimes it’s just hard. And if you’re all by yourself, it’s too easy to collude with yourself and opt out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And I’m all about accountability and the power that wields it. And I dig it how, so you talked about the hero’s journey, I think it’s always like, “Oh, Yoda or Gandalf.” It’s like, “Well, there’s more than one shape of that just like the wise mentor.” So, I like those archetypes kind of different roles there.

Michael Bungay Stanier
The wise, the Gandalf, or the Yoda, they’re the teacher or the magician archetype, and they can play their role for sure, but that’s not the only person in the band. It’s like when Harry Potter was taking on Voldemort, he doesn’t just have Dumbledore. He has a band of people around him who helped conquer the baddie. I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler for anybody. Harry Potter kills Voldemort in the end. Spoiler alert.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, when people spoil things for me, I say, “Or was he just messing with me?”

Michael Bungay Stanier
“Oh, was he just messing?” There you go. Yeah, maybe.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s a jokester, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m a trickster. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, then let’s hear about let’s say we’re in the middle of things and, yeah, motivation just sort of dips along the journey, what do you do?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’m thinking there are three things that you might look to that could help because motivation will dip. It’s not if, it’s when. Motivation will dip. So, if you’re lucky, you’ve got people around where you can go, “Man, this sucks,” and they go, “It does suck. How do we help you get back on the path?” So, that’s part of why you want to have your people with you.

Secondly, you might be going, “You know what, this sucks. Motivation has dipped. But you know what, it was only an experiment. So, now, I’m like, how do I design the next thing that might be get my motivation up and get me running around that?” But the third thing you want to be thinking about is, “How do you get back to the best version of yourself?” And this is a powerful piece of kind of reorientation to the best version of who you are.

And in the book, I talk about this exercise called “This, not that.” And I love writing about this because I’ve frustrated about this 12 years ago in this book Do More Great Work, and I feel like I’m kind of doing a Disney thing. I’m taking it out of the vault and reintroducing this exercise because it’s a powerful one, and it says this. Look, imagine a time, or times, when you are at your best where you were really kind of rocking it, you felt on top of the world, you felt like, “This is one of the best versions of who I can be.” And you want to start thinking about words or phrases that are associated with that so you can remember what that looks like.

But against each one of those words or phrases, you want to have a corresponding word, a pairing word or phrase, that is you when you’re slightly off your game, when you’re 15% down, when you’re kind of lost some of the essential motivation. And this is the “This, not that” pairing. And what I found is that when you go do this work and you develop this tool for yourself, it’s your chance to get back to the very best version of who you are.

Here’s an example. One of my pairs is stepping forward, not stepping back. And what I noticed is that when I lose motivation, or I get a bit disheartened, or I get just battered around a little bit by the process of taking on a worthy goal, I start being on back and forth. I start being less courageous. I start stepping back. And I can notice that in me, I can then go, “Whoa, what’s it like when I’m at my best? Oh, when I’m in my best, I have a fearlessness where I step forward and I’m kind of undaunted by setbacks. How do I get back to that version of myself?”

And just remembering that I can be that person, that I’ve been that person in the past, and I can be that person again, is one of the ways to kind of regenerate motivation for the worthy goal that you’ve set yourself.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I think at the heart of this book is a couple of things. We talked a lot about the goal process and kind of how do you set it, but what I hope is a deeper resonance, which is I want people to be ambitious for themselves and for the world. And I think sometimes with the grind of the everyday work, we lose some of that sense of ambition.

And what I hope is this is not just about setting better goals but it’s about unlocking the greatness that you have by taking on hard things, and also making your world and all of our world a little bit better by doing a goal that is thrilling and important and daunting.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, my favorite quote is one that resonates with me at the moment and it’s part of the driving of the book. It comes from a Rilke poem called “The Man Watching,” and it’s the last two lines of the poem, and it says…look, his goal is not to win. His goal is to be, and this is the quote, “Be defeated by ever greater things.”

And I love that because it says, “Look, stop trying to win because if you’re only playing games that you can win, that’s going to keep you playing small. Play games that give you a chance to be defeated by ever greater things because that’s when you unlock your greatness.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Michael Bungay Stanier
So, one of the favorite studies that I’ve got is a way of reminding us how malleable we are. It’s a wine-tasting study, so that’s already a good start because it involves wine. And, basically, they had people tasting four glasses of wine, and music playing in the background as they’re tasting this wine, and they moved through these red wines, and asking them what they tasted.

And the first glass of wine, people were like, “Ah, it’s kind of light and playful and summery and joyful.” They moved through them, and then the final glass of wine, it’s like, “This is kind of dark and serious and tempestuous and solid.” And what they found in the study was that, actually, glass one and glass four were the same wine, but they were playing different music in the background. In the first glass of wine, they were playing Vivaldi’s Spring so it’s kind of light playful music. And by the final glass of wine, they were playing some Wagner, so kind of deep operatic serious music.

And why I love that study is it just reminds me that I’m constantly influenced by my context, by the environment around me. So, whilst we think of ourselves as kind of rational contained individual creatures, what I realize is, like, if I want myself to be at my best, and if I want people around me to be at my best, constantly thinking about the context and the setting and the environment can make all the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And these were full-blown master sommeliers, right?

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m not sure about that. I think it might’ve been just…my memory is they’re just kind of ordinary wine-tasters but the fact that the tasting was so radically different just because of the music being different behind them, that, to me, was magical.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m amazed at how…I’m thinking about audio files, looking at assessing different microphones, for example, because I’ve been through this podcast mic. And so, it’s like, hmm, so my moderately priced setup sounds just as good as your five times as expensive setup when it’s a blind test. But when it’s not, it’s like, “Oh, boy, you could really hear. This is so much richer, so much richer with that deep, deep preamp.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s right. Well, it comes into that kind of sunk costing which is like, “I need to believe this.” And in some ways, it all connects to this kind of the placebo effect, which is like if you believe it, it likely is. And then I love Seth Godin’s take on the placebo because part of it is like, “How do you get conned by the placebo?” He’s like, “No, no, the placebo is magic because if you can go, ‘Look, I’m going to believe this, even though I know I’m believing that this is a placebo, so even though you’re in on the trick, it can still have exactly the same impact on your body.’” And that, to me, is sheer magic because it just goes to show that there is this truth to it. Like, if you believe it, then you’ll see it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’ve just read a book, it’s called Virgil Wander. It’s a fiction book. It’s by an American author whose name is…Googling desperately. His name is Leif Enger. Now, I read a lot of nonfiction because I’m a nonfiction writer so I read a lot of business and science and psychology and all of that, but I have a master’s degree in literature, and my wife has a PhD in English studies as well, so we read a lot of fiction as well.

And she introduced me to this book, and it is the most beautifully written book that I have read in ages. He has such a turn of phrase. So, Virgil Wander is the lead character. He’s living in a mid-Western town, by a lake, and he has a car crash in the very first chapter, so there’s no spoiler alert. And it’s a story of him coming back to himself as he figures out who he is, and it’s just beautiful. It is written with such grace and with such style. That would be my recommendation of my favorite book I’ve read in the last month or two.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m writer so often my favorite tools are around, “What do I write with?” And I’ve had phases in my life where I’ve had a thousand pens scattered across the universe.

So, I have two desks in my office, this one where I’m sitting at with you, and then a writing desk just over there. And on each of my desks, I have two pens from Baron Fig. So, Baron Fig create these beautiful ballpoint pens that just feel beautifully weighted and they sit in a beautiful little penholder. So, the one that I’m holding up to the screen showing you, Pete, is made out of copper. I’ve got another one that’s in pale blue over on my other desk.

And you know what? A beautiful pen brings me joy. And that is the tool I would nominate.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, my favorite habit, I’m not sure if it’s not a particularly good habit, or, maybe it is. But it’s like making an espresso for me and a latte for my wife in the morning. Because I grew up in Australia, and one of the things that’s magical about Australia is, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we had a lot of Italian and Greek immigrants come to Australia.

And what that means is Australia is a coffee culture. It’s just built on a place where every coffee is espresso-based and delicious. So, when I moved to America, I’ve lived in America for a while, and I came across the light-brown bilge water that Americans drink as coffee, I was like, “What? This is a disgrace. What is this?”

So, we have a not a particularly fancy espresso machine, but we have an espresso machine, we have a place around the corner that roast coffee beans, and that moment of getting up in the morning and making your coffee and seeing crème on the top, and then making a coffee for my wife and bringing that to her in bed, that is a ritual, maybe more than a habit, that feels an important way to start the day for me.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah. In the pre-days when I used to run workshops and training and the like, I get people to practice, coaching skills, in particular, in pairs. At the end of every round of practice, I got people to look the other person in the eye, and say, “You’re awesome and you’re doing great.” And I do these four or five times in a session.

The first time that people did that, it’s really awkward, was embarrassed, and like, “Ah, I don’t know how to do it. But by the end of it, they were, like, there’s this kind of expression of appreciation within this pair of people that was pretty cool. And I added it as my standard signature on my emails. So, every email you get from me, it says, “You’re awesome and you’re doing great.”

And I would say, two or three times a week, I get somebody writing back to me, going, “Thank you for that. I really needed to hear that right now.” So, it’s a very simple phrase. My mom hates it because it’s not grammatically correct, and she’s like, “Michael, you’re a Rhode scholar. What are you doing? Why can’t you even say this properly?” I’m like, “Because it has a resonance with people.” So, I think the phrase “You’re awesome and you’re doing great” seems to have people feel like they are heard and seen.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I would point them to the website MBS.works. And if you’re kind of particularly keen on learning more about the new book, HowtoBegin.com.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, I would look at the work you’re doing right now and be going…well, the obvious one is to say, “How do I find a worthy goal?” but that feels too glib. So, I think what I’d really ask people to do is say, “What do you need to stop doing so that you might create some space for something like a worthy goal to appear?”

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and success in pursuing your worthy goals.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Thank you. Pete, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me back.

726: Developing the Mind of a Champion and Leader with Dr. Jim Afremow

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Jim Afremow reveals the secrets of how top performers prepare themselves mentally to succeed.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five-minute mental training routine used by top athletes 
  2. Two easy ways to turn a bad day around
  3. One powerful question to elevate your leadership 

About Jim

Dr. Jim Afremow is a much sought-after mental skills coach, licensed professional counselor, co-founder of the Champion’s Mind app, and the author of The Champion’s Mind (over 140,000 copies sold), The Champion’s Comeback, and The Young Champion’s Mind. For over 20 years, Dr. Afremow has assisted numerous high-school, collegiate, recreational, and professional athletes. In addition, he has mentally trained several U.S. and international Olympic competitors. Jim also served as a senior staff member with Counseling Services and Sports Medicine at Arizona State University, and as a Mental Skills Coach and the Peak Performance Coordinator with the San Francisco Giants MLB organization. In addition, Jim has helped many business executives elevate their mental game. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease!
  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow 

Dr. Jim Afremow Interview Transcript

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

Jim Afremow
Hey, Pete, thanks so much for having me on today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom. And you’ve helped a lot of athletes achieve peak performance. I’d love to hear is there a particularly dramatic or exciting story you’d like to share to set the stage or the scene for what could be possible if we become mental champions?

Jim Afremow
Absolutely. So, one of my favorite stories is from Natalie Cook, and she’s a five-time Olympian, and she won the gold medal in Sand Volleyball at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. And the story behind that is her grandfather, when she was really young, encouraged her to dream big, and set a that’s impossible goal, or seems like an impossible goal. And so, she said, “Grandpa, I want to win a gold medal in the Olympics, and I don’t even know what sport yet.” So, he said, “Really go for it, and I believe in you.”

And so, anyway, she ended up really dedicating her life to excellence and she surrounded herself with the color of gold. So, she wore gold-colored sunglasses, and had painted her nails gold, and just surrounded herself with gold as almost a subliminal message that, “That’s what you’re gunning for in life.” And so, she ended up, again, accomplishing all of her goals. But my favorite part of the story that she shared with me is that she was asked after winning the Olympic gold medal what if she had finished second place. What if she got a silver medal?

And her response is perfect. She said, “Well, I would’ve painted my silver medal gold.” And her point was it’s not about the medal, it’s about living a gold-medal life. And so, when she decided to really go for it, she ended up telling everyone, and one of the things that usually when we set a big goal, we don’t want to tell anyone because what if we don’t accomplish it. And her idea was, “I want people to hold me accountable to that goal,” and she calls it teaming, which is surrounding yourself with people that really support your dreams and goals. And it’s just a great story because I think that should be something that we all strive for, is to live a gold-medal life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I dig that. Yes, thank you. Well, I’m excited to hear some of your particular insights and tools from your books The Champion’s Mind, and your latest, The Leader’s Mind: How Great Leaders Prepare, Perform, and Prevail. So, that’ll be fun. But, first, my producers and I, we were prepping for this. We can’t resist. On your website, you have an intriguing teaser that says, “Win the mental battle. Train your mind in just five minutes a day by following the mental training routines used by top athletes.” That’s good copy, Jim. Tell us, what is the five-minute mental training routine used by top athletes? And can you walk us through it? And what is it going to do for us?

Jim Afremow
Well, absolutely. So, I do have an app, Champion’s Mind app, it’s sort of like a powered toolbox. And the powered tools would be things that we should all work on regardless of whether we’re athletes or not. So, examples would be positive self-talk. How can we talk better to ourselves to accomplish what we want more in life?

Gratitude. We’ve often heard about gratitude and how important it is but I don’t think we realize how important it really is and what a game changer it is. So, there’s different tools and techniques for how to be more grateful in life. Goal-setting. Just like what we’re talking about with Natalie Cook, let’s write our goals down, let’s share them with others, and let’s put them somewhere where we could see them each day.

In addition to that, visualization. That’s one of my favorite mental skills. Not only just picturing our success but the steps, the specific steps to achieve our success. And then, of course, mindfulness. There’s a new saying now in sports, which is, “Be where your feet are.” And if we’re in the moment, we’re at full power, but most of us tend to be thinking about what happened earlier today or what might go on later today instead of being right here, right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, that sounds cool. And I can do all that in five minutes?

Jim Afremow
You could definitely do that in five minutes. And the neat thing about mental skills training is that you could do it in tandem or in parallel with other activities. So, for example, gratitude, one of the suggestions that I like to give to athletes is when they’re driving to the arena or the ballpark, is turn the music completely off and think about what you’re grateful for, not only in your sport but also in the rest of your life. And so then, you start your day or your practice with an attitude of gratitude, which really helps us not only to feel our best but to perform our best.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. Well, so then I’m curious, over the course of five minutes, what might my ritual or protocol be in terms of if I’m going to do a little bit of all of these things in five minutes?

Jim Afremow
Yup. What you can do is, I think that having a routine is good. One of the things that we hate as human beings is uncertainty, and that adds a lot to our stress. And the world is kind of in an uncertain place right now with the pandemic and just maybe job security and those kinds of things. So, build a routine around thinking like a champion each day. So, whether in the morning, afternoon, or in the evening, set aside some time to review our goals, review what makes us grateful, to give ourselves credit where credit is due.

Most of us are too hard on ourselves than not hard enough, so part of the positive self-talk is thinking about what you did do well today or what you’ve done well recently, and say, “Hey, that’s just like me to do that.” And then mindfulness, again, kind of in parallel with other activities, when you’re eating, really taste your food, or when you’re taking a sip of water, really taste the temperature and feel that water cooling your chest as it goes down when you take your sip.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, well, I do. I like cold water so much more for that very reason. It’s just more entertaining and rejuvenating, in my own personal opinion. And so, who could’ve thought, that, apparently, by adding some mindfulness to that, I can be more champion-like in my mental game. So, that’s cool. Well, so then share with us then, so your latest The Leader’s Mind: How Great Leaders Prepare, Perform, and Prevail, sort of what’s the big idea here?

Jim Afremow
Well, the big idea is that we need good leadership now more than ever, and that all of us are leaders in one way or another. We don’t need a title to be a leader. And so, take the opportunity to show good leadership skills in all areas of one’s life. So, as a parent, as a coworker, whether a teammate, or if you happen to coach a team or be a boss, I think it’s important to be the very best you can be as a leader because, number one, we know that people don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.

And then the other thing, too, that we know is, from research, that most of us at work are only about 50% engaged with what we’re doing in the moment. We’re either feeling entitled, or unhappy, or negative. We’re not really engaged with what we’re doing so we’re not going to perform well obviously and then no one wins when that happens.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, lay it on us then, what should we do in terms of is there a particular mindset that gets us engaged and rearing to go, and makes us do better leadership-y activities and avoid poor leadership activities? How do we think about the mental game here?

Jim Afremow
Yeah. Well, I think it all starts with the idea that champions make each day count. So, most of us tend to procrastinate, “I’ll just try to get through today, and then maybe tomorrow I’ll bring my A-game.” And that’s one thing that champions don’t do. What they do do is, “How can I get one day better today?” And so, it’s that attitude that, “Whatever I’m going today, I’m going to do it to the fullest. And so, I’m going to have a great attitude and give my best effort.”

And so, part of being a great leader is taking care of yourself and leading by example. So, that’s why some of those mental skills and strategies we’ve talked about at the beginning are so important, “Am I talking good to myself with positive self-talk? Do I have great body language?” As a leader, you got to ask yourself, “Would I want to work for me today?” or if I’m a coach, “Would I want to play for me today?” So, it all starts with setting the right tone with your attitude.

And then looking for ways to help others around you. And when we help others around us, we kind of feel better about ourselves, and then it shows that we’re there for the right reason instead of it just being about us; it’s about the collective good.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, so, Jim if you said that sometimes we have these days, like, “Ugh, I’m kind of tired. I don’t know, bored, unmotivated, disengaged, not into it,” whatever is going on, a little of blah or yuck going on. And so, rather than responding with a, “Uh, let’s see if I could just get through the day and maybe tomorrow will be better, and I can really make it count tomorrow.”

I’m curious, if you’re in the heat of battle there, the “Ugh” feeling not so grand, what do you do? Like, how can you flip the switch or get to a better place? Or, maybe you just don’t, and you suffer through but that somehow feel horrible on the inside but I guess look good on the outside and get some things done. Help us, Jim. When you’re in that yucky place, what do you do?

Jim Afremow
Yeah. Well, you definitely need a go-to strategy, and I have a bunch to share. But the thing is it’s really a fork in the road, in terms of, “Am I just going to go down the path of least resistance, and good is good enough?” And then we know that when our head hits the pillow at night, we usually don’t feel good about our day in terms of, “Yeah, I settled for silver instead of really went for gold today.”

But when we do our best, I don’t think anyone ever regrets that, and then we’re more likely to get into flow state or in the zone, and not only do we perform better, we end up enjoying our day more. So, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by giving that extra effort of excellence. And so, one kind of fun activity that I like to do with athletes is I suggest that they pick an animal, a predator in nature, that they want to emulate on the field or in practice. It could be a fun team-building exercise as well.

But when you think about predators, they love to hunt. They live in the moment. They’re not too worried about what else is going on around them. And when they’re hunting for prey, they’re totally focused and goal-oriented. And if they don’t get that prey, they don’t needlessly beat themselves up. What they tend to do is just, “Okay, where is my next prey?”

And I think that what’s really cool about that, thinking about, “What’s my predator that I want to emulate on the field?” is then we could talk to ourselves that way. So, we could say, if I’m feeling a little bit low energy, I could say, “Hey, wake up. It’s time to hunt. Be the tiger. Be the lion. Let’s get after it today.” And I think one of the things, too, is that, for athletes and other performers, we tend to think, “Well, if I have a bad day, I’m a bad performer,” or a bad worker, or a bad athlete. And what I like to remind my clients is that even tigers have bad days but they’re still tigers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Noted. Thank you. That’s cool. Well, so I’m intrigued, you really sort of go into some detail in terms of the internal conversations. Can you share with us, you mentioned a go-to strategy, are there any key sort of words, or phrases, some do’s and don’ts in terms of particular verbiage inside our heads?

Jim Afremow
Yeah. Well, self-talk is the mind leads the body, so that’s also a good metaphor for leadership. The leader kind of leads the team. But the reason why self-talk is so important is because we have about 60 to 80,000 thoughts per day. There are different estimates, but we have a lot of thoughts per day, and the one thing we do know from research is that most of those thoughts are negative. So, we all have a negativity bias that keeps us safe, and that’s the number one priority of our brain is safety first. That’s the operating principle there.

And so, that’s going to keep us safe but it’s not necessarily going to make us successful. And so, in order to be happy and successful, we need to counteract that negative self-talk with positive self-talk. And so, that’s where I like to say that champions listen to themselves, or rather they talk to themselves, they don’t listen to themselves, because most of the thoughts that we’re going to have are going to be negative throughout the day.

So, when you catch yourself kind of in that negative state of mind, that’s when you really need to kick in the positive self-talk. And it could be as simple as, “I can do this. I am strong,” or, “I am not alone.” One athlete that I worked with was kind of having some challenges with conditioning on her team. She’s a freshman and moved up to college, and, man, the conditioning was a lot harder than in high school. And so, one of the things that she would say to herself is, “I’m not alone. I’m strong. I can do this.” And she would just repeat it over and over again, and that helped her get through those tough workouts. Whereas, before, what she was saying to herself is, “This hurts. This sucks. I can’t do this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. It sounds so simple and, yet, you’re telling us that that makes the difference in terms of whether you quit and don’t get the result versus you persist and do. Is that fair?

Jim Afremow
Yeah. Well, our muscles are always listening to what the mind says. So, if we want our muscles to perform or our body to perform the way we want, we need to really give it the right messages. And self-talk is something that, just like with gratitude or goal-setting or visualization, body language, all these skills and strategies are simple but they’re not easy. We just need to remember to do them.

And, usually, when we need to do them the most, is when we least feel like doing them. So, again, we’re having an off day, we’re low energy, adversity is striking, and that’s when we need to say, “Okay, game on. Put on the champion,” and look at whatever we’re faced with as a challenge to overcome rather than a threat to avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued about self-talk in that it’s not that often that I am too harsh myself, like, “Oh, I’m a loser,” or, “I’m an idiot.” That happens here and there. But mostly my own negative self-talk is more just like I’m irritated by something. For example, I was trying to sell something on Facebook Marketplace mostly just because I wanted them to haul it away without paying for it to be hauled away. So, don’t tell them but I would take zero dollars for this item, but anyhow.

So, they send a message, like, “Hey, what time?” or whatever, and then I’m not on Facebook for a while, and then 40 minutes later, they’re like, “Hello?” and that just makes me angry. Jim, I don’t know if that’s just me or what because it’s sort of like, “I am angry that someone has the expectation of being always on and instantly replying. And, like, I feel like I have failed or disappointed them in some expectation. But I think that expectation is bull crap. So, I’m angry.” Usually, I can let that pass but it kind of gets me a little bit of a slant or funk.

I think the mind, with those 60 to 80,000 thoughts, it’s sort of like, once you’re prewired or in one chute of emotional being, it’s easier to see, “Well, what else is irritating and anger-inducing in my environment or world?” So, Jim, I’d love to get your take on that when it comes to self-talk. Sometimes it’s not even verbal inside the mind’s ear, but it’s an emotion. And sometimes it’s not lifted or pointed at the self, like, “I’m so bad,” but rather something else, but it still has unpleasant effects that can decrease performance and productivity over the course of the day. So, yeah, I guess I laid it on you my own situation but some of the nuances of self-talk. How might you address that situation?

Jim Afremow
Well, we definitely, most of the time, our first appraisal is usually negative. And, again, that relates to the negativity bias, so, “I can’t believe this is happening,” or, “Why now?” or, “This is unfair.”

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “What’s this guy’s problem? Chill out, man. Some people don’t live their lives on Facebook. Deal with it.”

Jim Afremow
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, it’s just not helpful.

Jim Afremow
Exactly. And that’s where we need to make a re-appraisal of the situation and either look at it in a humorous way, like, “Okay, this is going to be a funny thing to share with someone later today,” or, we look at it as a challenge to overcome. And one of the little sayings that I like to use for myself is, “Get your expectations in line with reality.”

And most of us expect everything to go perfectly well each day, and, lots of luck, that’s not going to happen. And so, it reminds me of the story of Walter Hagen. He was, about a hundred years ago, one of the best golfers in the world, if not the best golfer of his time, and he reacted really well to the bad shots when he played. And back in the day, most golfers would throw their clubs or break their clubs and let it ruin their whole round when something bad happened. And he just ho-hummed, went onto the next shot, hit a good shot.

And so, he was asked, “How do you do that? How do you keep such a great attitude?” And he said, “Well, I expect four, or five, or six bad shots around, and golf is not a game of perfect, so to speak,” as we say nowadays, “So, when I do hit a bad shot, well, there’s one of the five, six, or seven bad shots that I’m going to hit today, or this tournament, so let it go. Put it behind me.”

And so, that’s kind of a key of champions is they tend to underreact emotionally when things aren’t going well rather than to overreact. And so, I like to joke again with performers that no one after a competition has ever said, “Man, I wish I got more angry out there or more anxious out there, or whatever it is out there. I wish I overreacted more to that bad call by the rep.” It’s usually, “I should’ve kept my cool,” and that’s where I like the saying that, “Cool heads win hot games.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So, two good tools there. One is expectations, like, “Hey, if you interact with strangers, it’s probably going to have some unusual characters in some ways, and there’s a scammer in the mix as well. So, to be expected,” as opposed to be, like, “I’m so mad and frustrated and surprised and shocked that this thing happened.” So, one tool, get those expectations aligned with reality.

Secondly, re-appraisal, tell us, how can we do that? What are some examples of re-appraising? You say funny. I guess I’m imagining, I don’t know, like Seinfeld or something. You can make a whole episode out of this nothingness and turn that into humor. Can you give us some examples of re-appraisal in action, how it’s done?

Jim Afremow
Well, let’s say the classic example is you’re stuck in traffic and you need to get somewhere, maybe to work that day, and you’re getting frustrated, “What’s taking so long? Why are the roads so crowded?” And so, we’re going to have that instant negative reaction, and I think that’s where we could catch ourselves, take a deep breath, and kind laugh it off, and maybe think of it as an episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, and just think that, “If I were watching this on TV, what would make this situation kind of humorous or funny?” versus just getting upset, and then kind of reminds me of, what the saying, that it’s kind of like holding a hot coal and expecting it to hurt someone else that you’re mad at.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, like revenge.

Jim Afremow
Yes. So, we tend to be our own worst enemy in those situations where we just stress ourselves out but, yet, we’re the ones holding the stress. So, the problem isn’t the problem is, I guess, what I’m getting at. It’s our reaction to the problem that’s often the problem. So, being stuck in traffic is just, “Okay, it’s going to happen. I’ll probably be a few minutes late. It’s not the end of the world.”

Again, get my expectations in line with reality, and then maybe take a deep breath, find out, listen to something good on the radio versus getting really upset, frustrated, heated, and then, all of a sudden, we have this really…we slip into this black hole and then carry it around with us all day.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. Well, so now these are parts of the mental game that apply to everybody. I’d be curious to hear, particularly with your book here The Leader’s Mind, how do we translate this into leadership context? Like, are there any particular applications, use cases, do’s and don’ts, that make all the difference when it comes to leading others?

Jim Afremow
I do think that what’s really, really important is that we get crystal clear about our core values. And one example that I share in the book is when Steve Kerr decided to accept the Golden State Warriors’ head coaching job for the basketball team, he started reaching out to not only his mentors in the basketball world, Phil Jackson, when he was with the Bulls, and then Greg Popovich when he was with the San Antonio Spurs, but he reached outside of his sport.

And one of the people that he reached out to was Pete Carroll, who’s Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl winning coach. And he said, “Pete, what should I do in terms of being a great coach?” And Pete said, “Don’t worry about the X’s and O so much. I want you to start with what is the most important to you.” And he said, “Well, what do you mean?” And he said, “Well, write down ten core values and then narrow that list to four core values that you’re going to implement in your program on your team, and that you’re going to live each day.”

And so, he came up with joy, mindfulness, competition, and then kind of like gratitude. And what’s really powerful about that is they incorporated those things into every day practice, “So, let’s make sure we’re having fun with the purpose of practice.” In terms of the gratitude or the caring for others, “Let’s really care about each other, not just the uniform but the person in the uniform.”

And so, he started really living those core values, and I think that that’s really important because then you can kind of gauge, “Am I living those or are we living those?” And then when the team or the organization kind of hits a wall or goes through a period of struggle, you could go back to those core values.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you. All right. So, I’m curious, core values have come up a few times in the show. How does one arrive at them? I could just think of some off the top of my head, sure, and maybe that’s your first 10 or 50 depending on how much the juices are flowing. And then how do you recommend you really zero in on what are the big four?

Jim Afremow
Yeah, I think that one thing is having role models can be important. So, in terms of leadership, we don’t have to be kind of lost in the wilderness on our own. We should have leaders that we look up to that we can gain some wisdom from. And so, kind of along those lines would be, “Who do I respect most in terms of leadership?” It could be a family member, a parent. It could be maybe a teacher or a boss that you’ve had or a coach, or it could be someone that you’ve studied in history or maybe a current coach in a major league sport.

And then you think about, “Okay, what are their core values? How do those resonate with kind of my own experience?” And that could be a good starting point. So, just with, for example, with Steve Kerr, I really liked his core value of joy because I’m a big believer that the more fun you have, the better you’re going to do, and the better you do, the more fun you’re going to have. So, let’s start with joy. If we’re not having fun, and again, it’s not silly fun or goofing off fun, it’s fun with a purpose, or it can even be intense fun. If we’re not having fun in any area of our life, we’re probably not going to be doing that well in that area of our life.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Okay. So, core values, that’s one huge cornerstone in terms of leading well. What else do you recommend?

Jim Afremow
I love the idea of having an after-action review or a debrief after a performance. And in the work world, it could be maybe a weekly debrief but, basically, “What are we doing well? And what can we do better, moving forward?” That also gives you the opportunity to celebrate what you’re doing well, give yourself credit where credit is due, but then also to really put your finger on, “Okay, here are some…let’s target some areas for growth that we can really take up a notch and that will help us to move forward.” Because that, again, the goal is to get one day better every day or one week better every week. And if you can do that throughout a season or a year, and do it every season and every year, you’re going to like where you end up.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. And, likewise, what are some things we should not do or stop doing? Any key mistakes that leaders tend to make repeatedly that maybe they’re not even aware of?

Jim Afremow
You know what’s really, really fascinating is, in terms of the advice I give coaches and other types of leaders, number one is I’ll ask them, “Have you ever asked your employees or your athletes ‘What do I need to know about you or what do you want me to know about you in order to be the best leader I can possibly be for you?’” And it’s such an interesting and powerful question that we tend not to…it’s almost too simple.

Jim Afremow
But it’s really powerful and so a lot of the coaches that I’ve worked with will ask their athletes, “You know, on an index card, write down some things that you want me to know about you that will help me to be the best coach possible for you.” And it’s amazing what they get back. It might be, “Hey, I like when you coach me really tough,” or, “I respond better to maybe encouragement versus being challenged.” And so, really, it’s a great way to learn what buttons to press, to get the most out of the people you work for, and then so everyone is happy.

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

Jim Afremow
Well, I think that visualization is, again, it’s one of those skills that I think we all use a lot when we’re little just kind of spontaneously, picturing kind of cool and awesome things. Let’s get back to being creative in our own lives. And I encourage people to spend a few minutes a day just with their eyes closed and visualizing kind of who they want to be as a professional and performing the way that you want to perform.

So, it’s not just the end result of holding the trophy or getting the big paycheck, but the steps that will lead to that. But spend a little more time crafting your reality in your mind’s eye, and it’s amazing how often that will manifest itself in real life. I did that with my first book The Champion’s Mind. I visualized holding the finished product while I was writing it, and it gave me kind of that extra motivation to work when it was hard to sit down at the desk and write.

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

Jim Afremow
Well, a quote from Muhammad Ali, I really, really appreciate. So, he was doing, during one of his fight camps, he was doing sit-ups, and one of the reporters was watching and afterward asked Muhammad Ali, “How many sit-ups did you do there?” And Muhammad Ali said, “I don’t know because I only start counting them when they start hurting.” He said, “The reason I do that is because those are the ones that really count, those are the ones that make you a champion.”

And so, I really loved that quote about kind of when things get tough, that’s when you really find out what you’re made of, and that’s where you really, that extra effort of excellence, that’s where really you could go that…accomplish what you really want to accomplish. And so, working hard when things get hard is the great separator.

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

Jim Afremow
I always got a kick out of…so, just majoring in psychology as an undergrad, I went to University of Oregon, undergrad, and they just had a great psychology department, and just fell in love with psychology and then studied sports psychology and counselling in grad school. But I was a big fan of the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jim Afremow
I really enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a great movie, the early one. I know there’s been newer movie of it made. But I just love just the adventure of it and the story of redemption. This guy gets wronged and finds a way to kind of crawl back and reinvent himself and come back out on top again. So, I kind of love those stories about great comebacks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Jim Afremow
Favorite tool for me is having that attitude of gratitude. And along those lines, I like the quote that “Entitled to nothing but grateful for everything.” And, usually, when I find that I’m in that state of gratitude where I appreciate everything I have in life, and I’m thankful for the people in my life, it just makes everything better.

I heard someone once say that if everyone in the world put all their troubles in a big circle, you would gladly take yours back. And so, most of us could probably appreciate what we have, or the bad things that we don’t have, much more and that will make us feel much better about things.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite nugget, something you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Jim Afremow
So, the mantra, kind of the motto is, for The Champion’s Mind book is, “Think gold and never settle for silver.” And so, it’s just that reminder that every day is an opportunity to be the best or the gold version of ourselves. So, to ask ourselves, “What can I do today, what acts of excellence can I do today to make my life more golden?” I think that’s an important question.

And then my second book, The Champion’s Comeback, it’s we’re going to get knocked down. If we have big goals and dreams in life, we’re going to fall but we need to get back up again. So, I love the saying that “Love the comeback more than you hate the setback.”

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

Jim Afremow
Well, my website is GoldMedalMind.net and I’m on Twitter a lot, and I might already be following you or we might already be following each other because I follow a lot of people and have a lot of followers, but that’s at @goldmedalmind. And then on Instagram, @jimafremow

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

Jim Afremow
Yeah, I would start with, “What’s one thing that I’m going to start doing as a result of listening to the podcast today in my own life?” And it could be a small thing. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a big thing. It might even be just, “I’m going to take a gratitude drive when I go to work each day. So, “One thing I’m going to start doing,” and then, “One thing that I’m going to stop doing.” And it might be related to, “I’m going to stop watching TV or looking at my phone while I’m eating. I’m going to really sit and be mindful and appreciative of the food that I’m eating.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jim, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you much luck and much champion goodness.

Jim Afremow
Thanks so much, Pete.