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816: How Anyone Can Build Powerful Executive Presence with Harrison Monarth

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Harrison Monarth shares simple but effective approaches to get others to perceive you as a leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s easier to build executive presence than you think
  2. The easiest way to improve people’s perception of you
  3. How to still contribute when you don’t have answers

About Harrison

Harrison Monarth is one of today’s most sought-after leadership development-and executive coaches, helping CEOs, senior executives, managers, and high-potential employees develop critical leadership skills and increase their interpersonal effectiveness and ability to influence others. He has personally coached leaders from major organizations in financial services, technology, medical, legal, hospitality and consumer industries, as well as those in start-ups, nonprofits and politics.

Harrison’s client list covers organizations such as General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, MetLife, AT&T, Northrop Grumman, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte Consulting, Cisco Systems, GE and Standard & Poor’s among others, as well as start-up entrepreneurs, political candidates and Members of Congress.

Resources Mentioned

Harrison Monarth Interview Transcript

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

Harrison Monarth
Hi, there. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom about executive presence and more. And I’ve got to hear the story about you proposing marriage on your first date.

Harrison Monarth
Yes, so I had seen my wife over the course of a couple of years. She worked in the same neighborhood where I worked. At the time, I lived in Denver, Colorado, and had seen her from afar, admired her from afar, she was very beautiful, and didn’t know her but circumstances led us to get to know each other through a mutual friend.

And since I had already been in love with her for a couple of years, at our first date, we had a wonderful first date that dragged into the evening, seeing a movie. And it was after the movie that we went back to our café, and after some more conversation and other shenanigans, I proposed, she accepted, and eight months later, we got married.

And, by the way, it’s been almost 20 years, so that was 19 years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. Congratulations. Well, we keep the show G-rated but I’m curious what shenanigans we’re referring to that lead to both of you feeling, like, “Yup, feel pretty certain this is going to be just fine”?

Harrison Monarth
I think it’s a bit of a cliché when you say you just know and you click with someone, and everything just really connects in all levels. And, yeah, it was that for us, so it’s just a feeling of knowing. Yeah, we’ve been inseparable since.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s awesome. Congratulations.

Harrison Monarth
There’s no secret to it, actually. It’s just I think we’re lucky, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that here’s where I make a forced segue, I think that a lot feels the same way about executive presence, Harrison, in that it feels like, “Hey, some people have it. They’re lucky. They got it. And some people don’t.” But I’d love to hear your perspective on this. Your book Executive Presence, Second Edition: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO shares some learnable behaviors that anyone can take on.

Maybe, can you kick us off with a particularly surprising or counterintuitive or extra fascinating discovery you’ve made about executive presence from your years of research and work in the field?

Harrison Monarth
Now you said something interesting. I think you said you either have it or you don’t, or people have maybe the perception, “You have it or you don’t.” And I think that is one of those misperceptions about executive presence. It’s often how we describe a nebulous quality-like charisma, somebody has it or they don’t.

Executive presence, I found in my research over the last 20 plus years, and probably unconsciously over many years before that, is a set of behaviors, traits, qualities, characteristics that we can identify and where we can understand that we all have a profile of certain behaviors that serve us, that help us, and others that perhaps get in the way of having an executive presence and having that positive influence.

And so, for me, the big aha was the understanding that, you know what, all these qualities, these behaviors, you don’t have to have all of them, but you need to know where you are on that scale and what you have and what you don’t have, so you have to start somewhere. And then you can create a plan and decide based on your circumstances, based on the company in which you work, the people you work with, the system you’re in, what’s important to develop and what you need to maybe continue doing and what you need to intensify or magnify.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a collection of behaviors. Harrison, could you perhaps segment the lofty concept of executive presence into a manageable set of categories we can get our arms around?

Harrison Monarth
Sure. So, if I were to break it down, and, again, this is the world according to me. This is by no means an exact science, obviously. But executive presence is a combination of communication, behaviors, communication skills such as managing difficult conversations, about engaging others, being the kind of communicator that can easily engage other people.

Telling strategic stories in business and to explain complex topics and subject matter. Being inspiring and persuading. Helping people understand something and come to a decision. So, these are all, say, behaviors under communication. Political savvy is important. Do you have the ability to create alliances to manage up, to generate buy-in and support from people?

Courage. Competence. To me, you have to have competence in something. You have to be able to communicate both develop a level of expertise and intellect, and develop sort of a persona that lets other people know that you can be counted on, that you’re a person of substance and competence in order to be seen as having that presence.

Delivering results is an important part as well under the category of competence. You can’t deliver results if you can’t contribute value to an organization, to a group, to a team. We’re not necessarily seen as having an executive presence, or we will have an executive presence that’s shallow, like a politician, let’s say in cases.

Acting decisively is part of it. Having courage. Being calm under pressure. Those are all some. I’m not going to rattle off the whole, let’s say, 27 or 30, but those are some that I think are very important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a whole boatload of things. I’m curious, if that feels overwhelming for folks, could you give us some hope, some inspiration with a story of someone who was kind of low on this collection of behaviors, but then did some things to make a huge upgrade to executive presence and see good results?

Harrison Monarth
Yes, I can. I had a client not too long ago who was at a management level in a company, and networking was something that she found distasteful. She didn’t like it. It was uncomfortable for her, and just generally reaching out to strangers. Considers herself an introvert and, generally, just uncomfortable with engaging people that she had no business reason to engage.

And so, what I helped her with, a couple things, number one is changing her mindset to basically say, “Look, what can I contribute to the person, to the company, to the organization that would be of value?” So, this one important shift in terms of how to even get out of your shell or think about yourself not by way of grabbing or self-promoting, but to actually contribute value.

The other part was what I talked about, helping her create a stakeholder map. So, creating a visual representation of where people are in the company and who has influence, who is someone that could help you get things done, who is somebody that can help you do better at your job, hit the ground running if you’re new in the job, and, basically, contribute value more quickly.

Once you have those people, once you have a map like this, once you have a good overview of who’s who in the organization, then you obviously need to engage and have substantive, hopefully interesting, conversations. And I think this is where a lot of people have shied away. They are worried that they have nothing in common with the person, that they are at too low a level, let’s say, they’re relatively new in their career, new at the company, “What would that person want to talk about with me?”

And so, what I asked her to do in this case is I asked her what she would be genuinely curious about if she were stuck in an elevator with that person for two hours, “What would you talk about? What would you ask that person that you’re genuinely curious about?” And so, it kind of broke it down for her, and she really thought genuinely about, “Okay, I would want to know this. I would want to know what is the person thinking about our division, or my job, my role, how we could most contribute value, what challenges that they have in a similar role or at a different part of the company.”

There were so many questions that she herself generated after a while, and then she felt very confident all of a sudden to there was no status differential, all of a sudden. It was just, “How can I connect with that leader in a way that I show that I’m genuinely interested in them but so I can learn from them as well?” So, that’s one of the ways I helped, and it made a huge difference for her because, obviously, she uses that now to engage with others that she really has no business reason to connect with.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. So, I’m curious, if we’re going to put forth some effort into developing executive presence, what might you suggest as some top high-leverage starting points in that they need development for a lot of people, and it’s relatively easy to do something about it, in terms of, “Well, just videotape yourself a couple of times, and you’ll stop doing that, bada bing”? Are there any kinds of domains and practices that have a really strong bang for the buck there?

Harrison Monarth
Yes. I’m looking at this as building it from the ground up, because, first of all, again, we’re all a mixed bag. We’re strong in some areas, we’re not so strong in other areas. And so, my recommendation is always to get feedback, first of all. And I ask people two questions. Number one, and to use these questions with others that know them, that can actually make comments, “What do you appreciate about me? How do you perceive me?” number one.

And the second question is, “What would make me even stronger?” And the first question is somewhat open, it’s “How am I perceived? How do you perceive me?” People will generally, because it’s not anonymous, they’re telling you face to face, generally speaking, they’re going to tell you a lot of nice things about you, the things they actually like about you, that they appreciate about you, that make you strong, which is great, but you also need to know what could potentially hold you back.

So, I coach them and ask them the second question in a very specific way, and not, “What are my blind spots?” not “What am I not doing well?” or, “What could I be doing better?” All of these things put the other person in sort of a negative mind space. It puts them into criticizing mode, and nobody wants to criticize you face to face.

And so, what people do like to do, rather than give negative feedback, is they like to give advice, and that’s why I would like to give keep second question, I tell them keep it very positive. Instead of saying, “What are my blind spots? Or, what am I not doing well?” first, I’d tell them, “Thank them for all the nice things they just said about you, because they probably did.” And then you say, “Now, what would make me even stronger?

And the word even is so important because the premise here is that, “Well, you just told me a lot of nice things that I’m strong in these areas. Now, what would make me even stronger?” That will then allow the other person to keep it very positive to actually give you advice. So, for instance, if somebody thinks you’re a micromanager, or that you’re too controlling, had you asked, “What am I not doing well?” chances are they probably wouldn’t have told you the truth, or they might’ve sugarcoated it so much that it would’ve been too vague.

And so, if they do feel though that you’re a little bit of a micromanager, simply by asking the question, “Now, what would make me even stronger?” they could say to you, “Well, if you give people a little bit more autonomy at work, how they arrange their projects, how they set up their time in order to get the results you need and get the work done, that might make them more engaged, and that might increase their productivity, so give them a little more autonomy.” They just told you the exact same thing, and gave you advice rather than criticize you for being a micromanager.

So, I think you start there. You get feedback first. And you said, “Well, what are some quick bang for the buck, basically?” I would say something that anyone can do. So, this will give you an idea of what you need to work on. But I always tell people, whether you’re an introvert, whether you’re shy, whether you’re generally more quiet, these people are typically thinkers, contributing your perspective, your ideas in a meeting is probably the number one thing that could move you up in people’s minds as somebody who’s contributing value and somebody who’s engaged and wants to contribute to solutions and challenges and help solve challenges.

Speaking up, that’s something anyone can do, once we get over the discomfort of doing so, but it’s something that can give you influence almost instantly. And too often, people are just hanging back.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m having flashbacks, Harrison, to in high school and college, my Model United Nations days, going to conferences, pretending to represent different countries. And there was a guy, shout out to Robbie Clayber, if he ever listens to the show, who I just got a chapter started in my high school, and he won a lot of awards for being an outstanding representative.

And it’s like, “So, what’s the trick?” He’s like, “Honestly, just keep going up to the microphone and talking.” I was like, “But what if you don’t have anything smart or insightful or worthwhile to say?” And he said, “It doesn’t even matter. Just the more you get up and say stuff at the microphone,” that’s how he won all these best delegate awards.

And I thought that seemed off, but then in my experiences, as I was watching it happen, too, yes, the exact same pattern played out. Now, life is not exactly, or business careers are not exactly a Model United Nations conference for a high school or college student, but I think some of the same principles apply in that just talk more, and, hopefully, it’s value-added so you’re not just wasting everybody’s time.

But, Harrison, if anyone has concerns that, “Oh, I don’t know if what I have to say is that insightful or worthwhile in speaking up,” do you have any pro tips on either overcoming that resistance, or a quick way you can do an internal safety check, like, “Yup, that is a worthwhile contribution” versus, “No, folks will probably roll their eyes internally and wish I would shut up?”

Harrison Monarth
By the way, there are studies, there are a number of studies from the Haas School of Business, for instance, that showed that in small and medium-sized groups, speaking up and contributing your perspective makes other people see you as having leadership, potential leadership qualities, they see you as influential, and then other studies confirm that as well, and even see you as more competent, by the way, even if you don’t always get the answers right. They just see you as more competent to lead because you’re seen as hardworking, as contributing, again, to solutions, as one that could make a difference to the team. So, there are some great qualities.

But, to your point, “So, what if I feel like I just don’t have anything to add?” So, I’m going to give you the light version, and then I’m going to give you the power version. The light version is, think about, “Why are you there? What’s the point of you even being in this meeting?” And, hopefully, you’ve thought about this beforehand.

And if you haven’t, then maybe you learn a lesson that next time you do think about “Why am I there? What questions do I want to ask? What do I need to find out? What’s the objective? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to solve a problem? Are we trying to brainstorm? Are we trying to come to a decision or discuss, get to a consensus?”

There is obviously some sort of objective. And if there isn’t one, or if you don’t know what the objective is, ask other people, “What are we trying to do here?” and then think about why you, why are you there, and then, hopefully, you can connect the dots there. But generally, I say prepare for these meetings even if you feel, maybe you’re new, and you don’t have anything super relevant to add. Well, you could probably ask some good questions. So, think about what those questions are.

And then you might actually be the person, those meetings often go off the rails, people start rambling, they go all over the place, they go down rabbit holes and start talking about things that really had nothing to do with the meeting objective. So, you could be the person that brings everybody back on track, and say, “Hey, weren’t we trying to decide between A and B? We’re really just going way off of that, so here’s what I would like to add to that discussion.”

And so, there are lots of different things if you prepare, ask questions, and make points, and point out maybe some things that others hadn’t thought about. But then the power version, I want to tell you a quick anecdote. So, I’ve done a lot of work for PepsiCo, and worked with some senior leaders on Indra Nooyi’s leadership team.

And an anecdote that I thought was just incredibly inspiring from her was when Indra Nooyi was a consultant for Boston Consulting in the 1980s, from there she was hired to become the head of strategy for Motorola’s automotive electronics division. And in one of her first executive-level staff meetings, she said she was completely out of her depth.

So, they were talking about two things that she didn’t really have much of a clue about: cars and electronics. And so, she said that based on her skill and experience as a consultant, she could’ve asked smart questions and created a framework of understanding for herself and survived, but that she really wanted to make a difference as soon as possible, make a contribution, have an impact on the business.

And so, what she did, in order to be able to contribute, she hired two professors as tutors for herself, on her own. So, she hired an electronics professor who would teach her about electronics from a thick electronics textbook, and then an automotive technology professor, somebody from the automotive technology college, to teach her about the inner workings of a car. And she would do that for an entire year.

So, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, she would have two hours of electronics tutoring from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., and then the rest of the week, Thursday, Friday, somebody from the automotive college would stop by and help her, for an entire year. And she said it was extremely hard, but think about it, the impact that had on the others around her and her understanding of subject matter and of being able to connect the dots, to me, that’s another level of wanting to make an impact and wanting to contribute value that that’s up to us.

We have to think about where, “What time can I carve out? Where am I willing to make some sacrifices, of tradeoffs to develop my understanding of things, my expertise?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And I’ve heard it said here a couple times that if you read the top five relevant books to your field, you’ll be more knowledgeable than 90 plus percent of the people in that domain. And I think that varies by domain, but I think that’s often rather true, that it may not take ten hours of one-on-one professor-tutorial a week for 15 plus weeks to pull it off. It might take 16 hours of reading over a couple of months, and, bam, there you are having some knowledgeable perspective.

Harrison Monarth
Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I think and then you decide how much further you want to go. And you’ll see, “Do you have an impact? Are you making a difference?” And I agree with you that you don’t have to necessarily have the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about becoming an expert at something, or a master at something. I think small steps, like you said, reading a couple of books on the topic, reading insights and papers and articles can make a huge difference already.

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

Harrison Monarth
No, I would say the idea of getting feedback, understanding, having developing your internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, how you show up to the world, and then deciding, “What do I need to work on?” is a great foundation to, then, increase your executive presence.

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

Harrison Monarth
There’s a quote by George Bernard Shaw who said that, “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

Harrison Monarth
And I think that’s powerful because it puts the control in your hands.

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

Harrison Monarth
Francesca Gino, a few years ago, led a study with Adam Grant on gratitude, the power of gratitude. And they found that, aside from Gallup also found that showing gratitude, managers showing gratitude to employees can boost productivity by 5% to 10%, people feeling appreciated by their managers, being more engaged at work, and being happier at work. So, I love that study because it just reinforces something that we all intuitively know, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a favorite book?

Harrison Monarth
As a matter of fact, right in front of me, it’s called Daily Rituals. Daily Rituals by.. oh, Mason Currey. And it just talks about rituals that famous artists, composers, painters, writers, have had, and it’s full of failures.

So, the book is full of how these people tried to get out of work, tried to avoid work, procrastinated, but then found themselves still producing masterpieces and great works. And I think it just sort of humanizes them, and it makes you feel less like a loser if you don’t feel like getting off the couch for a full day.

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

Harrison Monarth
For me, a favorite tool is reframing, so reframing things. I think the power of reframing, looking at things from different perspectives, first, it makes you calmer. Taking different viewpoints on something because there’s so much that stresses us out, but if we’re able to put things in proper perspective, reframe them in not just one different way or look at one different perspective, but look at it from many different perspectives, it makes you calmer and it actually helps you find solutions. It opens your mind to other approaches.

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

Harrison Monarth
A key nugget. Well, actually, to be honest with you, it’s connected to that, it is this looking at things in a different way. And one thing that people often either cite or remind me of that I’ve talked about at a workshop or in a coaching session is this idea of rather than thinking of yourself, think about others and how you can contribute value to others will make a lot of things easier from speaking up to networking, to increasing visibility, to getting involved with people and things. That just the idea of looking at it from the perspective of “I’d like to make a contribution. I’d like to contribute value” has a huge impact on our willingness, our motivation, to actually go out and do it.

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

Harrison Monarth
LinkedIn is a great way. I’m on LinkedIn. Certainly, we have our website, GuruMaker.com, but LinkedIn, I post on LinkedIn not as often as I’d like but, yeah, messaging on LinkedIn and just connecting that way and staying in touch that way is great.

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

Harrison Monarth
Yes. I would say a challenge would be, and this is often I give challenge in the workshop, I would say pick six people that know you, have worked with you maybe, or working with you, ask them the two questions, “How am I perceived?” Wait for the nice answers and maybe they’ll tell you something interesting. And then the second question, “Now, what would make me even stronger?” and listen, wait for the answers, be grateful for the answers. Probe if you want to have clarity, and then you have something that you can work on, potentially, to make you even more effective and even stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Harrison, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much fun and success and executive presence.

Harrison Monarth
Thank you very much. Pleasure talking to you.

815: How to Get Along with Anyone at Work with Amy Gallo

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Amy Gallo shares how to constructively deal with difficult people at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The massive costs of bad relationships at work
  2. How to build your immunity to criticism
  3. How to work well with eight key types of difficult people

About Amy

Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review. She is the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict and Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone, and a cohost of HBR’s Women at Work podcast. Her articles have been collected in dozens of books on emotional intelligence, giving and receiving feedback, time management, and leadership. As a sought-after speaker and facilitator, Gallo has helped thousands of leaders deal with conflict more effectively and navigate complicated workplace dynamics. She is a graduate of Yale University and holds a master’s from Brown University.

Resources Mentioned

Amy Gallo Interview Transcript

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

Amy Gallo
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for being here. I’m excited to chat. And we’re going to learn, at last, how to get along with anyone at work. Impressive.

Amy Gallo
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
But, first, we need to hear a little bit about you and karaoke. What’s the story here?

Amy Gallo
Oh, my gosh. Okay, so I have a terrible voice. Like, I feel like I could be the definition of tone deaf but I love to sing, so karaoke is where I thrive. And it’s funny, my husband knows how much I love karaoke, he knows how my voice sounds, but when we go to karaoke with new people, and I start singing, there’s a moment where, like, their eyes go wide, and they’re like, “Wait, what’s happening?” because I think it’s probably pretty terrible but I make up for it in enthusiasm. Because I think they’re just sort of like, “Wow, she’s really having a great time, and it sounds terrible.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in a way, I think there’s a certain beauty to that. I don’t know what virtue I’d pin it on but it’s something good. It says something good about you, Amy. Zest for life, hunk humility, fun lovingness.

Amy Gallo
Yeah. And I think confidence, too, of just like, “You know what, it sounds terrible but I’m having fun, so have fun with me.” And my favorite karaoke song is Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, which can be sung as a duet, and oftentimes I’ve gotten strangers to sing the duet with me, but these were pre-COVID times. I haven’t done karaoke in a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I hope that you get some soon.

Amy Gallo
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds like a hoot. All right. Well, let’s talk about your latest here, Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People). That’s a nice promise of a title inside that book. Can you tell us, maybe for starters, just to get the juices flowing, any particularly surprising, counterintuitive, extra fascinating discoveries you’ve made along the way in doing your research and assembling this book here?

Amy Gallo
Yeah. Actually, I’ll share two things. One is something I found out in writing the book and something that I found out since writing the book. So, the first one I would say, I knew that social connections were important at work, and I knew that having fractured relationships or stressful relationships or tense relationships with your co-workers was not good, but the depth of research on the impact of social connections, positive social connections, on us as, both in terms of our wellbeing but also in terms of our performance.

There’s this amazing study that showed from a team of professors at Rutgers that showed that people who identify as friends at work have better performance review ratings. So, the whole idea that this is sort of soft, and, “Oh, it would be nice to have a friend at work,” it’s not. This was actually really about productivity and performance.

And then, on the flipside, the research around how terrible stressful relationships are, or animosity in our relationships, both for our productivity, creativity, but also for our health, there are studies that show that having an incompetent manager, for example, raises the likelihood that you’ll have a heart disease. Or, there are studies that show that people who have animosity in their relationships had wounds that were less slow to heal, or were slower to heal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Amy Gallo
So, it’s actually having a physical impact on us.


Pete Mockaitis
That makes a lot of sense. I think that when it comes to the stress and the cortisol, or whatever sort of your biochemical mediators of that, it seems like more and more research are showing up that when there’s a chronic stress situation and not good healthy outlets, such as sleep, exercise, friends, social support, bad things happen in the body.

Amy Gallo
Yeah, and I think, for years, we thought the way we interact with co-workers, our relationships with them, were sort of icing on the cake. And I think just tremendous amount of research that shows the impact of those relationships make it clear that it is the cake. This is how we get work done, whether or not we’re successful, whether we achieve our goals, is largely dependent on the quality of our relationships with the people we work with. And I think it’s just so clear on the research.

Now, the second insight I’ve had I wanted to share, which has been since I wrote the book, and this is a little bit of insider baseball on the writing of the book, is each chapter. So, the book is around archetypes of difficult people, and each of those chapters included a section of what if you are this person, what if you are the insecure manager, or the know-it-all, what you should do. And the manuscript was way too long, so, with my editor, we agreed to cut those sections out.

And part of the thinking of doing that was that we didn’t think people would actually have the self-awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
“Surely, not I, Amy.”

Amy Gallo
Exactly. Like, who would get to that section, and be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s me,” right? But I cannot tell you how many people have LinkedIn-message me, tweeted at me, called me, my friends have texted me, and said, “I’m reading your book, and I’ve seen myself in that archetype, or I’m seeing myself in many of the archetypes.”

Which is so encouraging because that’s one of the themes of the book, is that we’re all the difficult person at times, and it can be hard to recognize that, it can be even harder to admit it, but the more we do that, the easier these interactions and resolving some of the conflicts we have with people we work with will be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a thesis right there. Well, I was about going to ask, what’s the big idea behind the book. It sounds like we hit it. Anything else you want to mention in terms of a core thesis?

Amy Gallo
Well, I think the other thing is we often feel subjected to these relationships, especially if the person we’re having difficulty with is a manager or someone we can’t stop working with because they’re a critical member of our team. And I think one of the other core themes is this is in your control, not that you can change that other person.

I don’t have to explain to people that that’s not going to work. You can’t actually set out making your colleague a different person but you can control your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions, your behavior in a way that changes the dynamic so you don’t have to feel stuck in these challenging relationships. You actually can do something about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a very inspiring and encouraging, so cool stuff. I don’t have to change someone else. I have some areas or things I can control that will make an impact.

Amy Gallo
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s really cool. Could you maybe kick us off with an inspiring story of someone who there was a co-worker, “Wow, they weren’t feeling it,” and then they saw a transformation and some cool results?

Amy Gallo
Yeah, so I actually will share a personal story. It’s a story I open the book with, and it’s not transformational in that, all of a sudden, this person became, like, my best friend. It just got easier, and I’ll explain. So, I had this boss earlier in my career who was just a chronic micromanager, gossiped about people in the office with me, which made me believe she was probably gossiping about me to others.

She would assign work and then, the next day, assign, like, three more projects. And when you said, “Whoa, what about these other things?” she’s like, “Why are you even focused on that?” It was I really never knew where I stood, and it was stressful. It was just incredibly stressful. And I found myself, about three months into the job, thinking about her constantly.

I would be walking the dog thinking about what I was going to say to her in an email response. I’d be at a birthday party I’ve taken my daughter to, finding myself going over conversations we’d had, and I was like, “Okay, I got to quit. This is not worth it.” And instead of quitting, and I’m not sure what made me do this, but instead of quitting, I was like, “Wait, let me see if I can just change the way I feel about her, and let her stop taking up so much room in my psyche.”

And by sort of re-appraising the situation, seeing it instead of being stuck working with this person, see it as an opportunity to keep this job, which I actually really like, and can I learn something from it, can I learn about the kind of manager I want to be, can I learn about how I handle stressful situations. I stayed in that job for 18 months. She did not change. I want to make that clear. It’s not that she behaved differently. I just changed the way I thought about it, and the amount of investment I put into making that relationship better, because I was so…

Part of what was so hard is that I was set on…I really thought if I could just…well, how do I want to say this? Like, I just thought if I could transform this relationship, if I could show her the way that her behavior was impacting others. And I had a friend who said, “I don’t know she cares.” And so then, I thought, “Okay. Well, she doesn’t care, or I don’t know if she cares or not, so I’m not going to focus on priding myself on being able to reform this woman. Instead, I’m going to focus on priding myself on reforming myself.”

And it really became the beginning of this work that led to this book of just observing relationships, looking into the research around, “How do we deal with stressful relationships?” and what works and what doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a lot of good stuff. And you’ve mapped out eight archetypes, and I want to have a little bit of time on each of them. But it sounds like you’ve got a master key right here that would be applicable to all eight of them, so let’s hit that first. How do we control our thoughts, our feelings, and do a re-appraisal? Are there some super powerful questions, or breathing techniques? Or, what are some of all your favorite tools that can take us from, “Aargh, I want to strangle this person” to, “Oh, okay, that’s alright”?

Amy Gallo
Yup, so a couple things. Number one, I think that there’s a mindset shift we have to make, which is that instead of believing that this relationship is indicative of who we are and what we’re capable of, because that was the problem with my boss is that I was struggling with her, and I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m not good at relationships with co-workers. I guess I’m not good at managing up. Maybe I’m not even good at my job because she seems to be questioning how good I am at that.”

So, rather than thinking of this interaction, this one relationship as indicative of who you are, remember that you probably have many, many more relationships with co-workers, people outside work, that are positive, and let those be a reflection. So, I think that’s the one mindset shift you want to make right at the beginning, is right-size this person’s influence on you, that it’s just one relationship, remind yourself of that, and you’ve got many more that are probably very positive.

The second thing I would say is that you really want to observe your reactions. So, make an effort to really pay attention. When you’re in an unpleasant interaction with a co-worker, think about how do you react. So, for me, sometimes I’d blame the other person, “This is all their fault.” Or, I might blame myself, “What have I done wrong?” Or, I try to completely disengage and just shut down, “This isn’t worth my time,” and I’d dismiss it all.

All of those reactions are perfectly valid in that they’re probably not true but they’re perfectly valid in that they’re your thoughts and feelings. And I really learned this from a professor named Sigal Barsade. She was a professor at Wharton, and unfortunately passed away a few years ago. But she talks about emotions being data not noise. So, rather than trying to get rid of those emotions; pay attention to them and what are they telling you about what you care about.

And then another tool I would really say is try to re-appraise, and that’s really what I was describing what I did with my boss, was instead of saying, “This is a vexing situation I’m never going to get out of. Wow, this feels like a threat,” because, many times, these conflicts or difficult interactions with people can feel like a threat, “What’s the opportunity here? What can I learn from this situation?”

And I don’t mean to put on rose-colored glasses and be naïve while someone’s mistreating you over and over, but I do mean to think, “Maybe there’s an opportunity here for me while I work on improving this relationship. Maybe there’s an opportunity for me to learn something.” And learning might be interpersonal resilience, the development of the skill to bounce back from stressful situations when we’re in them, or bounce back more quickly when we have them, but also to feel less stressed when we’re in them.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what comes to mind here is as you’re talking about a set of skills, boy, any professional could benefit from them and I would like more of myself. And I’m thinking about Dr. David Burns who wrote Feeling Good, Feeling Great, and more, so I’m thinking of those books. And he had a phrase about becoming immune to criticism. That sounds like a nice thing to have going for you. And so, I’d like that, and it sounds like a nice positive, optimistic vibe, to say, “Ooh, this is cool. I have an opportunity to learn some resilience and maybe to become immune from criticism.”

Are there any other kind of facets or angles or slants you want to put on the learning growth development opportunity? I find, when I’m feeling cranky, which might happen in such a context, I’m not as jazzed about the idea of learning, it’s like, “Oh, Amy said I can do some learning to be more resilient,” or, “Pete said I can learn to become immune to criticism, so that’s pretty snazzy.” I don’t feel excited about the learning even though I love learning most of the time. So, any pro tips on maybe just getting a jolt to the system to steer into that happier place?

Amy Gallo
Absolutely. And I will tell you, I’m the same way. It took me months to change this relationship, or change my view of this relationship with my boss. It’s not as if you’re in the middle of being yelled at by a tormentor, or you just had credit for your project taken by a political operator, and you’re like, “What can I learn here?” Of course, you’re going to be angry, upset. That’s where those sort of observing those reactions comes in because you’re going to give yourself some space.

The other thing is you do need to make sure you allow yourself to feel those feelings, and maybe even find someone to vent them to, to sort of get that out a little bit. And just remember, the one thing I do try to remember in the moment when I am so mad, that our brains are mini-making machines. So, they’re going to try to make…create a story around what’s happening. And the story typically paints you as the hero and the other person as the villain. It’s usually not an entirely true story, so allow yourself to feel the feelings, observe what your brain is telling you, and then ask yourself.

One of my favorite things to do is to ask myself, “Okay, how do I know that’s true? Is that true? What if I’m wrong?” And just start to challenge yourself. And that’s going to bring down the threat response or what emotional intelligence experts call amygdala hijack, which is where, when you sense a threat, even if it’s just a threat to the harmony you experience with others in the workplace, we go into that stress response. The amygdala takes sort of precedence over the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our rational thinking.

And so, most people know this as the fight or flight. So, of course, when you’re in fight or flight, there’s no opportunity to learn. Your brain is like, “Protect, protect, protect,” or, “Defend, defend, defend,” and so you have to figure out how to sort of bring that down. Challenging the story that you’re telling yourself, sometimes going and having food, or deciding, “I’m not going to think about this today. Like, I’ll give myself 15 minutes to think about how mad I am at my boss, or mad I am at my colleague, then I’m going to stop, and then I’ll say how I feel about it tomorrow.”

And I think that I can remember, thinking about being immune to criticism, I actually don’t know. I don’t know that book and I don’t know the author, but I don’t know if we want to be immune to it. I just think we want to be immune to the sort of shame or embarrassment that comes along with it, because we want to be able to hear criticism and learn from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. I think that’s a good way to put it. I think immune from the disease, symptoms, if you will, of that, is how I interpret it, as opposed to, “I am oblivious to all feedback always from here on out.” Okay.

Amy Gallo
That’s right. Exactly, “Don’t hear you. Thank you very much.” And I actually had this experience. I remember someone sent me a piece of criticism, actually ten pieces. I remember there’s a list of ten things sent via email.

Pete Mockaitis
“Amy, here’s all the things you’re doing wrong. I’ve done you the favor of consolidating them into a single document.”

Amy Gallo
Well, it’s actually even worse than it sounds because it was after I had done a very visible project. I was actually on video, this live video event, and it came into my inbox, I think, half an hour after the event ended, and it was like, “Great event. Here are ten things you should do differently next time.” And I was so mad, I was red in the face. I can remember, I was shaking, like as if I hadn’t eaten for a day.

I was like just feeling woozy from my emotional response, and I said, “Okay, just close it. I can’t process this in this mode, and so I’m just going to close it.” I went and had lunch. I cried. I’m pretty sure I cried, and then I came back to it, and I was like, “Huh, okay. Like, three of the ten are very valid. Another four probably have some truth to them, and then there’s three I don’t believe. And so, let me, with that frame of mind, actually react to what was said.” And you know what? It made the next one better. It really did.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You’re bringing back memories of the time I…one my early days of speaking, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was like, “I want to be a speaker,” and follow your passion, right? And so, I did an all-school assembly, and it was my first one, and I learned the hard way that that’s a very different audience than the students at a leadership conference. It’s wildly different. And so, I just missed the mark, and the principal sent a note that was brutal. It’s like I heard nothing but negative things.

And so, I chatted over with a good mentor, Mawi, from Episode number 1. Great guy. Mawi Asgedom. And it was so, in that perspective, it’s perfect when he says, “Whenever you get feedback, it’s never completely true and it’s never completely false.

And I found that that’s been a really valuable perspective here on out is whenever you have feedback, some of it, just as you ran down with those ten points, some of it is dead-on, some of it is just bonkers, and some of it is, hmm, we have to dig in and investigate and see some nuance and context for how it applies.

Amy Gallo
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I’m glad we’re talking about feedback because it is such a core part of interacting with people that we find difficult, which is that, oftentimes, they’re either giving us feedback, either verbally or in an email, like the two that we received, or it’s implicit, they’re not agreeing with the way we’re doing something, or we don’t agree with the way that they’re doing something. So, feedback is such a critical part of both how we deliver it and how we receive it, of navigating these tricky relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Well, now, let’s dig into the eight archetypes. I bet, boy, we could talk forever, like, “Oh, I know someone like this.” But could you maybe give us the name of the archetype, a quick maybe sentence or two for “This is what that looks, sounds, feels like,” and then a quick sentence or two, “And if you’re seeing this, here’s what I recommend you do”?

Amy Gallo
Yeah, okay. So, let’s start with insecure manager, first one, insecure boss. This is someone, and my boss, actually, that I described earlier probably fit into this category, who isn’t entirely confident in their position, and, therefore, will micromanage, will maybe make it impossible for you to do your job by withholding information, or not letting you interact with people in another department, for example, someone who basically is defending their ego through their actions and behaviors.

So, one of the things to remember about the insecure manager is we all have some level of insecurity, it’s a normal thing. If you don’t, you’re in that nice tiny little group of people called psychopaths. So, we all have some self-doubt. What the research shows around insecure managers is that one of the things that works, and I don’t love giving this advice because it’s not fun to do, but is that you really have to help calm their ego.

And that may include giving them some genuine compliments, pointing out things that they do well, I imagine there’s something, because that helps to calm the ego and you help can form an alliance with them in terms of, “How do we actually do this work? How do we move forward? How do you get what you want?”

Okay, so then there’s the pessimist. I think that’s pretty clear that someone who’s just overly negative, shoots down ideas left and right. One of the things that you need to remember with the pessimist is, again, this is not necessarily malicious behavior. It often feels like they’re trying to take you down, and that’s possible. But, more often than not, it’s sort of a disposition, sort of how we view the world. There are people who just are what researchers call prevention-focused. They’re focused on preventing bad things from happening.

And one tip with them is to really make sure that they have a sense of agency, because pessimism isn’t necessarily bad if they’re pointing out important risks that we need to see. But what’s bad is if they feel like they can’t do anything about it. So, you might ask a question when they say, “Well, that will never work,” say, “Okay. Well, what would work?” or, “Okay, I hear you,” and you don’t want to polarize with a pessimist because they think optimists are idiots.

And so, if you’re like, “No, everything is good,” they’re like, “Oh,” they’re just rolling their eyes at you. So, you want to validate that their perspective is…you hear their perspective, and then ask them, “Okay. Well, what can we do to change that? Or, if you had all the resources in the world, what would you do?” Just sort of give them a sense of, “You have power in this situation.”

The victim is the third archetype, and that’s sort of a flavor of the pessimist. This is someone who also thinks things are going to go terribly wrong but they think they’re going to go wrong to them. They’re very focused on how they’re being mistreated. You have to watch out because sometimes people are, indeed, being mistreated, and are, indeed, a victim in the workplace. So, be careful in using this label, and any of these labels when you’re thinking about your colleague because you want to make sure you’re not blaming someone for a mistreatment that they’re on the receiving end of.

One of the main tactics with victim is similar to the pessimist which is to ask them to reframe. So, when they say, “I never get what I want.” Ask, “Well, what’s a time that you have gotten something you wanted?” because the chances are they may see these things as sweeping generalizations, the behavior or the treatment they feel like they’re receiving, but chances are, there’s a time in which they had the agency, had the ability to change something. You want to remind them that they have that in them, and that can really help.

Then there’s one of my favorites, the passive-aggressive peer, and this is someone who says one thing, does another. They don’t feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings in a straightforward manner. This is the question I get asked all the time, “How do you deal with these people?” One of the things you can do is to really focus on the underlying message.

So, they may wrap their comment in a snarky message but they actually have an underlying thought or feeling. And if you can figure out what that is, either by asking some questions, or just by paying attention and focus on that, then you can sort of give them…you’re actually giving them permission to be a little bit more straightforward.

Passive-aggression is often motivated by fear of rejection, failure, an avoidance of conflict. So, if you can make it safe for them to actually say what they believe, then, hopefully, you can nudge them to be a little bit more direct, or, at least, you’re addressing the underlying business issue with them. Even if they’re going to continue to be passive-aggressive, you’ve gotten to the underlying message.

So the know-it-all is the one I identify most with because it’s the one I think I am more often than the others. Someone who confidently says what they believe sometimes without any data to back it up. And this also the mansplainer, the person who talks over you, maybe interrupts. And the know-it-all, I think one of the things that really works is asking for those facts and data.

So, if they’re saying, “This product will never succeed,” or, “Our customers don’t want that from us,” is just say, “Huh, that’s interesting. I don’t have the same understanding. What are you basing that on? What assumptions have you made? Here’s the data I’m working with. Can you share the data you’re working with?”

And what I like about that tactic is it can be confrontational. A lot of the tactics in the book are both subtle, and then there are some that are very subtle and some that are very direct. And this is one of the more direct ones because I think it also puts the know-it-all on notice, like, “We’re not just going to let you do this. We’re not just going to let you proclaim…” and while also engaging them in a conversation about the topic that they’re being a know-it-all about.

And then, sometimes, I think, also, you need a group of allies to help you combat that behavior, especially if it’s interrupting or if they’re targeting specific people. We often hear about, there’s lots of studies, actually, that show that men interrupt women more often than they interrupt other men, for example.

So, then forming a coalition with folks and who you work with to say, “Well, we’re going to call out that behavior when we see it.” And someone might say, “Amy didn’t finish her point. Can you please let her continue, and then we’d love to hear from you?” Something like that so that it’s not just on you to completely combat the know-it-all behavior.

Then you have the biased co-worker, and this is someone who commits microaggressions toward you, exhibits bias in their comments or behaviors. This is an incredibly difficult one to combat, although there’s lots and lots of books and articles and research about how best to handle this. And I will say that the one thing that I think works well with biased is assuming the person has done it unknowingly, which we know a lot of these microaggressions often people aren’t trying to exclude someone.

They aren’t trying to offend someone even if maybe they don’t care, or it may be that they just aren’t aware that what they’ve said is inappropriate or has the impact of being exclusive, or excluding rather, to the person who was on the receiving end, is to ask a question. When someone makes an inappropriate comment, to say, “What did you mean by that?” or even, “Oh, could you repeat that?” because sometimes even making them say it again helps them reflect on, “Oh, wait. How is this actually being heard?”

That’s not 100% successful tactic. And, in fact, none of the tactics, I would say, will be 100% successful all the time. But, oftentimes, that does encourage them to reflect on their own behavior and how it’s being received by others. And now we’ve got the tormentor, and that’s someone who you expect to be a mentor but then ends up trying to make your life miserable.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, clever. Tormentor.

Amy Gallo
Exactly. And I have to tell you, I didn’t know what to call this archetype for a while, even though I had heard tons of stories about this type of behavior. And I went to LinkedIn and asked someone in my network, Mike Gut, and I have to give him credit, he said, “That should be called the tormentor,” and it was perfect.

And that’s someone maybe who assigns you needless work, talks about all the sacrifices they’ve made, clearly think you should make the same kind of sacrifices. And research shows that we actually tend to have, this was very surprising research that we’ve published in Harvard Business Review, that when we see someone going through something difficult that we’ve been through ourselves, where we’re maybe working full time while raising kids or going through a divorce, we have less empathy for them.

And that’s because we either have a little bit of, well, I should say the researchers posit that it’s probably because we have a little bit amnesia about the situation, which is, “Oh, that’s in the past.” And, relatedly, we think, “Well, I got through it. What’s wrong with them? They can do it. Like, I knuckled my way through it. Why can’t they do that too?” And that really informs the tormentor’s behavior.

And, again, this is one that, oftentimes, and a lot of the people I talk to for the book who were working with a tormentor, chose to quit. And I don’t give that advice to leave your job lightly, but I think the tormentor can have a real impact on your psyche. If you’re interested in having a better relationship with them, and maybe you can’t leave your job, then you might think about how you can form an alliance with them.

Give them some sympathy for the sacrifices they went through. Giving someone empathy when they’re tormenting you is the last thing you want to do, but instead of seeing it as generous to them, see it as generous to yourself, which is that, “I’m trying…” this is a strategic move to try to transform the relationship.

The other thing is there’s really great research showing with abusive supervisors, which is what I put the tormentor, that’s the category I had put them in, is that if you can show that they need you, either you have a specific type of knowledge, or you play a critical role on the team. If you can make them aware that they will be dependent on you for something, you can switch the power dynamic a little bit, and that can really help to change the dynamic between you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Amy Gallo
And then, lastly, we’ve got the political operator, and that is someone who…we all play office politics, but this is someone who plays that game really only to benefit themselves, and often at the detriment of others. So, they might take credit for your ideas, they, again, might be someone who interrupts. They’re constantly trying to sort of boost their visibility, their ego, often at the expense of others.

And one of my favorite tactics with these folks is to ask them for advice. It’s a bit of a strange tactic and sometimes can backfire, but to say to them, “You know, you’re really good at being visible or promoting yourself,” or you might even say playing office politics, “What could you teach me about doing that?” And what’s helpful about that tactic is it gets them to reflect on the way they do it, and no one, as far as I know, and when I’ve seen this tactic used, this has never happened. But as far as I know, no one is going to be like, “Oh, well, you have to step on others every moment.” They don’t give you the bad version.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’ve read this great book by Machiavelli, it’s called The Prince, it’s my operating manual. I think you’d love it.”

Amy Gallo
That’s right. They’d say, “Here’s a copy for you to follow as well.” Yeah, no, they don’t do that. Instead, they reflect on, “Hmm, okay. What do I do that’s positive?” And, again, it’s sort of a subtle way to show, “I’m paying attention to the way you’re behaving. You’re about to tell me the good way to do this. Let’s hope you continue to do that.”

The other thing about asking anyone advice, what several studies have shown, is that when you ask someone for advice and they give it to you, they’re much more invested in your success partly because of their own ego because they’re like, “I want to see my advice actually work.” And so, with any of the archetypes, any type of difficult person, sometimes asking for their advice gets them to be a little bit more invested in you and takes down the animosity a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, Amy, this is a lovely rundown. Well, not so lovely to live it but very useful rundown.

Amy Gallo
A menu of monsters at work. Here you go.

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

Amy Gallo
Sure. So, the one other thing I want to mention, there is a chapter in the book that’s principles to get along with anyone. Meaning, if someone fits into all the archetypes, I hope that’s not the case, or maybe defies categorization altogether. And one of the principles is one that I return to over and over myself, and I’ve seen really worked with my coaching clients and with the people I consult with, which is to treat any of this, the tactics I’ve just shared, for example, or any of the other tactics in the book, treat it as an experiment.

You’re not going to have ten steps to reforming a passive-aggressive peer. It’s never that simple and distrust anyone who tells you they’ve got the failsafe solution. Instead, choose the tactics you want to try out, try them out for a short period of time, two weeks, three weeks, take notes, see what works. Okay, tweak and try again.

You have to have that sort of scientist mindset both to sort of keep your spirits up while you’re doing this because it’s hard work but also just to figure out what will work for you and your unique situation because it’s always this is a big “It depends” kind of advice area. The advice that’s going to work for one person dealing with a know-it-all is not going to work with someone else dealing with a know-it-all.

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

Amy Gallo
So, F. Scott Fitzgerald, this is a quote I’ve always found really interesting, and he says, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time, and still keep the ability to function.” And I think what I really like about that is that it is hard to hold conflicting thoughts in your head, especially when you’re navigating difficult relationships because, at the same time, you’re like, “I want to be done with this person. I have no interest.” You might even think, “I hate them.”

And, at the same time, you need to remember, “Well, okay, wait. In order to do well at my job, or in order to survive this week, I need to get along with them.” And so, you’re going to need to hold conflicting thoughts in your head in order to actually survive and thrive in these relationships.

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

Amy Gallo
So, one of my favorite researchers is Julia Minson, who’s at Harvard Kennedy School, and she actually does a lot of work around conflict and difficult conversations with another professor at Harvard Business School named Francesca Gino. And they found, this is actually one of my favorites, they found that more than three quarters of people who were about to go into a debate with someone about a controversial issue, so just in a conversation, not a formal debate, but were going to have a conversation with someone about some contentious concept or idea.

Three quarters of those people predicted that they would win the conversation, which, of course, is mathematically impossible, which just shows you sort of the arrogance and confidence we go into these conversations where we really believe that our view will prevail. And I think it’s important to remember that’s really not the case. You’re going to…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, inand my brain goes to…I’m perhaps a collaborator, to a fault, “Now, let’s think win-win if we’re going to have a creative solution in which we can, as best as possible, meet as many of our respective needs as one can do by enlarging the pie and whatever.”

So, in a way, I don’t even think about so much as winning and losing. It’s like, “We’re going to go in there and we’re going to do our darndest, and I’m hoping I walk away with this really important deal point, or whatever, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Amy Gallo
Yeah, that is the right mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you.

Amy Gallo
Yeah, absolutely. Well done. Great. Because if you see it as win-lose, like if you go in with the goal of proving that you’re right and the other person is wrong, you have nowhere to go in that debate. Because if the other person shows up the same way, like, what are you going to learn? Where are you going to get to? It’s a simple concept sort of but you don’t want to treat these relationships or these conversations as win-lose. And it’s doesn’t have to necessarily be win-win, but I’d rather go in with, like, “Well, what can I learn?” Curiosity, “What’s going to happen at the end of this?”

Julia and Francesca also did this other study about conversational receptiveness, which I think you actually probably would rate very high on, and it’s the use of language to communicate one’s willingness to thoughtfully engage with opposing views. They studied this quite a bit. And one of the things I really like is that they actually have found in their research that women tend to naturally exhibit conversational receptiveness.

And the reason I like it is because, I’m a co-host of the podcast Women at Work, I look a lot at gender research, and most of it is very depressing and very negative on the experience of what the penalties we incur at work, the behavior we’re allowed to exhibit, but I love that this research shows that we’re just naturally better at this. And their conclusion is if you want to improve the way people at work interact, you don’t put women in charge of some of these difficult conversations. And if you want to train people to be better at conversational receptiveness, focus on men.

So, anyway, that’s one of my other favorite findings.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Amy Gallo
I’m a big fiction reader, and I have lots of favorite books over the year. But one of the ones I read recently was a collection of short stories by a woman named Danielle Evans, and it’s called The Office of Historical Corrections. And what I like about it, as someone who thinks about conflict and relationships all the time, is that every story, ultimately, and most stories have a point of conflict, but these really are about conflict over interpersonal issues but also how political issues play into those personal issues.

And I really read it with that lens of, “How do relationships fall apart?” and then “How do they come back together?” or, “How do they not come together because people can’t actually repair them?”

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

Amy Gallo
My Notes app on my phone. I used to have, like, a photographic memory when I was a kid.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Amy Gallo
Yeah, my Spanish teacher in high school, when we did vocab test for extra credit, I would write the page number that the vocab word was on because that’s how I remember that, and I would picture the page. My memory now is so terrible. I think it’s age, stress, there’s just too much that’s happened in my brain for it to recall those sorts of details.

So, my Notes app has become my memory. And it’s funny, I actually like it because it helps me capture ideas. I actually, sometimes, write the beginning of articles in there because I have a phone with me all the time, but it’s also just funny to look through. Like, I have over, I think, 1500 notes at this point. And sometimes it’s just like a random word, I’m like, “I don’t know what this means.” And so, it’s also entertaining to just go through and look at. So, it’s productive and entertaining.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share, something that really connects and resonates with folks, and they quote back to you often?

Amy Gallo
Yeah, I did a TEDx Talk, and at the end I shared this mantra about conflict. And it’s the thing when someone will say, “Oh, I saw your TED Talk,” and they’ll repeat it back to me, and it’s, “Sometimes people are going to be mad at you, and that’s okay.” And just sort of accepting that rupture in relationship is not only normal but sometimes it’s helpful. It helps you either repair that relationship and make it stronger, or you can learn something about yourself in that in those disagreements.

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

Amy Gallo
They should go to my website which is AmyEGallo.com. I actually have a monthly newsletter I send out with advice about relationships at work, conflict, communication. You can sign up for my newsletter there. And also, you can find my book Getting Along and my previous book as well, which is the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict.

And if people are interested in gender, women at work, I also co-host that podcast I mentioned, Women at Work, which is put out by Harvard Business Review which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Amy Gallo
Yes. Remember that your relationships matter, and don’t shortchange them. And I mean that not just about repairing the relationships that are causing you grief, strife, but also be appreciative of the relationships that fill your cup. I think sometimes we take those relationships more for granted. Thank your friends at work. Send them a thank you note. Send them an email or a fax message, just saying that, “You know what, I’m so glad for our connection.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Amy, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and much getting along with different folks at work.

Amy Gallo
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.

814: How to Take Control of Your Mood and Feel More Powerful at Work with Steven Gaffney

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Steven Gaffney shares the simple shifts that help you feel more powerful at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to easily redirect negativity into productivity
  2. Three reframes that make problems more manageable
  3. Two quick hacks to snap you out of a funk

About Steven

Steven Gaffney is a leading expert on creating Consistently High Achieving Organizations (CHAO)™ including high achieving teams, honest communication, and change leadership. Steven has worked in more than 25 different industry and market segments for over 25 years. He uses cross-discipline solutions and best practices from other industry sectors to bring fresh, innovative and consistently successful approaches to his clients. He works directly with top leaders from Fortune 500 companies, associations, as well as the U.S. government and military; and is also an author, speaker, and trusted advisor.

  • Book: Unconditional Power: A System for Thriving in Any Situation, No Matter How Frustrating, Complex, or Unpredictable
  • Website: JustBeHonest.com

Resources Mentioned

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Steven Gaffney Interview Transcript

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

Steven Gaffney
Thank you for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Unconditional Power. But first, I want to dig a little bit into… one of your areas of expertise is honesty. I’m curious if, in all your work and research, if there’s an area in your life where oh, you had to do a bit of an honesty upgrade.

Steven Gaffney
You mean honesty upgrade as in like being honest to myself or that something? Is that what you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. An area where it’s like, “Oh… Given this, I’m seeing a little in myself, perhaps there’s an area I need to be more honest about.”

Steven Gaffney
What actually happened, how I got involved in the work is I started to do some seminars for creative people like photographers and film and radio commercial directors because I used to have a business in that area. So I’m teaching them how to do communication, real basic stuff, and on the side, I would just always give people advice about honesty because I’ve always been a really honest, upfront person. 

And one day, a friend of mine said, “You should be teaching this stuff.” So, I guess the honesty moment was around being honest and actually teaching honesty out there. But what I mean by honesty, just so we get this out, it’s not the truth or lies that’s the big hang-up. The biggest problem is not what people say. It’s actually what they don’t say. It’s what they leave out.

So, that was what I realized and starting to teach. And then I developed a nine-step formula on how to share difficult things and have it go well, and we can get into that as well, but that’s how I started and that’s really about the honesty moment, you could say.

Pete Mockaitis
What we don’t say in terms of we just choose to omit this because it’ll be uncomfortable, we think we might not like it.

Steven Gaffney
Yeah, think about it this way. How often have you thought, “My gosh, if they just told me that, I could’ve figured out the answer.” A lot of people in their jobs experience this because, “My gosh, if my boss had just told me this, or a coworker just told me this,” or if you’re leading an organization, and you lose a great employee, and you find out the real reason why they walked out the door, and thought, “My gosh, if I had known that was what was bothering them, what prompted them to look, we could’ve done something about it.”

Really, when you look at life, and I challenge people, the number one problem isn’t what people tell us. It’s actually what they don’t tell us. It’s what they leave out. So, the trick of the whole thing is to try to get the unsaid said. And I don’t mean that people try to hold back from an evil standpoint. People are often afraid to share really what’s going on with them and with others.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. So, speaking of some of this emotional stuff, your latest book Unconditional Power is about some of that, how we can do some thriving in situations that are frustrating or complex or unpredictable. Tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Steven Gaffney
Well, the big idea is that most people suffer from conditional-ism. Now, that’s not going to make a lot of sense till I explain it, so let me explain it really easily. The three different types of moods or mindsets we all get into. One mindset is powerless. That’s where we say, “What difference can I make? I’m only one person here.”

Conditional mood is kind of this next-thing mindset, and that’s where we say, “We recognize we have some power over this situation but it’s conditional on other things.” And so, we say, “I can do that as long as they give me more money, or as long as there’s more resources, or as long as I have the right time.” There’s always a condition to the power.

But the most powerful state is when we are powerful, and that’s where we recognize there’s conditions but we’re in charge and we ask ourselves, “What am I going to do about this situation?” So, the big aha was doing work with so many organizations, what I discovered was many people think they’re powerful but they’re really conditionally powerful. And they’ll say, “I can do that as long as…” But the objective is how to be unconditionally powerful.

Hence, the whole idea of the book and how to get that done. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so is that even possible? Aren’t all of our powers subject to conditions?

Steven Gaffney
Well, here’s the thing. I’ve worked with a lot of successful people, and I’m sure yourself as well. Whenever you’ve overcome a challenge, you haven’t been conditionally powerful. You said, probably in a powerful state, “I recognize the situation,” but you focus 100% of your energies on what you’re going to do about the situation.

For example, a client of mine lost a big contract. Now, they could’ve rationalized to the whole organization, “It’s our biggest contract. We’re really doomed and we’ll do as best as we can, given that we lost a big contract.” But what the CEO said, and what all the top leaders said is, “No, we’re not going to use that as an excuse. It is what it is. We clearly lost this. But what are we going to learn from it and what are we going to do about it?” And they’re having one of their best years ever as a result because they didn’t waste time being conditionally powerful, which is really kind of the state of excuses. They, instead, have been powerful.

Let me give you example in my own life. So, in 2009, I got diagnosed with cancer, and I’m completely fine now, so fast-forward to that. But, also, 2009, was in the middle of the great recession. And so, one of the first things to go, obviously, were things what I do for a living: consulting, speaking, that type of thing. But what I said to myself was, “I can’t control that I have cancer, and I can’t control that there’s a recession, but I can control what I’m going to do about it.”

So, I didn’t allow myself to have excuses and I spent 100% of my time focusing on what I was going to do about it. And from that point on, we’ve had our best years ever. And some of the strategies in the book is really what I learned from others about how to be unconditionally powerful. So, yes, it is often the state we’re on in the conditional side, but we’re really being conditionally powerful and it is around being powerfully unconditionally powerful, and that’s the state of when we make things happen.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say state as in sort of like our emotional, internal way of being?

Steven Gaffney
Yeah, absolutely, because I make the argument in the beginning of the book. Have you ever noticed that when you’re in a good mood you’re smarter? Think about that. Like, when we’re in a good mood, and somebody throws us a problem, we’re like, “All right, this is a problem, but I’m going to figure out a way.” But when we’re in a bad mood, maybe a lack of sleep, or whatever the case may be, somebody throws us a problem, and you’re like, “Ah, here we go again. Not another problem,” right?

Or, we might say things like, “No good deed goes unpunished. We’re always having some challenges,” or, “What am I going to do about this situation?” And so, it’s easy to affect our mood, and our mood impacts our actions. So, I make the argument in the book that, as leaders, and as friends, the most important thing is to have a great state of mind, but, really, what we’re looking at is mood.

So, mood matters. Mood really does matter. And the objective is to have mood discipline because we can be in good moods and bad moods but what if we can be in a great mood on demand rather than by accident, and that’s a big part of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds very appealing. I’d like that very much. Tell us, Steven, how does one get into a good mood on demand?

Steven Gaffney
Well, there’s ten strategies in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’ll need them all.

Steven Gaffney
So, we can go through as many as we can. Well, and the thing about it is it’s not like hold tight till we get to number five. No, let me give you some real ones that they can move on immediately. So, one of them is intentional disruption. So, have you ever been in this situation where you can see things going downhill, or somebody gets in an argument and something is going downhill? And what we end up being is a victim to a meeting, a victim to a dinner party, a victim to something, and we’re like, “What am I going to do about this?”

Intentional disruption is the idea that human beings are creatures of patterns and associations, which is there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it’s working, but when it’s not, we have to intentionally disrupt it. So, let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. First on the personal side on how I use this. I had a dinner party a while back. And do you ever have one of those couples over and they’re great but they could start to get into an argument and they can bring everybody else down? Well, that’s what started to happen.

And so, I just used intentional disruption, and I said in the middle of them having an argument, I said, “Can I ask you a question?” And one of my friends, she goes, “Yes.” And I said, “Well, what do you love about him?” And she kind of jolted her head back, and she said, “Well, he does always have my back.” And then he started to say some favorable remarks, and it shifted. I disrupted the pattern.

In a meeting. So, let’s say you’re in the leadership, you’re in a meeting, and you’re dealing with an issue, and you can feel everybody kind of being in a down mood. Intentionally disrupt it. So, one way to do that is begin a really tense meeting that you have to talk about a problem, do a go-around and say, “What’s the biggest win that’s happened to us over the past month as a company? What’s the best thing that’s happened to you?”

And by the mind going there, it actually puts it in a good mood, good spirit when they’re answering that question. And then when you go back into the problem, they’re looking at it from a good mood, a good perspective. Those are examples of intentional disruption. And the good news is we don’t have to be the leader to use these types of strategies.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. When it comes to questions, boy, I see it in my brain and I think it’s the human condition. When posed a question, we just want to go after an answer, and it’s like we’re just running after that thing. And so, it is an effective redirection pretty quickly is asking a great question. So, can you share with us a couple other favorite questions that do a good work in terms of getting us into a positive mood with that disruption?

Steven Gaffney
Yeah, and I’m not talking about just being big motivational talk, because people say, “Oh, motivational talk, how long does it last?” It really is about being sensitive to the mood of us and others. So, another example is you could say to somebody who’s really challenged with a problem, is I love using the magic wand question, which is, “Well, if I gave you unlimited time, money, how would you approach this?”

Or, when somebody doesn’t know what to do in their career, I’ll say to them, “Okay, if you had unlimited talent, but you had to choose a job so you’re not going to work for free, what would, ideally, you would love to do?” And, see, people often look at their life from the past into the future, but when you ask the magic wand question, it creates an energy and excitement about the future, and you’re releasing all those other conditions to look at things.

And it doesn’t mean that we can make that happen overnight, but what it does is it jolts the mind out of why we can’t do something, or, “I don’t know what to do.” Because you just say, “If I gave you a magic wand, what would you ideally like to happen in this relationship, in this conversation?” And what you’ll find when you ask people that question, it will jolt them, and they’ll often say, “Well, I don’t know.” And then a really good comeback to that is say, “Well, if you did know, what would your hunch be?”

It’s interesting, when you just say that, people say, “Well, is it that simple?” Yeah. If somebody says, “I’m confused,” you say, “Well, if you weren’t confused, what do you think would happen?” Because what you’re trying to do is have them engage in the future and where you want to go. So, the magic wand question is the case.

Another good on the innovation front is, “What if the opposite was true?” So, somebody says, “We need more resources.” “What if the answer to the problem was we needed less resources?” “But we need more resources.” “But what if?” So, you use the what-if principle, and that gets them thinking differently. But my point in bringing this up is we need to be in control of the questions rather than suffering from answers we don’t like. We just can redirect it.

So, for example, somebody is really critical of us. You say, “Well, thank you for the feedback. Can I ask you one question?” They’ll say yes, and most likely. Say, “Well, what do you like that I have done? I understand that’s a feedback that I haven’t done these things correct. But tell me something that I’ve done right,” and see it jolts their mind in a different direction. You’re not discounting the feedback but that’s how you can get balanced feedback as well.

The point being is don’t suffer in silence. Don’t suffer from the things that aren’t going well. Intentionally disrupt it. That’s just one of the strategies in the book, and I can go through more as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Please do. So, that’s intentional disruption, a great question redirects things to help you get into a good mood on demand. What’s another strategy?

Steven Gaffney
Reframe to refocus. So, the idea of this is back to the powerless conditional and powerful state. When we’re in a state of mind or mood or whatever that is not serving us, and we all can get in these moods, “What difference can I make? I’m only one person,” we feel powerless or somewhat powerful but it’s conditional. So, that’s how we’re looking at a problem. But if we reframe the problem, put a different context to it, it can make us more powerful.

 

So, let me give you an example. There’s three types of reframes, and I’ll go through the first one as an example. We can go through the others. But it’s reducing the frame. Reducing the frame. So, have you ever had a situation which is really seemingly the odds are against you, or it’s a business problem, or something going on in your life where it sounds like there are so many problems, and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, where do I start?”

Well, reducing the frame would say, “While all that could be the case, what are the most important things I need to do now?” So, let’s say you’re on overwhelm. You’ve got business stuff and other things, you say, “Okay, what is the most important thing in my life?” whether it’s family, whether it’s work, or let’s just say work, “What’s the most important thing to do that I need to do now?” But that is reframing. Leaders can use this really well where people are stuck in a problem that seems very complex. The idea is to make it simple.

So, an example would be where you might say, “What are some key performance indicators?” So, we got a lot of things to consider, but what’s the most important thing? Let me give you an example. I worked with a company that was really suffering in revenue, and their backlog to business is really poor, and, Pete, they had all these key performance indicators, and, of course, people are like making this problem really complex.

And I said to them, “Well, how often do you see the customer?” And they said, “Well, that’s a good question. We spend a lot of time internally.” And I said, “Why don’t you have a key performance indicator and just monitor people going to see the customer, customer interactions?” And people could say, “But what about the quality of the interactions? What about your marketing?” I said, “Look, look, just focus on going to see the customer,” because that’s what they weren’t doing, and that was a big needle-mover. So, they focused on just going to see the customer and their whole pipeline turned around.

So, somebody, I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “It takes genius to make a complex problem simple but it doesn’t take genius to make it more complex.” I’m not sure he exactly said that. But when you think about it, have you ever met somebody who can make a complex problem even more complex, and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, what are we going to do?” But what you’re doing is you’re reducing the scope of it. You’re reducing the frame. And then when somebody says, “Well, I can do that. I can get that done.” And so, that’s the idea behind reducing the frame. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you. And how about a third strategy?

Steven Gaffney
Well, so let me cover a couple things on the reframe because there’s a lot to dig deep there that I think between intentional disruption and reframing people could change things. Another type of reframe is enlarging the frame. Enlarging the frame is have you ever had something bad happen to you and you’re feeling down, or maybe other people are feeling down?

Enlarging the frame is putting it in a bigger picture. And what you’re saying is, “While that is bad, we lost a customer,” or, “While this is bad, this conversation didn’t go well or this meeting didn’t go well, let’s put a perspective. We’re doing well here, we’re doing well here, we’re doing here. And this is happening, and this is happening.” And, suddenly, people see it in a bigger picture.

What you’ll notice is, really great leaders like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and all the historical ones, but any great leader you feel kind of you want to follow are really good at enlarging the frame. What they’re doing is they’re creating a bigger vision, and they’re saying, “While these are issues, we need to see the big picture, the future.” And enlarging the frame makes people feel more powerful. That would be an example of that.

And the third type of reframe is you change the frame. That’s where you say, you just change it to a direction you want. I’ll give you an example there. I hired a company to work on an IT project and they were really behind, and I was getting annoyed. And so, I said, “When are you going to get this finished?” And, in essence, I can go the long version of it, but, in essence, what was happening was they said, “Well, it’s going to take us about four months,” which would’ve been in November. This was a couple of years ago.

And I said, “Given that I would like it, ideally, done in a month, what would need to happen?” which is basically just one month instead of four months. “And I’ll credit the company.” The company said and shot me an email filled with action items that if I could agree to it, they could get it done in a month, and it was done in six weeks.

Now, what’s interesting to unpack there? Well, most people would work in the existing frame, “It won’t be done till November.” “Well, how do we get it done shorter? And how do we get it done in October?” whatever. But I just said, and I wasn’t demanding in a jerk-type of way, I just said, “Given that I, ideally, would like it done in a month, playing at this, what would need to happen?”

So, you can use change the frame. You just say the prepositional phrase. So, for example, you’re having a difficult time with somebody. You might say, “Given that, look, we have a lot of arguments, but given I, ideally, want us to get along great, what would need to happen?” You see, that’s creating a different frame rather than “Let’s try to solve the problem.” Solving the problem would be the existing frame, but reframing it, or changing the frame would be, “Given that I want us to get along great, given I want us to work on this and not have any strife, what would need to happen?”

And so, those are examples of changing the frame. How is this landing with you, Pete? I know I’m doing all the talking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s good. Yes, I like it. Let’s hear a third strategy.

Steven Gaffney
Another great one is, oh, act and you will become. So, when you look at a lot of times, when we’re sometimes down, and so a way to trigger ourselves is to be the person we want to be. So, imagine you’re playing a movie of your powerful self, how would you act? So, in other words, you might feel down but that’s where you might smile, you might change your body, like you’re an actor in a movie.

And what you find by researching great actors is they don’t play the part; they become the part. And becoming the part means really stepping into it. So, if you’re feeling conditional or powerless, it would be acting and you will become. So, you’re tricking your mind to get into that powerful state, and then that helps move it forward.

Now, I will say, I don’t like the terminology fake it till you make it because there’s something insincere. But what I’m saying is access to just becoming that, so you’re not doing the lip service, not just, “I now want to smile.” That’s kind of fake. But it’s like, “No, I’m going to smile, I’m going to carry my body differently, I’m going to change the tone. I’m going to really be that part and see how that feels.” And it’ll often trick your mind into changing things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Steven Gaffney
I’ll give you a very simple, another one that’s so simple we often forget it, and it’s make the unaware aware. Make the unaware aware. So, let’s go back to that distinction. You got powerless, you got conditional, and you got powerful. So, what I’ve experienced is that a lot of people, now I mentioned this earlier but I’ll apply it to the strategy, where they think they’re powerful but they’re really conditionally powerful, “I can get that done as long as, as long as…”

But if you explain this distinction to people, and just from the podcast that we’re doing, what you’ll do is you’ll find out that people will shift to the powerful. In fact, just listening to the podcast and being aware of it. Nobody wants to say, “I love being conditional.” No, people want to be unconditionally powerful but they just don’t think about it. So, making the unaware aware is you explain the distinction. And by explaining it and thinking about it, it’ll automatically, because of awareness, make you become powerful.

An example would be a client of mine, there was an operational problem. And I had taught his folks on the strategies, and so they came into his office, and they said, “We got a problem.” You ever have somebody just dump a problem on you? And he said, “Look, I understand we have a problem here. So, how are we all being about it?” People said, “Well, we’re being conditional.” And he said, “How would we act if we were being powerful about it?” And people said, “Well, I think we should be doing this, and we should do this, and this.”

And they, suddenly, came up with a whole bunch of ideas, and they shifted from the complaint mode, which is kind of the excuse conditionally powerful, and they solved the problem, he said, within about five to ten minutes. It was just a matter of being aware of catching that. That’s another strategy as we’re talking about things.

And in the book and stuff like this, I know we’re going super, super fast, but there’s a lot of examples to trick even more doing this, but we can continue, too. But, anyway, make the unaware aware is another really successful strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, let’s hear a fifth.

Steven Gaffney
So, another one is input drives output. The input drives output. We are a product of who we’re around, if you think about it. Jim Rooney is a motivational speaker, he subsequently has passed away, but he said, “We are a product of the five people we spend the most time with.” And so, what I have found is, if you think about it, if we have a down mood or our mindset is feeling powerless or conditional, who are we surrounded by? Who are our friends? Where are we watching on television? What are we doing?

Pete, did you find out, you probably experienced this, did you ever meet during the COVID period where they had CNN running 24/7? Nothing wrong with CNN but it was like repeat, repeat, repeat. Well, if you got all that negative input, of course, it’s going to bring you down. So, I’m a big fan of knowing what and being aware of what’s going on, but what’s the input into our minds? So, if we’re feeling down, or we’re feeling like things aren’t going our way, or we’re being powerless or conditional, we really want to ask ourselves who are we surrounded by. Who are we being?

So, this is like, as parents, people are sensitive to who their children are around, but it’s really an example would be you’ve got somebody at work who’s just self-righteous, who’s just really difficult to deal with, and you’re saying, “I can deal with them maybe but what’s the impact to other people?” And so, input drives output is honoring the idea of who are we surrounded by.

So, one of the exercises I love to do with people is I’ll say, “Write down the names of the five people you spend the most time with. The five people.” And then I’ll have them place them on a grid, which we can talk about, but, in essence, it’s around what kind of person are they. And, inevitably, we are a product of who we hang around with. So, if we don’t like who we’ve become, we got to change the environment. We got to look at things differently.

People say, “I can’t pick and choose everybody I work with.” No. That’s true. But you can pick and choose how much time you spend with a person. You can pick and choose whether you stay on the phone or get off the phone, whether you’re on the Zoom call, or then after the Zoom call, you just jump off and you’re doing other things. You can all the person afterwards or not. And, in a physical sense, when we’re around people at work, you might be in a meeting where somebody that’s way, you can use intentional disruption and the strategies we talked about. And then after the meeting, you can just distance yourself. You know what I’m saying?

I often say to people, “Reward people with the time that they deserve.” And so, who charges us up, we should spend more time with them. And whoever doesn’t, we should distance ourselves from them. Have you ever had somebody who’s like really just brought you down, and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I got to get rid of them.” Legally.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’ve decided to make some choices associated with folks I like to spend more or less time with, and certainly.

Steven Gaffney
When we’re talking about this stuff, it may sound kind of obvious at certain points and maybe not at every point, or maybe all. I don’t know. It’s up to people, of course. But I really want to challenge them because simple things make a big difference. Somebody wrote a book years ago called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Steven Gaffney
I actually think it’s the opposite. We should sweat the small stuff because it’s the small stuff that matters. It really is. When people say, for example, “Culture at work. What’s the company culture?” My experience is culture is very local, so you can have the broad company culture but if you work for somebody who’s really difficult to deal with, or if you had people who are really challenging, that’s your sense of culture of the organization.

And so, you got to look at certain things, and ask yourself, “Well, it’s the small things that make a big difference, who we hang out with, how we frame up things, intentional disruption, making the unaware aware.” Things of that nature.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Well, now, Steven, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Steven Gaffney
Norman Cousins said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss in life is what dies within us while we live.” And although that may sound like a downer, but it’s really about don’t let things that are important to you stay inside you. Share it. Do something. Take action. Go after your dreams. And go for what you want and what you deserve.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Steven Gaffney
One of my favorite books of all time in change is a book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. It’s fantastic. And what’s neat about that book is it’s all about everyday people making major changes in organizations. And there are many, many books I can go through but that’s just one that just comes off the top of my head that I just love.

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

Steven Gaffney
If they go to JustBeHonest.com, so our website is JustBeHonest.com, and if they go there and they say that they’ve listened to your show, and here’s the thing, and they write and email us on something they did, and I want to hear an action they took, if they do that and they just share what they did, we’ll send them the book I wrote years ago about how to share the most difficult things to people and have it go well, it was all about how to have honest conversations and have it go well, we’ll send that to them for free. And all I ask them to do is share that they listened to your podcast and share how they’ve used what we’ve talked about.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Steven, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and unconditional power.

Steven Gaffney
Thank you. And thank you very much for having me.

813: How to Make Time for the Things that Matter with Laura Vanderkam

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Laura Vanderkam reveals the secret to carving out time for what’s truly important.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The right way to do leisure time 
  2. The perfect day to do your planning
  3. How to make your schedule more flexible 

About Laura

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including The New Corner Office, Juliet’s School of Possibilities, Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune. She is the host of the podcast Before Breakfast and the co-host, with Sarah Hart-Unger, of the podcast Best of Both Worlds.   

Resources Mentioned

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Laura Vanderkam Interview Transcript

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

Laura Vanderkam
Thank you for having me back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so good to be chatting again, and I’m excited to dig into some of the wisdom of your latest, Tranquility by Tuesday. But, first, could you share with us maybe your most favorite-st discovery over the last year or two?

Laura Vanderkam
Well, I’ve had a lot of discoveries in the last year or two. Among other things, we moved into a very old home, which is new to us but we did a lot of renovations to it. So, I’ve discovered new things about, like, slate shingles. Who knew that what anyone says to you? I’m sure I’m supposed to come up with some great job tip or productivity-type thing, and I’m about to say slate shingles. You know? There’s a whole artform to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is there any particular benefit to them being made of slate?

Laura Vanderkam
Well, it’s just that that’s how many used to be in very old houses. So, if you have a historic commission who is monitoring your renovation moves, then you need to replicate what is there. But it turns out that when you see a grey roof, that’s like a slate roof, often it’s a mix of different colors. So, it’s like a mix of purple and green and darker grey and lighter grey. It’s really kind of cool how they create the effect. But, anyway, I’ve learned a lot of other things but that was just on my mind because we’ve been doing a lot of renovations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s fun. Well, also fun is your book Tranquility by Tuesday. What’s the story here?

Laura Vanderkam
Yes, so with Tranquility by Tuesday, I realized, I’ve given a lot of time management advice over the years. Thousands of people, at this point, who sent me their schedules, and I’d weigh in. And, at some point, I realized I was giving a lot of the same advice, that many of the things I was telling people to do were very similar, even though people’s lives look very different.

So, I honed this down into nine of my favorite time management rules, and then decided to test them out. So, I had 150 people learn each of these nine rules, one week at a time. They would answer questions about how they planned to implement it in their lives. They would then answer questions a week later about how it went. I could measure them on various dimensions over the course of the project. And I’m happy to report that when people followed these nine time-management rules, they did, in fact, feel more satisfied with their time.

So, much of Tranquility by Tuesday is out-there observations, what they saw as they were trying to use these rules in their lives and the successes they had, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame these.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Laura, I love that so much. Getting real in terms of, okay, real people doing real stuff on a real program, measuring some things before and after, as opposed to simply pontificating, “So, this is what I think is cool about time management.”

Laura Vanderkam
Well, I read self-help for busy people, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so tell us, what were the dimensions you measured and what are some of the results? So, if listeners, I’m hoping, are already salivating, like, “Okay, Laura, what’s the size of this prize? And I’ll be all ears for the nine rules once I know just how much more awesome my life and job will be.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yes. So, I had this whole time-satisfaction scale which is 13 questions, and in order to turn a qualitative measurement, subjective measurements into some sort of data, I had these 13 statements, and people would say how much they disagreed or agreed with them. So, as an example, one statement might be, “I regularly have time just for me,” or, “Yesterday, I didn’t waste time on things that weren’t important to me,” “Generally, I get enough sleep to feel well-rested,” “Yesterday, I made progress on my professional goals,” things like that.

And you could strongly disagree, in which case you’d put one, or you could strongly agree, that was a seven, or various dimensions in between, sort of disagree, sort of agree, that sort of thing. And so, I could measure how people’s answers to these questions and several others change over the course of the nine weeks.

And on the full scale, so combining all 13 questions, people’s time satisfaction scores rose by 16% over the course of the nine weeks. So, 16% looking at 150 people, that’s a very statistically significant result. Maybe 16% doesn’t sound huge to some people, who are like, “No, no, I want to be twice as satisfied.” But it’s like if you’re getting 16% returns on anything in nine weeks, I think that’s pretty good.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And if it sticks, I’m thinking, “Well, if you’re 16% more satisfied with your time,” and your time is basically your life. Was it Benjamin Franklin? It’s not what your live is made up of days and hours and minutes and seconds. They all come together, and that’s a life. So, if people are 16% more satisfied, that’s like a sixth of them, life or death. You know what I’m saying?

Laura Vanderkam
We didn’t do that math. Well, I did check in with people a month later and three months later. And, in fact, the scores were still elevated, so they were maintaining their increased satisfaction with their time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, 16%, I think that’s a huge lift. Nine rules, that sounds pretty manageable and sensible. Lay it on us. What are these nine rules?

Laura Vanderkam
Well, I can go straight through them if you would like.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Laura Vanderkam
The first one, rule one, give yourself a bedtime. Rule two, plan on Fridays. Rule three, move by 3:00 p.m. Rule four, three times a week is a habit. Rule five, create a backup slot. Rule six, one big adventure, one little adventure. Rule seven, take one night for you. Rule eight, batch the little things. And rule nine, effortful before effortless. Let me know which ones you want explanations for.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so give yourself a bedtime, I think I’m a believer. I’ve had a couple of sleep doctors, and so, yeah, that’s huge. I think do it, I’m on board. I think there’s a clear why. Are there any tips, tricks, tactics that make that easier or more effective?

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah, the reason I chose that as rule number one is because, yes, it is obvious, and also, it’s amazing how many people don’t do it, right? I saw a funny social media post today that somebody said, “I would do anything to get eight hours of sleep, except go to bed eight hours before I need to get up.” Right? And it’s so true.

People have all sorts of reasons of why they don’t get to bed on time. But it just a math problem. You need to figure out what time you wake up in the morning. Many adults, this is a set number, right? You have to get up for work, you have to get up for your family responsibilities. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of give there.

So, if that is set, the only variable that can move is the time you go to bed the night before. So, figure out how much sleep you need, count back from when you wake up, you’ve got your bedtime. Like, really, it’s just a math problem. But in order to make it stick a little bit better, there’s a couple things you can do.

One, most practically, set some sort of alarm for 30 to 45 minutes before your bedtime. So, you remind yourself to wind down. You need to brush your teeth, you need to lock your doors, so whatever it is you need to do so that you’re not remembering all those things right at your bedtime, and then having to push forward when you go to sleep by quite a bit.

But I think the key thing, one of the reasons people don’t go to bed on time is because that’s the time we have for ourselves, right? Like, that’s when your kids are in bed, or you’ve done your chores, or you’ve finished your work, you’re like, “Ah, now I can relax. Now, the world is mine. I can do whatever I want.” And who wants to cut that short and go to bed?

And so, what you need to do is make sure that you are having adequate leisure time, adequate me-time at other points in your life. And a lot of the Tranquility by Tuesday rules are aimed at doing just that, making sure that you have other cool stuff going on in your life, that you have other spots where you are doing things that you’re looking forward to so that you’re not getting to 11:00 p.m., or whatever your bedtime is, and thinking, “Oh, but I haven’t really had any time to relax. I haven’t had any time to do fun stuff. Let me just stay up a little bit later.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I think that’s so dead-on. You’ve nailed it. And I’m thinking about when my wife had COVID, and I had full-time kid duty as well as trying to keep the business, at least, limping along a little bit, like, “Team, do everything. I’ll try to answer a few questions on email” kind of a situation. I remember it was jampacked.

And when those kids went to bed, it was like, “Man, I should go to bed now,” and yet I had, in that time of like zero me-time, I had the most overwhelming desire to play video games at 10:00 p.m. of my whole life, which was odd for me. I was like, “What is going on?” And that is what’s going on, Laura. Thank you for that.

Laura Vanderkam
You needed that time for yourself. You needed the me-time, I know. And so, and maybe that made sense and it could work for a week while she was recuperating, but if you find yourself doing that long term, well, it’s time to find some time for the video games at some other point in your life so that you feel like you get some fun.

That’s why we stay up late. We want our fun and we don’t want to be denied our fun, and the bedtime is what keeps us from doing it. We don’t do the bedtime, but future us will be so much happier if we do get to bed on time.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And what’s funny, when it comes to leisure, it’s almost like video games are almost like a junk food version of leisure, because I don’t really crave video games much, but then I was. It’s like I want to do the most, I don’t know, pointless, self-indulgent, low effort required of me, kind of enjoyable thing there is, as opposed to, “Let’s have a singing lesson right now.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah, or let’s read Tolstoy. That was the other option.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. So, okay. All right. So, that’s exactly what’s going on. Give yourself a bedtime. And in order to pull that off, make sure you’re building in quality leisure time and me-time. Tell us about that. When it comes to making that happen, any parameters in terms of how we schedule that and select what the activity is?

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah. So, there’s two of the rules that I think are really getting at this idea. One is rule number seven, which is to take one night for you. And this can be such a transformative rule for people who are in the busy years of having young kids at home, building a career. Take one night, or the equivalent number of hours on a weekend, whatever you want, to do something that is not work and is not caring for family members. It is enjoyable just for you.

And, ideally, you would make a commitment to something that meets at the same time, every week it gets you out of the house. Because it’s a commitment, you will do it. You will do it even if life is busy. You will do it even if you’re tired. You will do it even if somebody else would prefer you be doing something else.

And so, I’m talking about things like singing in a choir, playing in a softball league, volunteering somewhere regularly, joining a regular social group, bowling league, whatever it is, but something that you are going to go to every single week, that you genuinely enjoy. And when you have this in your life, it can honestly, it can be, like, the structure of the whole week is now around this. It’s something you wind up looking forward to the whole time.

And many people are like, “Well, I want to take one night for me but I’m going to do something flexible. I’m going to do something…like, I’ll just read, or I will take a bubble bath, or something.” But the problem with those is that they can be done whenever. And so, if your boss wants you to work late on Tuesday night, well, you’re not going to be like, “Well, I have an appointment with my bubble bath.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I have my bubble bath schedule, sorry.”

Laura Vanderkam
“The bubble bath is waiting for me.” Or, your kid wants you to drive them to the mall, or you’re tired, or you just seem too busy and too much work, like you won’t do it. Whereas, if you are playing on a softball team, they need a second baseman, like you’re going to show up. And so, because of the commitment, you do this active form of self-care and you wind up so much happier afterwards. So, that’s the first one.

The second one that really helps with this is rule number nine – effortful before effortless. And this is about leisure time. Even the busiest people have some leisure time in their life. The problem is a lot of it occurs in either short spurts, or it is unexpected, it is uncertain in duration, and it may come at low-energy time.

So, at night after the kids go to bed, or you’re waiting for a phone call to start, you could be on Twitter for two minutes or 20 minutes. You can be watching Netflix even if you haven’t planned ahead and don’t have a babysitter. Like, these screen times fits all these constraints incredibly well, and so it winds up consuming the bulk of our leisure time, which is fine. There is nothing wrong with screen time.

The problem is in the abstract, many people they would prefer other forms of leisure, things like reading or hobbies or connecting with friends, and you don’t remember a lot of your screen time, like it doesn’t register that you are getting free time, and so you don’t count it, it doesn’t become part of your narrative, and you don’t really feel rejuvenated afterwards.

So, you want to choose leisure that looks like leisure. Like, you can’t be doing a Lego set and not tell yourself it’s leisure. Whereas, if you are on social media, in your mind you’re like, “Well, I’m only one app away from my email, so, really, I’m working.” That’s the kind of thing that goes through our brains. So, effortful before effortless means when a spot of leisure appears, challenge yourself to do just a few minutes of these more effortful forms of fun before you switch over to the effortless.

So, you’re picking up your phone, read an e-book for two minutes before you open Facebook. Kids go to bed. Do a puzzle for 10 minutes before you start watching Netflix. And one of two things happens. Either you get so into your effortful fun, you just keep going, like you just keep reading the book, and that’s great. But even if you don’t, like at least you would’ve gotten to do both. You will be more aware that you had this leisure time, and that can help you feel like you have a lot more time for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great theme associated with being in your own narrative inside your head when stresses besiege you, and it feels like you don’t have the time, the energy, the resources, the emotional presence, the wherewithal, the oomph necessary to meet the demands of life and stuff, and then you have an extra level of layer of maybe resentment or irritability, like, “I don’t have any time for myself.” You have sort of an inoculation or a thread of hope to hold on to, which is like, “Well, you know what, I did six minutes of puzzle on Thursday, and I’m going to do it again this Thursday.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah, “I have some time, it may not be as much as I want.” But there’s a very big difference between none and not as much as I want, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Laura Vanderkam
None is just defeatist. Like, you can’t do anything with that. That’s when we get into those spiraling thoughts of martyrdom or despair or burnout, all those things. But if it’s “Not as much as I want,” that suggests great questions right there that inspires some problem-solving. Like, “Well, if it’s not as much as I want, how can I make it more? How can I make good choices within the limited leisure time I do have so that I’m doing things that are the most rejuvenating?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m also thinking about, when you talked about one night for you, it can be the night, it could also be, as you said, a certain committed hours recurring on weekends. There seems to be a lot of emotional juice associated with the ritual itself, even if it’s tiny, like, “I’m going to drink this amazing coffee and do the, I don’t know, New York Times Wordle, or the Chess.com puzzle of the day, or whatever,” I don’t know.

Like, that in and of itself seems like it we would have a lot of inoculating benefit as opposed to, I guess, what I’m trying to say is the vibe inside is more like, “Ahh, this is the thing I’m doing for me, and it’s rejuvenating,” tranquil, if you will, as opposed to, “Aargh, here’s my four minutes of Facebook. I’m binging on it while the getting is good.” Do you know what I’m saying in terms of like the mindset and the vibe?

Laura Vanderkam
It just feels more chosen, more mindful, more intentional, and that’s really what we’re always getting at here, like making time more intentional, because when it is, you’re more likely to spend it on things that are meaningful or enjoyable. Whereas, when time is not intentional, then you spend it on whatever is right in front of you.

Pete Mockaitis
And there could be, I think, a little bit of, especially for people who like being awesome at their jobs, a little bit of a guilt factor in terms of, “I’m stealing this time for social media or whatever my low-quality effortless recreation, leisure is when I should be doing other stuff,” as opposed to, “I know this is what we’ve intentionally scheduled, and this is the time for my puzzle, or whatever, and it is right and just and proper that I engage in it. And I’m winning by doing so.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah. Well, I think people would be so much better off scheduling conscious breaks during the day where they do things that are truly breaks. So, let’s say you’ve got an eight-hour day, you can take a 30, 40-minute lunch, two 15-minute other breaks, go for a walk on one of them. Take the other one to do a puzzle or something. Take your lunch break to call a friend, whatever it happens to be.

But those things are things that are truly leisure, like they are, in fact, leisure. Whereas, people spend all kinds of time on stuff online that they didn’t really mean to but it’s just that it wasn’t necessarily actively chosen and it doesn’t look as much like leisure. And so, we have this thing, this hang-up about putting a flag on the ground, “I’m claiming this time for leisure” because when we’re doing things on our friends, we can even claim, like, “Oh, I have no time because it still looks like it’s something else. Like, we might be being productive,” I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s hear a few of these other things. Plan on Fridays. What’s the story here?

Laura Vanderkam
Yes. So, planning on Fridays is really, honestly, one of my favorite rules. It’s something I’ve been doing for years. It’s really two points. The first and the most important point is to plan. I think everybody needs a designated weekly planning time. And this is a time where you look forward to the next week, ask yourself what is most important to you in three categories: career, relationships, and self. These are, hopefully, steps for your long-term goals, things you want to focus on in the next week. Ask where they can go. Figure that out.

Look at what else you have to do over the course of the week. Figure out any logistics that need to happen. Figure out any tough spots. See if there’s anything that you are genuinely looking forward to in the next week. But we do that, and look at the week as a whole so we can make broader, more holistic choices as we figure out how to use time mindfully. And doing this week after week, you can really make a complex life go fairly smoothly.

Why Fridays? So, a lot of people plan on Mondays, they plan on Sundays. These are all very popular time for planning. Friday has a couple things going for it. One, Friday afternoon is just often wasted time. Many people who work Monday through Friday jobs are kind of sliding into the weekend by Friday afternoon. It’s really hard to start anything new but you might be willing to think about what future you should be doing.

And by taking a few minutes to plan the upcoming week, you can choose what might be wasted, turn what might be wasted time into some of your most productive minutes. It’s also business hours. So, unlike planning on the weekend, for instance, if you need to make an appointment, if you need to set up a meeting, people are more likely to respond to you on Friday than they are on Sunday, most of the time. If you are managing people, they will probably respond to you on Sunday but you should ask yourself if you really want them doing that.

And then, it’s also, I think, the biggest reason though, some people plan their weeks on Sunday nights or Monday mornings, but even people who like their jobs can wind up with a little bit of trepidation on Sunday afternoon as they think about the upcoming week. And a lot of that trepidation is this anxiety over knowing there’s so much waiting for you but you don’t know how you’re going to deal with it. Like, you haven’t formulated a plan for getting done what you need to do. You don’t have a good grasp on what you do have to do.

If you end Friday with a plan for Monday, you can actually enjoy your days off quite a bit more because you’re not leaving yourself hanging, saying, “Oh, I have to figure that out in the future now.” No. You know. And so, you can relax.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And talk about batching.

Laura Vanderkam
Batching. Yeah, so I think a lot of us feel like we are sometimes drowning in small details of our lives. And, certainly, you can have these at work. There are those random forms from HR, responding to all those invitations, sending a few emails that aren’t urgent, aren’t that important but still have to be done, paying bills, things like that.

We can also wind up with tons of these in our personal lives, and the more people you have in your family that you’re responsible for, the more of these that wind up beating you: filling out that permission slip, signing the kids up for X, Y, or Z, or texting a babysitter for something two weeks from now, all these things we have to do. And it can feel like it will take over your life. Like, you’re never doing anything important but you’re always busy.

And the solution to this is to learn to recognize these not terribly important, not terribly urgent matters and to batch them into small chunks of time so that you can leave the rest of your schedule open for deeper work or for relaxation. So, at work, for instance, maybe you designate a small window in the afternoon when you don’t have a ton of energy to plow through all these tasks. Maybe on the home front, you can look at chores and things like that this way. Give yourself a two-hour window on Saturday where you’re going to get through all those tasks that you’re assigning yourself for the weekend.

And the upside of doing this is that, one, you get some efficiencies. Like, if you’ve got 30 minutes to deal with all these not terribly important, not terribly urgent little things on a workday, you’re not going to belabor that response to somebody, that you’ve only got 30 minutes for all of it. You’re not going to sit there and perseverate over it, like it’s going to get done, so you’re going to be more efficient.

But it also allows you, if you start thinking at some other point on the weekend, like, “Oh, I’ve got to clean my floors. I’ve got to clean my floors.” Like, no, no, there is a time for that. Saturday morning, we’ve got our chore window. That’s when we do it. The rest of the time is not that time. So, you can actually relax and have guilt-free leisure time, which I think is very elusive for a lot of people.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Okay. And then, I’m curious about the backup time.

Laura Vanderkam
So, the backup slot, the best way to think of this is if people had been invited to any sort of outdoor event, like summer weddings, or maybe not weddings, or graduation ceremonies, or picnics, often on the invitation, they will have one of the most brilliant scheduling concepts ever invented. And I’m talking about the rain date, okay?

And a rain date, what’s going on here is that the organizers are acknowledging that much can go predictably wrong outside. It is right there in the rain date name, but there is no question whether the event will be rescheduled or for when. Like, it will be on the rain date. And so, if you want to go to this event, you’re not going to put anything unmovable in the second slot.

And by having a rain date, you vastly increase the chances of the original event happening even if not at the original time. And I think, in life, we need a lot more rain dates. When people get incredibly frustrated about wanting to do something, you’ve scheduled special one-on-one time with, say, one of your kids. Like, you’re going to go to this amusement park together on a Saturday, and then it’s like pouring down rain on that Saturday, or the kid is sick on that Saturday, or your spouse is unexpectedly called away to another town and you can’t leave all the other kids to go do this. It gets very frustrating.

These things happen at work, too. You set up a meeting with an employee that you’re going to give that celebratory feedback, tell him he’s working really hard, you’re so proud of him, and this is great, you’ve got his back, and people are quitting left and right. Very important to do that. And then, right before it is scheduled to happen, you have a major client emergency, and, of course, it gets bumped. That seems like the responsible thing to do, but we feel very frustrated.

So, if something is important to you, it doesn’t just need one spot. It needs a rain date. It needs a backup slot. And I know people say, “Well, that sounds incredibly unwieldy. Like, it’s hard enough to carve out one slot for stuff that I want to do, let alone two slots.” But, on some level, if it is truly important to you, then that’s what you need to do. But you can also approximate this by building more open space into your life in general.

So, one solution, many people try not to schedule too much other than they’re planning on Fridays because then they’ve got space for any emergencies that come up. If it bumps something from earlier in the week, it can get rescheduled to Friday. If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s like two afternoons a week that you try to leave mostly open, or an hour and a half every day that is mostly open.

But the idea is that if something gets bumped, it has a spot to go. Or, if something amazing comes up that you didn’t anticipate, some massive opportunity, you have the space to take it. You don’t have to shuffle everything else around or push this opportunity forward multiple weeks, in which case it might be gone. Like, you can actually seize it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very nice. And how about the one big adventure, one little adventure?

Laura Vanderkam
So, I have to say this is probably one of my favorite rules. I don’t really have a favorite rule, I like all of them, but this is probably a special one for me because I do think it is lifechanging to be in this mindset, which is that much of adult life becomes very much the same day to day after a while. Like, you get up, get everyone ready, you work, you collect everyone, go to dinner. If you’ve got kids, it’s like homework and bath and put them to bed, and then TV. You do this over and over again, and every day seems the same.

And there’s nothing wrong with routines. Like, routines make good choices automatic. But when too much sameness stacks up, whole years can just disappear into memory sinkholes, like, “I don’t even remember where the time went.” And you don’t remember where the time went because you have no good memories of it. Like, we don’t say, “Where did the time go?” when we remember where the time went.

So, one big adventure, one little adventure is about making memories. Every week, you want to do two things that are out of the ordinary. One big adventure means something that takes three to four hours, think like half a weekend day. One little adventure is something that takes less than an hour, it can be on a lunch break, weekday evening, just as long as it’s different, memorable.

And this rate of adventure is not going to exhaust or bankrupt anyone. It’s not going to upset the routines that exists but it is going to make life a lot more interesting. You’re not going to be like, “Ah, another week. Where did the week go?” You’re like, “No, no, that was the week we went mini-golfing. That was the week we tried out the new gelato place. That was the week we drove to see the colorful fall leaves at the beach.” Just something that would make it a little bit more different, enjoyable, memorable, and then time doesn’t feel like it’s slipping through your fingers.

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

Laura Vanderkam
Yes. So, I think these Tranquility by Tuesday rules are all designed to be very practical. They’re not rocket science. They are not difficult to do or get your head around it. It’s more about really trying them and seeing what happens as a result. And the way people did this project in my research is that they learned a new rule each week, and I think that’s a good idea. If somebody is going to read through the book, try each rule one at a time. Try to make it a habit, and then you can add the next one, and see how they sort of build on each other.

But the upside of doing this project is I am pretty sure that when you do these rules, you will, in fact, feel more satisfied with your time. That was the results of these 150 people I measured on these various dimensions of my time-satisfaction scale over nine weeks. Like, they do feel better. The rules helped. So, I’m pretty sure that they will for other busy folks as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now can we hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Laura Vanderkam
So, one of my favorite quotes is actually very, very short. It’s attributed to Ovid. I don’t know how you say it, but he said, “Dripping water hollows out stone.” And there’s a lot of variations of that “Dripping water hollows out stone, not by force but by persistence.”

But the idea being that when you do small things repeatedly, it does add up. And I’ve been seeing that a lot. I’ve been doing a couple of long-term reading projects since I talked to you last. Last year, I decided to read through War and Peace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Laura Vanderkam
So, one of my favorites, just because it’s so practical, it fits with what I think many of us have experienced, and I wound up citing this in rule number three, move by 3:00 p.m., is how much people’s energy jumps when they get tiny bits of physical activity. So, this one particular study, they had, when somebody is…a group of people, they rated their energy as three on a ten-point scale, so they’re feeling really weary and not very energetic when their levels were at a three.

They said, “Go do a couple minutes of physical activity.” So, they could go up and down the stairs in their office building, run around, whatever it was. And after a couple minutes of this, they basically gave themselves like a nine on a ten-point scale. And an hour later, they were still at six. So, five minutes, that’s all it takes.

People spend so much effort, money, unhealthy habits, trying to make ourselves have more energy, like, think of the number of people who reach for coffee or candy or cigarettes at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon because that’s how they’re going to get through the rest of the day. It’s like, well, going for a ten-minute walk is not only free. It’s healthy and it is pretty close to guaranteed to work.

I love that. Just one of those little miracles that’s available to us all the time, and yet we don’t necessarily avail ourselves of it as much as we should.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Laura Vanderkam
I have to say War and Peace. It really is a good one. I loved it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a tool?

Laura Vanderkam
And a tool. I am loving right now the fact that my phone works as a scanner.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool.

Laura Vanderkam
In case anyone here has not discovered this yet, if I’m the last person on the planet to figure this out, but maybe I’m not, I’ll share this. When you open the Notes app in an Apple phone, you can click on the picture and then one of the options is scan documents. And you hold up the phone, and it basically takes a scan of the document, and you can do multiple documents at the same time, and then email them automatically to people because it’s right on your phone.

That was such a wonderful time saver. When we were buying and selling our house over the past year because, of course, you have like a thousand documents involved in this that all have to get to the bank and get recorded and such, and I was like just scanning it with my phone, and it was wonderful. It was so much easier than in the old days.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. And a favorite habit?

Laura Vanderkam
So, I also, in addition to my reading projects, do a tiny bit of writing every day, my free writing. And I’ve done this in the past and have been a little bit free-form about it, so every day I write 100 to 200 words of something. And I’m always trying out ideas, thinking what might be interesting. This year, I decided to do it a little bit more focused and intensely.

So, I, every day, write 100 to 200 words about a character in the course of one day. So, it’ll be 365 little vignettes about a person over the course of one day. And I’m just seeing what I’d do with it. It’s been kind of fun. So, that’s one of my favorite habits right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Laura Vanderkam
“People are a good use of time.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Laura Vanderkam
So, we worry about how productive we are, how efficient we are with our time, and all that is great, but, ultimately, what we have is the people who go through life with us. And sometimes they are slightly less efficient than we would wish them to be, but, generally, if you are investing in a relationship and you feel that you are both growing closer as a result of the time you’re spending, then probably that was a wise use of those hours.

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

Laura Vanderkam
You can come visit my website LauraVanderkam.com, which I have everything about my books there, my podcast, and I’m blogging usually three to four times a week, so you can read my observations on life, productivity, and everything else.

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

Laura Vanderkam
I think anyone can benefit from tracking their time, ideally, for a week, even a couple days is good. Many people have to bill time for their jobs or they get paid by the hours, so you’re somewhat familiar with how you’re spending your work hours. But try tracking all your time because, partly, it helps to see that there is time outside of work. Usually, even the people who are working very long hours have some amount of time, and that can kind of change your narrative of time that is available to you.

But if you aren’t really sure what your work weeks look like, this is helpful, too, because it allows you to say, “Well, how many hours do I tend to work?” And if you know the denominator then you can decide what proportion you want to devote to different things. But if you don’t know that number, it’s a little bit harder to make those choices in a smart manner. So, knowing where the time goes is really the first step to spending it better.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Laura, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and lots of tranquility.

Laura Vanderkam
Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me back.

812: Bill George on How Emerging Leaders Can Succeed Today

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Former Medtronic CEO and current professor, Bill George shares foundational principles for excelling as a leader in today’s world of work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What a “true north” is and why it’s so critical
  2. The top three distractions leaders must overcome
  3. Powerful questions to clarify your purpose

 

About Bill

Bill George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic.  He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and board chair from 1996-2002. He is currently a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. 

Bill is the author of: Discover Your True North and The Discover Your True North Field book, Authentic Leadership, 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis True North, Finding Your True North, and True North Groups. He served on the boards of Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil, Novartis, Target, and Mayo Clinic.  

He received his BSIE with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar, and honorary PhDs from Georgia Tech, Mayo Medical School, University of St. Thomas, Augsburg College and Bryant University.  

Resources Mentioned

Bill George Interview Transcript

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

Bill George
Thank you, Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to be chatting with you. And I’m fascinated, you’re a bit of an interviewer yourself. You’ve chatted with 220 of some of the finest leaders of organizations. I’m curious, what’s been the most surprising and impactful theme that’s emerged for you from those interviews?

Bill George
Well, first of all, let me say I did the interviews, Pete, for my book True North and I’ve got the Emerging Leader Edition out now. I truly aimed it at your generation of leaders from Gen Xers to Millennials, to Gen Z because I think it’s a different time to lead today. I think the good news is that people believe that being authentic is the way to lead. That’s a huge change from when I was CEO at Medtronic when it was all about charisma and style, leadership style, and all those things because, now, it’s much more real.

And so, I’m really excited to hear that. And that’s in all the leaders, I interviewed 50 leaders for my new book, and that’s what they’re all saying. So, I’m thrilled to hear that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Authentic, that sounds like a good thing. Tell us, what precisely do we mean by authentic, authenticity, authentically if we use these words a lot?

Bill George
Sure. It means being genuine, being real, being who you are. And I think, for a long time, when I was growing up, you had to be something different. You were expected to emulate Jack Welch or be a different person than you are, and I think that’s a big change. And I think we realized, part of it comes with being, well, just to be vulnerable to admit your mistakes, being human. We all are and we all face similar challenges of trying to lead an integrated life and have a good career and a good family life, like you have. This is very critical.

And so, I think people today don’t want to work for a phony, they don’t want to work for a jerk, and they want to work for somebody who’s authentic and is real. And that’s what they’re saying, and I think one of the reasons a lot of people are quitting their jobs is because they’re working for the wrong boss or somebody they don’t admire or don’t respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then can you tell us, what’s sort of the big idea or main thesis behind True North?

Bill George
True North is before you can lead other people, you have to learn to lead yourself. And I think, today, the new book is really saying, “We have a different challenge we have today than we did 30 years ago, and we need new generation leaders to step up. We need to open the door and let younger leaders take charge,” because we’re leading through a series of intersecting crises, and today you have to be an inclusive leader, you have to have a clear set of values, you have to have a purpose for your leadership. That wasn’t true in the past.

And so, I think a lot of the Baby Boomers don’t get that and they don’t really know how to lead people. And so, that’s why I wrote the book to encourage younger leaders, like yourself, to take charge, and I think it is about time, and the challenge is there. I have no question about that, people are ready. But this leading in crisis is a tough thing because, look, we have multiple intersecting crises right now, and your generation, frankly, has been through one crisis after another, and you know how to cope with that, so.

Pete Mockaitis
And I have a feeling we could spend a whole interview talking about these intersecting crises, but I can’t just let that lie. What are these multiple intersecting crises that provide the backdrop context for us?

Bill George
Well, I think COVID is the first crisis we had that affected everybody, maybe World War II, but that’s before our time, but it affected everyone. And I think it’s had…there’s a huge post-COVID psychological effect. People don’t want to go into the office, they want to work from home, they want to work for a sense of purpose, they want to work for an organization that’s inclusive. There is a big change taking place.

But, in addition to that, we’ve got the fallout from Russia’s attack on Ukraine. We haven’t seen a war in 77 years like this, and where an aggressive attack like that took place. And there’s, of course, that’s driving inflation rates up to a record high, 9%. We haven’t seen that in 40 years. And we’ve had the so-called Great Resignation, but we’ve got 11 million jobs open right now and only 5 million unemployed, so this is a huge change.

And so, leaders, having to cope with these changes and figure out, “How do we get people to come together?” And the new attitude today, employees have agency, that’s what I write about in my book, that we’re going through an employee revolution. Starbucks is an example. Here’s the quintessential employee-focused company. Now, they got 160 or 200 stores, they’re applying for unionization. Why? I think they’ve lost touch with their own employees.

And so, I think we’re facing enormous changes and we need people to understand these changes and know how to lead through them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when we say true north, what precisely do you mean by that?

Bill George
True north is who you are. It’s your most deeply held beliefs, the values you live by, the principle you lead by. And I think most people understand what that is. They get pulled off course of their true north. It’s also where you find satisfaction and joy in your life. And don’t we all want that? Don’t we all want to say we work for a clarity of purpose, and, “I can be who I am, live my values. And, at the same time, I can find real joy and satisfaction in my work”?

We spend a lot of time at work, we should find it. And I think a lot of organizations just see work as drudgery, just drive people harder. It’s not going to work. And so, that’s your true north. And then, once you know your true north, then the key is, “Can you find an organization where you feel aligned, that their mission and values align with your own?”

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us some sample articulations of a true north? In some ways, it sounds like it’s felt and known and experienced, and I imagine it also can be articulated and communicated. And, yet, there is a distinction, it feels like, between, “Oh, this is our mission statement. It’s a bit different.” Could you unpack that for us?

Bill George
Yeah, I think your true north is basically your moral compass. And if you think about that, and we see something like Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook, a brilliant guy, but he has no moral compass, so he can’t decide who to let on his site and who not to have on, or what damage they’re doing to offset the good. So, I think true north is your moral compass.

Now, I think when you understand, “Why are we leading? Why are you spending all this time being a leader?” Really, you need to have a clarity of purpose, and that’s what we call your north star. That’s your constant point in the sky. My north star is to help people reach their full potential, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do since I was in college, across every organization I’ve worked for, and teaching now at Harvard Business School. So, I think if you have that sense of your true north.

Now, here’s the problem with that, Pete, is that people get pulled off course. They get seduced by money, fame, and power. And these are the three great seducers. And so, I think it’s important to stay grounded in who you are and not let to get entrapped by that. We’ve seen a lot of people that happens to them, it’s a real tragedy. But I think, again, why would you go through your life without a sense of purpose? And so, that’s your north star, and having that understanding, what it’s all about.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Bill, I’m just curious. Have you chatted with Mark Zuckerberg and discussed his lack of moral compass? And how did that conversation go?

Bill George
No, I have not chatted with him. I’ve read tons of things about him, everything he said, and I don’t think he’d want to chat with me because he’s only interested in driving more people to Facebook, and, frankly, what’s happening, they’re being driven away right now. The young people are all moving away. Some people or older people who are still on Facebook, they don’t use it anymore. 

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, just because…I want to stick with this for a second, because, well, one it’s a bold statement, “Mark Zuckerberg has no moral compass.” And, two, it’s something I think we can relate to, it’s like, “Oh, people know what Facebook is and who Mark Zuckerberg is.” So, what would be some examples of, if Mark Zuckerberg did have a moral compass, what might that potential articulation of a north star look, sound, feel like? And then what might be some decisions that would naturally follow from that?

Bill George
Well, he wouldn’t have founded a site that sells your private information, that’s where it starts. If, say, you’re consulting a therapist, you may not want that sold or you may not want requests from a lot of therapists. There are certain elements of privacy, and I think a lot of people, when they sign up, don’t realize that that information is going to be sold and you’re going to be profiled down to your eyebrow. And so, that’s one thing that’d be different.

And you wouldn’t let a lot of people on the site, you know, I know people who have committed suicide because of they’re so abused on the site. And so, you would keep those people off, you would say, “No, you can’t come on here. We’re not going to have hate speech. We’re not going to do all those things. We want to have a friend site.”

And so, I think he’s kind of lost sight of all that. Now, he’s going to go to more of like a TikTok, short videos, celebrity videos, stuff like that. But I don’t want to just pick on him. There are a lot of other people that have tried to lead without a clear sense of true north. Some of them, like Elizabeth Holmes is going to jail. Mark Zuckerberg is not doing anything illegal. I just think that he’s going to lose it, and he’s got a long way to go. And I think he’s a young guy, he could do a lot of good for the world, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you mentioned your true north is to help others realize their full potential. Could we hear some other examples of people’s true norths that really do inspire, they guide their decisions, they provide a sense of satisfaction and joy in life when they’re in alignment?

Bill George
Yeah, a lot of people, and, of course, in Medtronic, we’ve got a lot of people in healthcare and a lot of doctors devote their whole life to try to heal people. Nurses, too. Anyone involved in healthcare is committed to that. I know people in our community, like Tim Welsh, I’m meeting with later today, who’s vice chairman of the largest bank in this area, a US Banc, and he’s got 26,000 employees.

He’s totally committed to help you have a more secure financial future. If you need a mortgage, he’s going to help you find a way to do that responsively, not like we did 10, 12 years ago when everything collapsed. And he really wants to help people, and he’s been calling them up during COVID and scheduling, and saying, “How can we help?” because a lot of people are hurting. They get payday loans and things like that, and a lot of the poor people being taken advantage of. So, he’s totally committed to that.

Now, I just mentioned payday loans. A friend of mine, John O’Brien, that’s in the book is a former homeless man. His whole commitment is financial literacy for the poor so they won’t be taken advantage of in their own communities. Those are a few examples. But Mary Barra is really committed to changing General Motors, from fossil-fueled cars to electric cars. And she’s shut down all development of anything that’s not electric car. And by 2035, they’ll be out of fossil fuel cars altogether.

So, she’s a woman, in 41 years, one of my former students, and just very passionately committed. And her role is to try to help contribute to climate change by converting the automobile industry into electric cars.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, it’s interesting. As I reflect upon the north star, the examples that you share, some of them feel very broad and applicable in all spheres or domains of your life, like, “Helping others realize their full potential.” You can do that with a spouse, children, etc. as opposed to financial literacy for the poor or no-fossil-fuel cars in this organization. It seems like sometimes they can have a more broad or narrow flavor. Is that accurate and fine?

Bill George
Absolutely, yeah. And I don’t think just saying, “Hey, I want to change the world,” is really…

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, too broad.

Bill George
…living by a north star, and that’s too broad for me. But I think you want to understand, like, “What do I do?” I mentor people, students at Harvard Business School, all the way from MBAs up to CEOs, and I’ve been doing this since I was in college, not just CEOs, but that’s what I do. I’ve been doing it. I’m not some kind of genius in medicine. At Medtronic, we have a lot of other people who invented things, and my whole idea was to build an organization where people are performing at their peak.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so I want to try one on with you, since I got the almighty master of true north here, Bill George.

Bill George
No, not almighty. Just another guy trying to stumble through the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’ll say a leading expert in this concept, then. So, I think that truly resonated for me. It started in my career but I really am seeing it with my children as well, and it really does provide me with joy and satisfaction, even a rush, a thrill. And my articulation goes to discover, develop, and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive. And that’s a little bit wordier than help others realize their full potential, but that’s really what I mean pretty specifically.

Like, I get fired up when I hear about a thing, it’s like, “Whoa, I never knew that, and that’s awesome.” That gets me going, and I’m excited to share that with other people. And sometimes I’m discovering it and curating it from others, and sometimes I’m kind of figuring it out, cracking the code, and developing it myself, but that gets me going. Would that count as a true north or would that be an adjacent or subsidiary concept?

Bill George
Oh, absolutely, it is. It sounds like you’ve made, what I call in the book, the-I-the-we journey. So, it’s not just about Pete being the biggest man around, the most important person. It’s about you really are trying to share this with other people, and get them fired up and excited. And I love your energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Oh, thank you.

Bill George
You not only have a passionate to your work and go quit and sit out on the beach. And I hear about people quiet-quitting. What is a quiet quitting? Look, if I hate my job, quit. Go do what you love. How would you like to spend your 40 years or 30 years of your life doing something you hated? Why? You only live once.

But, no, I love your passion for it. And, yeah, you’re helping other people. Hopefully, with this podcast, you’re helping them realize what they want to do in life and what kind of roles they want to have. Like, the reality is, Pete, we spend more time at work than anything else. And shouldn’t you be able to claim some joy and satisfaction with it? And, at the same time, shouldn’t you be able to have a complete wonderful family life?

You said you have three kids; I spent a lot of time with my kids. I don’t want to work for a job I don’t have time to see my own kids. That’s really important, and have a good marriage and a good life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so this true north business sounds awesome. Can you tell us, if folks are struggling with that a bit, like, “Oh, that sounds really nice for Pete and Bill. They’ve got a handle on that. I have no idea what mine might be or how I’d articulate it,” any strategies or approaches for zeroing in on it?

Bill George
Yeah. When I say you’ve got to be who you are, go back to your life story and think about who are the people in your life, your parents, school teachers, coaches, scout master, whatever? Who had the greatest influence on you? And how did they influence you? Who did you look to them? What did you learn from them?

And then think about some you don’t want to think about or I call the greatest crucible in your life, the greatest challenge you ever faced where you kind of felt like everything was stripped away, all the pretense, and everything else. You really have to figure out who and what you are and what you wanted out of life. That happened to me. I lost seven elections in a row in high school and college because I was too eager to be a leader. I was a kid that was trying so hard to get ahead but I didn’t realize leadership is all about relationships.

It’s funny, some seniors at Georgia Tech told me, they said, “Bill, you’re moving so fast to get ahead, no one will ever want to work with you, much less be led by you.” And they were right, it was all about me. That’s why I said you made that the-I-the-we journey, but I hadn’t made that yet. It was all about, “Have you seen my resume, man? Look at this. Here’s my GPA and here’s all the organizations I’m a part of.” I didn’t get it, so I had to make that transition back then.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we talked about crucible, the hardest times. Well, you mentioned the pandemic mental health situation, and that I think many people might point to that, and say, “Well, yeah, that’s probably the toughest thing I’ve been through in terms of a crucible.” And so, how do we interrogate, investigate, explore that life experience, like, “Yep, I lived through the pandemic. I was sad, lonely, deeply depressed, and it sucked”? How do we turn that into some insight?

Bill George
Well, you have to reframe it. You’d start with that, “Yeah, it sucked. Who wants to be sad, lonely, and depressed?” Come on. So, now, “What my life gives me joy and where do I want to spend my time? And how do I want to do that? And who are the people around me that care about me and I care about them?” Call it your support team, “Who are the people around me I want to be with?” Why would you spend your life not just be lonely and depressed or with toxic leaders?

I worked for organizations with toxic leaders that wanted to manipulate me, and I felt like I had to put on the armor to go to work every day. That sucks, as you say. That’s not how I want to live my life so I had to make a change, that’s when I went to Medtronic. But I would say to people, figure out what it is and then go do it. It’s your life. You only got one life to lead, and that’s what I’m talking about in the book, is trying to say, “How do you do that?”

We talked about having an integrated life. I remember there was a time in my life, Pete, when I was traveling 70% of the time, and I was under stress all the time, I would, myself, and I was under a lot of pressure. And, finally, I looked myself in the mirror, and say, “Hey, this is not worth it. This is not what I want to do. And I’m not working for the man to make money. There’s got to be more to life than this.”

And then it was hurting my family, my marriage, my kids. When I made the change at Medtronic, it all turned around because I felt like I was working for a purpose, to restore people to full life and health, and can motivate an organization, help develop leaders in the organization. So, everything turned around then. And so, I encourage people listening to this, figure out, what do you want out of life? And you don’t have to follow what somebody else wants for you. You’ve got to be your own person.

Pete Mockaitis
And I believe that you had a practice at Medtronic that we had a guest speak about, and it’s amazing, associated with that, I believe, tell me about this. Is it true that you had an annual company event where, for an hour, you took to stage multiple families that were people staying alive because of a Medtronic device? Is this something that you did?

Bill George
Absolutely. It’s more like two hours.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Bill George
And probably, so in the December, you speak all the Christmas party, I changed it into the holiday party. It wasn’t really a party, but that was the most meaningful day of the year. Everyone said, “This is kind of, I figure out, why I’m doing what I’m doing.” You even find them in the accounting department or in the IT department, “Now I understand why I’m here.”

This woman gets up and says, “See my little girl? She wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Medtronic.” Or, a guy gets up and said, “I’ve got your product, and I’ve got a new life.” Or, there was a young man that really influenced me, a young man named TJ Flack from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He had cerebral palsy from birth, and it’s not curable, but he got a Medtronic drug pump and it’s changed his life. And he patted his belly, his stomach, and he said, “This is my friendly ally. It saved my life.” Totally, I remember calling him back when I was retiring 12 years later.

And he came in and he said, yeah, he had a good job now. He’s not going to be a superstar but he has a family, a marriage, kids. He’s got a life and before he had no life. And so, that makes you feel it only takes one person, if you feel like you helped one person’s life. so, yeah, there are a lot of tears when people talk about these things but pretty exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, yeah, absolutely. I’m sort of tearing up a little bit right now, and I wasn’t even at these meetings. But a podcast guest, Don Yaeger, Episode 371, four years ago told me about this, and I was like, “Wow.” So, just hearing the story about it happening is something that is enough to stick with me. And, here you are, Bill George, the man behind it.

Bill George
By the way, Don Yaeger is an awesome guy. He is an incredible motivator and he inspires me. And that guy, one of my students, get in my class, get in my courses, and he’s gone out and carrying it out, and he’s doing it now, but, yeah, he’s fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think another thing I love about that is you realized you had to make some changes, and that didn’t mean, “Ah, I’ve got to quit my job. Got to leave Medtronic,” but rather it was an internal shift, which then flowed into practices that reshaped your context to be more awesome for everybody.

Bill George
You’re a very smart guy. That’s exactly what he did. He had to reshape the context. If I went to production with Medtronic, I’d said, “Pete, how are we going to make 3.91 a share? Can you help me?”

Pete Mockaitis
I’m inspired.

Bill George
They know how to do that. Yup, they know how to make a quality product. I remember a woman told me, she said, “Mr. George, I make a thousand heart valves a year, and I can tell you that if for you, 99.9% quality is fantastic. If I have one defective valve, someone is going to die and I can never live with the fact that I caused someone’s death.” And she’s a woman who didn’t have any direct reports. She went in training classes on quality of how to make a heart valve. So inspiring.

She’s simply, “You know, when I get home at night, you know what I’m thinking about? I’m thinking about those 7,000 people who are alive in the world today because of the heart valves I make. That’s what gives me pride.” Now, this woman is never going to be rich but she’s rich in her inner heart, and she’s got a great one, I bet, but she’s not going to be rich.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so, Bill, this is a lot of inspiring stuff. And if listeners are saying, “Yes, I want to be that kind of person who makes positive impact in these ways,” what’s the day-to-day, step-by-step practices, processes, conversation stuff we do to get there?

Bill George
It’s hard work. I mentioned processing your life story, processing your crucible. A lot of people don’t want to do that. Studying. We talked about Mark Zuckerberg. How do people go off course on getting seduced by money, fame, and power? I’ve seen very, very successful people do that, and they kind of lost it. They didn’t live in Hendersonville, they went to New York, okay, and they want to be a billionaire. I’ve seen people literally do that and lose their way and wind up in jail.

But I think, then, you have to think about, “How do I become self-aware?” Self-awareness is the key to anyone who wants to lead. You have to be self-aware about yourself, because the hardest person you literally have to lead is yourself. So, then I think you need to practice. I happen to be a meditator but you need some form of introspective practice where you put all the electronics away, take 20 minutes, and really reflect on, “How did I show up today as a leader? What kind of person was I? And did I find fulfillment? Did I find joy in what I was doing? What kind of day was it?” and do that every day.

And the next thing I would recommend is surround yourself with some truthtellers. They’ll tell you what you don’t want to hear. They’ll hold a mirror up to you, and say, “Bill, look how you showed up today. You were kind of too aggressive and pressing people. Relax a little.” And you need those truthtellers in your life. So, I believe in 360-feedback, I believe in having people around me that tell me when I’m getting off track, and they help pull you back. Boy, you get off track your true north, it’ll help pull you back, “Why am I worried becoming CEO of Honeywell? I don’t even love the mission or the purpose? I’ve got leave, okay. Does it matter if it’s a much smaller company? No, I want a life.”

And so, think about that. Or, I used to have students tell me, Pete, these are 26-year-olds, 27-year-olds. “I work a hundred hours a day when I was trying to get into business school,“ hundred hours a week, I mean. And, man, that’s great, I said, “Really? How do you have a life? You can’t have a life and work a hundred hours a week. And, by the way, what are you doing? Why are you over it? If you’re going to be a leader, you got to learn how to delegate. Let other people do it and stop trying to take over everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, so I also want to get some of the don’ts, there you go, like don’t try to take over everything. Any things that you recommend that we stop doing, as we want to, if we want to make progress on this journey?

Bill George
Well, I think stop trying to look for fame, recognition, power over other people. Your job as a leader is to empower people. And stop trying to be, like, command and control, and, “I want a title. I want to be manager or supervisor, director, or vice president, senior vice president, CEO.” That’s where I got caught up in that trap, and that’s not a good trap to be in. I just want to do it. I really find joy.

By the way, then you will get to promotions because the people around you are saying, “This is a person I really want to work with, I want to be led by.” So, you build those relationships. And so, you want to stop chasing the brass ring, so to speak. There’s nothing wrong with being well-paid and making money, but how much do you need?

Elon Musk is worth $250 billion, which I can’t even conceive of. I can’t conceive of what it’s like to be worth a billion. But does he give any money away to help other people? No. Why not? What’s he going to do with it all? You can’t take it with you. So, I said that I feel blessed enough to make money. I did well, very well at Medtronic so we give it away about half our net worth into the grants from our foundation. But I’m not trying to brag. I’m just saying share it. Share it around.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s beautiful. Well, Bill, now I want to zoom into the particular specific interactions you have with people that you’re leading, you’re influencing, you’re interacting with. Are there specific words or phrases that you’ve really found magically helpful along this journey or pretty toxic and have chosen to abandon?

Bill George
Yeah, if you want to lead, create an inclusive environment with a sense of belonging. And I think that’s really important. Don’t be exclusionary of other people just because they’re different than you. Accept people for who they are, and then reach out and help other people. Let me give you an example of someone I interviewed.

Alan Page, who just played for the Minnesota Vikings, Hall of Fame football player, National Medal Award of Honor, he said, “I’m not about football. I’m about helping everyone get an education.” So, he took the money he got from the Hall of Fame, created a foundation, others would give into it, to help kids who wouldn’t otherwise go to college, not the A+ student but the kids who wouldn’t otherwise go to college to go.

And he’s done amazing, he sent 7700 kids to school that otherwise wouldn’t go on and got into college, whether it was a four-year or two-year vo-tech, they got through, and that’s what he takes pride in. And so, somebody like that is I really admire. You could say, “Oh, he’s a big man, he’s a big football player.” No, he doesn’t look at himself as a celebrity. He just said, “I’m a guy who’s just trying to help other people.”

So, that’s why I commend you when you talked about your own purpose, you make that I-the-we journey. But if it’s all about me, it’s not going to end well.

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

Bill George
Yeah, I want to mention the fact that today, everybody talks about diversity, Pete. I think it’s not just about diversity. It’s about creating an organization that’s inclusive, so I feel fully included. I don’t feel different like I’m out of step here because I’m a man or woman, or my religion, or my race, or my sexual identity, or national origin. Accept me for who I am. Just let me be real.

And I think that’s really important. And I think that’s what good leaders today do. You can’t help people reach their full potential if you’re judging them by their gender or color of their skin or religion. So, I think creating an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging is really…we have a new idea in the book that I’m very excited about. Instead of being a command-and-control leader and telling you what to do, the leader is coach, and think about coaches you’ve had.

A coach isn’t going to be your six unless you feel your cares about you. I think of the coaches I had when I played high school and college sports, and my coach really care about me. And can that coach really challenge me to be my best? And so, it’s an acronym we use in the book, but I think that leadership is changing so there’ll be more coaches to help people, and be challenging, and say, “Hey, you didn’t give us your best game today. You can do a lot better than that. Here’s where you can get better.” You can get out there and help people. So, that’s, I think, a big idea.

And, finally, I think leading with a clear sense of be a moral leader with a sense of moral compass. That’s not a religious term. That’s a sense of, “We know where this person stands. We know what his or her values are, and they are not going to be moved off it,” even if you disagree with them. We don’t have to be the same but they have clarity about who they are and what they stand for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, you said there’s an acronym. What is it?

Bill George
C stands for caring about people because people won’t follow you unless they know you care about them. O is organize people in their sweet spots. Think of a sports team, not everyone can be the quarterback or the point guard. You got to get people where they’re using their greatest abilities. And then the third, or the A is align people around, like we’re talking about Medtronic, a clear sense of mission and purpose, or purpose and values.

And then the second C is challenge people. Challenge people to be their best. I had a student who played for Coach K, Mike Krzyzweski at Duke, and he would say, “He seems like a great value. There wasn’t a day when he wasn’t at my face, yelling at me about why I can’t be better.” And then, finally, the H is get out and help people. I think business executives spend too much time in their offices, sitting in meetings, going over their PowerPoints charts, looking at numbers. You’ve got to get out there with the people, and that’s where the action is. So, that’s the idea of what it means to be a coach.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thanks, Bill. Now, let’s hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Bill George
There was a Buddhist monk man, who just died recently, named Thich Nhat Hahn, he said, “The longest journey you’ll ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.” And by that, he meant is to be a leader today, you can’t just lead with your head. You’ve got to lead with your heart, with passion, compassion, empathy, and courage.

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

Bill George
Well, I can tell you about a breakthrough, Pete, is the work that’s being done, taking ideas from meditation and how neuroplasticity changes people’s lives, and now you can mold your brain as a result of it, and you can overcome the kind of anger parts and move into a kindness, more compassionate kind of person through these practices. And this have been studied with fMRI by Richard Davidson at Madison. Brilliant work. He ought to get a Nobel Peace prize, or a Nobel Medical prize for this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Bill George
I’m reading a book called Younger Next Year, and it’s how you stay young by staying healthy and taking care of yourself by exercise every day, eat healthy, get some sleep, and relieve your stress. And I think if you begin to do those four things, you’re going to live a lot longer.

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

Bill George
I hate to confess it but I use social media and I use a computer a lot because, now, an awful lot of work is done remotely. But for whatever bad things you see, I can reach a lot of people. I’ve got a quarter a million followers on LinkedIn, and I can have dialogues with people, and I try and respond to every comment that people make. I can’t get them all but I sure try. And I think it’s a great tool to reach people. So, the negative things I said about Facebook, something on LinkedIn just gives me a great source of networking with people that I maybe never met in person.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Bill George
For me, I think I mentioned to you, it’s meditating every day. I just got back from India from a meeting with his holiness, the Dalai Lama, last week. I got back on Sunday. And, man, I was exhausted after a 35-hour trip, and I had to meditate to kind of regain, overcome jetlag and get my health back.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people and they quote it back to you often?

Bill George
I didn’t make this up, but, “Be who you are because everyone else is taken.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill George
Yeah, be authentic and, yeah, that’s what I try to do and share with people. Follow your true north.

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

Bill George
Yeah, you should read the Emerging Leader Edition of True North. It’s my best book, I believe, and I’m very excited about it because it takes all these ideas that we’ve been talking about, and you’ll find it a great guide to leading a more fulfilling life.

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

Bill George
Yeah, you only live once. Make a difference in the world. Whatever money you make, you can’t take it with you. Make enough money to have a good life and take care of your families. But do something where you’re really have an impact in the world, a positive impact. You can leave a mark, so that when you go to your grave, people will look and say, “Here’s a person that really had a positive impact in my life.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bill, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in following your true north.

Bill George
Thank you, Pete. Thank you for having me on. It sounds like you’re already following yours, so thank you.