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593: Why Hard Work Isn’t Enough: Insights on Developing Your Career with Patty Azzarello

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Patty Azzarello shares three simple steps to finding more success and satisfaction in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top reason most people get stuck in their careers
  2. Why results don’t speak for themselves
  3. How a simple email can forge powerful relationships

About Patty

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She has more than 25+ years of experience working in high tech and business. She has held leadership roles in General Management, Marketing, Software Product Development and Sales. She has been successful in running and transforming large and small businesses, and has significant international management experience.

She is the founder of Azzarello Group, which works with CEOs and leadership teams to help their businesses (and people) get better at what they do. She is the author of the best selling books: RISE: 3 Practical Steps to Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader (and Liking Your Life), and MOVE: How Decisive Leaders Execute Strategy Despite Obstacles, Setbacks, and Stalls.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Patty Azzarello Interview Transcript

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

Patty Azzarello
Hi, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to be talking about how to… I love the forced awkward segue. We’re going to be talking about how to rock out in your career and to rise, but you actually have some history in an actual rock and roll band. Tell us this story first.

Patty Azzarello
That is stating it a little bit generously. I started my own company 12 years ago and I created an advisory board for my company. And as I was putting the board together, one of the people noticed that, “You know, we could form a band.” There was a drummer, there was a keyboard player, there was a lead guitar player, and I describe myself as a willing singer. I’m not a great singer but I’m a willing singer. So, we got a rhythm guitar player and a bass guitar player to fill it out, and we were together for a couple years. We played a handful of gigs. It was super fun. It was just super, super fun.

Pete Mockaitis
One of the funnest parts about bands are their names. What name did you go with?

Patty Azzarello
You know, we never named our band.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Patty Azzarello
We never named it.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s even cooler.

Patty Azzarello
My business is called Azzarello Group. We just would call it The Azzarello Group band. It was sad.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks like you rose to power even in that context. Like, your name was the one that got to be on the band, so we’ve got some things to learn from you. So, you’ve done a whole lot of work and research in zeroing in on why some people rise or do not rise in their careers. And this is a fascinating topic. We had Carter Cast, he was a professor at Northwestern who talked about five career derailers. And you’ve got some insights yourself. So, lay it on us. Maybe could you start us off by what’s perhaps the most fascinating and surprising discovery you’ve made about what makes the difference between those who rise and those who don’t?

Patty Azzarello
Well, I think the thing that gets most people tripped up is that working hard is not the answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sweet.

Patty Azzarello
Like, just being great at delivering on your job description does not make you stand out. It helps you not get fired. But I find that people, they put their head down and they work super, super hard, and they do an excellent job, and they just have the sense that if the world is fair, they’re going to get tapped on the shoulder, and they’re going to get noticed, and they’re going to rise. But it doesn’t work that way. And it’s simply because everyone else is too busy to go find you and learn about what you’re doing, and you have to figure out how to advocate for yourself in a positive and productive way if you want to stand out and if you want to get the recognition necessary to get ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, hardworking alone doesn’t cut it. Delivering well on the things on your job description doesn’t cut it. So, it sounds like you’re saying that’s necessary, like you need to do the thing that you were hired to do. And your book has three key sections: do better, look better, and connect better. So, do better, is that about the actual performance of your job?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. So, if we just take the model very, very quickly, there are three parts to it, and the thing that a lot of people miss, and I missed in my own career before I learned this. I wish I had my book in the beginning of my career. It would have made things a lot easier than having to stumble and figure it out along the way. But I think the issue is that those three parts are all critical, and a lot of people just focus on the work. They only focus on the work.

So, do better is not just about delivering on your job description, but it’s about making sure that you are delivering value, and you’re not judging your value by being busy. You’re judging your value by, “Am I really delivering things of high value?” Look better is about your reputation and making sure you’re not invisible, because if you’re invisible, you don’t get noticed, you don’t get promoted. And it’s not about being political at all. It’s about communicating in the right way about your work, so you are sharing the value that you deliver. And then, connect better is simply about meeting support. The most successful people are the ones who get the most help. They’re not the ones that are so brilliant all on their own that they can just soar with their own efforts. And being able to get help and ask for help, and build the network and support you need is a critical skill.

It’s funny, every once in a while, when I’m on a stage and there’s questions from the audience, I get the question “Patty, do you have any natural tendencies or habits or traits that think helped you in your own career success?” And the first thing that always comes to mind is a willingness to ask for help. One of my superpowers is just asking for help, learning from smart people, accepting help, putting that help into practice, and I couldn’t have done any of the things that I did without people helping me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, excellent. So, that’s a nice little overview there in terms of the three components: do better, look better, connect better. I want to touch upon each of them in some level of depth. I’m curious, would you say that if your goal is to rise in terms of to be promoted, to earn more money, to get a cooler, more high-visibility, high-impact, sexier, if you will, projects, if that’s what you’re up to, then would you say that the do better, look better, connect better are of equal importance? Or if you had to do 100% allocation, how would you split it up?

Patty Azzarello
The most important thing is to make sure that none of those are zero.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Patty Azzarello
It’s not that you have to have a particular balance or have the same balance at any point in time. But if you think it’s just all about the work, and the other two things aren’t important, you’re going to get stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I like that view, it’s like make sure that nothing is zero because I see a spreadsheet in my mind’s eye in terms of, “Okay, I can multiply three things, like zero to 100. So, then the product of these three figures could be anywhere from zero to one million, one hundred times a hundred times a hundred.” And, sure enough, anything multiplied by zero is zero. So, even if there’s a master of someone who looks really awesome and connects just fantastically, if their actual ability to produce the work is at zero, then they’re going to kind of hit a brick wall pretty soon, in terms of like, “Hey, we gave you this because we love you and you know all the people, but you didn’t even do it. I can’t trust you anymore.” So, the rise concludes. So, that’s handy. Make sure none of them are zero.

And I’m sort of imagining, if I multiply them out, what’s that look like? And maybe I’m not at zero but I’m like at two of a hundred in terms of like connecting. So, that’s really a bottleneck. Well, that’s my mathematical brain. You said avoid zero, that’s where I went. So, let’s dig in then. So, with do better, you mentioned that it’s not about being busy. It’s about value. And value is…well, hey, I’m a former strategy consultant, so that’s a word that can fall into jargon territory pretty quickly. What do you mean by value and how do we identify whether we’re doing something that’s high value or low value?

Patty Azzarello
Well, if you think about how you end up spending your work days, there’s a lot of crap that filters in. And the first step is to identify the low-value activities, to identify the chaotic, repetitive, low-value activities, and just develop this habit of saying, “This is not worth this much time.” If you can just develop that habit, and not let yourself get swept away in a bunch of low-value activity, by definition, what you do work on is going to have more value.

But beyond that, I think it’s really important to look at what you’re working on and give yourself some time to think about it, and assess it, and judge it, and look at it, and say, “Where is the value coming from? Is this helping customers? Is this creating efficiency? Is this helping us all communicate better? What are the good things of value that are happening when I complete this work?” And I find when you start thinking about that, you start having the ability to add more value.

Now, if you want to go right to the heart of value, understand the P&L of your business, understand the business model, understand where the company makes money, understand where the revenue comes from, where the profit comes from, where the costs are. And the more you understand that, you might have a job as an individual contributor in a customer service or support department, but when you start thinking about the P&L of the business and the P&L of service and support, you start to realize, “If I could serve customers faster and better, that’s value.” Like, just turning the crank and doing, answering the same question over and over again is doing your job. But thinking about it, and saying, “I’ve answered this question 47 times in the past two days. Maybe I’ll suggest getting to the root cause of it so we can avoid that question entirely and the organization spends zero time asking that question.”

So, no matter where you are, what level you’re at, what role you’re in, you can always be looking at how the work is done, and thinking of ways to improve it, and to make it better. And that’s what I mean by value.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s really great in terms of, you know, I think there was a Dilbert book called Always Postpone Meetings with Time-Wasting Morons. And so, not to be pejorative of…every human being has intrinsic value. But some activities certainly, and some meetings certainly, just don’t do much, or maybe even do negative value adding. And so, one, I think just sort of having your radar up, and saying, “Huh, how is this good and useful?”

And then, sometimes, it’s like, “You know what? No one’s asked that question in five years, and we should’ve stopped doing this a long time ago now that you mentioned it.” That can sometimes be the outcome of just having that habit of regularly questioning. And I’m thinking, even if you’re not in a business organization, the value could be governmentally, sort of serving constituents or nonprofit, like fulfilling the mission and the impact metrics that you’re after there. So, roger, you’re thinking about that, what’s viable, what’s not so viable, what is the good this results in.

And I think, often, it’s great to, I’d love your take on this, to diplomatically ask those sorts of questions. I mean, you probably don’t want to say, “Does anyone care about this crap anyway?” But you do kind of want to educate yourself and get perspective on how something is viable or not viable. So, do you have any pro tips or scripts for how we ask that question without insulting people?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. So, in two directions here. So, this happens so frequently, an executive will ask somebody to do something, and the person runs off and starts doing it because they believe they have to do it best and immediately because an executive asked, therefore, it’s super important, just because the executive asked for it. That is so not true. Executives ask for things all the time, and they have no idea what they’re asking for. They just have no idea of the costs of asking a question.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. So, you’re saying they know what they want but they have no idea what the cost is.

Patty Azzarello
Right. So, an example is, when I was an executive, I asked my financial manager, “What is the headcount of our organization?” in the hallway, and I expected him to say, “Eleven hundred and thirty-seven.” And he said, “Well, it depends.” I’m like, “What do you mean?”

And he said, “Well, if you want an answer that is 90%-95% accurate, I can probably get that to you by the end of the day. But if you want it more like 97% accurate, I’ll have to wait till tomorrow morning because I’ll have to pull the organizations in Europe and Asia, and that might take even two days. But if you need it really accurately, it’ll probably take about two weeks because we’ll have to pull all of the open job wrecks, and all of the reports of people who are leaving, and rationalize that.” And my head was just exploding, thinking, “Oh, my God, don’t do any of that. Like, I literally thought you could answer my question in the moment.” And I said, “Do the shortest one. Do the shortest one.”

And so, a great way to match the value of a work to the time you invest in it, and make sure there’s a good match there, is to simply ask yourself the question, ask the executive the question, before you start working, “How much time and effort is this outcome worth? Is it worth an hour? Is it worth a week? Is it worth a half a day?” And if you can really understand that upfront, you’re going to do a much better job and you’re not going to be running around in circles wasting time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I tell you, that’s such a powerful question. I love the way you articulated that because it can vary massively, and you have no idea. And just assuming it’s at one level is bad news. Like, sometimes the answer is, “It is worth more than your entire annual compensation package to nail this perfectly.”

Patty Azzarello
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, then. And then other times it’s like, “Oh, I mean, please spend no more than 10 minutes doing what you can do on this.”

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. But just because an executive asked doesn’t mean it’s like your life is dependent on doing it great and immediately.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect. And so, under do better, you make a point that we should become less busy. That sounds appealing, and we kind of mentioned we should become less busy just by eliminating low-value activities. Do you have additional reasons for why we should become less busy?

Patty Azzarello
Well, so first and foremost, if you burn up all of your time on delivering just what’s in your job description and you’re overwhelmed by it, look better and connect better are going to be zero.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
So, first and foremost, it’s important to be less busy for that. But it’s also important to be less busy because you’re a human being that has a life outside of work that also matters, and just grinding yourself up in your work is not my definition of success. My definition of success is that your job has to fit into your life in a way that your life works. And a big part of that is being less busy. And if you’re so busy, you’re not adding as much value as you could because you’re just not thinking about it.

So, the advice I give in terms of how to become less busy, there’s a ton of advice in my book Rise which we don’t have time to go through all of it here, but the one thing that I think is a must to start thinking about is what I refer to as ruthless priorities. And what I mean by ruthless priorities is to be very ruthless on choosing them, and then be very ruthless about protecting them and actually getting them done. And so, if you’ve got 25 things, 25 super-duper important priorities on your task list, you’re not going to get them all done. You’re just not. No one ever does. But if you try to start saying, “I’m going to put these in rank order, or I’m going to draw a cut line,” your head starts to explode because everything seems so important you just feel like you got to do it all.

What I like to do in that case is go through each one and ask the question, not, “Is this important?” but “How bad would it be if I failed at this?” And I find if you ask that of your 25 things, there’s going to be a couple that suddenly rise to the top. And that’s one way to choose your ruthless priorities. But choosing a ruthless priority does not mean you don’t do anything else. It just means that you have one or two things, you’re not going to have 25 or even five ruthless priorities, you’re going to have one or two, and you’re going to protect them, and you’re going to commit to yourself, “No matter what, I’m going to get that one done. No matter what else is happening in the world, I am going to get this one thing done, and I’m going to protect it.”

And, typically, if you choose one thing, it doesn’t take up 100% of your time, so you have the rest of your time to deal with all the flak and other stuff that you still have to do, but you wake up every morning, and you say, “I am going to de-risk that ruthless priority,” and then you finish it. Hallelujah! Like, people love to finish things. And then you pick the next one. And I find that by doing and focusing in a ruthless way on one important thing at a time, you can sort of cut through the chaos, and even if you stay very busy, you’re getting the high-value thing done, and the busyness is not getting you stuck anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
And, actually, I want to zero in on the Hallelujah portion of that because I think that what’s great about that ruthless-prioritizing question there is by taking the time to surface your own kind of emotional anxiety, angst, associations with the to-do list, and then nailing the things that, in a way, have the most hidden terror embedded within them, you really will experience a sense of release and freedom and urgency, stress, anxiety leaving you.

And this happened to me many times. Like, I’ve just been surprised, like, “Oh, I feel so much lighter now that that is done, and I don’t think I even knew that I would feel that way.” But, now, with your question, I will probably more frequently be able to identify that in advance and bring into the prioritization. Very cool.

Okay. Well, let’s talk about looking better. Yeah, how do we do that?

Patty Azzarello
I love a comment. I got an email from a woman in the UK who said, “Patty, I read your book Rise, and I got two pay raises and a promotion.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Patty Azzarello
I was like, “Wow! Like, what did you do? What did you learn? Tell me more.” So, I sent her an email, and she came back and she said, “It was the look better part.” She had been kind of at a zero on look better. She was in a marketing company, and she was in charge of events, getting people to events. And she was growing the event business for two years. She tirelessly worked to grow their event business, and she was in a meeting with the CEO.

And the CEO looked at the spreadsheet, and said, “Huh, I thought, in general, the event business, the event market was declining. I guess it’s not, because our numbers look good.” And her valiant efforts were invisible. He just assumed he had made a wrong assumption about the market, and their event business was growing because the market was growing.

Pete Mockaitis
Au contraire.

Patty Azzarello
And it was such a wakeup call for her to hear from my work that you have to be an advocate for the value that your work creates. And so, she immediately started communicating about all the things she learned about how to grow their event business ahead of a declining market and make it a growing business for them. And she didn’t just run around bragging, “Look what I did,” but she shared meaningful nuggets of work that other people could learn from, and suddenly she got that positive visibility, and her career just took off with more pay and promotions because she connected the dots.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, that is very illustrative in terms of just the assumptions people make about why even if you’re doing amazing work that’s creating amazing results, you think, “Hey, the results speak for themselves.” They don’t. We’re just making it. Even when the executive had that context of, “Oh, I thought that market was declining. Well, I guess it’s not.” Yeah, that’s excellent. So, point taken. You got to share that with people. And I guess do you have some pro tips on how that happens?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. So, there’s a chapter in the book that’s titled “Be visible but not annoying.” And this is where I really want to emphasize again that I’m not talking about being political, and I’m not talking about just having a good talking game without results to back it up. The results absolutely do matter. But the thing that people struggle with is, “Oh, I don’t want to be self-promoting. I don’t want to come off like I’m bragging. I don’t want to be annoying.”

The reality is if you have those concerns and fears, you’re never going to be annoying. You don’t have it in your DNA, so I try to get people to stop worrying about it. But we all know people who are advocating for themselves and their careers absent of results, and that is super annoying. The magic formula here is simply to ask yourself, “Is what I communicate of value to the people I share it with?” And if the answer is yes, you’re not being annoying. So, you don’t just around saying, “Look what I did.” You run around saying, “Look at what the company can do now. As a result of this project being completed, we are now in a different space and we can accomplish X, Y, Z which we couldn’t do before.”

And it’s important to tell people that because, Pete, you finished your work, and if you never share, “Now what? Now this value is here, what can we do with it? What can we learn from it? How can we build on it?” you’re missing an opportunity to create even more value. So, if you think about the way you communicate as creating value, because you’re sharing how to collect the winnings of the results you delivered, that’s never annoying. People are like, “Wow! That’s fantastic. I can use that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s a great point in terms of things change all the time and you develop new capabilities, and as a result, that’s going to come up from time to time in terms of, let’s say, oh, even if it’s sort of like deep in the internals of the organization, like, “Oh, but, yeah, we probably don’t have the data on that.” It’s like, “Well, we used to not have that but once we upgraded with the ABC, we can now pull this by this, this, and that.” It’s like, “Oh, well, okay then. Great move.”

Patty Azzarello
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“Please go get the data on that since we now can,” and then they’ve been made aware. I like that in terms of the point is not, “Look at me, I’m awesome.” The point is, “It’s valuable and we can do something now,” or maybe the context has shifted, or there’s a new opportunity in terms of, “We’ve been getting great results with so and so who’s been quite pleased so they might be the perfect partner to want to explore doing a new thing.”

Patty Azzarello
Right. So, if you don’t mind, before we leave look better, I just want to make one more point on that, which is the importance of understanding how you are perceived.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
That’s another thing that sometimes just goes to zero for people. They don’t worry about it, they don’t think about it, but it’s your reputation. And if you want to get recognized, if you want to get promoted, you have to understand what your reputation is, and you have to recognize how you’re perceived. And the way I like to advise people on this is to think about what it would look like if you were to put in your best self forward, and then try to do that on purpose. Try to do that with intention. Because a lot of times we’ll do something, we’ll do a presentation, we’ll do a negotiation, we’ll deliver something, and have the internal reaction of, “Man, I was brilliant,” but you feel surprised by it.

And isn’t it a shame to be so surprised? And it’s kind of a copout to be surprised. Why not try to be brilliant on purpose more of the time? Why not be more intentional about showing up as your best self more of the time? And, again, that’s nothing about being political. It’s just about committing to show up stronger and to be present and to give more in the work environment to give more value because you are showing up. That’s another key part of look better.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s interesting how that can then translate into particular actions that you take. In some ways, you might say, “Well, hey, it’s kind of out of my control. I have good days and I have bad days. Sometimes I’m in the groove, sometimes I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” But, in practice, right off the bat, things like, “Hey, well, I could sleep. I could exercise. I could eat a healthy meal. I could think in advance of the meeting what specific outcome am I looking for, what are likely to be their main concerns, and how could I bring something that will address those concerns.”

So, it’s interesting that, in a way, hey, our general mood does shift day to day and we’re not in complete control of that. In another way, there’s some key sort of levers that we can all pull. Are there any kind of recurring leverage practices you recommend in terms of being able to show up at our best more frequently?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah, there’s a chapter in Rise, and I’ve got also a lot of other resources on my website on this topic, of the idea of understanding your personal brand, and that’s your reputation. Your personal brand is whatever everybody else says it is based on their interaction with you. And so, yes, we all have our good days and bad days, and low energy and so forth, but if you can think ahead of time about what it is you would like to be known for, that can help you be purposeful about it even if you’re having a bad day.

So, if you would like to be known for the person that sorts through the chaos and the clutter in a complicated situation and always has a creative, clear answer, keep that switch turned on. And even if you’re having a bad day, “Oops, this is a complicated conversation, this is time for me to use my superpower.” And if you think about that ahead of time, you stand a much greater chance of doing it consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. And then how do we do that connecting better?

Patty Azzarello
You know, connect better, as I said earlier, one of my superpowers has been asking for help. This is another area where a lot of people go to zero which is just networking, just keeping their professional network going. And what I say, there are two elements to networking. One is meeting new people, and the other one is keeping in touch with people you already know. And the second one is actually where all the value is, because once you meet a new person, they become somebody you already know, and if you don’t put any effort into that relationship, there was no value in making the connection in the first place.

And so, what I tell people – and I tell introverts, and I’m also an introvert so this was not natural for me, I had to learn it myself – is that even if you dislike the idea of meeting people so much that you never want to meet a new person ever again for the rest of your life, you should still be networking with the people you already know because that’s where the value is. And that’s actually a lot less scary to people who have a fear of networking.

And what I like to say is, “Let’s just cross out the word networking and instead use the word be generous.” That’s what networking is, it’s reaching out to people, it’s being kind, it’s saying hello, it’s asking if you can help them, it’s sending them interesting things, it’s actually being helpful. The more of that you do, the more you are going to have an army of people who want to help you when you suddenly need help.

And so, you don’t have to try to match it up one-on-one, but it’s more of a karmic thing that always be giving, and always be giving more than you’re taking. And if you’re doing that, you’re going to have so much capital in the bank that people are just going to be so happy to help and support you when you need something. And it’s really that easy. Just be generous and invest some non-zero time in reaching out to people you already know and being generous.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you mentioned a few ways in which we can be generous. I suppose there’s push and pull. Like, you can be generous when someone asks a question, you can either give them the shortest possible reply that finishes that email and gets it out of the inbox. Or you can really thoughtfully think, “Oh, you know, what is it they’re trying to achieve here? It seems like this. I imagine this should probably be difficult given A, B, C constraints, restrictions. I know someone who might be able to help with that.” And so then, there’s one way that you’re generous when a request is made of you. How do you recommend we be generous when no one is asking for anything?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah, it’s so simple. “Hello.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
I know when I get an email from somebody I haven’t heard from in years, and they just say, “I was thinking about you and wanted to say hello.” That brightens my day. Absolutely. And if those people…I have people in my life that do that regularly maybe once a year or so. If they ever need anything from me, I’m so happy to do it because I feel like we’re connected, I feel like the connection is current. It’s really that easy.

And I often challenge people in workshops, I say, “How many meaningful network…?” Like, they say, “I’m too busy for networking,” which just means, “I don’t like networking and I don’t want to prioritize it.” And I say, “I don’t believe anybody is too busy to not be able to spend 30 minutes a month doing something intentional. How many networking outreaches could you do in 30 minutes?” Now, if you’re using LinkedIn or Facebook, a gazillion. Like, like, like, like, like, a couple of comments, you’ve got a lot of hits.

But if you wrote thoughtful emails, you could probably write five thoughtful emails in 30 minutes. And if you did that once a month, you would have done a thoughtful outreach to 60 people in a year, which is infinitely bigger than zero and it’s a value. And so, I really challenge people to do that, and they’re like, “Well, what do I do?” And I say, “Just say, ‘Hi, I was thinking about that project we worked on together and that funny thing happened, and I just wanted to say hello. And here’s what I’m doing. My kids just started college. No need to reply. Just thinking about you. But if you do get a minute, I’d love to hear what’s up with you.” Something like that.

It’s easy for them to read, it doesn’t take a lot of time, you’re giving them something. And this woman said to me, she came back to another workshop of mine three or six months later, and she said, “Patty, when you told me to do that, I thought that was the stupidest thing I ever heard. I just thought that was the stupidest thing I ever heard. I thought it was just a waste of my time, a waste of the other person’s time to have an email with no useful relevant content in it, but I took your dare, and I did it.” And she said, “I have to thank you because it has been wonderful. I have gotten back so much from these simple outreaches that have just made me smile and a few useful things even happened.” And it’s there you go. It’s another Hallelujah moment.

We tend to, I think, sometimes think about networking as this big scary thing where you’re supposed to go schmooze with highly-important influential people and get them to do something for you in the first meeting. It’s like, “No. Say hello to your friends.” That’s networking.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love how there’d been many friends that I’ve wanted, intended to reach out to, and it’s almost like a vicious cycle in terms of, “Oh, it’s kind of been a while. I feel like it’s been a while. Then I really got to bring it in terms of…” But it could just be, I love what you said, it’s like, “Hey, I was thinking about you and how we did this thing. Hope you’re doing well,” and just maybe like a comment, like, “That was really funny,” or, “I really appreciate how you did this.” It’s like, “This has come up again and again,” or, “I still haven’t thrown away your Christmas card because you’re, oh, so adorable, and it’s on my desk. Hope you’re doing well.”

Patty Azzarello
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, tell me, any final thoughts you want to share before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Patty Azzarello
So, just two more ideas in connect better that I’ll just mention very quickly. One of them is what I refer to as the experience paradox. And what I mean by that is a lot of people say, “Patty, I want this job but I don’t have the experience, so nobody will give me this job.” And what I mean by the experience paradox is you can’t get the job without the experience, but you can get the experience without the job.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Patty Azzarello
And so, if you’re thinking of career development, that’s what career development is, is to set your sights on the job that you want, and go learn about it, talk to people, just immerse yourself in that job that you want, and look for crumbs to pick up, projects you can volunteer on to get some experience in that job. That sort of connection is really a shortcut to advancing.

And then the other thing I want to mention before I leave connect better is if I look at my own career, the outside of my own efforts, there was nothing more impactful for me than having mentors. And if you don’t have mentors, go get one. Talk to smart people and be learning from smart people. And, for me, it doesn’t need to turn into some like awkward marriage proposal of, “Will you be my mentor?” because you can just learn from smart people and they never know that they’re your mentor.

But if a relationship sparks and you find that you’re talking to the smart person a few times, all you need to do is say something like, “You know, these conversations have been so incredibly valuable for me, and I’ve been putting the things that you say into practice, and they’re working, and I’m so grateful for that. I’m starting to think of you as a mentor. Would it be alright, maybe, if I got on your calendar on a more regular basis, once a month for half an hour?” And if they say yes, you’ve got a mentor. It’s as easy as that. And do it.

Advancing your career without mentors is like climbing Mt. Everest without a Sherpa and a guide. Like, yeah, you could give that a try, but why on Earth would you? Get the help.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Yeah. And it’s interesting how even in the mentorship example, it’s the experience first and then the role, if you will, of mentor protégé. It’s like, “Hey, we’re already been doing this for a while and we’re seeing that.” Very cool.

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

Patty Azzarello
So, the first one is from Picasso, and it is that, “Inspiration does exist but it has to find you already working.” And I just love that because if you’re doing any kind of creative work, if you just sit there and wait for inspiration, it just doesn’t work that way. But if you’re willing to just kind of sit yourself down and start doing it badly, just start, then that’s when the inspiration comes. And I found that over and over again in my life.

My other favorite quote is from Mary Anne Radmacher, which is about courage, and it’s “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” And I think, particularly now, where there’s so much extra stress and pressure and uncertainty, we can’t underestimate the value of just coping, of just trying again tomorrow, “If I didn’t set the world on fire today, that’s fine. I’m going to show up again tomorrow.” I think that’s just so important.

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

Patty Azzarello
The one thing I have been a student of is success and watching successful people and learning from successful people. And the area that I’m most fascinated by is what it takes, is what the investment is behind that success. Because I think a lot of times we have a tendency to look at success and think it was easy for the person, and I love understanding, “What was not easy about that?” I’m fascinated by that. And I have another quote by Michelangelo, which just cracks me up, which is, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite book?

Patty Azzarello
In terms of like business books and books that enrich your knowledge, one of my favorite, favorite books is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, about how to communicate effectively. That was just like a lightning bolt, and that kind of changed everything for me. I love that book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Patty Azzarello
My cheque book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
If you look in my tool drawer in my house, I have a hammer, and I have duct tape, I have a couple of screwdrivers, and if it can’t be fixed with that, I use my cheque book. And I’m not a gadget-y person. I have probably the fewest apps on my devices of anyone that I know, but one of my roads to success was just realizing there are certain jobs I shouldn’t do, and just being willing to outsource and get someone else to do some of the things that are not in my wheelhouse is my favorite tool – delegating.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Patty Azzarello
I started about five years ago committing to exercise every single day. And for the first two years, I had a 100% record. And what was fascinating to me about that was it required much less discipline to make it not optional, because before it’s like, “Will I? Won’t I? Will I do a harder workout tomorrow?” I spent so much mental anguish in deciding on a given day whether or not I was going to exercise. And as soon as I made it not optional, boom, I got so much mental time back, and it required so much less discipline. So, I’ve been doing that for about five years now. I don’t have a perfect record anymore but I miss a handful of days a year, which, for me, is close enough.

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

Patty Azzarello
You know, it kind of gets back to our theme that’s been running through this conversation about not staying too busy. And it’s one of the most highlighted things in my book Rise which is, “You have to find a way to deal with all of the work, not do all of the work.” You can’t just let stuff drop on the floor, but, man, don’t just do it all as it comes across the table. Deal with it all and do the stuff that matters.

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

Patty Azzarello
I would point them to my website, which is AzzarelloGroup.com. And I also have an online professional development program that’s called my Executive Mentoring Group. And you can find that at ExecutiveMentoringGroup.com, or if you don’t want to type so much, ExecMentorGroup.com.

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

Patty Azzarello
Schedule some time to think. If you’re not doing that already, schedule some time to think, and use it to conquer your busyness, and make sure that the look better and connect better portions of your efforts are not zero. But it all starts with scheduling time to think. Give yourself that gift.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Patty, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and all the more rising.

Patty Azzarello
Thank you. It’s been super fun.

556: What Drives Your Career Growth with Korn Ferry’s Gary Burnison

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Gary Burnison shares what professionals need to start doing differently to advance in their careers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three mindsets to accelerate your career growth
  2. The overlooked elements that determine career fit
  3. Why most meetings are meaningless

About Gary:

Gary Burnison is the CEO and member of the board of directors for Korn Ferry, a global organization consulting firm. He is also an author, having written several books on career management. His latest book, Advance: The Ultimate How-To Guide For Your Career, is an insider’s look on everything professionals need to take control and get ahead in their careers.

He is also a regular contributor to ForbesCNBCBloombergFOX Business, and other major international news outlets. Mr. Burnison earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California and holds an honorary doctor of laws degree from Pepperdine University.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Gary Burnison Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gary, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Gary Burnison
Hey, great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom once again. It’s funny, I believe it was Episode 273 you were with us, which is almost half of the podcast lifetime ago.

Gary Burnison
Not that you’re counting, huh?

Pete Mockaitis
Roughly in the bubble. So, we’re going to talk about how to advance in careers. And I thought it might be fun if you could maybe open us up with a powerful story of someone who was kind of stuck where their career was going and then used some of these tools to get unstuck and see some great results.

Gary Burnison
You know, interviewing is kind of a trip between, it’s this in-between going to Disneyland and a dentist, and we psyche ourselves up, right? And it kind of goes back to the sixth grade, “Are they going to like us? Are they going to like me? What are they going to think of me?” It’s a very natural human emotion.

I was in a Starbucks in New York City a while back, and there was a young gentleman, he had a triple Red Eye that he had ordered, and he had a portfolio in front of him, and I figured this guy is getting ready for an interview, and I see the resume, and his leg is tapping uncontrollably up and down. And I just go up to him and I say, “Hey, so what are you doing? You got an interview, huh?” And he said, “Yeah, that’s exactly right. I really need this job. My wife relocated here and I’ve just got to get this thing.” And I said, “Listen, you got to chill out because you’re not going to make it past security. The way you’re going right now is not good.”

And I said, “Look, you got to treat this like a conversation. You’re not auditioning for Annie. This is not a rehearsed deal.” And he ended up, come to find out, he got the job. And he got the job because he was authentic, he made a connection, and he gave the interviewer a taste of who he was as a person, not just what he did.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that that’s dead on, and I remember being on both sides of the career fair table, and whenever I heard someone just say, “Hello, I’m looking to combine my interests in accounting and finance in a challenging role that is like…” No human talks that way. I mean, it’s not that that’s a deal-breaker but it’s sort of like, “Oh, you’re not making a great first impression right now, and we’ll keep talking and we’ll see where we go, but I’m not enthusiastic about the rest of this conversation from the first 20 seconds.”

Gary Burnison
Well, no, because people, they make up things, they say things that they think you want to hear. Resumes, God, if I see another resume where, number one, you shouldn’t have an objective, I think that’s really bad on a resume, but a lot of people do. And how many times have you seen, “I want to be part of a collaborative team in an entrepreneurial environment where I can make a real big impact”? Oh, really? Like, you and a billion other people in the world. It’s not authentic.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, hey, we’ve got some great tips right off the bat. Chill out, keep it authentic, and it’s not an audition, it’s a conversation. So, then tell us, you’ve got a recent book called Advance. What’s the main thesis here?

Gary Burnison
It’s really to take control, to take control of your career like you would do with your health, and, really, kind of three basic ideas. Number one is it starts with you but it’s not about you, and if you want to earn more, you’ve got to learn more. So, the reality is you have to, first, be introspective about what your strengths are, where your blind spots are, what your purpose is, what makes you happy, because if you’re happy, you’re probably motivated, and if you’re motivated, you’re going to outperform.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you said that last time. I’ve quoted you on a slide, Gary. That’s one of my faves.

Gary Burnison
It’s true. I mean, and people, “Oh, is this really possible?” Yeah, it is possible. Look, we all need to make a living, so there’s no denying that, and sometimes you just need a job, I get it. But, ultimately, you want to get something where you’re learning, because if you’re growing and learning, you’re probably going to be pretty motivated and pretty happy. And so, that kind of introspection, most people, they just ignore that stuff completely.

And then, secondly, you’re not a sculptor in a studio by yourself. And so, it starts with you but it’s not about you. And so, there’s a whole range of advice in this book around, “What do you do with a bad boss? How do you make presentations? How do you work with others? How do you work virtually? What do you do if you’re managing for the first time?”

So, as you progress in your career, you start out as a follower, and I would suggest there’s kind of six phases to a career ultimately up to a leader. But, at some point, you have to make that transition where you’re not an individual contributor, and it’s really, really hard. And, in that transition, you’ve got to work with others. So, despite all the technological advances of the past century, it still comes down to people, and not just online interaction, but actually old school, offline interaction.

And then, finally, look, if you want to earn more, you’ve got to learn more. We’ve proven that the number one predictor of executive success is learning agility. We’ve done 50 million assessments of executives all over the world, and Korn Ferry would stake its reputation that it’s the number one predictor of success. The distance between number one and number two is not constant. And the reality is, what does a great athlete do or what does a coach do after a game? Well, many times, they review the tape, they look at the video and they go practice. It’s the same for your career. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, hey, you don’t have to convince me. I’m right on, I’m right with you there in terms of learning. And, often, it’s a bit of do-it-yourself proposition in many environments sort of, I guess, there you go, advance, take control, much like what you do with your health.

Gary Burnison
Well, again, the do-it-yourself proposition. So, here’s the other thing why it’s critical to really target what your next career move is that the reality is, what Korn Ferry would say is that we believe in 70/20/10 when it comes to development. So, when you say do-it-yourself, so, listen, only 10%, after college, of what you learn is in classroom. Ninety percent of it is either who you’re learning it from or what your assignment is.

And so, a critical piece that people don’t think about when they’re going to go take another job, they focus on the bling. And I can understand why. They focus on the title, focus on the money, “I just to make some more money.” Well, that’s great. But they completely ignore that it’s a marathon, and, “Are you going to learn and who are you going to learn from?” Like, that is…Look, I can’t say you’re always going to have a choice, but it’s something that you have to really need to consider for the marathon.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m hearing you. And so, that’s a key consideration and it’s something that’s often overlooked. And I want to get some more of these gems from you here in terms of when it comes to employees who are stalling out, they’re getting stuck in ruts, they’re facing some challenges and not conquering them very often, what do you think are some of like the big things that professionals, they got to nail and they’re not nailing it so well right now?

Gary Burnison
I think there’s a left-brain aspect and there’s a right-brain aspect. So, the left brain is all around specialized skills, okay? So, that’s very, very hard to answer or it depends on what function you’re in. Is it technology? Is it finance? Are you in a services business, manufacturing? That world is clearly, that’s changed, and that’s going to vary depending on the person. I would just generally say that learning determines a worker’s earnings for life. So, those left-brain skills have to continually be worked on.

The right-brain skills get ignored all the time, and those right-brain skills are really important to your happiness. And so, they seem like little things but they’re not so little things. And it could be this little thing called coworkers. The reality is that you’re going to spend way more time at work and with your coworkers than you are maybe with your own family. So, are they getting right or are they getting wrong, the kind of right-brain things around who their boss is? Are they learning? Their coworkers?

That culture piece is, I think, today, overlooked. And it’s critical. It’s critical to just think about your day. Like, what is going to piss you off during the day, right? If you have a job, I guarantee you don’t wake up upset, right? You’re probably pretty happy going to work. And then what happens? Somebody says something, may have been an innocent comment, you get an email, didn’t have the right context, you get a text, text can’t make you laugh or cry, and you just get turned off. And, by the time you’re driving home, you’re so frustrated. And so, those things around culture, people don’t consider.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. Absolutely. And I’d love your pro take there on what are some of the best ways on the outside looking in to get a gauge in evaluation on some of those matters?

Gary Burnison
It’s the little things. It’s, “How are people dressed? How do people interact? What’s it like at 7:00 at night there? What’s it like at 7:00 in the morning?” It’s funny, you want a new job, and so you start. I would hope you’re actually targeting, proactively targeting the companies and not being reactive, but many times people are reactive, which I think is a real problem. But you look at these job titles and these responsibilities and it’s all these words, and it’s really hard to tell, “Okay, but what’s my actual job? Like, what am I going to do Monday morning?” because you have all these lofty words, and these responsibilities, and it’s hard to separate what you’re really going to be doing.

And so, I think a great way is to, really, like when you go to buy a house. If you buy a condo or a house, I love to drive by at 11:00 o’clock at night and look at the neighbors. Or my oldest daughter was just moving apartments, and I said, “Stefy, make sure you go there a few nights a week at 11:00 o’clock before you sign that lease because you want to see it when nobody thinks you’re looking, right?” The problem with an interview is like it’s a performance, it’s a stage. People are actually looking. But you want to figure out what the place is like, what the people are like, when nobody is looking. That’s what you’re trying to get to.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a nice clear distinction right there in terms of, “Is it on display, on show, or is it the real deal?” and the 11:00 p.m. analogy. Oh, it’s sparking all kinds of things. So, then what are some of the best ways that we can get that view in terms of we’re looking and they don’t know we’re looking? How do we do that? Do we talk to former employees? Tell me more.

Gary Burnison
Yeah, you do. You’ve got to be kind of a private detective. There’s no other way to do it. So, you have to work your network, you’ve got to do the six degrees of separation. You want to find people that knows somebody, that knows somebody that works there. That’s the way you want to do it. And it really does work. I know it seems daunting but that six degrees of separation really does work. I found it to work in my own life.

And so, yeah, you want to work that network, you want to find out from people who have left. Sometimes they may be jaded. I don’t place a lot of stock in Glassdoor. I know a lot of people do. But, generally, in those kinds of reviews, you’re hearing from unhappy people that have left the organization. It could be a reference point, it’s something to triangulate, but I wouldn’t stake my whole career and reputation on it. If you can drive around, if you can get access into the office or the building, that could be something you can do. But, yeah, look, you’ve got to be a private detective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so then let’s say you’re in the job, away you go, and we’re up and we’re running. You’ve got a number of particular prescriptions when you’re in the midst of things. I want to get your take on the boss relationship and meetings. So, first, what’s the main thing we got to keep in mind in terms of managing a boss relationship effectively over the months and years?

Gary Burnison
Number one, it’s not them, it’s you. So, you’re never going to be able to change the boss but he or she can change you, right? They can actually fire you. So, you can try all you want but if you keep saying it’s them and it’s not you, it’s not going to get any better. So, there’s all sorts of different bosses, we’ve all had them. We’ve had those that are heroes and inspirational. And we’ve had those that are just micromanagers and autocrats.

And so, I think the first thing is you have to look in the mirror, and I know that’s really hard because you’re going to say, “It’s not me, it’s them.” But look in the mirror first, and just recognize that you’re probably not going to be able to change that person. So, then you have to take accountability for performance. And the way to do that then is the days of once-a-year reviews, those are gone. Today, people are career nomads.

So, what you need to do is take the initiative and set goals, you really do, because you can’t politic your way to the top. At the end of the day, it’s performance. Performance does matter. Not that there’s no politics because there’s obviously politics, but performance trumps politics. And so, what I would encourage people to do is to take ownership for their own goals and make sure you are continually talking with your boss about what has to get done, “What do I need to do to contribute? What are the tangible goals towards that contribution? How do we measure success? And how can I help the team win?”

Because, at the end of the day, the reality is the boss doesn’t think about you as much as you think about yourself, right? So, you may think a lot about your salary but the boss isn’t going to be thinking about your salary. It’s not that he or she doesn’t care, it’s just that’s not where their mind is going to go. We have almost 10,000 employees. I think a CEO has to care about their employees, their customers, and their shareholders. But am I thinking every second about somebody’s salary? I’m not. It’s not practical. So, start with it’s you and take ownership for performance, and get in a regular dialogue with your boss around performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s so dead on and a good reminder. It’s true. I manage and pay people, and I think about the compensation pretty rarely, maybe it’s like, “Huh, they’re doing a great job and it’s approaching the end of the year, I want to make sure they don’t leave me.” So, that’s about the extent. It’s that question, it’s like, “Hey, yeah, they’re doing great. I want to make sure they don’t leave. Here we go.”  There you have it. So, that’s a nice reality check for you.

And, yes, I totally am with you that you gotta have those regular ongoing maybe reconnections associated with what’s most important right now, what are we trying to achieve, how are we measuring it, how do we win, and not, I guess, taking anything for granted. Maybe, I guess, the alternative to that might be doing whatever lands in your inbox, just doing that as opposed to these critical goals that we’ve agreed to.

Gary Burnison
Well, you can’t teach hustle. And I will take hustle over pedigree any day. And so, what you’re alluding to is people that have hustle. And so, I would have a bias that I would much rather hire somebody who did not have the pedigree, didn’t have the family name, didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but is hungry. You just can’t teach hunger. And I love that. And I think what you’re saying is get it done. Like, just do it. Take initiative. Yeah, absolutely, that’s actually better than the whole performance goal thing. That’s absolutely the way to do it. But then you’ve got to make sure that you are getting recognized for that and that you’re not just doing somebody else’s work.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. I also want to get your take on you’ve got a chapter called “Let’s Have A Meeting – Why They’re All Meaningless.” So, a bold stance. Tell us about this.

Gary Burnison
Oh, it’s a joke. You know, so many times today, the strategic response to any question is, “Let’s have a meeting. Let’s get together and talk about it.” It seems like it’s the response to every problem. And I think, look, there’s a number of problems with meetings. Number one is that people, they’re on stage, and so they’re performances many, many times, and they’re not real, they’re not authentic. And it’s amazing how the dynamic changes when you have two people versus four people versus six people versus ten people, and also how the dynamic changes whether there’s a boss there or not.

And so, ultimately, you defer to the most senior person in that meeting. And are you really going to say what’s on your mind? Are you really going to say the truth? And so, I just find them to be a little bit make-believe. We all remember in college we had these group projects, and some of my kids are college today, everybody dreads those, right, those kind of peer-to-peer group projects, “And who’s going to take initiative? And who’s going to speak out? Who’s going to hide behind somebody else’s work?” I just think that people today, it’s not a stage. And, for me, there’s different kinds of meetings. Is it an information meeting? Is it decision-taking? Is it discovery? Is it brainstorming? Like, what is the purpose? What are you trying to get out of this thing?

And the other thing I’m a big, big believer in is whatever time you give somebody, they’re going to take up that time. And so, when it comes to a meeting, I’ve got the 45-minute rule. Anything after that, unless you’re brainstorming, unless you’re doing blue-sky thinking, it’s not productive at all.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s a fun coincidence that our appointment is exactly 45 minutes today.

Gary Burnison
Look, I believe in collective genius, and I think that people are smarter together than apart. I’m a huge, huge believer. So, the meeting can be absolutely incredible if the right stage is set. And so, what I mean by that is people are free to speak their mind. What I’ve found, being a CEO now for a long time, is that generally people don’t have freedom of speech unless they have economic security. And so, to create that environment where people can speak the truth and people can speak their feelings, and that constructive conflict can be turned into collective genius, I love constructive conflict. But you have to have the right orchestrator so that it turns itself into collective genius.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, well, that’s really thought-provoking, the notion that you’re not really speaking your mind unless you have the economic freedom. I guess that’s true in the sense of, well, I guess they talk about the, “F you, money.” It’s like if you’ve got that in the bank, then it’s sort of like, “I’m just going to tell you what I think. Worst-case scenario, you fire me and that’s no big deal.” So, I can hear that that resonates. So, then if you are kind of working with managing folks who they’re not quite paycheck-to-paycheck maybe but they sure do need the job, how can we facilitate that psychological safety knowing that they do still want to hold onto that job?

Gary Burnison
Well, as a boss, you can’t have retribution. If your actions don’t mirror your words, then it’s never going to happen. So, as the boss, you have to ensure that there really is a safe zone, and that that is absolutely reinforced every single day. We had a funny story recently, I mean, it’s kind of sad-funny, however you want to look at it. But we were interviewing an executive, and the company was looking for a new leader and they wanted this person. They really thought they wanted somebody who was collaborative.

And so, we were interviewing this executive, and so the interviewer asked, “So, give me an example of how you collaborate.” And he said, “Well, look, it’s easy. We have a meeting and we go around the table, and we either give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the idea.” And the interviewer said, “So, how do you exactly do that?” And he said, “Well, it’s simple. I, first, give my view on, ‘Okay, this is a bad idea or a good idea,’ so I say thumbs down.” And the interviewer said, “So, you go first. So, how does that really work?” And the executive says, “Well, we have complete alignment.” Go figure, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Everybody agrees with you.

Gary Burnison
“Everybody agrees with me.” Needless to say, this person did not get the job. So, as the boss, you have to make it real and you have to set the tone. And, as the coworker, what you can’t do is take things so personally that you start spreading all sorts of news at the water cooler. You just can’t do that. That turns into a very cancerous environment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Next bit, you mentioned the top 20 must haves for career development in your book, and that’s a lot. So, can you give us the top, top two?

Gary Burnison
Number one is humility and the second is self-awareness. And I say those two because those are the starters. Without those, the other hundred things will never happen, because, again, your performance is not just absolute, it’s relative. So, this distance between one and two is not constant. You have to improve yourself. Well, if you don’t have humility, then you’re never going to be self-aware, so you have to have enough humility to be able to look in the mirror and say, “What do I need to improve on?” like any great athlete does. Those are absolutely, you have to have those two, because without those two, it’ll be the exception rather than the rule in terms of making more money, getting those promotions, advancing, and all that.

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

Gary Burnison
I think that I’ve just been shocked, whether you’re in the boardroom or you’re starting out of college, you’re starting out in your career, that you don’t treat your career like your health. And what I mean by that is if I told somebody, “Listen, you’re going to have a heart attack in nine months,” I guarantee you, this afternoon you would change things. You would start juicing it, you’d start eating oats, you’d start walking, you’d start running. You would do all sorts of things. You’d go to different kinds of doctors. Like, you would hop all over that.

Well, when it comes to your career, I think people are just complacent and they’re clueless, and they have this view that they’re going to be plucked out of the seat, that somebody is going to come to them with this great opportunity. That is not going to happen. And, today, we’re in a world of career nomads where, I believe, people coming out of college, Korn Ferry would suggest you’re going to work for 25 or 30 different employers.

And so, people are staying for two, two and a half, three years, and they’re moving on. They’re parlaying. They’re taking skills and they’re parlaying. They’re parlaying for more responsibility, they’re parlaying for more money, they’re parlaying to learn more. And so, I think you’ve got to treat your career like you would your health. And I really do believe, I would look at it and say, “Hey, I think I’m going to get fired in nine months. I think the company is going to get acquired. What would I do differently today?”

And what you would do differently is not just sitting with your computer pretending you were Hemingway with your resume and trying to find the right verb. That is the wrong thing to do. What you would do is you would think about where you want to go, and you would start to network, and you would target those places where you think you can really make a difference. That’s what you would actually do. And it’s bothered me that this just-in-time networking, like, something bad happens, your company gets acquired, your boss leaves, all of this stuff happens and people aren’t prepared. And so, you’ve got to treat your career like your health, and be proactive, and don’t just wait for the heart attack to update your resume. Actually, do something before.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gary Burnison
What’s always on my mind is, “You’ve got to believe to achieve.” And I think that I’ve just found that, and I don’t know if that’s something that I came up with or I read, but that’s on my mind all the time. And there’s another one that’s on my mind all the time, and that’s, “Fail fast and learn faster.” And so, most people are scared of failure, but the reality is that’s how we learn. Whether we like it or not, we learn through failure. And you have to try things. You have to take risks in life if you want to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say “You’ve got to believe to achieve,” can you unpack what that means in practice for a career?

Gary Burnison
You have to believe in yourself. You have to have that inner confidence. And so, if you’re the CEO, like myself, I think the most important thing is purpose. In other words, most CEOs, they think about the what, and the how, and the where, but they don’t think about the why. And the why is the most important thing, I think, in business. The why is, “Why are you in business?” And so, I call that purpose. For me, as a CEO, what I have to believe is I have to believe in purpose. I have to believe in our purpose.

Because if I can authentically represent that to 10,000 people, people will get behind that.

For an individual, I would say that you have to believe in yourself. Without that, it is going to be very, very hard to advance. And that’s why it’s so important that when you think about the next job and a career, who’s your mentor going to be? Because, yes, you can believe in yourself, and I tell you, it’s a lot easier to believe in yourself if others believe in you. Both have to happen.

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

Gary Burnison
Well, it’s a book that I think is 20 years old, but Who Moved My Cheese? It has a strange title. It’s actually a very motivational book, it’s a very simple book. And the concept, which is so appropriate for today, is around change. And so, this view of trying to make tomorrow different than today, of having this insatiable curiosity for learning and for change, and not accepting the status quo, and not falling into the den of complacency is what that book’s all about. And I think that is more important today than ever.

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

Gary Burnison
I spend probably an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half at night with nobody, around reading. And so, all the apps that I would have are all around news. And I found that it’s kind of a reflective time, and it’s a time to kind of be in the world, and to understand what’s happening around you, and to make your world bigger. And so, I do that religiously every single day.

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

Gary Burnison
Make people feel better after than before. And so, I will get that, people will say that jokingly, they’ll say it seriously to me. I think you should set that as a goal. Any human being, but particularly in the workplace, and particularly if you’re a manager, and for sure if you’re a boss, that with every interaction of an employee, “Do they feel better after than before?”

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

Gary Burnison
Well, I’d take a look at the new book. It’s just simply called Advance, and you could get it on Amazon. And we actually have a new business Korn Ferry Advance that is all around trying to change people’s lives, trying to help them in their careers. We’ve got interviewing tools, we’ve got resume tools. It’s really the whole thing trying to change people’s lives and their professional careers for the better.

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

Gary Burnison
Boy, you want to wake up without the alarm clock. And if you’re not waking up without the alarm clock, you need to make a change. But that change needs to be well thought out.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gary, this has been a treat once again. I wish you and Korn Ferry all the luck and success in your adventures.

Gary Burnison
Great hearing your voice again. And thank you very much for your time.

549: Who Gets Raises and Promotions? Rick Gillis Reveals the Metric that Predicts our Fate

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Rick Gillis says: "Your work does not speak for itself. You do."

Rick Gillis shares how knowing and improving your “quotient” can help you get raises and promotions at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The factor that determines your compensation at work
  2. How to speak up for your work to your boss
  3. The perfect time to bring up your accomplishments

About Rick:

Rick Gillis is a speaker, author, and personal career advisor. He has spent over two decades writing books and sharing techniques to manage and maximize careers across the country. He is the founder of the Richard Gillis Company, LLC which provides training and career coaching to help job seekers land the best possible position at the highest possible pay.

Rick has appeared on several media outlets like Forbes.com, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal. Rick and his wife, Mary, live in Texas where he spends his free time riding along the Texas gulf coast on his Harley or in his music room and art studio.

Items Mentioned in the Show

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Rick Gillis Interview Transcript

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

Rick Gillis
You bet, Pete. Thank you very much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I think we need to hear a little about you and Harley Davidson motorcycles. What’s the story here?

Rick Gillis
Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s funny, I had a friend of mine one time say, “Gillis, I didn’t know you’re a biker,” and I said, “I’m not a biker. I just ride a bike.” And I do. I have a Harley, it’s a 2006 model, I’ve been riding for years, and I live south of Houston so it’s literally 54-mile straight shot to the Gold Coast, so that’s kind of my riding. I don’t do traffic ridings. Saturday, Sundays, get out on the highway, that’s what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds fun, and so you don’t have any family that tries to curtail those adventures. I don’t think my wife would go for that if I told her, “Yeah, I’m learning to Harley now.”

Rick Gillis
Now, that I’m old enough, I got back into it. I gave up riding motorcycles when, I don’t even remember now, 17, 18 after dropping two or three of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Rick Gillis
And I’ve only had this bike for, I don’t know, 10, 12 years. Like I said, I ride by myself, I go down two-lane highways, very little traffic, yeah, I’m not tough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ll get no judgment from me. My wife is a safety enthusiast and motorcycles are probably not in my cards.

Rick Gillis
No, I appreciate that. I really do. They’re dangerous, there’s no question, because I have to drive for everybody when I’m on the road.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. All right. Well, so good to know to get a little background there. You’ve invented an interesting concept called the quotient. Can you, first of all, define that and tell us why professionals might care about it?

Rick Gillis
Well, I’ll tell you what, now we’re not sharing this with anybody, right? This is just between you and me.

Pete Mockaitis
I make no representations of that.

Rick Gillis
Let me tell you what, Pete, the quotient was an epiphany I had literally just over two years ago, and I knew it was developing, and it came out of working with job search, job seekers for so long. I did it for 20 some odd years. And I was literally riding my bicycle, not my bike, in the neighborhood and, all of a sudden, it struck me what this was. And let me tell you, like I said, just between you and me, this quotient thing is really a very rich new powerful concept and I maintain it’s going to be able to resolve the pay disparity issue.

And what it is, it’s kind of like taking from a salesperson’s point of view, which I am and have been for many years, you know, a salesperson knows that if we don’t sell something this month, we don’t have a job next month, and that’s just the way, that’s your mindset. I would like the person who gets a paycheck to start thinking like that because a person who gets a paycheck on Friday, takes off the weekend, comes back on Monday, gets back into the mental mindset of being at work, of producing value. The quotient is exactly this. I take your work contribution, which I spend a lot of time in the book telling the non-salesperson how to determine the value of their contribution to their employer.

Pete Mockaitis
In dollars.

Rick Gillis
In dollars.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the unit we’re working with, or Euro as the case maybe to our European friends listening.

Rick Gillis
Right, exactly. It could be any. But you take the value of your contribution to your employer and you divide that by your base pay. Now, note, it’s not your net, it’s your base pay. And so, what happens, that creates the quotient. So, let’s say, for example, you work for me, and whether you have read the book and have figured out how to do this, or if I’m doing it for you, or mutually, we determined that you have raised, you generated $250,000 in value this year for my company, and I pay you $50,000 a year. So, $250,000 divided by 50,000, your quotient equals 5, which means that you’re a good employee, you generated five times more than I paid you so there’s value there.

But, now, let’s go a little further, because, let’s say I’m a male working with an equally-skilled female, my quotient this year was a 9, hers is like, say, a 23, but I get the promotion and the raise and the bonus. Is that a legal standard? It’s been suggested to me by some very knowledgeable people that it could be a legal standard. And when you consider the possibilities, and I got to tell you, Pete, this is an epiphany I had the fourth draft of the book, I’m about three months away from finishing the book, and I had been writing with the mindset all along of equal pay for equal work.

I even had to look up where that came from, and that’s 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, so I didn’t know where it had come from. And, all of a sudden, it struck me that’s not what this is about. This is not about equal pay for equal work because that’s really hard to define. How many people do exactly the same thing? But if we instead say that this is the proper pay for the best performance, that takes discrimination out of the discussion. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, old, young, any reason for discrimination goes out the window when you pay the best person who performs the best. That’s really what the quotient is.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, that sounds like a beautiful vision and world there in which compensation is indeed proportionate to your contribution. That sounds fair and equitable and just. And for those who are awesome at their jobs and inspired to be more awesome at their jobs, it sounds tasty and lucrative, so we like that. Thank you.

Rick Gillis
Well, I appreciate that, and I say that because this is the motivated individual that’s going to use this. The person that’s really okay with things or has no motivation, see, I’ve actually got three levels of quotient. One is the quotient of 1, and that is when, let’s say, I’m paying you $35,000 a year to be a delivery driver for me, and you do a very good job. I’m perfectly happy. But a business cannot operate on quotients of 1. We need quotients of +5, +35, +3,000, it depends, so there’s a lot of different thought that goes into this, and there’s also the quotient of less than 1, which can be bad but it depends also on the person.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, there’s a lot here. And I think just conceptually thinking about things in this way is helpful already in terms of, okay, I think in sales, or fundraising if you’re a director for development for nonprofit, then it’s pretty clear. It’s like, “Okay, I see. I know what they pay me, and I know what I brought in, and I can see that I am very profitable, or I’m very not profitable for my organization, and that can indicate I’m likely to be promoted, or get a raise, or to be exited in the near future.”

So, now the game gets a lot more intricate when your value or contribution is not so readily quantified in terms of dollar sales brought in. So, can you help us, maybe give us some examples of how do I think through that in terms of, “I am a program manager, or I am an engineer, how do I kind of get after what my contribution is in currency?”

Rick Gillis
Well, fundamentally, first of all, there’s two ways that you bring value to an organization. You either make money or you save the organization money. That’s it right there. So, most people in a company do not deliver revenue, they actually save money, so it’s a matter of being efficient.
The fact is efficiencies, saving of money, doing your job better than somebody else, and I have, throughout the book, I have 14 Q studies and, of course, that came from “The Quotient,” so I call them Q studies, and they are real people I’ve worked with over the many years, helping them get ahead, because I found a lot of people could tell me what they had done. They could not tell me what that translated to in value. And, candidly, this was a lot of 50+ year old men who had crazy good jobs, who I think got lazy, complacent, and, all of a sudden, they weren’t realizing they were not generating the appropriate value for their payrate, and they got pink slips.

And so, when I talked to them, almost across the board, I would find that they could tell me what they did, they could tell me what that value was, and I actually have a chapter in the book called The Earning Curve where your earnings continue to go higher, your personal earnings, tend to go up and up and up, but the value you’re bringing to the company starts crossing down. And when those two axes cross each other, you’re the problem now because you’re no longer developing or generating the value you should be generating.

So, in my case studies, I have several examples of people from an executive assistant to a bank VP, I even have my own personal story in the book, which I didn’t even realize…by the way, I don’t have anybody’s real name in there so if anybody hears this and goes to the book, when you read Brad’s story, that’s actually Rick, me, so I changed everybody’s name in the book. But I did a deal when I was in the real estate business, and this was about 10 years after the fact that I remembered this. I had created a commercial-lease document that saved my company some $26 odd million.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

Rick Gillis
Yeah, and that was a big deal. Now, I was in the business of managing properties, selling space, preparing that space, build out, maintaining the grounds, so I was a general manager. I had 14 buildings on 20 acres that I was responsible for. And I’ll tell you the story and I’ll keep it as brief as I can. One morning I got served by a Texas sheriff, And I got sued by a realtor that said that I owed him $8,000 on a deal that I said, “No, I did the renewal. You’re not entitled.” So, I went looking into the original lease file that my predecessor had done, and I saw that, by damn, they had agreed in handwriting that I had missed it, it was my mistake, that he would be paid on all lease renewals.

So, I called my boss and I said, “Send me a cheque for $8,000.” We had 26 office parks across the nation so it was a big company. He sends me a cheque for $8,000, I paid it, I paid the realtor, I went back to the office, and I told my secretary, “Gaye, you and I are going to go through every lease, and we’re going to put a cover sheet, and we’re going to note any anomalies that happened in these leases so this will never happen again.”

A few months later, my boss comes to town and he’s looking through some of the leases, and he goes, “What’s this cover sheet?” Well, long story short, I had solved a problem that I didn’t even realize was national. He took it back to corporate, and we had 26 office parks, so about three months later I had 25 general managers really upset with me because they had to do what I had done, but I saved the company an enormous amount of money in legal.

Now, I maintain, Pete, and I know this might be a little la, la, but I maintain that people regularly do good things above and beyond their regular daily job that they’re not aware of, they don’t watch out for this, I missed my own and I was a sales guy. So, ten years later, I was working with a client on the phone when, all of a sudden, I remembered this. I went to my whiteboard, wrote it down, and now it’s a story in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, that is a fine example. So, that was outside your daily kind of your day job in terms of like your day-to-day normal recurring responsibilities, that you found something, you got proactive to make sure it didn’t happen again. And then when you shared that and it gets extrapolated over broader-based properties, it really adds up in terms of we would pay lawyers or whomever this much money to make that happen. So, that’s interesting. There’s a specific source of savings there, like legal fees not spent, that you can determine based on, I guess if you know, just how many hours legal work versus their hourly rate.

Rick Gillis
Well, I’ll tell you what, that’s an excellent point because, the fact is, the company has been out of business. It was acquired many, many years ago, so I didn’t have a source to go back and get hard numbers. So, one of the things that I’ve developed along this line is what I call the defensible statement. And that is if you walk in and tell me, let’s say I’m hiring a sales guy, and you tell me you sold a billion dollars or something last year, you better be able to prove it, you better have it in writing. But if you came to me and I’m used to doing million-dollar deals, half million-dollar deals, and you tell me that last year you did a million dollars, I’ll take that, I’ll accept it, we’ll question it, we’ll talk about it, give me some head up.

So, the defensible statement is a really important component to this. I did not have any hard numbers, it was well over ten years after the fact, I went and took, which if I was interviewing with a commercial real estate firm, and I told them that I saved 1% of my gross revenue annually by not having to spend these thousands of dollars in covering mistakes, and I had a little bit more information for this. I had the smallest office park in El Paso of the entire nation. I had 400,000 net rentable square feet. Some of the bigger guys in Miami, Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, and Atlanta, they had like two million square feet.

So, using my numbers and taking 1% of my gross revenue and multiplying that out, that comes to like $26,000 based on what I was supposed to be generating gross revenue at that time. And then I multiplied that out times 26 office parks, keeping in mind that I used my office park, which was the smallest venue, and took that across. My point is it’s very defensible, so you got be careful, you got to keep that in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re super conservative there. It’s like at least this amount but probably much more.

Rick Gillis
But I’m comfortable saying more, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
If I may, how did we arrive at the 1%?

Rick Gillis
I figured 1%, at the time I was quoting $12 a square foot per space, I had 400,000 net rentable, so $12 times…it was $4,800,000 times 1%, I came down to where I was about $26,000, I think, I saved annually, or something. And then I multiplied that out times the 26 office parks because it was of benefit to the entire organization. So, that’s exactly how I extracted that number.

But let me give you another, for instance, because this is not all about just big-money players. One of the stories in “The Quotient” is a woman, a friend of mine, who is an executive assistant. A matter of fact, right now, she’s making about $84,000-$86,000 a year, and we were talking recently, and I told her, I said, “Certainly, there’s somewhere you have saved some money for your organization.” I mean, she’s the executive assistant to the CEO so right there she’s worth more than just another administrative assistant.

But she told me that one day she had been assigned to review some contracts, and she found $77,000 of unclaimed discounts that the person who was doing the job was supposed to have been doing, had not claimed it. This was one eight-hour day she achieved the $77,000 gain. And I told her, I said, “I know you’re not being paid $77,000 a month,” because, like I said, she’s making $86,000 a year. So, in that one instant, she had a value, a savings, that she could share that was above and beyond, and people do this stuff all the time. I really believe that, Pete. I really do.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Okay. So, you get after your value by any number of things, think about that, the money that you brought in or the money that you saved, and then you might need a little bit of help with Excel or Google Sheets to say, “Hey, what’s the value and what’s the parameter, and then why did I make…why did I say that’s the number? And here’s why it’s conservative.” So, it might just be three to ten lines of Excel, but that’s fine, to sort of make that defensible statement.

So, okay, we’re getting out the contribution side of things and your payment you know. So, then these numbers, sometimes you said 5, 35, 3,000, I mean, boy, what’s a good quotient? And what level of quotient makes you say, “Hey, I can probably get a raise now”?

Rick Gillis
I’ll tell you, that’s exactly based on, entirely based on what you do. Like I said, the quotient of equal 1, a Q1 is the person who’s doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing but a company can’t work on that. If somebody is hiring a coder, and they’re going to try to take on, let’s just say Facebook, their quotient might be a thousand to one, “Let’s pay this person $350,000, bonus, etc., options.” That person needs to deliver, at minimum, $3.5 million annually to be a quotient of 1, if you want to baseline all the positions in your company, which you can do if you want to get everybody down to a Q of 1. In other words, that is what that person would be required to deliver before they’d even can see a bonus or something like that. So, there’s lots of different ways to figure this.

And let me tell you another thing too, Pete, that’s really pretty fascinating. I’m not an MBA, I’m not a Ph.D., this comes from just 22 years of working with people and seeing these different kinds of values developing. I really had to stop and think about this from the employee’s point of view, from a manager’s point of view, from a regional’s point of view, see, because you can use the quotient across branch, division, department, you can use it in all. It works all across these different levels. And I’m not saying the controllers don’t already know this stuff. I do understand that. But I think there’s a need here for two things to happen.

Number one, the worker to embrace this and recognize what they’re doing, and also for the employer to understand that if they get somebody who’s more engaged and owns this, they’re going to be a better, more motivated, more engaged worker, and this thing is a double-edged sword. It also cuts the other way, and you get to find out the people who really aren’t carrying their weight because, too often, especially in the big companies, they’re working with a pool of people and it’s kind of like, “Let’s don’t rock the boat, let’s don’t shake things up.”

But, now, what is important to this discussion is that the individual is responsible for pointing out their wins. A company is not responsible. Your company is not required to point out when you have a really big win. For instance, when I discovered and saved my real estate company all that money, it was not their responsibility. Their responsibility to me was to pay me fairly, pay me what we agreed on, pay my, etc. my healthcare, whatever. But that’s it. If I do anything extraordinary, good for the company. That’s to their benefit.

But when I think back on this, and I saved the company millions of dollars, it would’ve been neat, it would’ve been smarter of me had I been able to go to annual review, annual end of your…and say, “Look, I did this. I’m worth a bonus. I’m worth a promotion. I’m worth something, a raise,” and that’s where I think the motivated individual who goes to their supervisor, and/or supervisors, I always strongly recommend you don’t just share this information with your boss but your boss’ boss, and her boss as well, because everybody should know you are an up-and-comer, you’re motivated, you’re engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, you get some great achievements and hopefully they amount to your whole bunch of value and contribution. And so then, part of the game is quantifying that, capturing that, communicating that. And then, yeah, what are some of the best practices for sharing your accomplishments in a way that is not obnoxious and can get you some benefits?

Rick Gillis
Good question. Let me tell you what. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of people who are not comfortable with this. We’re taught not to brag, and I appreciate that. There’s no question, that’s really, really important. But bragging and boasting is not the same as informing and sharing those with you. Let’s say, for instance, you hop in the elevator and it’s you and the CEO, and that does happen to some people. What are you going to say? You have an opportunity to express your value to somebody who can really make an impact on your life, and you say, “Hey, grand weather we’re having today, isn’t it?” Well, you’ve just lost an opportunity.

So, one of the things that I’m about, and I do promote this in the book, you have to be continuously working these, you have to be continuously thinking these things, and you should always have one ready, I’m not joking, rehearsal ready, that you can say, “Hey, Mr. CEO, it’s really nice to see you. How are you today?” “Great. What’s going on?” “Well, I’d like you to know about this commercial-lease document I just created that saved the company, I think, on the order of several million dollars.” When you tell somebody that, first of all, they have been in your place, they do appreciate it. I maintain strongly that supervision, your immediate boss maybe not so much, but above and beyond that, really likes to hear wins, and that’s a fair thing that you can have something available that you could share with the CEO or somebody else.

Once again, I’m going to go back to the same place where this is for the motivated individual who’s going to study this, watch it, because one of the things that is going on, and as a salesperson, a sales professional is always doing this and always thinking about, “If I close this deal, if I close that deal, if I close this other deal, these create different revenue  streams, and etc.” But the person who is working the regular job, who’s only focused on that one thing, does other things and they really need to be thinking about the possibility that there could be quotients for their regular work, and there could be more than one or two or three of those, plus there can be those quotients for any value they create above and beyond what is requested of them to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, maybe can you share with us one of your Q studies, sort of a fun story of a professional who used this concept, ran with it, and found themselves with a whole lot more money as a result?

Rick Gillis
So, the Q studies come out of real people I have worked with in the past who landed very good jobs as a result of my helping them in their job search, but I went back to them, after the fact, in other words, I went through my files and I found, “Here’s Jeff, and here’s Hannah, and here’s whoever,” and I called them up and I said, “Hey, I’d like to use your story in this new book. Can you tell me what you were making at that time when you achieved this?”

See, where this came from, Pete, the secret sauce in my working with job seekers is, it was not negotiable, I required them to put together an accomplishments inventory. This requirement of providing me eight to ten very best accomplishments, I didn’t need to know the who, what, where, when, why and how behind each one, and so these people would prepare me 8, 10, 12, 15 pages of these things.

And I remember one chemical engineer, this woman I worked with, she handed me 18 pages, handwritten, of accomplishments, and she handed me this whole pile, and I glanced at the first one, I handed it to her, and I glanced at the next one, I handed it to her, and she got upset with me, she said, “You mean you’re not going to read those?” And I said, “No, that wasn’t for me. I don’t even speak chemical engineering. That was for you to prepare you for the interview, and now we have the information, the ammunition to create your resume, now we’re ready to set you out and get you working.”

And so, I did this with everybody, and anybody would not accept that they had to put together an accomplishments inventory for me, I didn’t accept them as a client. So, that has always been my secret sauce, and when these people get to interview, they’re absolutely ready. So, I went back and I took some of those accomplishment statements from different people, and I called them up and I said, “What were you making at that time?” And I was able to, and once again, this is really important to the Q studies, I had to use workarounds.

For instance, I had to use the dollar amount for this one guy who’s a construction supervisor, where he was able to build a bridge. It was a gigantic piece of cement they had laid for a construction, and he found that he was losing, literally at the rate of five to seven minutes a day, some 1200 workers having to walk all around this big monolith they had built.

So, he took it upon himself to build a bridge. He just had a bunch of aluminum and steel, and he fabricated a bridge that took these people straight across instead of going around, saved five, six, seven minutes, but these people were making on the order of $40+ an hour. And when you multiply that $40 times take out to get the minute rate, multiply that times how many dollars are out there or how many people were working, and all of a sudden, this guy was starting to save some real money.

And, at the time, he was making, I don’t remember exactly right now, but he was making on the order of $48 to $50 an hour, so I can take his hourly rate and see that he saved all these minutes when we divide that by 60 minutes, we get lots of hours, and then we’re able to divide that by that total by what he was making, and we do come up with good, reasonable, defensible quotient for my client.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so then, he got a promotion or a raise as a result of this?

Rick Gillis
Actually, he left and he’s now reporting to the CEO with one of the biggest energy…one of the biggest electric-generating companies in the United States. And, yeah, I’ll tell you what, I’m going to slap myself on the back for this one because he actually took my accomplishments kind of concept and he’s now the director of best practices for this very, very large utility in the United States. And so, he took what I showed him, what I taught him, and took it and made it even better for himself. So, yeah, I’m really proud of him.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Okay. So, then a real part of that is making sure that when you do that great stuff, you take a moment to capture it and quantify it. And then when it comes to conveying it, do you have any pro tips and do’s and don’ts for asking for some of that value you created to come back to you?

Rick Gillis
Yeah, and I tell you what, I think this really comes down to the annual performance review. I think one of the things that I want for performance reviews to become, and, by the way, I do have a model for a quotient-based performance review in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so once you’ve identified this value, how do you go and ask for it?

Rick Gillis
The fact is I think that annual reviews should be more objective than subjective. What that does, that puts the onus on the worker, the person who’s reporting, to walk in with this information and be able to share it and show it. And so, once again, I go back to the place where this has to be the motivated worker.

And, by the way, this keeping, having a source of keeping your accomplishments in front of you, it’s called your calendar. I can go back and look in my daily calendar, and go back several months, and I can see where I started working with X client who is now a senior vice president at such and such. And those are a value to me because I don’t have a hard dollar value because I don’t claim their salary. They pay me but I am very proud of the fact that that person back in the workforce is now buying a home and buying cars and sending their kids to school and spending that income to the good of the economy.

The annual performance review is when you need to go in and it needs to be a two-way conversation as opposed to the set your goals at the beginning of the year, review your goals in the middle of the year, and at the end of the year, take what your boss is going to tell you. One of the things that I say is do not assume that your immediate supervisor knows exactly what you do. I consider that tragic career mistake number one, and that’s also why I say don’t ever be afraid or ashamed of sharing your wins with your immediate supervisor and her boss and his boss and her boss, because up and down the line protects you in the sense that, number one, your boss may be very, very subjective and really run you into the ground and maybe you’re that quiet person that’s not good at defending themselves. Or the other side of that is when his or her supervisors know about you, and they turn in a subpar appraisal, maybe they’re going to modify some things
So, yes, there’s a little bit of politics in here but, mostly, I think it’s about being appropriate, and that’s a very big term for me, is being appropriate, no bragging, no boasting. And for the person who does not know how to do this, you can practice with your friends, practice with your coworkers. And let me say something about coworkers while I’m there. This is not about team. This is about I, me, and mine. This is always about yourself, because if you were part of a team, just like you would in a resume, bring out what your contribution was to the group. Don’t focus on what the big win was for the team.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like the example you made with the CEO in the elevator. It’s less like, “Oh, aren’t I amazing because of all of these things?” It’s just sort of like when that question naturally comes up, “Hey, what have you been up to? What have you been working on? What’s new?” you can tell them, and you maybe have some enthusiasm, and not so much that you’re awesome, but rather that this was kind of exciting that you captured an opportunity. It’s like, “Well, one interesting thing was, in reviewing our leases, we discovered this which can result in just about $26 million.” And then they go, “Oh, cool. Duly noted.”

Rick Gillis
You know, Pete, what I call this is the what and wow. I have a formula that is when you give me a list of your accomplishments, and I take one of them, I reduce each accomplishment down to “Responsible for blank that resulted in blank” and I call that the what and the wow, “Responsible for what that resulted in wow.” So, for instance, for me to tell you, to go back to my real estate win, is to say, “I was responsible for creating a commercial-lease document that resulted in the savings of the company of about $26 million.” The person hearing this, in their head they’re going, “Whoa! Wow!”

So, what they really are thinking though is, “If you did that for them, can you do that for me?” And that’s when you need to be able to discuss the who, what, where, when, how and why because they’re going to ask you, “How did you do that?” And when somebody says, “How did you do that?” they really don’t care about so much how you did it, but, “Can you do it for me?” And that also applies within companies, within branches, within departments within companies, hey, people are rating employees all the time within companies. So, they’re responsible for what that resulted in wow, that is a formula, and that’s very apparent in the quotient.

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

Rick Gillis
No. I’ll tell you what, that’s funny you say that because, and I hold on, and I even did homework for you, buddy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you. So, tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Rick Gillis
Well, I’ll tell you what, my favorite quote comes from movie. And I don’t know if you know the movie. It’s about Alan Turing, World War II.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, I did see that.

Rick Gillis
“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine who do the things no one can imagine.” I use that in my presentations because I want everybody to know that they do have value and they are special. Now, one thing about that quote, I was so taken with it that I actually Googled it and I found that this guy who wrote the book about Alan Turing, I reached out to him in England, and he was just cranky as hell. He said, “I didn’t write that. Some scriptwriter wrote it.” And I went, “Okay, then I won’t give you credit.” And that’s why I tell people it’s from “The Imagination Game” movie, Alan Turing did not say that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny.

Rick Gillis
Yeah, but it’s a great quote.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. And a favorite book?

Rick Gillis
But I’ll tell you one of my favorites, by Lou Adler. He wrote a book called “The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired,” and it’s a really smart book for job seekers. And the reason is he wrote it for staffing companies, recruiters, how to hire. And then, after each chapter, he tells the job seeker how to use that same information to their benefit. And Lou Adler, he’s a great guy, very smart.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Rick Gillis
My favorite habit would be on LinkedIn, and this is LinkedIn-specific, I try to respond to every request to connect with a personal note. And it doesn’t always generate a conversation, but quite often it does, so that’s my personal practice because I’m very aggressive.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and is quoted back to you often?

Rick Gillis
Yeah. Well, it’s the subtitle. It kind of became the subtitle to the book, and that’s “The proper pay for the best performance.” Equal pay for equal work, I just don’t agree with that anymore, now that I’ve really thought it through. So, the proper pay for the best performance.

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

Rick Gillis
RickGillis.com, and if they want to either connect with me or follow me on LinkedIn.

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

Rick Gillis
Yes. Your work does not speak for itself. You do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Rick, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck with your motorcycle adventures, and working with folks, and making the biggest impact you’re making.

Rick Gillis
Pete, thank you very much for having me. I appreciate your questions and I can tell you could go a lot deeper on this than I can. You’re the bomb, dude.

531: How to Differentiate Yourself to Get Promoted with Stan Silverman

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"That's really the only way to be successful long term, you have to take risks... and try something new and different."

Stan Silverman discusses how being different and taking risks pays off for your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why failing is the first step to achieving more at work
  2. How to take calculated risks that win at work
  3. Why and how to break policy

About Stan:

Stan Silverman is the founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is also a speaker, advisor, and the author of Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success. He is a nationally syndicated writer on the topics of leadership, entrepreneurship, and corporate governance, writing for several publications such as the Philadelphia Business Journal.  

Silverman has served on several public, private, private equity and nonprofit boards and currently sits as the vice-chairman of the board of trustees at Drexel University. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University.  He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

Items mentioned in the show

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Stan Silverman Interview Transcript

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

Stan Silverman
Well, Pete, thanks for inviting me. I look forward to our discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m looking forward to it as well. And you’ve got a pretty unique story, well, maybe for nowadays. But I want to hear the scoop. First of all, so you had 11 separate roles at PQ Corporation and ended at the top, so that’s pretty cool. We’ll dig into some of that. But, I guess, I want to know first, what led you to stick with one organization for such a long duration in your career?

Stan Silverman
Well, I never intended to stay with PQ for so long but I kept on getting promoted. And the hierarchy above me was very, very supportive of what I was doing and it was just a great company to work for. And so, I stayed through 11 jobs, including a stint in Canada as president of National Silicates Ltd, PQ’s Canadian subsidiary, came back as president of PQ’s worldwide industrial chemicals group, became the COO of the company and then, eventually, the CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’d love to dig into some particular moments in which you did some things that were differentiated and noteworthy such that you were the one they picked for the promotion. So, maybe we can go back in time and let’s start semi-chronologically in terms of towards can you maybe orient us to sort of what was your role, what was your set of responsibilities, and how did you win promotion again and again?

Stan Silverman
Well, thanks for allowing me to go through some history here. So, as I look back on my career at PQ, I did a lot of firsts. I was the first one at the company to use a computer to solve an engineering problem and a finance problem versus just pushing numbers around through the accounting system. And so, way back then, and a lot of our listeners are much too young to remember this but we did a lot of work with time sharing, so we access a mainframe computer that was remote through a teletype machine that did 15 characters per second that we ran at the time on the outside computer. And I was the first one at the company to build a model for doing this kind of cashflow calculations, looking at the financial attractiveness of various projects. And I did this while I was an engineer.

And so, I gravitated from process engineering to looking into the financial attractiveness of the projects I was working on and so that was a first at the company. And from that point, I moved onto production planning, to financial analysis where I was evaluating the various alternatives for placing a plan in this city versus that city, for doing this versus that, and at the time I was getting my MBA at Drexel University at night. And so, I tied in what I was doing at work with my work at the university. I wrote a thesis for my masters’ program which was a Monte Carlo simulation, which looked at various alternatives using probabilistic estimates for inputs into a cashflow analysis. And I was able to test this at PQ on the various projects that we were working on.

And so, gradually, slowly but surely, I moved from an engineering position to a financial analyst position, to my first product manager position at the company where I moved over to the marketing side of the company. I was responsible for three product lines.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s a lot in there I’d love to unpack. And so, well, let’s start with some of these firsts with regard to, so you’re the first to use a computer to solve some of these financial questions using the discounted cashflow analysis. Well, what got into you that made you say, “You know what, this is what I’m going to go do because I think it would probably be more normative for engineers to continue doing their engineering.” But you popped your head up and said, “No, I’m going to check out something different.” How did that come about?

Stan Silverman
Well, I’ve always been curious about things which would allow me to grow and develop my skills in other areas other than engineering. And when I got my chemical engineering degree, I decided that I did not want to rise up through the engineering route because I thought that was too limited. I wanted to follow the business route, and that’s why I got my MBA so that I would be in positions where I would make strategic decisions with respect to the future of my businesses and, eventually, the company rather than building plants for the products that we made.

And it was just an interest in doing that, in making decisions on the strategic side of the business versus the engineering side of the business that pushed me and led me to get my MBA degree. And I’ve always been very curious. I’ve been testing new things, looking at new things, trying out things, and, really, that’s what drove me my entire career is that curiosity. And it really goes way, way back to when I was a teenager. At the age of 12, my dad got me my first chemistry set and I exhausted all the experiments probably within three months, and I got a little bored and I decided that I would try something new. So, I thought it would be really cool if I made gunpowder to pack into a firecracker and set off the firecracker, so I started up on it and learned how to do that with my chemistry set.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds like fun to me.

Stan Silverman
Yeah, it was really a lot of fun but the creative part wasn’t actually formulating the gunpowder. You can look that up anywhere and at the time we didn’t have the internet so, of course, I had to go to a library to do this. But it was actually designing the fuse to set it off so that I wouldn’t blow my hand apart, I decided that I would run wires from my Lionel train transformer to the firecracker that I built and bury these wires with a matchhead inside the powder and then set it off 30 feet away. And, sure enough, it worked.

And so, this is a future engineer at the age of 13 now, basically, in his backyard fooling around with this stuff. And, of course, in today’s world, you can’t possibly do that because you’d have Homeland Security and the local police department all over you for doing this. And so, we’ve really taken some innocence away from kids that just like to play in the basement or in the backyard or in the garage and just kind of tinker with things. And so, that’s kind of a negative to the world that we’re in. We’ve taken some innocence away from our children in terms of allowing them to just roam and develop.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I hear that theme. So, the curiosity, the testing, the exploring, trying out new things. I guess, I’m intrigued because I think that this is common, I’d say, part of the human experience, we’re curious, we want to explore and seek new things. And, yet, I think a lot of folks, in the professional setting, experience some fear or a resistance, internal and/or external, so that they sort of shut those instincts down. How do you observe the ways in which professionals kind of shoot themselves in the foot or prevent themselves from exploring and rising as a result?

Stan Silverman
Well, I think it gets down to a feeling of self-confidence in yourself. I coach and counsel a lot of students right now in my career and, of course, with the launching of my book, sort of my fourth career, which we’ll get into in a little later on in the interview. But one of the things I do is I talk to a lot of students today and I talk to a lot of professionals who are stuck, who don’t like what they’re doing, who want to know what the path is to leave what they’re doing and do something more interesting. And, of course, it’s completely up to them. They have to find their own path.

They have a safety blanket in their current position and in their current role, and for 45 years they just never do anything.

And you go to the other extreme, you have people that are constantly developing themselves, constantly pushing forward, trying things, failing sometimes, and, of course, failure is a normal part of life and we should all get used to that. And as I tell the folks that I counsel“You can feel bad that night but the next morning you get up and get back at it because it’s a new day and a new world, and you have to move forward.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Seth Godin who is a futurist.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Stan Silverman
He wrote a book called “The Icarus Dilemma,” and he writes about Icarus who, of course, is a character in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and fell off his back, and he crashed into the sea. And what Godin says is, “Should’ve Icarus flown lower and safer so he wouldn’t crash into the sea?” And he says, “No, of course not, because it’s actually more dangerous to fly too low than it is to fly too high, because if you fly too low, you’ll never know what you’re made of, and you’ll never deliver the kind of results or contributions to society that society needs.”

And so, I added actually something in my book about that. I also said that if you fly too low and, all of a sudden, your job disappears and technology moves on, and you have to get a new job. If you fly too low, you’ll never know what you’re made of, and it’s harder to get a new job, so fly high, and if you fly too close to the sun and you fail and you crash into the sea, the next morning you get up and fly again.

And that’s what entrepreneurs are taught.  And so, that’s what drives a lot of the comments I make to folks that I coach and counsel.

Pete Mockaitis
But, you know, as you talked about that Icarus metaphor, and we’ve also been talking about finance, my mind is bringing them together as I think about sort of risk-taking and financial investments. Like, if you take no risk and just sort of do what your savings account will do for you, well, then you’re going to kind of crash in the sense of inflation is just sort of taking away your wealth. And so, in essence, in both instances, Icarus, financial investing, and career risk-taking, you have to take some level of risk because none is more dangerous than some.

Stan Silverman
Exactly. And what everybody has to do is learn how to mitigate their risks, so you try to control the risks. And the way you do an investment, of course, investing is that you diversity your portfolio, and so you don’t go after the homeruns every day. You go after the slow and steady. And the slow and steady, by all accounts, and by all the data and all the studies, wins over the long term. So, it’s slow and steady, slow and steady, so you mitigate your risks.

And in business, of course, a lot of people ask me, “Well, what do you mean by mitigating your risks? How do you mitigate risks?” And I always use the example, let’s assume that you’re a manager in your company and you need to make a decision which you have all the authority in the world to make. You don’t have to ask anybody else, you can either make it or not make it. You can go direction A or direction B, it’s up to you. But you feel that it’s risky and you want to mitigate the risk, well, what do you do? Well, you talk to people. You get other people’s opinions. You don’t have to do what they say but you get other people’s opinion so it expands your view of what you may do, or may not do, and you move forward.

A lot of people think that by asking other people their opinion, it’s a weakness. Wrong. It’s a huge strength and you should always be asking people, getting their opinions, getting their input, and you’re going to make the final decision on your own, but at least you have that input. A lot of people don’t realize that when they feel that something is very risky, or even a modicum of risk, and they want to get an opinion, it’s okay to get it. It’s okay to get an opinion before you move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I was just about to ask about some strategies and approaches if you do have some of that fear of failure, you don’t want to let go of your safety blanket, well, I guess one point is just you have to.

Stan Silverman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But, emotionally, there’s still a bridge to cross. How do you suggest folks do it? One is to seek the wisdom of other counsel. What else?

Stan Silverman
Well, you have to fall back on your experience and your critical judgment and common sense. And so, a lot of the decisions we make, we don’t always have all the information we would like to have, we don’t have that information, and you can’t get it or you don’t have time to get it. So, what do we all do? We fall back on our common sense, a good critical judgment. And when we do that, and when we do have good common sense and critical judgment developed over the years through our experiences, because that’s how you get that, we make a lot more right decisions than we make wrong decisions.

And so, that’s just part of life. You’re going to be making decisions without having all the knowledge and all the information you would like. So, let’s flip it around for a moment and let’s assume that you’re the leader of a group, and you have one of your employees, or many of your employees, actually, making decisions, and sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. You have to allow your employees to make mistakes. It’s the only way they’re going to grow and develop.

And one of the prime responsibilities of every leader is to develop future leaders below them. The only way to do that is to tell them what your expectations are and make sure they have the right resources, and cut them loose to do their thing, and sometimes it’s not going to work out, and sometimes it will work out. But if you have good people reporting to you, and you’ve hired people with good common sense and critical judgment, and allow people to develop that common sense and good critical judgment, you’re going to win in the long term. You’ve going to have a lot more wins than you’re going to have losses, and you just have to tolerate that.

So, there are many bosses that won’t allow their people to make mistakes. Those kinds of people you don’t want in your organization if you’re the board or you’re the CEO. You’ve got to get rid of them because you’re not going to go anywhere. You’re just not going to get anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you said common sense and critical judgment, I was just chatting with some folks about how that seems to be not so common. And I would love to get your take on are there any particular decision-making frameworks, tools, key questions, you ask yourself to bring forth more common sense and judgment to situations?

Stan Silverman
Well, let’s take a real-life example. Let’s take Starbucks, for example. They’ve been blasted, they’re really blasted a couple times a year for what the baristas or not do in their cafes, and, of course, the most important one, and the one that had huge ramifications around the world, is the one that occurred in Philadelphia about a year or so ago when the barista, at the Starbucks in Center City, Philadelphia near Rittenhouse Square, ordered two gentlemen to leave because they claim they were waiting for their friend to arrive before they ordered something, and they were just sitting there, and she said, “Well, if you don’t order something, I have to ask you to leave.”

And they didn’t leave, so she called the police, the police came and arrested these two guys, they were two African-American gentlemen. And as they were leaving, their friend shows up, and their friend says, “What’s going on?” and they tell him. And, of course, this got blasted all over the world. And, in fact, Starbucks had to shut down their cafes to do sensitivity training in this area. And had the barista exercised good critical judgment and common sense, she would’ve said, “Okay, when you’re ready, you can come up and order something when your friend gets here.” That’s how you diffuse. See, you should always diffuse a situation. These guys weren’t harming anything, they weren’t creating a ruckus, they were sitting at tables that weren’t needed by other people. So, you always diffuse, you always diffuse the situation. And so, she got blasted.

In three or four other instances around the country, baristas have refused, I can’t remember the city, it might have been Arizona where a pregnant woman came in and wanted to use the bathroom, and the barista said, “You can’t use it unless you buy something.” And then the news report claims that even after her husband offered to buy something, she wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom. Well, what were they thinking?

So, therefore, one of my prime tenets whenever I coach and counsel future leaders and current leaders, is don’t hire anybody if they don’t have common sense and good critical judgment. Do not hire them especially if they’re customer-facing. Do not hire them even internally, even if they’re not customer-facing. You don’t hire these people. And there are tests to test for this which, of course, aren’t 100% but you don’t want to hire people who don’t exercise common sense and good critical judgment because why would you want to get blasted for a mistake they make on social media which, of course, happens within minutes around the world, and it kills your reputation. It kills your reputation. And then, of course, you have to rebuild that reputation but you never really regain it back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, when you say test for this, are you talking about commercially-available assessments?

Stan Silverman
Oh, yes. There are tests for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a fave that you lean on or have historically?

Stan Silverman
No, actually, I don’t. When I hire people, I interview them at length and I talk about I want them to explain their experiences when they’ve had to handle certain situations which were sensitive. I do it through interview but there are tests, there are commercially-available tests which can test for that. Among other things, they can test for new employees.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s interesting, and I wonder, maybe it’s just too expansive and complex to boil down and to a couple of rules of thumb because it’s sort of like you would hope that you wouldn’t have to tell somebody, “Don’t make people leave. Allow folks to use the bathroom.” And I guess, hey, some operational manuals will spell it out, and that could be helpful, certainly, if folks don’t have that critical reasoning or judgment. So, it seems like you shared one principle there in terms of when possible try to diffuse situations as opposed to inflame them. Good rule of thumb. I think that would serve 99% of us well just about all the time. Any other key principles that you come back to again and again?

Stan Silverman
Well, I have a key principle which a lot of CEOs don’t agree with me when I give speeches in front of meetings of leaders. I get a lot of pushback on this.

And I’ll give you my aha. So, I’m a 26-year old business manager for my company and we’re making a product on the West Coast which goes into pharmaceuticals, and I get a call from the plant that the plant manager just discovered that there’s some iron filings in the product that weren’t picked out by the magnet, and he gave me the lot numbers. And so, this product had to come back. It will have to come back anyway but especially for going to a pharmaceutical, it has to come back.

The problem is I don’t have the authority to order a recall. My boss and the CEO were traveling in Europe, and this is the years before cellphones and before email and before text messaging, and every moment, almost every hour, every day that we wait to recall the product it goes further and further into distribution and, eventually, perhaps, gets into one of our customers’ final products, so the costs of recalling this product goes up exponentially every day.

And so, I made the decision at my young age to recall the product, and my people are saying, “Stan, you don’t have the authority to recall the product.” I said, “It’s got to come back. It’s got to come back.” And so, I said to them, “Either I’m going to be celebrated or terminated.” So, I recalled the product. And when the two guys got back, my boss who was vice president and general manager of the industrial group and the CEO came back, I told them what I did and they celebrated me, they said, “You did the right thing.”

So, here I am, a 26-year old, just starting out my career, a couple years into my career, thinking, “Boy, I’ve just learned something.”

And so, that has governed my management leadership philosophy that I give my people permission to do so.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I think that’s dead-on and I can understand why senior executives, that makes them uncomfortable. It’s sort of like, “I’m not fully confident that I have the people in my organization I can trust with that.”

Stan Silverman
Well, let me give you the perfect example. So, I’m not going to name the company, okay? I won’t name the company. But I’m waiting for this to happen so I can write an article about it. And so, here you have a person who greets customers at the door when they come in, and that’s the person’s job, that’s the employee’s job. And the employee sees an elderly individual pushing a cart full of product that they just bought in the store out to their car, and they’re having trouble pushing the cart. So, I’ll use the masculine, he leaves his post to help unload the cart into the customer’s trunk and returns back two minutes later, or three minutes later. And because he left his post, and that broke policy, the store manager fires that individual.

Pete Mockaitis
This happened or you’re waiting for this to happen?

Stan Silverman
No, I’m just waiting for it to happen so I can write about it, right?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s probably happened somewhere, we just don’t know it.

Stan Silverman
I’m waiting so I can write about it, right? And so, this is all hypothetical and, of course, I’m not naming any store. And so, the store manager fires this individual, and so if I was the regional manager of all the bunch of stores in the region and I found that that’s what happened, I would probably fire the store manager because you didn’t allow your employee to break policy for the good of the company. It didn’t hurt for him to be away for two or three minutes. In fact, he created a lot of goodwill by helping this elderly individual load the car. So, he broke policy, so what? Again, you diffuse the situation. There’s no harm and it was in the best interest of the company to do so.

And you wouldn’t believe how many people disagree with me. I have a lot of CEOs and a lot of senior leadership, when I speak about this, I do a lot of speaking on various topics, and when I describe this, they push back and say, “No, no, no, no , no, that person should never break policy.” Well, of course, they should.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’m in your camp and I think it all just depends on who did you hire and how much do you trust them.

Stan Silverman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And really what’s at stake. Is the greeter also a loss-prevention person, and if they left their post, $50,000 worth of high-electronics are going to go out the door? I mean, maybe that’s a different scenario, but most likely there’s very little downside and very much upside to helping a customer out.

Stan Silverman
So, let’s look at the extreme. I always like to test the outside of the envelope. So, let’s look at the extreme, okay? So, that’s at one end of the extreme. The other end of the extreme is that you’re running a nuclear power plant making electricity. You never, ever, ever want the operators of that plant to break policy by themselves, ever, because the downside is catastrophic. And so, therefore, if something has to be done, and it could be different than policy, you want to get that checked up, up and down the line, and have a lot of people involved in that discussion before anything ever gets done.

And so, it depends on the situation that you’re in. Look at Boeing today, Boeing was announced that the CEO was terminated by the board because of the 737 max issues of the past year. And, of course, if you go all the way back, the FAA allowed Boeing to do a lot of the quality checks and balances that were really the job of the FAA. They delegated that down to the company and to the engineers within the company.

Well, I got to tell you that is closer to the nuclear power plant example that I just gave. If I was the FAA, I would never ever delegate that down. And if I was Boeing, I would never permit us to do that. That’s the job of the FAA. So, the best friend of the CEO at Boeing is to have the FAA do their independent checks and certification of a plane and not have my people do it. I would never allow my people to do it because the consequence of a mistake is catastrophic. They had two airline crashes.

And let’s go to the other end. So, I’m the CEO of my company, and in our chemical plants, we allow the chemical operators of the plant to do quality assurance on the product they ship out and so, therefore, they have ownership in the production because they have ownership in the quality. And so, the worst that can happen is the place don’t go down, but a product is out that’s off spec, and the customer tests it, and they send it back, so it costs us some money.

And so, you have to look along the continuum where that decision gets made. For nuclear power plants and for aircraft certification, you don’t want anybody making unilateral decisions that break policy. On the other end of the extreme, when you see a customer carrying out packages to the car and they need help, or when you’re testing a chemical product where the only downside is it’s off spec, maybe that’s way over to the end, so you got to figure out where you are in the continuum.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that really makes sense and adds up, yes. I’d like to get your view, then, when it comes to kind of zooming out and thinking across these promotions, you’ve said part of it was, first, curiosity and pursuing new things, and you’re finding the self-confidence, and managing your risks and delivering value. Any other kind of core things that you tend to see over and over again that makes the difference between those who get the promotion and those who are passed over for the promotion?

Stan Silverman
Yes. In fact, I’d like to tell you a story which is my favorite story which really was most impactful to me. And I think to answer your question, people that get promoted learn lessons from everybody within the organization. So, I’m president of our Canadian company and a subsidiary of PQ Corporation, and we had a small production unit which produced a product for high-temperature refractory cements…

Stan Silverman
Okay. And so, when I was president of our Canadian company, we had a production unit which made a product for high temperature, an acid-resistant refractory cements. The unit was sold out. It was at capacity. It was a very high-margin product. The product was growing, and we were basically out of capacity. So, the one gentleman who operated this unit was working all kinds of overtime so we needed to expand the unit.

And our marketing department came over with projections that we really needed a 50% increase in capacity to handle the demand over the next five, to six, to seven years. And so, rather than give the project to one of the corporate engineers, we decided that that would not be the best thing to do. This was a very small unit. I estimated that, to expand the unit by 50%, it’s probably half a million-dollar job, and the engineers, of course, want to work on millions and 10 million-dollar projects because that’s how they get promoted because they’re very complex projects. This is a very simple project.

So, the plant manager and I decided to give the assignment to the operator who runs the unit and ask him, “Well, how would you expand this unit?” So, we called Luigi Pail, the operator of the plant, of this production unit into my office, and he looks around and says, “Am I being fired?” I said, “Well, Luigi, why do think that?” He said, “I’ve never been to your office.” I say, “No, no, no, we’re not going to fire you. In fact, we want to ask you how to expand your unit because we know that you’re working all kinds of overtime hours, it’s hard work. We want to expand the unit. So, how do you think we should do it?” He says, “Oh, I know exactly how to do it but nobody’s ever asked me.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stan Silverman
“You’re the first person to ever ask me how I can expand. You know, I’ve been working over the last 10 years.” I said, “Well, would you work on it?” He said, “Yes, but I need the help of a mechanic.” And very quickly we said, “Pick your man.” He says, “I pick Don McNeil,” who probably was the best mechanic in the planet at the time. Excellent mechanic but he was terrible with respect to labor, management relationships, always filing grievances, always wanted to go on strike, bad mouthing, he was a negative-opinion leader in the plant, and I’m thinking, “This will be a huge disaster,” right?

So, we tell Luigi, “Well, you ask Don tomorrow morning and then we’ll ask him in the afternoon and see if he’ll do this.” So, we go out and see Don the next afternoon, and he says, “Oh, I spoke with Luigi this morning. I’ll do this but I’m not doing it for you. I’m going to help him expand his unit because Luigi is my friend and I’m not doing it for you. I just want you to understand that.” I said, “Okay, Don, we understand. Go to work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Noted.

Stan Silverman
Well, four weeks later, they come into my office and they present the scope of the expansion to get a 50% increase in capacity, and this is, of course, before PowerPoint. This is when you had these overhead projectors, and you had these slides that you put on the overhead projectors. So, they explained the scope, and I’m thinking, “My God, this is so creative. I never would’ve thought of this.” Don McNeil did something that we never asked him to do, he cost-estimated the project out. Well, of course, Don works with contractors all the time so he knows what it costs to do things. He comes out with an estimate of $260,000 to do the project, I’m guessing 500, right?

So, we say to them, “Okay, guys, we’re going to do it. You’re in charge of doing it. You’re in charge of managing the project.” “Well, that’s not our job. That’s a project manager’s job.” I said, “Hold up. The unit is going to be down for a period of time so you have to work in the construction along with the production. You’re the perfect people to do this.” “Well, okay, we’ll do it.”

Two months later, the plant is done, the unit comes back up on stream, withing seven days we’re at 50% increase in capacity, exactly what we asked him to do. Within two weeks they’re at 64% increase in capacity. The product is coming out much tighter within specification, perfect quality, much easier for Luigi to operate the plant and were often running, and Don brings the project in at $250,000, 10,000 less than what he told us it would be. I think he did that on purpose.

And so, all four of us changed fundamentally. Don McNeil is now walking through the plant telling his fellow union brethren, the blue-collar workers that operate the plant that, “You know, these guys in management, they’re not so bad. They trusted me for what I can do with my mind in addition to what I can do with my hands.” You know how powerful that statement is? And he’s now a positive-opinion leader in the plant. Luigi changed in this way.

And so, about two weeks after startup of his unit, I’m taking a visitor through the entire plant, we stopped at his production unit, and Luigi says, “I’ll take the visitor on tour of my production unit.” I said, “Okay.” So, he does so, and after the tour, we head off to the other six production units within the plant. The next day, Luigi talks to me and says, “You know why I did what I did yesterday?” I said, “What did you do?” He says, “I took the visitor for the tour.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” He said, “I did it because this is my plant not…” I’m sorry, “This is my unit, not your unit. This is my unit.”

We created a sense of ownership in Luigi for his production unit, and I’m thinking, “Oh, my God. How come I didn’t learn this right out of school?” You have to create sense of ownerships in everybody for what they do within the company, and then great things will happen. And that has stuck with me for the decades after that incident occurred. And, sure enough, it’s proven true every single time you create a sense of ownership in people in terms of what they do, and great things will happen.

And so, therefore, I learned something from an hourly guy, probably one, two, three, four levels below me in a production plant, and everybody realizes they can learn from everybody including the people at the bottom of the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Stan, I love it. Good stuff. Thank you. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stan Silverman
Well, I do. But I think let’s move on and I’ll kind of weave it in as we go along if the opportunity arises.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stan Silverman
My favorite quote is “Never lie to yourself,” So, I have a chapter in my book, Chapter 1-5 which is about the Challenger explosion and disaster which all of us are very familiar with. And it turns out that the Thiokol engineers who designed the O-rings for the solid rocket boosters, basically, advised NASA not to launch the shuttle on the day they wanted to launch because the temperature outside, the ambient temperature, was 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and they designed the O-rings for 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

And they felt the O-rings were going to be too brittle and there was a huge risk of leakage of fuel around the O-rings because they were brittle which would, of course, cause a disaster. And the Thiokol engineers lost the battle because they faced a huge, huge pressure by NASA. And I’m just going to quote two comments, I’m looking it up now, by a NASA manager. I say one NASA manager is quoted as saying, “I’m appalled by your recommendation, Thiokol.” Another NASA manager said, “My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?”

So, they didn’t listen to their experts. They didn’t listen to their experts. They went ahead and launched, and, of course, we know what the result was. We lost the shuttle plus five astronauts. And that taught me a huge lesson. The lesson is you always have to listen to your experts. Always listen to your experts. Don’t discount them. That’s why you have them around you.

After I wrote my article, one of the engineers, one of the Thiokol engineers’ daughter, this is Robert Ebeling who was the Thiokol engineer, his daughter reached out to me because my email is at the end of all my articles. Now I talked with her half an hour about what her dad went through that day, and she was actually with him during that launch day, and she said, “He’s held himself responsible, personally responsible for 30 years, for the crash and the disaster of the shuttle when, in fact, he tried to stop it but the managers at NASA decided to launch anyway.”

So, I said to her, “Leslie, would you mind if I called your dad and speak with him on the phone?” She says, “He would love to hear from you.” So, I got his number, he was in an assisted-living facility, really dying of cancer, so I got him, he was very, very sick. I called on the next day and I spoke with him for a good 20 minutes, and I said, “Mr. Ebeling, you and your fellow engineers at Thiokol are true American heroes because you tried to stop the catastrophe but you couldn’t. But don’t feel that that’s your burden. You did your best.” He died five days later.

And so, that was a very, very compelling moment for me when I spoke with Robert Ebeling. And the quote that I wanted, or the author of the quote, “If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule, never lie to yourself.” It was by Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian novelist, a very renowned individual. And that’s my favorite quote because had NASA not lied to themselves, they would’ve listened to their engineers and not launched the shuttle. So, that’s a lesson for all of us. Never lie to yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stan Silverman
Oh, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, absolutely. It’s a book that a lot of people have written. I probably read it three times, I listened to a tape on it. And what Jim Collins says is that when you decide where to take your company, you need to pick the right people, put them on a bus, put them on the right seats, and they will decide where to take the bus. And so, you, unilaterally, aren’t going to be very successful, at least most of the time, if you decide where your company should go without your people got buy-in into it, and they have ownership in it.

And so, every time I’ve made strategic decisions and change in the strategic direction, I’ve had input from the people who work for me, who report to me. I trust them. I’ve hired them with good critical judgment and common sense, and we argue our points, we argue all the time. And I have a story to tell you about that in a moment.

And so, you have to staff your company with people reporting to you who aren’t afraid to talk to you, who aren’t afraid to say you’re wrong, and you need to listen to that. If you’re the CEO that can’t take being told you’re wrong, you’re not going to be very successful.

So, this is the story. So, when I was chief operating officer of the company, I would come up with an idea or a proposal and I would talk to the CEO about implementing it. And, more often than not, before I could finish talking about it, I would hear from him, “Well, it’s not going to work.” And I’d say, “Well, don’t tell me it’s not going to work. First, let me explain the whole thing, and then tell me it won’t work.”

And so, I started writing him memos which, of course, he would read without me in the room, and you’d have to read the whole memo, a page, a page and a half memo. He’d come in and say, “Boy, this is a great idea. Let’s get it done.” And so, that’s how we got stuff done. So, when he left the company and I became the CEO, I swore that we would change that cultural norm because he did that with everybody.

And the cultural; norm would be this. So, I would not often kind of give my opinion on how we should go somewhere and the direction, I would kind of tease it out of my folks. But, every once in a while, I would say, “You know, I think we should go direction A with a certain issue.” Well, if my CFO or the head of our chemicals group didn’t agree with me, I would expect him to say, “No, Stan, I don’t think that’s right. I think rather than go direction A, which is your direction, I think we should go direction B.”

Well, how I react to that comment will forevermore, in the future, govern the dynamic between that individual and myself. Rather than say, “I don’t want to hear it. Just go direction A,” which is bad, I would say, “Well, Bill, why do you think we should go direction B?” or, “Why, Mike, do you think we should go direction C?” And we would debate A versus B. we would bring in experts, we would bring people very knowledgeable, we debate for a day, for a week, for a month. And at the end of that discussion, one of three things would happen.

I would say, “Bill, thank you very much for suggesting B, but we beat A up against B, and B up against A, and I really think Ai is the way to go so that’s the way we’re going to go,” and we would go that direction. Or, I would say, “Bill, you know, thank you for suggesting B. After beating one up against the other, I think B is the better alternative,” and Bill would feel really good that I picked his alternative.

But more than not, and this is real live data, real live experience, more often than not, because we debated A versus B, we would find direction C better than A and B, and we would go direction C. Well, when we did that, we really made a mistake. And it’s one of the reasons why we drove earnings from $14 million to $43 million over a five-year period which included the year of 9/11 2001 plus the horrible recession of 2002. We never had a down quarter during that recession because we debated things as equals. As equals we debated things.

And that, I think, is just a huge, huge cultural norm within any company to really get great results, you debate, and then you pick the right one. Pick the right direction.

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

Stan Silverman
Well, they can read my book. My book is called “Be Different: The Key to Business and Career Success,” and it talks a lot about leadership, it talks a lot about tone at the top and culture, but the focus in the book is it teaches every business how to be better than their competition so that they become the preferred provider of product or service to the marketplace so that your customers, your clients, want to buy from them preferentially above any of the competition.

And it doesn’t matter whether or not you make widgets, whether or not you’re an accounting firm, whether you’re an attorney, you’re a doctor, you’re a surgeon, you’re a hospital, or whether you put roofs on houses, or you sell bicycles in a bike shop. You want to be the preferred provider so that anybody that needs a roof on their house, or medical treatment, or surgery, or wants to buy a bicycle, they want to buy from you versus the competition. And I teach how to do that.

The other part of the book is that all of us, as we all rise up through our careers, become better than our peers so that we get the next promotion or the next job on the outside the company. And so, that’s what the book is about. It’s about how to do that. And I have a lot of examples of great leaders, and leaders that aren’t so great, great companies and companies that aren’t so great, a lot of boards which are great boards and boards that aren’t so great.

And it’s really a handbook for success, future success, for your company or for yourself. And you can buy it at Barnes & Noble, or if you want to buy the Kindle version, you can buy the Kindle version on Amazon.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely.

Stan Silverman
Or BarnesandNoble.com for the hardcopy.

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

Stan Silverman
Well, yeah, I think you have to decide. We all have legacies. We all have to think about what our legacies are going to be. What do we want to leave this world? What do we want to leave this world when we check out? And my legacy is I want to be able to say that I created a bunch of great leaders and helped them develop and be successful. I want to help companies develop and be successful.

I start a lot of talks off, I say, “What is the holy grail of any business, of any individual? What’s the one thing everybody, every business, or what’s the one thing everybody wants? What is the holy grail?” And three or four people will raise their hand, and one of those responses is, “To make money.” I said, “Well, that’s certainly something everybody wants to do, but that’s a measurement of how well you do with something else. Money is a measurement of how well you do. It’s not the objective. Because if it’s the objective, there are other ways to make a lot more money.”

And so, I tell them that, “If you’re running your company, you want to be the preferred provider of product and service to your marketplace and give a great customer experience. Give a great customer experience, that’s what you want to do. And as you rise through your career, you want to be better than your peers, and that should be your holy grail as you develop your career. And, of course, at my point in life, my holy grail is to help other people be successful. And that’s what I do every single day by coaching and counselling and writing about this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stan, this has been a pleasure. Thanks so much and keep up the good work.

Stan Silverman
Well, thank you, Pete. It was really great being a guest on your show and I really appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you today.

507: How to Get Exceptional Mentors and Opportunities with Alex Banayan

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Alex Banayan shares unconventional approaches to creating new opportunities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The ultimate cold email template to recruit mentors
  2. Creative “third door” approaches that nobody takes
  3. Communication secrets from Maya Angelou and Larry King

About Alex:

Alex Banayan  is the author of The Third Door, the result of an unprecedented seven-year journey interviewing the most innovative leaders of the past half-century, including Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Larry King, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Quincy Jones, and more. He has presented the Third Door framework to business conferences and corporate leadership teams around the world, including Apple, Google, Nike, IBM, Snapchat, Salesforce, and Disney. When he was 18, Alex hacked The Price is Right, won a sailboat, and sold it to fund his adventure. He was then named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Banayan Interview Transcript

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

Alex Banayan
Thank you very much for having me. I’m very excited.

Pete Mockaitis
I think the first thing we got to cover is how did you hack The Price is Right.

Alex Banayan
Going right to the meat. Wow, that was nine years ago. I was 18 years old at the time, a freshman in college. And the context is sort of important because I was sort of going through this what I want to do with my life crisis.


And not only did I not know what I wanted to do, I didn’t know how other people who I looked up to how they did it. How did Bill Gates sell his first piece of software out of his dorm room? Or how did Spielberg become the youngest director of Hollywood history.


So I … The short version of the story is I sort of set off to go find the book I was dreaming of reading. I went to the library and looked through dozens of biographies and business books. But eventually I was left empty-handed.


So, that’s when my naïve 18 year old thinking kicked in, and I thought well, if no one is reading the book I was dreaming of reading, why not do it myself? 


I thought it would be very simple. I thought I would just call up Bill Gates and interview him, and interview everybody else, and I would be done in a few months.

Pete Mockaitis
Alex, so good to hear from you. He picks it up and you’re just chatting away.

Alex Banayan
Yeah. I really thought that that’s how it would go. What I thought would be the hard part would be getting the money to fund the journey. I was buried in student loan debt. I was all out of Bar mitzvah cash so there had to be a way to make some quick money.

Pete Mockaitis
And actually game shows is your first instinct.

Alex Banayan
Well, do you know what’s funny? It wasn’t even my first instinct. I didn’t have any instincts. But I just kept ruminating on this problem until two nights before final exams I’m in the library and I’m doing what everyone is doing in the library right before finals, I’m on Facebook.

Pete Mockaitis
Sing.

Alex Banayan
And I’m on Facebook and I see someone offering free tickets to The Price is Right. It’s the longest running game show in US history. And my first thought was what if I go on this show and win some money to fund this book? Not my brightest moment. 


Plus, I had a problem, I’d never seen a full episode of the show before. I’ve of course seen bits and pieces when I was home sick from school in fourth grade.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s exactly what I was thinking, home sick is what I associate The Price is Right with.

Alex Banayan
Yeah. You know I didn’t have cable growing up. Everyone knows the price is right but I’ve never seen a full episode before. So, I told myself this was a dumb idea and to not think about it.


But, I sort of felt this, you know, almost like someone was tying a rope around my stomach and was pulling me in a direction. So, that night I decided to do the logical thing and pull an all-nighter to study.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
But I didn’t study for finals, I instead had to hack The Price is Right. I went on the show the next day and did this ridiculous strategy and I ended up winning the whole showcase showdown winning a sail boat, selling that sail boat and that’s how I funded the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well that’s excellent. So, what’s the strategy? I mean, I guess there is some strategies for winning once you’re selected. But how do you get selected?

Alex Banayan
Well that was my whole question because when I decided to pull that all-nighter, I decided I’m not going to ditch finals and just hope that luck goes my way. I was like I have to figure out this strategy.


So, I just started Googling how to get on The Price is Right, because I figured that must be the hard part. There’s 300 people on the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, statistically, right.

Alex Banayan
Right, statistically there’s 300 in the audience, eight get called down, one out of those eight win. So, the big statistical challenge is being the 300 down to the eight.


So, what I found out is The Price is Right, and I found this out at three o’clock in the morning by the 23rd o of Google. I found this blog post from back in the ’90s that said The Price is Right is not what it seems. They make it look very random. Pete, come on down.

Pete Mockaitis
Me? Wow, all my college friends are excited for me.

Alex Banayan
Right, right. Like all … Like as if they pulled your name out of a hat. But what I learned is like everything in life and business, although it looks like luck, there is a system to it. And there’s a producer who interviews every single person in the audience before the show begins.


And in addition to the producer, there is an undercover producer planted in the audience who then confirms or denies the original producer’s selection. So, it doesn’t matter how much you love the show, how bubbly your personality is, if that producer doesn’t put you on his list, and if the undercover producer doesn’t then confirm or deny you, it doesn’t matter how much you want to be on the show, you’re not on.


So, that’s where I poured all of my focus. The long version of the story is like this, like 20 minute preposterous story and it was much less Einstein and much more Forest Camp when I say hack.


But it ended up being the event that really launched this seven year journey of the third door. 

Pete Mockaitis
So, then how do you identify who the producer is and get the meeting or the impression such that you get lucky?

Alex Banayan
Well, during my all-nighter research once I found out how it worked, I then poured all of my focus into studying who the producer is. And I figured out his name is Stan. I pretty much knew where he grew up, where he went to school, I essentially knew where he had for breakfast that morning. I learned everything I could about him.

Pete Mockaitis
Just like LinkedIn and googling around this Stan guy?

Alex Banayan
Yeah. He’s the head casting producer for The Price is Right. There’s stuff about him on the internet and when I finally, that next morning, drove on to the CDS lot in Los Angeles.


First of all, even before I got online, I realized I don’t know who the undercover producers are, so I just have to assume everyone is the undercover producer. So, I’m dancing with old ladies. I’m flirting with custodians. I’m break dancing and I don’t know how to break dance.


And eventually I get in line and about an hour in I see my guy. I see Stan standing 50 feet away from me. The way it works is Stan takes 20 people at once in line, sort of like herding cattle, puts them all in a row and walks down the line one by one ask them questions.


What’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? What’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? And before you know it, Stan is standing right in front of me and he’s like what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do?


I’m like, “Hey, I’m Alex. I’m 18 years old. I’m a pre-med.” And he goes, “Pre-med, you must spend all your time studying. How do you have time to watch The Price is Right?” And I’m like, “Oh, is that where I am?” No laughter. The joke just falls flat.


So, I notice his eyes darting as if he’s ready to move on, and I had read in a business book during my life crisis that said human contact speeds up a relationship. So, I had an idea. I had to touch Stan. Now, he’s like 20 feet away from me so I’m like, “Stan come over here, I want to make a handshake with you.” He’s like, “Oh, no, no, it’s okay.” I’m like, “Come on.”


And very reluctantly he comes over and I teach him how to pound it and blow it up and he laughs a bit, and he says, “All right, good luck,” and he starts walking away.


Now, what you need to know about Stan is he has a clipboard, but it’s never in his hands, it’s in his assistants hands who sits about 20 feet away from him, and that’s the list that gets passed on to the undercover producer.


As Stan starts walking away from me I notice he doesn’t turn around to his assistant, she doesn’t write anything on the clipboard, and just like that it’s over. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those moments where you can literally see your dream walking right away from you, almost like it’s sand slipping through your fingers.


And the worst part is you didn’t even have a chance to really prove yourself. So, I don’t know what got into me, but I started yelling at the top of my lungs, “Stan, Stan.” The whole audience shoots their head around and Stan runs over thinking I’m having a seizure and he was like, “Are you okay? Are you okay? What’s going on?”


I have no idea what I’m going to say. And Stan’s looking at me, I’m looking at him, the audience is dead silent. This random 18 year old kid was shouting at the top of his lungs and again, what you have to know about Stan, he’s very typical Hollywood, turtle neck, red scarf, goatee.


And I just look at Stan with all the seriousness I can and I’m just like, “Your scarf.” And now I really don’t know what I’m going to say next. And I just look at him, I just try to be as serious as possible and I just look at him dead in the eyes and I’m like, “Stan, I’m an avid scarf collector. I have 362 pairs in my dorm room and I’m missing that one. Where did you get it?” And he starts cracking up because I think he finally realized what I was actually trying to do, and he just smiled and took his scarf and put it around my neck, and he was like, “Look, you need this more than I do.” He turned around, winked to his assistant and she put my name on the clipboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Hot dog. Well you know, Alex, we usually don’t spend this much time on the kind of fan fact background ice breaker. But I think that this is important because there’s really some lessons here.

Alex Banayan
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of one, you were so persistent that you went to the 23rd page of Google, and that’s the ancient, I don’t know if it’s ancient. Google is not that ancient.

Alex Banayan
The ancient Greeks talk about the 23rd o of Google where all wisdom is. 

Pete Mockaitis
Well I guess the marketing joke is where is the best place to hide a body, the second page of Google because no one ever looks there.

Alex Banayan
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But so you exhibited exceptional persistence in going deep into getting that as well as some courage. You didn’t know what you were going to do, but you knew that your window of opportunity was slipping and so you just did something and then you adapted real time.


So, I think that there is some excellent lessons there. So, then you won The Price is Right, you got the sail boat, you sold the sail boat, you had some funding now for your project. And your dream book then was to interview hyper achievers and figure out what they got going on.


So, tell us how did you in fact manage to get these folks to speak with you because you soon learned that it wasn’t as easy as calling up Bill and he says oh, hey Alex. So, what did you do to get them to talk?

Alex Banayan
Yes. To my surprise Bill Gates does not do interviews with random 18 year olds. 

Pete Mockaitis
Lessons learned.

Alex Banayan
Yes, very important lessons learned. And that’s really when it took off. So, it took two years to track down Bill Gates, it took three years to track down Lady Gaga and when I had started, like I said, I thought it would be this very simple straight forward process.


But every single interview was completely different. So, on my list were people from all industries. So, for science, Jane Goodall, for poetry Maya Angelou. Computer science, Steve Wozniak, Larry King, Quincy Jones, Jessica Alba, Pitbull, Warren Buffet.


It really went across all industries and each interview was its own adventure. So, with Larry King I chased him through a grocery store. With Tim Ferriss I had to hide in a bathroom for 30 minutes. So, each one was … With Steven Spielberg I almost died in the south of France. It was … With Mark Zuckerberg I almost got the police called on me.


So, every interview was its own mini quest and what I did learn across the board though, what I learned not only in the process of getting the interviews but even more importantly in the interviews themselves is while every story was different, every adventure to get the interview was different and every person who I interviewed on that surface were more different than you can say.


Maya Angelou grew up in Stamps, Arkansas. Bill Gates grew up in Seattle. At their core, and I don’t know if you’re a big music fan, but it was almost like there was a common melody to every conversation I was having. 


And the analogy that came to me, because I was 21 at the time, is that life and business and success is just like a night club, there’s always three ways in. 


So, there’s the first store, the main entrance where the line curves around the block where 99% of people wait around hoping to get in, that’s the first store. People are just standing, holding their resumes out in the cold hoping the bouncer lets them in. That’s the first store.


Then there’s the second door, the VIP entrance where the billionaires and celebrities go through. And for some reason school and society have this way of making us feel like those are the only two ways in. You either wait your turn or you’re born into it.


But what I learned is that there’s always, always the third door, and it’s the entrance where you jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door 100 times, crack open the window, go through the kitchen. There’s always a way in, and it doesn’t matter if that’s how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software or how Lady Gaga got her first record deal, they all took the third door.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that is so meta there. So, you are going through exceptional, unique efforts to access these people and then they’re telling you stories about their own accessible unique ways that they access their successes and opportunities.

Alex Banayan
Not by design.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty wild. So, I want to dig into a couple of these luminaries insights. But so can we hear some of the particular? So, I guess you had different adventures each time. So, I’m putting together some themes already for The Price is Right.


There is persistence. I don’t know if I want to call it shamelessness, but it seems like you’re not easily embarrassed or you are, you don’t let that stop you.

Alex Banayan
I think it’s … So, the latter I think is super important. Not only just reflecting on my own journey but I also think anyone with their own careers because if you, Pete, if you ask my sisters what it’s like growing up with me, they would tell you I was the most scared kid you would ever meet.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Alex Banayan
And I can still remember to this day standing outside The Price is Right, right before I was going to get interviewed just completely terrified and embarrassed and I remember literally closing my eyes and telling myself you can either just succumb to this fear and lose this entire opportunity or you can push through it.


What I realized when I started interviewing people for the third door, when I sat down with all these leaders, is that my big question for them was how did they become so fearless because I definitely was consumed by fear every step of the way.


And my biggest realization after doing every single interview was that not only were people like Bill Gates scared in the beginning, they were terrified the whole way through. And that didn’t make any sense to me.


And what I learned is that it wasn’t fearlessness they achieved, it was courage. And while the word sounds very similar, the difference is critical. And this is super important whether it’s in your personal life or in your career or in the workplace, fearlessness is jumping off of a cliff and not thinking about it. That’s idiotic.


Courage on the other hand is acknowledging your fear, analyzing the consequences and then deciding you care so much about it you’re still going to take one thoughtful step forward anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there you have it. So, you sort of take a look at the real, I guess, consequences and probabilities like okay, here are the options, I can do nothing and get nowhere, or I can do this and which might get me in jail or embarrassed or a sail boat. So, that’s worthwhile. I’m going to go ahead and do that because that’s more important to me.

Alex Banayan
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well so then … And I guess you say you have wild tales and adventure for each of these people that you interviewed. So, can you share any sort of general themes? It seems like one of them is you’re persistent over time. 


Another is that you sort of just figure out where they’re going to be and be there. Anything else with regard to your messaging or invitation of winning over assistant publicist gatekeepers?

Alex Banayan
Well, yes, there are a lot of themes that to my surprise the themes that helped me get these interviews I’ve also learned through my research are also the same themes of the most high performing sales teams and the most high performing business development teams.


And what I’ve … And you know there is macro themes and also micro tactics. Even starting on the micro which are very useful for anyone no matter what their job is there is a right and a wrong way to send cold emails.


And in the year 2019 we’re almost into 2020, cold emailing is one of the most effective ways if you can actually do it correctly. So, I learned this during my interview with Tim Ferriss. He gave me a cold email template which he hadn’t shared anywhere else that not only changed my entire life and helped me get interviews for the book and get mentors for my journey, but it also my favorite thing is since the third door has come out, thousands of readers have written in saying that it’s changed their lives.


They’ve gotten in contact with people like Sheryl Sandberg or Malcolm Gladwell, all through this cold email template.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got my attention Alex.

Alex Banayan
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What does this consist of?

Alex Banayan
All right, so this is how it works. It’s super simple but again, you really have to follow it to a T. So, it starts like this, Dear so and so. I know you’re incredibly busy, and you get a lot of emails. So, this will only take 60 seconds to read. Boom, that’s the first paragraph.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
Then you move on to the next paragraph. The second paragraph is where you put one to two sentences max of context of who you are and why that’s relevant to the person who’s reading this.


So, again, this is not where you put your bio, your life story, but you pick a couple sentences that’s relevant to that person. Boom, next paragraph.


Again, one to two sentences max of a hyper specific question that they can respond without thinking too hard about. So, what should I do with my life is a bad example of a question. But what is one book you recommend to an aspiring writer is a great question.


Then the final paragraph is the contour. You go I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply. Even a one or two line response will completely make my day. All the best, Alex.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So then they gave you a book, which is nice. But you were interested in a little more. So, what then?

Alex Banayan
Bingo. So, I got the follow up advice during my interview with Bill Gates. Bill shared a lot of incredible advice about sale secrets and negotiating secrets. But one of the things he really emphasized is if you get someone to like you and to be invested in you, you don’t really have to negotiate that hard.


One of the things he did very early on in his career, which was very surprising to me is he would do exactly that. He would … Let’s say he was in the beginning of Microsoft doing a deal with IBM and wanted to create a relationship with the executives there.


When he would meet them he would ask them for book recommendations and then he said the key is he said busy people don’t have a lot of time to think, so what they do is they create frameworks whether they’re conscious of it or not.


And let’s say someone reaches out to you and says do you recommend a book? And you give let’s say three book recommendations. If that person gets back to you in a few months you might think, oh, that was a pretty smart person, they took my advice, that’s nice.


If they obviously don’t get back to you, you probably don’t even think about them again. But if someone gets back to you in one week saying I read all three books and the second one you recommended has completely changed my life and in these ways, I just wanted to say thank you.


All of a sudden that person creates a mental framework that you are a very good investment of their time. They just spent 30 seconds giving you advice and it’s already made a giant transformation in your life. And they also think that’s an incredibly hard working person who I want to get to know better.


Slowly it starts with an email, then maybe you next time you’re in town, “Hey, I’m in town. I would love to see you for 15 minutes if you’re available and if not totally understand.”


Then maybe you’re going through a challenge in a few months. “Hi, I’m sure you’re incredibly busy. I’m going through this crisis. Do you have a little time to talk on the phone?” It slowly builds and grows.


A mentorship isn’t something that you just sign on the dotted line. It’s a relationship that slowly grows with time and investment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So, then with these folks is that, well I guess 15 minutes is all you need for your interview in your book and what you’re trying to accomplish there or have you stayed in touch with some of these folks over longer periods?

Alex Banayan
Yeah, absolutely. You know it spans the spectrum. So, with some people they … With Quincy Jones it was three hours, a three-hour long interview. With some people it was a little shorter. For some people like Bill Gates the only time I’ve ever spent time with him was during that interview in his office.


With some people who I interviewed they’re some of my best friends now. There’s this great quote that I really love that always come to mind. It says … I can’t even remember who said it. It said something along the lines of respect the people who make time for you out of their busy schedules when you need them. But love the people who never check their schedule when you need them most.


I think what’s beautiful about this journey for the third door is it started as my journey to get advice to figure out how did the most high achieving people launch their careers. But what ended up happening is it also became this very personal journey where I was finding myself and growing up along the way and some of the people who I interviewed sort of transcended not only as an interview subject to a mentor, but to being like family members.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful. And so there was a lot there. Let’s just get a couple tidbits just to get a taste of the wisdom of some of these amazing folks. So, a couple that you mentioned to me that I’d love to get maybe just one minute. All right, Maya Angelou, how do you write good?

Alex Banayan
Oh my good. A part of me literally wants to open up the book and read directly, but I’ll paraphrase. But she, I would say also just to give her credit which she doesn’t need extra credit because everyone knows already how incredible she is. But she was the only interview subject where her words, I literally could just sit back and she wrote the chapter herself. 


Just you asked her a question and she literally gives the most gorgeous and beautifully written response out of her mouth. It was definitely a very, very big honor to speak to her.


When it comes to writing she said the biggest thing she recommends a new writer to do no matter your age, is to take the writing that you just wrote, find a quiet room, close the door, and read your writing out loud.


She said it sounds obvious and simple but almost no one does it. People don’t like to hear the sound of their voice, they don’t like to read things out loud. But she said the best form of editing is reading it out loud because only then can you hear the melody of the words. And writing, good writing, is much more than logically putting words in the right order. It’s about creating a melody that is easy for the reader to take in.


She shared a quote with me that I’ll never forget. She said, and I think the quote is by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the quote goes, easy reading is damn hard writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed.

Alex Banayan
Right? Easy reading is damn hard writing. And Maya Angelou insisted that the inverse is true too, easy writing is damn hard reading.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s perfect.

Alex Banayan
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about Larry King and interviewing?

Alex Banayan
Oh my God. Larry I’ll give a tidbit but he taught me so much. He looked at me the first time we met or the second time we met and he said, he was like, “The problem with all young interviewers when they’re just starting out …” And again, this is interviewing whether it’s for a TV show or radio show or even interviewing in a hiring process.


He said, “They look at the interviewers they admire and they try to copy that.” They look at maybe Oprah who uses all this emotion or Barbara Walters who’s very strategic or even Larry himself, which is very straight forward and they try to copy that style. Larry said that is the biggest mistake you can make because you’re focusing on what our style is not why we have that style.


The truth is those are the styles that makes them the most comfortable in their chairs. When you’re comfortable in your chair, the person you’re interviewing becomes comfortable in their chair, and that’s what makes for the best interview.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well Alex let’s go meta here. How do I make you more comfortable in your chair? I’m in pajama bottoms right now, if that helps, but you can’t see them.

Alex Banayan
The fact that you are just asking things that you are genuinely curious about and it sounds like you’re having fun is making me have fun. So, I’m very grateful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well thank you. Well that’s true. I really do want to know these things and I’m curious, so thank you. So, very cool. Then this third door mindset here, which is there’s more than just the two options associated with the masses and the VIPs. There is a third door. 


So, what are some general questions or means by which you began to discover what those third doors can look like in any given situation?

Alex Banayan
You know what’s interesting about the third door is it’s not a recipe for success, it’s a framework for success. The difference is this is really a lens to view your challenges, a lens to view the obstacles that no matter what’s in front of you, no matter what challenges are in front of you, at the end of the day there’s always a way.


And again, it doesn’t matter if we’re looking at how Warren Buffet got funding for his first investments or how Steven Spielberg became the youngest director of Hollywood history, what the third door framework tells you is that you don’t have to sit back and wait for a boss or a parent or even a mentor to give you permission to go after your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Banayan
You have the power to make it happen yourself. And what I’ve noticed with readers of the book is it gives you a sense of possibility. What I’ve learned is you can give someone all the best tools and tactics in the world, and their life can still feel stuck. But if you change what someone believes is possible, they’ll never be the same.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That really resonates in terms of what you believe is possible. You know what, I even see this in small ways. I’m thinking about boy it goes big, it goes small. It’s like what could be possible in terms of could it be possible to earn a quarter million dollars a year by working less than 20 hours a week? Yes. In fact, I know people who do that and I find that inspiring and I’m kind of building my business to accommodate that so I have more time for just docking out and reading long whole books and studies and being with my kids and exercising and what not.


But along the way I’m having so much fun that I just keep working. So, that’s cool too. But I think even in the micro sense, this has happened to me a couple of times with I’m thinking about home renovation. I know it’s so mundane, since we’re talking about huge dreams and life visions.


But I think that’s let’s say I get a quote from one vendor, and I go man, to rebuild those kind of loose bricks around the perapet walls they’re called, that extend above the roof and to get a new roof that’s going to cost $40,000 says one person. And I go, dang, I sure don’t want to spend $40,000.


But if I, even if I get just a little bit of benchmark research data from Homeadvisor.com or from another quote or for some people that I’m talking to, then I begin to learn what is in fact possible and then I say no, I don’t like that answer that I got, so therefore, I will persist until I get another answer I like.


And spoiler alert, I just hired someone who’s going to take care of our roof matters for less than half that price. So, yay. And if I had no idea of what was possible, I might be like well shocks, I guess that’s what it costs. Man, that’s expensive.


So, I think that your sense of possibility can be expanded with even a quick Google search like in your case.

Alex Banayan
Right, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Not a quick Google search 23 pages down, but you say oh, it is in fact possible to take an action that gets me selected for Price is Right.

Alex Banayan
Yes, yes, 100%. 100% yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, what are some additional means by which you recommend that you become aware of possibilities? So, one is huge, is finding mentors.

Alex Banayan
What a great question, that’s a great question. I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, lay it on me Alex.

Alex Banayan
Because what I’ve learned is you should do what you can with what you have. You should do what you can with what you have. Now, for most people, look, if you’re listening to this right now, at the very least you have internet access. That’s how you’re listening to this podcast, right?


So, you already have access to YouTube, every podcast out there, and books whether you buy them yourself or you sign up for a library account and rent it on your phone. And when I was first starting out, and I think it’s really important to remember that I didn’t know anyone, I was an 18 year old college student. And my mentors at the time were books. I read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, CEO of Zappos and that became my mentor.


I read Pour your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and that became a mentor to me. And in the beginning it was just books. And slowly with time I began to meet the authors of the books by going to author events and then I started cold emailing authors and started meeting them in person.


And of course the dream is for the people you look up to, to be able to help you in real time and real life but you have to start somewhere. And starting with YouTube videos if you’re interested in social media marketing. Type in Gary Vee on YouTube and just go down that rabbit hole if you’re interested in entrepreneurship. There is so much out there.


What happens when you start absorbing yourself very … And I love really going down that rabbit hole when you really absorb people stories is it shows you what’s possible, going back to your question how to do that.


And I think you have to be very proactive in the process because if you’re sitting back at your job or in your classroom, no matter where you are in life, and you’re just taking in the information that’s been given to you, your sense of possibility is very slim and very narrow.


But if you actively push yourself to read things that you normally wouldn’t read, talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to, your life will never be the same.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we have to address an issue that can just short circuit the magic of that possibility becoming present to you, which is a tendency to, I don’t know what the word is.

Alex Banayan
I’m curious what you’re saying because I have an idea too.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it other, I don’t want to say otherize, but to form a wall or distinction it’s like okay sure, Howard Schultz could do that but he is Howard Schultz, you know? Larry King could do that but he is Larry King and I am not Larry King. 


So, that notion that that person is completely different from me and therefore that possibility is not real, I think that can just kill the magic. So, how do you inoculate yourself from that influence?

Alex Banayan
So, a book I would recommend is called The Magic of Thinking Big. It’s an older book, I think it’s maybe 50, 60 years old. The Magic of Thinking Big, and it’s very good at addressing that issue. 


And something I learned from one of the people who I interviewed is that you want to create a mental bank almost an internal bias of possibility. When I meet people who have that problem in a very severe way, what I recommend them do is do a 30 day challenge of every day for 30 minutes for 30 days in a row, they need to journal for 30 minutes every day on a moment in their life whether at home, at school, at work, where they had a giant obstacle that they overcame.


If you spend 30 minutes, you know even if nothing comes to you for five minutes, something will come to you at some point, and they could be something small. Like literally I was really thirsty and didn’t have any money for a vending machine and I ended up finding, searching the couch cushion, whatever.


It could be silly stuff, it could be big stuff like a health challenge or a relationship challenge. What you’re doing is reprogramming your mind, because I’ll tell you, no one is born thinking they can’t do it. Whether you are aware of it or not, there have been implicit messages and events that have created that outlook within you.


And you have to become proactive in reprogramming your mind. And even going to therapy is a good solution. I’ve been going to therapy once a week for five years now, and it’s really helped me reprogram old stories. 


At the end of the day our life is only as valuable and only as productive as the value and the productivity of the stories we tell ourselves. And it’s up to us to choose which stories we want to live with.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig that. So, the journaling about times you’ve overcome obstacles, then reprograms your brain such that when obstacles no longer seem permanent or immovable, it’s like oh, that’s just like those 30 other things that I overcame. All right, well, let’s figure it out.

Alex Banayan
Exactly, exactly. 

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well also, I guess I’m thinking now about … Let’s use some examples of obstacles and overcoming just because if … I think that’s probably the hardest part of the 30 day challenge is your very first day or two it’s like oh, I don’t really know, nothing will come to mind.


Because sometimes I think that conjures up an image of really dramatic stories of I’m thinking of motivational speakers here. I was broke and on drugs and on the streets and all.

Alex Banayan
Right, it doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

Pete Mockaitis
Addicted to everything. But then I pulled myself up and blah, blah, blah. So, it’s like okay. But give some more examples of hey, challenge overcoming. There might be even mundane just to get a start at it.

Alex Banayan
I think what’s really easy is when I tell people when they do have problems finding examples, I always tell them think back to high school because of high school every day we had a different silly challenge that we found and created a solution for whether you didn’t study for a test and you had to cram by creating a last minute study group where you all exchanged resources.


Or for me I remember not, this is a really preposterous situation, but there was a teacher that was the meanest teacher in the school and I got assigned to that teacher on the first day of school. And I realized that I didn’t want my whole year ruined because that teacher is very notorious.


And I ended up just sitting outside of the guidance counselor’s office for six hours doing a sit in until the guidance counselor would meet with me. Literally preposterous silly things even because the point of this exercise is to show you that in all aspects of your life, whether it’s with a romantic partner or with a parent, when you had obstacles you had the skillsets within you to figure it out. 


And what you’re really doing is you’re helping yourself trust yourself more. That’s the difference between confidence and self-confidence. Confidence is external and self-confidence is internal.


What you’re doing is you’re building your internal self-confidence, your trust in yourself of what you’re capable of.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s just so fun. When you were talking about high school, you were bringing back memories to … I thought it would be fun to participate in the musical we did for Grease. 


But I, at the time and still to this day, I’m not really that great in singing. So, then it became clear … I can read the lines. I talk pretty well. And then it was like then we had to singing. So, I remember this guy Jordan who just has an amazing voice, he was like bring him home. Everybody was like wow. It was like all this.


But what I did know is that I had a lot of enthusiasm and there was one tune I thought was deeply embedded within me, I kind of sang to myself at times. So, it was from a commercial and so I just went for it and said it doesn’t matter what comes, fresh goes better in life. With Mentos Fresh and full of life nothing gets to you. Staying fresh, staying cool. So, I’m singing the Mentos commercial.

Alex Banayan
Right, right. 

Pete Mockaitis
And because there was emotion and it’s not that complex of a tune in terms of number of notes and range, I made a decent impression and I got the part, which was modest. I was in Danny Zuko’s crew.

Alex Banayan
Very important, very important.

Pete Mockaitis
And Sunny I believe, yeah, Sunny was his name.

Alex Banayan
Cool leather jackets.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah. I had one line like tell me more, tell me more, could you get me a friend. Which is tricky because it’s a high note, and I didn’t do super well. But I got the part and had some fun, and it really set things up in some cool ways in terms of making some great friends and being engaged with activities and I stuck with it.


So, while I haven’t thought about that in a long, long time, but you brought it up and it was fun to remember. And I do have a greater sense of possibility not so much from a source of oh, I’m getting pumped up because let’s do a motivational program or I have the tiger or whatever.

Alex Banayan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But rather it was like oh, that was a real thing that happened. And there was a good result and there can be more of that in my life. It’s powerful.

Alex Banayan
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well Alex, good stuff, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Alex Banayan
I think you’ve really nailed it because when I think of everything we’ve talked about so far has this common theme of really looking within yourself and the answers are in there. And the whole point of the third door is not only to equip people with tools not only to change what they believe is possible but really at the end of the day it’s to liberate yourself because whether it’s at work, whether it’s at home, our real goal is to try to be most us version of us, right? The most you version of you. And the third door is really a mindset to liberate yourself.

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

Alex Banayan
I was reading a book and there was a Warren Buffet quote that I just really loved yesterday that I said we don’t have to be smarter than the competition, we just have to be more disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Alex Banayan
I really like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Alex Banayan
Oh my God, so many. I would say something that comes to mind right now is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. 

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

Alex Banayan
This is a great tool and it’s not a tool. It’s the airplane mode function on a phone. If I want to be productive, there is only one way to do it, by putting my phone on airplane mode. Silence doesn’t work. 


When I’m writing, I will literally not only turn of my phone, I’ll hide it in a drawer on the other side of the room to use my laziness against me.


But if I just want to do something very thoughtfully for even 30 minutes, I have to go on to airplane mode.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Alex Banayan
Meditating twice a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you use an app or just breath or what’s your approach?

Alex Banayan
I went to … I use a thing called transcendental meditation, which there’s a lot of teachers all over the world who’ll do these three days workshops. But I really believe any kind of meditation is good as long as it feels good for you.

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

Alex Banayan
Yeah. There’s one quote from the book that I see quoted often, which is when you change what someone believes is possible, you change what becomes possible.

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

Alex Banayan
The book is everywhere. Books are available whether it’s Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Audible. And if you end up getting it, let me know so I can say thank you. Instagram and Twitter are all the same, it’s just @AlexBanayan.

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

Alex Banayan
Great question to end with, yes let me think about that. Let me make that thoughtful. Ask yourself the second, actually no, not the second this is done. Ask yourself some time today where you actually have some time to yourself, what are you the most afraid of at this point in your life right now? Because I think in that answer lies some of your destiny. 

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alex this has been a treat. Keep on living big possibilities and good luck to you.

Alex Banayan
I am so grateful. This was a ton of fun, thank you.

 

Next: Ron Price talks about becoming an influential leader.