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313: Closing the Gap between Potential and Results with Thom Singer

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Thom Singer says: "If you're not willing to... take some actions without the guarantee, then you're just going to be mediocre at your job."

Thom Singer breaks open the Paradox of Potential to highlight where potential doesn’t equal results and what to do about it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to identify the unique things holding you back
  2. The three things that always help achieve better results
  3. How to bring back purpose when it’s most needed

About Thom

As the host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast, Thom interviews business leaders, entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and others who possess an extra dose of the entrepreneurial spirit. The information compiled from these compelling interviews is shared with his clients, as he challenges people to be more engaged and enthusiastic in all their actions. He has authored twelve books on the power of business relationships, sales, networking, presentation skills and entrepreneurship, and regularly speaks to corporate, law firm and convention audiences. He sets the tone for better engagement at industry events as the opening keynote speaker or the Master of Ceremonies. His Conference Catalyst Program has become a “meeting planners” favorite in how it transforms the conference attendee experience.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Thom Singer Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Thom, thanks so much for joining us here again on How To Be Awesome At Your Job.

Thom Singer

God, I’m so excited to be back. It’s been like three years.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah, time really flies. And thanks so much for saying “Yes”. Back in Episode 17, before I had much of a show, I had to pick people who seemed to like me, instead of anybody.

Thom Singer

Now people don’t have to like you.

Pete Mockaitis

No. They resent me, but they grin and bear it for the publicity.

Thom Singer

Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis

So I want to hear a little bit, you did some stand-up comedy for the first time at the age of 51. What’s the story here?

Thom Singer

You’ve done your homework on me. So, I made a pledge to myself when I turned 50 almost two years ago that I was going to have the most fun ever from 50 to 75 years old. Not that I had a bad time before; I was in a fraternity in college, I had a really good time. And I’ve had a good time in between. But I just decided that I wasn’t going to talk myself out of things. And when I was younger, when I was about your age, I was in my 20s, I wanted to try my hand at just open mic night. I didn’t want to go be a full-time comic. But I always found a reason, like I wasn’t going to be good enough, or “What if I sucked?”, or “What if my friends saw me?” And so I always found a way not to do it. I had a friend who was pushing me to try it, and I just never did.
And recently I had a situation where I was going to be in New York and a professional speaker friend of mine is also a professional comic, and he said, “When you’re in New York I’ll take you to open mic night.” And I said, “Oh, how cool. I’d love to see you work on new material.” And the other friend who was with us started shaking his head going, “That’s not what he means. He’ll take you to open mic night, but he’ll make you sign up and do a five-minute set.” And I was like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” And he said, “Why?” And all of my reasons were false. And he said, “Have you ever wanted to try it?” And I said, “Yeah, I used to when I was younger, I really wanted to.”
So, he didn’t really talk me into it, but he made the offer that he would help me. And so when I was in New York City, we signed up, I got my name drawn and I did a five-minute set. And what was fascinating was, I wasn’t the best one. There were maybe 17 comics that went. But I was probably in the top seven. And so I was like, “Huh.” So I’ve now done it five more times.

Pete Mockaitis

No kidding! That’s so great. Well, so to put you on the spot, could you share one or two of your jokes that got the best response?

Thom Singer

Yeah. So you are putting me on the spot. I’m turning 52 years old really soon, and I just realized that my dad was 52 years old when I was born. I had sort of an older dad. In fact, growing up with an older dad there were a couple of things. One was that I thought things were normal, I thought you were supposed to go to restaurants for the discounted dinner at 4:30. And I thought every time you got out of a chair you were supposed to make a noise like, “Ugggghhhh”. I thought it’s just what people did when they got out of the chair. And then I was the only kid on the block who wasn’t allowed to play on his own lawn.

But seriously, my dad was 52 when I was born, and I realized I’m about to turn 52. So I went to my wife and I said, “Oh my gosh, honey, we could have another kid!” And she said, “No. No, we can’t, for so many reasons.” She said, “You can’t keep track of your car keys; how are you going to be able to keep track of a toddler?” So, that’s just a little bit of what I did.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. And kudos for having them to be kind of connected in that theme, because sometimes I understand the comedians, they test a lot of material, and they just push together all the stuff that works great, with little segway, and that’s sort of the way of the world. But call me – I don’t know what the word is – someone who likes themes and structure and organization. I appreciate multiple jokes within the same category.

Thom Singer

Well, I only had to do five minutes, so the whole theme of the whole thing was just stories about my dad, about him dating when he was widowed and different stuff like that. So, that was my two cents, and like I said, I wasn’t the funniest guy. Seinfeld is not worried about job security because I did stand-up. But it definitely was a great experience, and I learned that it’s probably one of the hardest things about standing up in front of an audience. It’s way harder than being a professional speaker, because the expectations of a stand-up comic, even a guy at open mic night, are way higher than some keynote speakers. So, I’ve learned a lot from doing it.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s true. Often they sort of expect the speakers to be boring, and when you just sort of provide a modicum of engagement and jokes and enthusiasm and thought provocation, it’s like, “Alright!”

Thom Singer

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

So speaking of keynote speaking, you’ve got a newer program

Thom Singer

The Paradox of Potential.

Pete Mockaitis

I really liked the blurb that was on your site and I think that there’s a whole lot of thoughts, concerns, questions when it comes to our potential. And How To Be Awesome At Your Job listeners are into developing potential. So what’s it all about?
Thom Singer
Yeah, I would imagine if you’re listening to a podcast called Be Awesome At Your Job, that you definitely have this interest in being awesome at your job. And yet when I talk to people, and I’ve interviewed 300 or 400 people now through a survey, and then I’ve talked to about 10% of them on the phone and done personal interviews – most of the people who I’ve interviewed say that they’re not doing everything they could do in their career. They could be achieving more in their jobs.
And when I talk to managers I say, “Even if my numbers are wrong, even if it’s not 70% to 75%, what if just half your people could be having better performance and doing more, and being more successful? Wouldn’t you want to know about that, about how to get across that gap between potential and results?” And so that’s what I talk about, is what’s holding people back, and then what are some of the ways to get farther across the gap between potential and results.
Because here’s the deal: Potential does not equal results, no matter how much we want it to, no matter how excited we get about having potential or our team having potential, or our new hire being a high potential employee. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to achieve anything, and yet everybody wants to build a bridge. They want to build a bridge for their whole team between potential and results, put everybody on one bus and drive them across.
The problem is not everybody has the same things holding them back, therefore not one solution is going to help everybody. And the bigger thing is that as you move across that gap from potential to results, what happens is that your potential is going to shift, because you’re meeting new people, you’re listening to a new podcast, you’re reading a new book, you’re having a new experience. So, if you build a bridge and your potential shifts, you drive the bus across, everyone’s going to fall into the ravine. So I tell people that you do not want to build your path across in advance and then go across; instead you want to build a scaffolding, you want to build a modular thing so that you can go across at an angle, diagonal, up, down sideways. And then when your potential shifts further out, you can just add a new module.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I like that. And I even want to start at the very beginning, which was just that you did so much research in crafting a keynote. I think that’s awesome to start with. Other folks are like, “Hey, here’s an idea I think is good.” And you went deep into seeing, “What’s a real problem folks are having and what’s some insightful stuff I can bring to it?” So kudos from the get-go in developing your speaker potential by doing that.

Thom Singer

I feel I’m one year into about a five-year survey of people. My intent is to interview thousands of people, and I’m in the process of trying to see if maybe I could get a real researcher, like a PhD level researcher to help me, because I haven’t set the questions up right. I’m not a researcher, I’m not an academic. So, my information I found is still somewhat anecdotal, but there’s a lot of stuff going on here. And people get really excited.
When I go into a company and they have me come into their team, once we get through the presentation point and we get it to that interactive piece where everybody gets to start talking about what holds them back, or others on their team… Sometimes nobody wants to talk about themselves, but hypothetically, “My friend is held back because of XYZ” – people get really into sharing the fears and the mistakes they’ve made along the way, and the team gets really excited about figuring out, “How can we support each other?” So it’s kind of a fun job to be able to do working with actual teams inside a company.

Pete Mockaitis

That is fun. And so I want to dig into a number of these gaps that are popping up frequently, and some of the prescriptions for remedying them. And it’s funny – the first gap that I thought of – and you’ll tell me how prominent this is and if people fess up to it – is just, “Yeah, I could be doing better at my job, but that sounds like a lot of extra hours that I don’t want to spend there because I want to spend more time with my family or doing other cool outside-of-work things.” Is that one of the top gaps?

Thom Singer

Yeah, it’s sometimes as simple as that, that “Hey, this just isn’t my priority.” And you know what? That’s okay. Even if they don’t want to, sometimes people have a new baby, or sometimes… One lady told me after hearing my speech – she came up almost in tears and she said, “Thank you”, because she had an aunt who had no children, and she was caring for her aunt in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. And her boss was really supportive of it, but she felt that when she was at work she was cheating her aunt, and when she was with her aunt she was cheating work.
And the reality of what I said is, sometimes work isn’t your priority. Just be honest with yourself, it’s okay. I gave a fictitious example about caring for somebody, but it hit home with this woman. And she wanted to put more time into work, but she had another commitment. So yeah, sometimes there’s either “I just don’t want to do it” or sometimes “I can’t do it, because I have this other commitment.” And that’s a legitimate reason and people can’t beat themselves up for it. We live in a society where we talk a lot about work, work, work, work, work. It’s not always your priority, and if it’s not your priority, that’s okay. But also don’t have expectations if you’re not putting all that work in that you are going to become CEO.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, that’s well said. And boy, that angst there associated with, “When I’m at work I’m cheating my aunt and when I’m with my aunt I’m cheating my work” – I think that really connects and resonates with lots of people with their outside work obligations and concerns. And so, any pro tips on just coming to peace with that? I think in a way just the sheer anxiety is going to diminish your ability to realize your potential. So, any pro tips on how to take that breath and to become okay with that?

Thom Singer

One of the things I talk about is I think we’ve been done a disservice by all these speakers and trainers who’ve come in and tried to teach work-life balance, because I actually don’t believe you’re ever in balance. If you’re at home with your kids, you’re not at work, so work is out of balance. If you’re at work, you’re not home caring for your kids, so that’s out of balance. So we focus on wanting everything to be in perfect balance, but nothing in the universe is in perfect balance. Something’s always going on that’s throwing something out of balance. So, you just have to get okay with that fact, that just do the best you can with what you’ve got in front of you.
A friend of mine wrote a book called Good Enough Now – her name’s Jessica Pettitt. You know Jessica. One of the things she talks about is, everybody is waiting for perfection before they’re going to go do the things they have to do, but really you’re good enough now. Just go do what you have to do. And that’s sort of what I try to teach people.
But here’s the thing – no matter what you look at in this paradox of potential, it all comes down to three things that help you. There are a lot of things that are holding people back – a lot of different fears, a lot of things where people feel they don’t have the right degree or they don’t have the right training or they don’t have the support of their spouse or their boss, or their company is out-of-sync for a lot of reasons. The list is really, really long of what the problems are.
But the answers all fall into three buckets, and those buckets are your plan, your purpose, and people. So your plan is really just goal-setting. And I know you teach goal-setting in some of the seminars that you do. I’ve never understood why people go, “I don’t believe in goal-setting.” I hear this all the time because it’s part of what I teach. People say, “Oh well, I don’t believe in goal-setting.” I had one person tell me, “Setting goals just sets you up to feel bad when you don’t reach them.” And I’m like, “No, because if you strive for something and you come close, don’t feel bad about the 10% you missed. Look at the 90% of the way you came.”
I have a daughter who is a high achiever, and she always sets her goals really high. And then when she lands at something that other people just think is excellent that might have been shy of that goal, she’s thrilled that she landed at the excellent level that she is. And it’s a really good example – she’s always pushing herself and setting expectations, and I’m always worried that she’s going to be disappointed. And then she’s always thrilled because she’s still coming out in the top 90 percentile. And she said if she had just shot for the 90 percentile, she might have ended up in the 80 percentile.
So, I’ve never understood why people think, “I’m going to feel bad if I don’t hit my goal.” If my goal for sales – and I’m just making this up – is $500,000 and I sell $400,000, that’s better than selling $300,000. So if I had no goal, I have no idea where I would have landed, plus I can’t benchmark myself against my own performance if I don’t have some sort of goal. So the first thing is having that plan and knowing what success looks like, and then taking the actions to get there.
The second bucket is purpose, and that just goes back to what Simon Sinek has taught for years, of knowing your “Why”. Everybody on your team at work has different reasons that they have a job. Some people want to pay their mortgage and have a fancy house and things like that. Other people want to feel part of a team. Other people want to contribute to the greater good. Each person has to come to terms with why they do the work that they do. And in some cases it’s, “I have to pay the bills.” Well, okay, as long as you understand what that is. And it’s really coming to terms as an individual about what your purpose is.
And then the third bucket is people, and that is having the right mentors, being part of the right team, knowing who to turn to, having support at home. Being a mentor is one of the best things that you can do if you really want to grow. So it’s all interactions that you have with people. It’s your network, it’s your brand, it’s how you engage. And so those are the three ways across. No matter what’s holding you back you can always find the answer in your plans, your purpose, and your people.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. It’s nice to have three things and to be alliterative along the way. Really cool. So then, I’d be curious when it comes to executing on each of these. What are some of, I guess the best practices versus the worst practices? I guess in some ways with a plan, just like having no plan is not optimal, as you were laying out here. But what are some other pointers there?

Thom Singer

Well, as I said earlier, potential does not equal results. You have to take action. So, I’ve seen people make plans and make lists and do all these things, but if you’re not checking things off, if you’re not actually moving towards the goal, then nothing’s going to happen. So you really have to be somebody who tries to do something, and I’m a big believer that momentum builds stuff. So a lot of people overthink; they don’t take action because they’re trying to weigh all 10 options against each other.
Yet if you look at really successful entrepreneurs, they know that they have to start their business. They’re really smart in the tech industry in Silicon Valley – the term is “pivot”. Start your business, start building, launch something, and then see where it’s working and where it’s not, and pivot. There are so many companies that started to be one thing and pivoted to something else. Twitter is a perfect example. It wasn’t started to be what it became, but they pivoted it and all of a sudden it went crazy 10 years ago.
So, you just need to be able to start doing something, because if you have momentum it’s easier to change course than to start from an absolute dead stop. And too many people don’t take action until they know that the action they take is going to be perfect. I worked for a person one time – it was in a marketing department – and we were talking about something we were going to do in marketing. And it wasn’t a big spin, I mean it wasn’t $50,000; it was like $6,000, $5,000, something like that. And she said, “What’s the guaranteed ROI?”
And I said, “From marketing, from having an event and doing sponsorship and things like that, you’re not going to have a total guarantee. Here’s what we assume will happen and here’s what we’re hoping for, but I can’t give you a perfect guarantee that we’re going to have 100 people come to our booth and we’re going to meet 10 people and we’re convert three of them. I can’t promise you that.” I go, “Sometimes you may have to throw a little spaghetti against the wall.” And she looked at me and said, “In my company we throw no spaghetti against the wall. Most spaghetti hits the floor.” And I’m like, “Well, then you can do stuff but you’re never going to be able to take the type of actions that are going to lead to the big success.”
Because when you look at people as individuals in their job or companies who have big success, there’s some risk, there’s some trial and error that goes into being awesome at your job. And if you’re not willing to take that trial and error and take some actions without the guarantee, then you’re just going to be mediocre at your job, and that’s not what your podcast is about.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s dead on. And yeah, marketing in particular, that’s hard for anyone to guarantee. And you really don’t know until you start for sure. And so, I think that is compelling, in the sense that if folks do something, or don’t do something because they’re so terrified of the potential for a failure, then you’re pretty limited to a very narrow space of actions you might take.

Thom Singer

Yeah, and therefore you might succeed… But I’ve been doing this in my career for nine years. I throw some Hail Mary passes and sometimes they get intercepted, and that’s just the way it goes.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so that’s the “plan” side of things. And how about purpose?

Thom Singer

Well, we all are motivated for different reasons. And sometimes we forget why we get out of bed. What are we trying to accomplish? What is it that we want for our family? What’s our purpose of what we do? You have a new child. When you have a kid, that changes your purpose. You may have noticed some things in the past five or six months have changed in the way you look at the world, and that is because you’re now responsible for somebody else.
So I have two kids of my own, and then I mentor two young gentleman who are both in their late 20s, who call me their “fake dad”. They’ve been around about four years; I don’t think they’re ever going away. And my kids are like, “What’s the deal there?” My one daughter is like, “Are they in the will?” And I said, “No, they’re not real kids. They’re not in the will.” And she said, “Okay, then I support your friendship with them, as long as they’re not taking my inheritance.” No, she didn’t say that.
But the thing is that I tell them all the time, because they’re young and they’re both single – I tell them all the time I have a different outlook on the world because there are other humans I’m responsible for. I have a wife and I have two kids. And I said, “When you’re responsible for three other people, that changes the purpose of why you do things and the decisions that you make in your career, in your personal life, what you do on Friday night, etcetera.”
And so, I think that that’s something we have to realize, that our purpose and our plans and our people – they’re going to change from time to time, and that’s okay. But you have to understand, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” So, one of my main motivations of why I pursue the business I pursue is, I want to be that person who’s educating people. I could go be a teacher or a professor or a newscaster. I like being in that role, where I’m sharing information with people. And because I like being in that role, part of my purpose is, I want to be the best I can at that.
Another one of my purposes is money. I’m not ashamed of it – I want to have nice things. I don’t have to make a million dollars a year. So many people focus on giant numbers, but I have to have decent numbers because there’s certain things I’ve chosen to do. Plus I have kids, who one goes to a very expensive college, one’s in high school with her eyes set on very expensive colleges. And the problem is when you have kids who are straight-A students in high school, they get accepted to those colleges, so then you have to figure out, how do we pay for them.
And the problem is that unless you’re making… If you make a million dollars a year, it doesn’t matter. And if you make a smaller amount, there’s often need-based scholarships. But if you’re in the middle, you’ve got to pay for them. And so I’m motivated to make sure that I can make those tuition payments on top of our mortgage payments and still be able to, as a family, take some trips and have clothes and things like that, eat nice meals. So that’s part of that purpose piece is, I have to know why I’m doing it, because it makes me get out of bed in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis

Very good. And so I think it’s often quite common to forget or lose sight of the purpose when you’re in the urgent stuff.

Thom Singer

Absolutely, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

And so any thoughts on how to bring it back, fresh in our mind?

Thom Singer

Well, out of sight is always out of mind, so I encourage people to write their goals down, going back to the plan. The old saying is, “A goal not written down is a wish.” So, you’ve got to write down your goals. Part of that is you’ve got to write down your purpose. And this is more than your company’s mission statement that hangs in the lobby. This is individual to the person. Everyone on the team needs to be clear about why do they work there, and what do they want to contribute.
And you’ve got to review it because otherwise, when things get busy and when things get bad, and it always gets bad… I mean none of us have a perfect career, whether there are problems with the economy, problems with bosses or co-workers, or just caught up in the moment, there’s some problem with the client, it’s just bad – it’s easy to forget why you get out of bed in the morning. So write it down and have it in front of you.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful, thank you. And how about on the people side?

Thom Singer

Well, I started my speaking career teaching people how to network better, how to connect with people in a gadget-crazy world. It’s something that I’ve talked about for 10 years. I started my speaking career just as the iPhone and the smartphone started showing up in everybody’s hands. And everybody thought, “It’s going to be so much easier to connect.” And yet, I ask everybody who is over 35 years old, “Do you feel now that you have more friends? And I mean friends who are going to invite you to Thanksgiving. Do you have more friends than you had a decade ago?” And I rarely – there’re sometimes people – but I rarely had a hand go up in the audience.
And then I flip it around to business and I say, “How many people feel that you have more business, like it’s so much easier for you to sell” – because I speak to a lot of sales teams – “than it was 10 years ago?” Now, if somebody is 28, they don’t remember life without a smartphone. But if they’re 38, they sure do. And rarely, again, does a hand go up. Every now and then, there’s somebody who, they do a real good job at Internet marketing and use of social and stuff like that, but in most cases, people shake their heads.
And I say, “Okay, so we can have a room up several hundred people, nobody or very few people raise their hands.” I’m like, “But let’s think back to the last 10 years. Every conference that you went to, not so much now, but certainly 3 years ago to 10 years ago, had entire tracks on social media and mobile and digital. And yet, nobody feels that they’re better connected.” And in fact, there was an article in the Harvard Business Review last fall, written by the former Surgeon General of the United States under Obama, and it was called… I don’t know what the title of the article was, but it was about the epidemic of loneliness that’s going on.
And there are a lot of articles written about how the Millennials feel very lonely, like they don’t feel they have a lot of friends. One of these guys I mentor sent me a funny – I don’t know if it’s called a meme or whatever, because I’m old – but he sent me a thing at Easter time, and it said, “The real miracle is, how did Jesus make it to his thirties and have 12 friends?” So they talk a lot about younger people not feeling like they have close friendships, but this article in Harvard Business Review said it’s not just the Millennials, it’s all the generations. People feel that they’re invisible, people feel lonely, more so than at any time in history. And yet, for the last decade, we’ve put all these connection tools into place.
So one of the things I talk about is we have to step back, we have to see people, we have to get back. The saying in India when you greet somebody is “Namaste.” And if you translate that – and there are a lot of ways I’ve heard it translated – but the simplest one is, “I see you” or, “I see your soul” or, “My soul sees your soul.” Well, that’s what we have to get back to because people are feeling like they don’t see them.
So I talk about this at conferences and I tell people it’s not just the introverts. Sometimes people think, “Oh well, this is a conference of all sales people. Everyone’s an extrovert.” That doesn’t apply. Even the extroverts who are life of the party – a lot of them feel invisible. And I’ll have people come up to me and nod their head and go, “That’s me. I’m right in the middle of the crowd. I can hold my own, but I don’t feel anybody knows who I am or knows what I care about.”
So, we’re living in this age, and for 10 years I’ve been teaching it, about how do we connect with people in this gadget-crazy digital world. And a lot of it comes down to stopping and seeing people and having real conversations. I mean how often have you been in a restaurant and you look over and there’s a whole family – a mom, a dad, and three kids – and everyone’s on their phone at the table?

Pete Mockaitis

Right, yeah.

Thom Singer

It happens all the time. Or you’re in a business meeting, sitting around the conference table, and a couple of the partners in the firm or even lower-level people in the firm are doing what I call “the iPhone prayer”. Looks like they have their head down and they’re praying. But in reality, they’re just tapping away on their screen down in their lap, or they’re looking at the screen by their hip – I call it “the one-hip sneak”. They’re thinking nobody will notice they’re looking at their phone. So, I think we have to get to where we put that stuff down from time to time. I love my phone; it’s always in my hand. It’s in my hand right now while I’m talking to you, but I’m not looking at it. I’m just still holding it. It’s on my lap.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s so soothing, like a comfort blanket. [laugh]

Thom Singer

Right. And I’m going to be 52 right around the corner, so it’s not just the Millennials who are that way. But I think the point that I’m trying to make here, and I’m going around the long way, is we have to realize that the connections to people are so important. I mean the old saying, “People do business with people they know, they like, and they trust” – that’s not a cliché, that’s true. The difference is it’s harder to get to know people, I mean to really get to know. A like, a link, a share and a follow is not a friendship. We have to go back to getting to know people.
There used to be a process to get to know them. You had to go to a few networking events, maybe you had lunch, maybe you played golf, maybe you went to a few social events with them. And then you got to know them, and then like and trust came along, or it didn’t. But nowadays, everybody thinks they know everybody.
They listen to this show – I bet there are people listening right now who are like, “Oh, I know Pete.” Well, no. They know Pete based on the one side of Pete as the podcast host. So, they don’t know how you are one-on-one, they don’t know your soul, per se. And so people think, “I’m connected to them on Twitter. I listen to their podcast. I know them.” So know, K-N-O-W, has gotten misinterpreted to “know of them” or “know about them.” And so like and trust are harder to get to.
And so I encourage people, if to go back to the old school ways of face-to-face spending time with people with no digital interaction in the moment while you’re there, you’re going to get to like and trust a lot faster, and I think it’s more important than ever. And I talk a lot about this whole idea of seeing people. When’s the last time you went into Starbucks? And if people tell me, “This morning”, I go, “Can you tell me what color eyes the barista had?”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.

Thom Singer

Know. Even if I’m going to have a two-second interaction with them, I try to just register, look them right in the eye, and I think “Blue eyes.” And I smile, and they smile back. They don’t know why, they just know that I just saw something about them.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome, thank you. So we hit the plan, the purpose, the people. You’ve also got some perspectives when it comes to limiting beliefs and how those could be problematic for realizing potential.

Thom Singer

Well, let’s go back to where we were talking about me doing stand-up comedy. When I was 25 years old, my wife and I used to like to go to comedy clubs. We had another couple we did a lot of things with. And he and I used to drink a lot of beer together and we would talk about it. And he goes, “You’re kind of funny. You could do this.” But I had a ton of limiting beliefs. I overthought the entire process. And now that I’ve done this a few times, I’m like, “Well, that was stupid. So what if I went and I sucked? I still would have done it.”
And so this whole concept of “I’m going to make 50 to 75 the best years of my life”, is all based around the fact that I’m not going to have limiting beliefs. So I’ve done other stuff besides the stand-up. I jumped off the Stratosphere in their SkyJump in Las Vegas. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but the sky tower, like Seattle or whatever – they have one at the Stratosphere Hotel. And they have, I guess it’s called a ride or an attraction, where you go out on a platform and leap off the 108th floor in a harness. It’s not a bungee, it’s like a tension thing, and you land on the ground without any impact, because just before you get to the ground, the tension between the three wires gets strong enough where you just kind of go “Bling!” and you land.
But I’ll tell you, it’s really scary. If you watch the video, the guy counts you down. You go through a class, they tell you how to do it, it’s supposed to be a perfect swan dive. And the guy goes, “One, two, three, jump!” And I just stood there. And on the video it’s funny, because I’m just holding on to the rail, and I look over my shoulder and I go, “Say it again.” And he goes, “One, two, three, jump!” And instead of swan diving, I just half-jump off. I go like, “No!”
However, I agreed to do that. I mean I didn’t agree – it was my own idea, nobody talked me into it. But I decided to do that because I looked it up online – nobody’s ever died. The thing’s been there well over a decade, and I figured I’m not going to be the first. And so why overthink it? And I have friends who’ve watched the video who were like, “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, not going to do it.”
The other thing is I’m kind of a city guy. All my vacations throughout my whole life have been New York, and Chicago, and Paris, and Rome, San Francisco. And this last couple of years, I have a daughter who’s very outdoorsy. She wanted to hike the Grand Canyon, so we went for three days to the Grand Canyon. And we stayed in the hotel, but we went hiking around and down the Grand Canyon.
With my kids, I do a thing. You have a young child. My wife and I do a thing – I’m going to pass on to you. When the kids turn 13, they get to plan a three-night trip anywhere in the country with their mom. Now, we take care of the airfare and the hotel to make sure they don’t overspend, but they plan all the activities, and it’s anywhere that they want to go. When they’re 16, they get to do it with Dad. Because otherwise, they go on all these family vacations, but it’s mom, dad, their sibling and all this. So this is the one-on-one time for three days with a parent.
And they look forward to it. People are like, “Your 16-year-old wants to go away?” She’d spent years planning this trip, and her answer was “Yosemite.” And I said “Boston? Is that what you said?” And she said, “No, Yosemite.” And we stayed in these tent-cabin-like structures, and the bathroom was a quarter mile down the path, and we had to eat in a mess hall, but it’s what she wanted to do. And so part of my “50 to 75 is the best years of my life”, we hiked 10 miles a day every day for the three and a half days we were in Yosemite, and we had an awesome time.
I did a TEDx talk with three weeks’ notice because I think someone had cancelled and they gave me a last-minute addition. But before, I would have overthought it. I would have had limiting beliefs saying, “Oh, TED talk is a big deal. That video’s going to end up online. Three weeks isn’t enough time to prepare. It’s a topic I’ve never really spoken on before.” And instead I just said, “Yeah, I can do that.” And so it’s all of these types of things combined that in the past, my limiting beliefs would have taken over. And so the answer is, “Don’t overthink. Just do more.”

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. Awesome, thank you. Well, Thom, tell me – anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Thom Singer

No, but I was doing a little research on you, and you’re the only person I know who has a custom-made Superman suit. And so I just am not sure all of your listeners know that. But I watched your video, I watched your speaking video, and there’s a picture of you in a form-fitting… Thank God you’re not old enough to have gotten fat. But you’ve got a custom-made Superman suit, which you said was for Halloween, but I’m a little curious if your wife has the matching Wonder Woman outfit.

Pete Mockaitis

She does not. Thank you for asking, publicly. [laugh] It’s funny. The backstory is, since we’re going here – I remember for Halloween, I always wonder, “Oh man, what should I be?” And I thought, “You know what? I really just want to be Superman”, because that’s what I always wanted to be as a kid. So I would just like the ultimate Superman costume. Christopher Reeve style is my preference.

Thom Singer

Sure, it’s cool, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis

And it was interesting because I got dumped numerous years ago, and I was kind of sad. And my mom had remembered the conversations we had about… I said, “You know what? I’d like to be Superman, but you can spend 300 bucks for an adult Superman costume that doesn’t even include the red boots. Isn’t that absurd?” And so she sent me, unannounced, a pair of red Superman boots.

Thom Singer

In your size?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, exactly. And it was just like… As soon as I beheld them, I knew immediately what I had to do was to get the…

Thom Singer

$300 Superman costume.

Pete Mockaitis

It turned out I saved about half of that, because I found someone on eBay who made Superman costumes or other hero costumes to your precise dimensions. So it was not just a medium, small, or large; it was exactly my size. And it is my favorite thing to wear, and I do only wear it on Halloween.

Thom Singer

[laugh] Alright, we’ll go with that.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. So thank you for bringing that up. [laugh] And so now people probably feel like they know me all the more, but it’s an illusion.

Thom Singer

So now people can say, “I know Pete and the Superman costume.” But you really don’t know Pete. You just know about the Superman costume.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s all you need to know. [laugh] Okay. Well then let’s hear…

Thom Singer

All the women listeners are going to look for the picture.

Pete Mockaitis

I declare. [laugh] Well, let’s hear a favorite quote from you, something you find inspiring.

Thom Singer

So I’m worried this might have been the quote I used three years ago. I meant to go listen to that episode to make sure I didn’t use the same quote. But my favorite quote actually comes from my dad. And I recently used it without giving attribution to my dad. I made it sound like it was my quote. And my 21-year-old daughter called me out on it. She saw it online where I’d said this, and it had my name next to it. And she said, “That’s not your quote. That your dad’s quote.” And I said, “Yeah, but he’s been dead for four years, and so who else did he leave the quote to? He left it to me, I’m sure.” So I told her when I was dead four years, she could take it. But it’s really a quote from my dad. And that is, “Be slow to anger and fast to forgive.”

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Thom Singer

I’ve got to say this stuff I’m doing with people’s potential and how they feel about their own success in their careers. And I was surprised how many people don’t think they’re living up to their potential, so I found that to be quite interesting.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite book?

Thom Singer

Always go back to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a life-changer for me when I was 25.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Thom Singer

My iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis

And I thought you were going to say handwritten thank-you notes, which you sent one to me, and it was very nice.

Thom Singer

[laugh] Yeah, probably my iPhone, but I still send handwritten notes.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite habit?

Thom Singer

Everybody asks about, “What do you do in the mornings?” I have bad habits, I don’t have really good habits. But I will say the best thing – and this is part of the age 50 life change – is, I used to weigh 35 pounds more than I do now. And I gave up sugar and wheat for the most part; I eat limited amounts of processed sugar and wheat. And then I started running. So I think health habits are the one that I didn’t know about until two years ago, but the ones I’m most impressed with because I feel better than I’ve felt in well over a decade. And I wasn’t in bad shape, I wasn’t unhealthy. I’m six foot three, so 30 pounds, it’s not like you’d go, “Wow, fatty.” But having lost that 30 plus pounds and eating a much healthier diet really has been a great habit for me.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’d like to hear, when it comes to giving up the sugar and wheat, how would you describe the difference in your mental clarity or performance?

Thom Singer

So the first three weeks I was an ass, if I can say that on your show. I was grumpy, I was horrible, it was not good. And then the clarity sort of came in and stuff somewhere around a month or two. And I never knew I was unclear, I didn’t know I was foggy. It’s not like I was having problems, but it was like, “Wow.” There was such a huge difference. And coupling that with a guy who was never a runner – I’d never run a mile in my life – and I started training for a half marathon.
And after I completed that… After you finish a half marathon, if you’re not a runner and you’ve never been a runner, all your runner friends start saying, “Now that you’ve done a half, you’re going to want to do a whole.” They’re lying. I don’t want to run that. I don’t even want to run a half ever again. But I am still running three to five miles about three days a week. And the combination of eating a cleaner, healthier diet with the running just makes me feel younger.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a particular nugget you share in your presentations that really seems to connect and resonate with the audiences?

Thom Singer

I should have probably prepared for that one. No, nothing I share connects with the audiences, I’m sure. No. So lately it has really been around this whole issue of seeing people. Actually, I have a slide, and it says #seepeople. And it’s just a picture up close of someone’s eye looking out into the distance. And I talk about how people don’t feel anyone sees them.
And I’m surprised and saddened maybe how many people come up and say, “I feel invisible. I feel that people don’t see me in my family, at work, in this audience.” So this whole idea of putting your phone down and taking a little bit of time to just talk to people and see them as humans. They don’t have to be your best friend, just see them. And when you’re with people, choose people – probably is the thing that resonates the most.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And if folks want to learn more and get in touch, where do you put them?

Thom Singer

ThomSinger.com.

Pete Mockaitis

Not “Thom”Singer.com?

Thom Singer

It’s not “Thom”, no. It is Thom. So here’s the deal. How many Thomas’s do you know? Everybody is T-H-O-M-A-S. When they shorten it to “Tom” my question is, why did they take out the H? I just get rid of the “AS”.

Pete Mockaitis

Clever.

Thom Singer

Maybe stand-up’s not my thing.

Pete Mockaitis

[laugh] And do you have a final challenge or call-to-action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Thom Singer

Yeah, listen to podcasts like this one. I think the podcasts, the last five years they’ve really exploded. And I do a podcast – listen to mine. But I think the real big thing is I learn so much from listening to shows like yours and so many others, that I think when you’re out for your run, when you’re on the bike, when you’re going for a walk, when you’re in the car, whatever it is you’re doing where you can put ear buds in and just have a human university just broadcast into your head – there’s no way you’re not going to be better for it.
It’s like getting a Master’s degree. If you listen to the right people, you’re going to get all these ideas, these theories, these nuggets, these concepts. Some of them are going to stick. And so I think that listen to Pete’s show, listen to my show, listen to any one of the thousands of other shows that resonate with you. You cannot lose if you’re listening to the right stuff.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Thom – not “Thom” – this has been a lot of fun yet again. Please keep doing the great stuff that you’re doing, and keep on rocking out.

Thom Singer

This was great. And I don’t know why we didn’t have you on my show three years ago, but we’re going to get that scheduled before we hang up today.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome. Thank you.

298: Key Success Principles that Are Wrong (sort of) with Eric Barker

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Eric Barker says: "We're far more likely to listen, to explore possibilities, and to grow when we don't think we have all the answers."

Eric Barker busts the myths and uncovers truths behind some of the most popular maxims.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How alignment is a genuine key to success
  2. Why valedictorians don’t necessarily shape the world
  3. How to operate like a Navy Seal

About Eric

Eric Barker’s humorous, practical blog, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”, presents science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. Over 320,000 people subscribe to his weekly newsletter and his content is syndicated by Time Magazine, The Week, and Business Insider. He has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and the Financial Times. Eric is also a sought-after speaker and interview subject, and has given talks at MIT, Yale, Google, United States Military Central Command (CENTCOM), NASDAQ, and the Olympic Training Center.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Eric Barker Stanier Interview Transcript

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

Eric Barker
Oh, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I got a real kick out of playing around and looking at your website. The domain or URL is, if I’m saying it right, bakadesuyo.com, which has an interesting translation. Can you tell us the story here?

Eric Barker
Yeah, basically my last name means idiot in Japanese. Barker, basically, the Japanese syllabic system doesn’t have r’s, so Barker becomes Baka. Baka means idiot.

When I was first starting the blog like nine years ago and I was doing it on a lark. I didn’t even know where this would end up going. I was just like, “Hey, let’s play with this.” My URL – basically it emphatically states that I am Barker. It also says I’m an idiot because me introducing myself is – those are the same sentence…

Me introducing myself and me calling myself a moron are the same sentence in Japanese, so I have never had a Japanese – I’ve been to Tokyo three times. I’ve never had a Japanese person forget my name.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s fun. It shows some humility, self-effacingness because really I would assert that I don’t think you’re an idiot. I think you have some pretty insightful things to share. You’ve got the book and blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Can you orient us a little bit to what that’s all about?

Eric Barker
Yeah, basically the blog’s kind of evolved over the years, but basically I wanted to look at – I wanted to get some real answers. When I first created … I was at a big turning point in my life and I wanted to get the best answers that I could, so I started looking at peer-reviewed scientific research, books, then I started interviewing experts.

Basically, I found that a lot of the questions – there’s this great William Gibson quote I love, where he says, “The future is already here, but it’s not evenly distributed.” I think that’s true with a lot of questions that we have about life is there is a lot of research and information, good information, about the questions we all ask, but they’re in dusty journals or they’re locked in the ivory towers of universities.

I’ve tried to just get good answers to how can we basically live a great life, so in terms of relationships, in terms of productivity, happiness, all these kind of things. The internet is filled with so much kind of junk information or unverifiable ideas that somebody came up with over lunch to at least get something that has some backing to it.

Then for the book basically after a number of years of doing the blog, the book is basically looking at the issue of success. We all grew up with these maxims of success we hear, like, ‘nice guys finish last’ and ‘it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.’

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got to work hard.

Eric Barker
Yeah, and we don’t know where they came from. We don’t know if they’re true. We don’t know if they used to be true, but they’re not true anymore.

Basically I decided to play myth busters and each chapter of the book is one of those maxims. I go down the rabbit hole looking at the research, talking to the experts, and basically giving each one of these their day in court looking at both sides of the issue and trying to tell some fun stories and have a good time along the way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now, you say myth busters, I didn’t see anywhere on your blog, maybe I missed it in which you filled a pig’s stomach with pop rocks and a carbonated beverage, is that there somewhere or did I overlook that?

Eric Barker
I don’t want to talk about my personal life, but you know. No, that’s not on the blog, but I do have an appointment later today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. I knew I would like you.

Let’s dig into some of these things. I’m particularly interested from sort of a career and personal development vantage point, you say that much of what we know quote/unquote, if you didn’t hear that, there’s air quote all over that, about success is totally wrong. Can you expand upon that?

Eric Barker
Yeah, again, specifically I address these maxims, where they’re very black and white, you know, ‘nice guys finish last.’ It’s not as clear-cut as that. There’s many facets to the question, but most specifically I would point to Adam Grant, who is a professor at Wharton, and his research shows that nice guys do finish last, but they also finish first.

When you look at the results from a number of different careers, you find that the most altruistic people, the results are bimodal. They are actually at the bottom and the top of success metrics.

If you think about it, that may sound confusing, it actually makes sense because we all know somebody who is just a martyr, who gets taken advantage of. They’re just too nice. They don’t look out for themselves. But we all also know somebody who is just awesome, supportive and giving and everybody loves them, everybody feels indebted to them, and everybody goes out of their way to help this very giving altruistic person.

We’ve got these overly simplified black and white concepts of success and when you dig into it, you usually find that it’s a little more nuanced than that and in some cases a lot more nuanced than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’d love it if you could unpack a couple of these maxims. ‘Nice guys finish last,’ that’s a great one to think through in sort of a career or work context. What are some others that leap to mind?

Eric Barker
One of the other things I talk about is the issue that ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.’

When you look at the research in terms of extroverts/introverts what you see is that across a number of metrics, extroverts do do better. They have bigger networks. They’re more likely, in most situations, to become leaders. They generally make more money. In fact, there’s a very significant amount of research that shows they’re happier.

However, what you see is that introverts have their own kind of superpower as well. That is that introverts are far more likely to get better grades. A disproportionate number of PhD holders are introverts. A disproportionate number of top athletes are introverts.

What you’re seeing there is basically that while extroverts derive enormous benefits from having big networks and knowing lots of people; introverts often take that time that they don’t spend socializing and use it to become experts in the field.

Rather than simply saying, ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,’ it depends on your career. If you are in business development or sales or something, hey, being more extroverted, having a huge network can benefit you. But if you’re something like a computer programmer or maybe even a blogger or an author, being an introvert is beneficial because your skill is going to be more valuable, in general, than your network will be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s my excuse for having a poor quality podcast and writing on AwesomeAtYourJob.com is that I’m so extroverted. I can’t be held responsible. I’m just out and about socializing all the time, Eric.

Eric Barker
The key meta point I make about success in the book is the idea that what is really critical is alignment. Know thyself, the old classic maxim. Knowing thyself and then picking the right pond. Basically really having some information, not just theories: who you are, what you’re like, what you’re good at, what are your signature strengths, what are your intensifiers, and then finding an environment that rewards those.

The alignment between those is critical. Like you’re saying there, it’s kind of like if you know, “Hey, I’m extroverted. I’m really conscientious,” then say what roles, what jobs, what companies or institutions reward those, that’s the path to success.

Actually what the research shows as well is that as opposed to doing what you love, very often what studies show is that when you do what you’re good at, you actually grow to love it. Finding out what you’re good at and passionately devoting yourself to that actually ends up making you happier.

By starting with knowing yourself, aligning yourself with an environment that supports that, that’s a really good path to success. Like you’re saying there, self-knowledge applied is really powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. When it comes to signature strengths, we’ve talked previously on the show about strengths stuff with Lisa Cummings or Scott Barlow, but the word intensifier, can you unpack that a little bit?

Eric Barker
Yeah, this is a concept that was put together by Gautam Mukunda at Harvard Business School. Signature strengths is an idea that – this research is done by Martin Seligman University of Pennsylvania.

Signature strengths, not only obviously does it make you good at your job to apply things you are naturally and uniquely good at, but also makes you happier. There’s tons of research showing it has a range of benefits when you use the unique skills you have.

However, most of those are usually these kind of generally good things, like if you’re agreeable or if IQ, you’ve got positive – things that are just universally well regarded. That’s where the concept of intensifiers comes in.

What Gautam Mukunda realized is when looking at leaders, many great leaders had qualities that were negative at the mean. In other words, on average these qualities were considered a negative, but they had aligned themselves with a context where that quality actually became a positive. It became a superpower.

In other words, in general if I said you were argumentative, most people would consider that an insult, in general. At the mean, argumentativeness is considered a negative quality. However, if you were to decide to become a litigator, being argumentative might be an essential part of your job and might advance your career.

Some people might say you’re stubborn. Okay, well, stubbornness again, in your interpersonal relationships can be a huge negative, generally considered a bad quality. But, if you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be stubborn. You’re going to face rejection. You’re going to face difficulty. Stubbornness might be almost indistinguishable from grit and persistence.

Intensifiers are understanding the negative at the mean qualities you possess and then finding that, “Hey, I’m stubborn, but I’m going to be an entrepreneur. I’m argumentative, but I’m a litigator. That even my negative qualities are being put to good use because of the career choices I’ve made.”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well said. I dig that. It’s very potent synthesis and distillation of this stuff. I love it. I’m just going to keep going for it. You also unpack a little bit and explore why is it that valedictorians in fact rarely become millionaires. What’s the story behind this one?

Eric Barker
Basically, this was research by Karen Arnold at Boston College. What she found is that valedictorians, they do well. They do very well. They generally go on to prosperous careers. They often get graduate degrees. They live good lives.

But in terms of going on to being the people that shape the world, lead the world, they very, very rarely do. That is because of the nature of – we think of valedictorian almost as – we give it this kind of halo effect where it just means you’re awesome in general.

Pete Mockaitis
Ahh.

Eric Barker
Exactly. It’s not that. What it usually is is a strong sign of conscientiousness. The big five personality trait of conscientiousness, which means you’re good at following rules. People who are good at following rules, they show up on time, they do what they’re told.

Those people do very well in school, in high school and college because a big part – once you reach a certain minimum IQ threshold, grades actually are not a very good measure of IQs. Standardized tests are a very good measure of IQ. Grades are actually a good measure of conscientiousness. Do you do what you’re told? Do you play be the rules? Show up on time? Cross your t’s, dot your I’s?

That means that means that these people who are conscientious get very good grades. However the world is not just like schools. School has very clearly defined rules. The world does not have very clearly defined rules.

When there’s not a very strict playbook, you check all these boxes and you get an A plus, the enormous success of the valedictorians starts to break down. Like I said, overall they do very well, but they’re not going to be the people who change the world because they’re actually followers.

They’re people who do what they’re told very well, but they’re not the ones who generally go out and try and reinvent the playbook, who innovate, who change things. They usually will check all the boxes, which means someone else has to create those boxes.

To do well in school, also generally means you have to be a generalist. You have to – even if you’re passionate about math, you need to stop studying math to make sure you get an A in history and English. It requires you to be a generalist.

Whereas, as we all know, once you get into the workforce, you are generally rewarded for a singular skill set. If you are an amazing programmer and you don’t know anything about history, Google is still going to hire you. They don’t care about those other qualities.

Again, you are actually penalized in high school and college for too singular a focus, yet what is often rewarded in the work place is expertise in a singular focus. Once again, something that benefits valedictorians in high school and college can be a big negative when they go out into the working world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s really interesting, Eric, because I am a valedictorian. It’s really connecting that conscientiousness element when I’m getting into some territory that is sort of ambiguous because one of my strengths is input.

I like to collect a lot of different perspectives from folks and then sort of synthesize that and say, “Okay, given all that I know from the experts and my research and the data, it really seems like this is the best course of action.”

But it gets really tricky for me when I’m doing something new and then I’ve got five totally different voices saying totally different things. I go, “Ah, well shucks, now what?” I found myself in my entrepreneurial journey getting a little bit stuck in those zones.

It’s like, “Well, I guess it’s unclear and maybe I will have the presence of mind to push through and find the audacity to chart a new course, but other times it just takes way longer than it should to blast past that ambiguity.

Eric Barker
The thing about all of these personality traits like conscientiousness is that much like the overarching theory of success I have in the book, where it’s knowing yourself and then picking the right pond, it’s always it’s interaction with the environment. There’s not a singular this is always good and this is always bad.

Conscientiousness is a very powerful personality trait in most spheres in terms of earnings, in terms of successful marriages. Conscientiousness, being steady, predictable, consistent is very powerful. Yet, we can all imagine situations where we, perhaps in the arts, in media, in much more creative professions, where being a little too stickler or the rules probably would not benefit you as much.

All of these traits, whether they’re good or bad, and that’s going back to the issue of signature strengths and intensifiers depends on context.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm, I’m with you there. I also want to get your view here, when I’m exploring all this stuff in terms of where you fit best and maybe not so great a fit when it comes to the whole confidence game. What are your takes from the research in terms of sort of bad advice for boosting your confidence versus the evidence-based advice?

Eric Barker
The issue with confidence – first and foremost, it’s a very tricky – it’s a tricky issue to discuss because they don’t write a lot of books on reducing your confidence. Most people don’t say, “My confidence is way too high. How can I bring it down?”

It’s so one-sided in terms of everybody wants to boost their confidence and anything that you see written on the subject is talking about increasing your confidence. It’s a little one sided. It’s only one side of the court room actually has an attorney arguing for it.

But basically it’s interesting because there are strengths and weaknesses on both sides. We’re usually not aware of them because like I said because it’s often a one-sided conversation. Too much confidence is a bad thing. Overconfidence is not a compliment, nor is narcissism and hubris.

When people get too confident, the research basically shows that a) they don’t listen to anybody. They think they have all the answers to a very unhealthy, unproductive degree. Also, they become a jerk. They just don’t listen to anybody else and they generally don’t respect people. And they’re actually more likely to cheat and lie.

But the benefits of confidence, obviously, it makes us feel good, confidence. Nobody likes feeling uncertain. Also, confidence has an enormous, it’s undeniable that it has an enormous effect on how other people perceive you.

One of the studies I site in the book is that given a choice between a person with a great track record, who doesn’t seem very confident, and a person with a mediocre track record, who seems extremely confident, study subjects pick confidence over a great track record. They actually picked just the way the person conveyed themselves.

Basically like picking a stock trader who lost money, but seemed really confident versus somebody who consistently made money, but didn’t come off as confident. People trust confidence over expertise. On the flip side-

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, so you’re saying we’ve got multiple studies across multiple domains and stock picking is one example where the majority of folks-

Eric Barker
I was using stock picking as an example for clarity, but my point is that there’s research showing that people will choose the confident speaker with an inferior track record over the less confident speaker with the superior track record.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. In terms of you’re going to hire somebody for a role and – that is striking. Wow. That’s –

Eric Barker
Yeah, I think we’ve all seen examples of this where, “Hey, he didn’t have the greatest grades, but we really clicked in the interview,” or, “He really made an impression,” or, “She really just came across well,” that kind of ….

On the flip side, less confidence obviously doesn’t – clearly doesn’t make a very good impression on people and doesn’t make us feel good. However, it helps us learn. We’re far more open to new ideas. We’re far more likely to listen, to explore possibilities, and to grow when we don’t think we have all the answers.

The problem is that there’s benefits – there’s strengths and weaknesses to both sides. You see some people succeed by a form of double think, which there is no system to incorporate double think. But some people are great, like thinking about the athletes who can be completely deferential to their coach, work hard in training, and then when they show up on game day, they are 110% sure that they’re going to do it. If you can balance that, great.

But in looking at the research what I found actually was the best answer was that the entire confidence paradigm is actually problematic at its core because it puts us on this constant up and down, where we often feel like we need to prove ourselves to support our self-esteem.

What seems to be a superior answer was actually an ancient Buddhist concept which has been scientifically validated by Kristin Neff at the University of Texas at Austin called self-compassion, where instead of building ourselves up to this superhuman ridiculous level where we will inevitably fail, basically to try and see the world as realistically as possible, but to be forgiving with yourself when you fail, to be very realistic, but to be very compassionate toward yourself.

Actually, that allows you to see the world for what it is. You’re not overconfidently deluded. But on the other hand, you’re not punishing yourself when you fail and you’re open to new ideas because you’re not being unrealistic. Self-compassion actually seemed to be a better paradigm than self-confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. This reminds me of – and I don’t know – you can tell me if there’s a scientific name for this concept, but it really seems related to this confidence matter.

I’ve seen it in myself and in others in terms of let’s say you do something the first time and you’re really concerned, like, “Okay, I’ve never done this before. I’ve really got to make sure,” I guess that’s my conscientiousness, “I really want to make sure that I nail it and I do it just right. I’m going to look very carefully at all of the instructions and the best practices, and research-based insights to do a fantastically good job.”

Then I do that thing. I’m thinking about putting on a leadership seminar once. I did that. I was in my role as the chairperson. It went great, so good, good, good stuff.

Then the next year, I did it again, but this time I had a completely different attitude or mindset, which was, “Oh yeah, we rocked this last year. This should be no problem.” Then I put in less effort and had less curiosity and less diligence associated with doing all the stuff and then actually had in some ways an inferior result in that event that I put together.

I’ve seen this in other people. The term I’ve coined for it is second-time syndrome. You’re doing it the second time and through overconfidence or any number of factors, you do it worse than you did the first time despite that experience would suggest we should have a superior outcome. Is there a name for that in science?

Eric Barker
I don’t know if there’s a name specifically for that, but I think basically what you’re talking about is the development of overconfidence. Is that your initial success was attributable to a great amount of effort and diligence, but then subsequently, you didn’t do the great amount of effort and diligence. You attributed it otherwise. Then without the handwork and diligence, you didn’t get the same result.

There’s actually a similar study that Dan Ariely did that shows that we’re prone to just that sort of thinking, where basically they did a study where they gave people a test and they actually deliberately made it easy to cheat.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. This one, huh?

Eric Barker
They made it easy to cheat on the test and they didn’t let people know that they would be monitoring this. They were able to monitor who cheated.

Anyway, they gave the test, some people cheated, some people didn’t. Obviously those who cheated did very well. Then they surveyed them after the fact and they said to people, “How do you think you would do on another test on this same subject matter?” The cheaters rated themselves as saying, “Oh, I think I would do great.”

What you’re seeing here is that they succeeded because of cheating, yet they somehow rationalize this into believing, “I’m actually good at this.” That’s something that I think is common.

It’s kind of like the example you’re positing, where you succeeded due to a lot of effort, diligence, and perhaps a fair amount of fear, and that really motivated you to work hard. Then we have this natural human instinct to be like, “Oh, well I must be like a like natural.” Then we don’t do the hard work and we find out that, well, actually it was the hard work that was responsible for the success.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. That was interesting. Netflix has a documentary that prominently features Dan Ariely.

Eric Barker
(Dis)Honesty or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that sounds right, yeah. I loved the scenes where it showed the fake shredders that only shredded like the fringes of the answer sheets they were turning in. I thought that was a brilliant little experimental maneuver there. It’s like, it sure looks and sounds like that thing has got shredded, but it wasn’t. I just thought that was awesome. Cool.

Maybe the last question perhaps. You unpack a bit of the secret ingredient how Navy Seals find that grit. Can you share what’s the master key to this?

Eric Barker
Yeah, this was – Navy Seals basically go through BUDS, which is Basic Underwater Demolition training. That’s the vetting process for Seals. After the tragedy of 9/11, the US military wanted more special operations troops like Seals, but obviously they didn’t want to lower the standards because that would defeat the purpose.

They had to commission a study basically to find what was it that separated psychologically those who got through the training versus those who didn’t because frankly, they didn’t know.

One of the key four things that really kept them going was positive self-talk, was basically we all have this voice in our head. We say hundreds of words to ourselves every minute and if those voices are positive, we tend to persist and if they’re negative, we tend to quit.

This aligns perfectly – I pointed at the Navy Seals as an example, but the underlying research that basically lines up with it pretty well done by Martin Seligman at University of Pennsylvania is that optimism is probably the strongest element of grit and resilience as we know it, having an optimistic attitude.

It makes intuitive sense. If you think things are going to work out, if you think you’re going to win at the roulette table, you keep playing. If you think you’re not, then you stop playing.

If we believe optimistically things are going to go well, we persist even when things are tough, even when it’s difficult, we keep going. Basically optimism and an optimistic attitude is probably the strongest predictor of whether people will be resilient through difficult challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to get a little bit more precise when you talk about defining optimism. I’m thinking about Viktor Frankl’s work, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which there’s a bit of a distinction as opposed to, “Hey, we’re going to be rescued and saved out of this concentration camp next week, next month.” Then they’re disappointed and it falls apart.

Versus when you say optimism it sounds like you’re maybe in the ballpark of self-efficacy in terms of “I have a conviction that I will be successful in this endeavor,” is that fair.

Eric Barker
I think you’re making a really salient distinction, which is lying to yourself is not the path here. Merely telling yourself pretty lies is not the path here.

Pete Mockaitis
Tomorrow will be an easier day of BUDS.

Eric Barker
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Bad move.

Eric Barker
Yes. The big thing – the distinction that Seligman makes is basically he says what separates an optimistic attitude from a pessimistic attitude – he refers to them as the three P’s, which is seeing things that are positive as personal, pervasive and persistent.

In other words, optimists, when good things happen, they see them as personal, so I was responsible for this. They see it as persistent: this good thing will continue. They see it as pervasive: this good thing will affect many areas of my life.

However, when people have a pessimistic attitude is because they see negative things as personal, persistent, and pervasive.

What you really need to do is kind of a cognitive behavioral therapy style approach, which is we all have moments where we get pessimistic and we, “Oh, it’s all my fault. This problem is going to keep happening and it’s going to affect every area of my life.”

To actually question those thoughts – because we’ll just accept those thoughts because they’re in our head; they must be true, to actually stop and question them. To say, “This is really all my fault? No, it’s not all my fault. This is going to go on forever? No, it’s not going to go on forever? This is going to affect every area of my life? No, not every-“ To basically really question it.

Instead of saying just Pollyannaish, unrealistic lies to make ourselves feel better, if you look at those negatives, usually the negatives, we exaggerate those and to make those more realistic allows us to be more optimistic because we can say, “No, no, no, the reason I’m so upset, the reason I want to quit is because I’m exaggerating the negatives here and I’m not looking at the positives.” To be more objective and not to be overly dramatic in either direction.

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

Eric Barker
No, nothing specific. We can move on to the next phase.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, how about you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Eric Barker
One of my favorite quotes is the William Gibson quote I mentioned, where he said that “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

I think that what’s really critical there is just having a little bit of resourcefulness in terms of this resourcefulness is a quality that I really appreciate that people don’t give enough attention to. A lot of the answers are out there, but usually we just shrug our shoulders and we stop.

To realize that usually if you’re asking a question, someone else has asked it. If you spend a little bit of time, you might be able to get the answer or get yourself closer to it. I think that’s something really powerful to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite study? It seems you’ve gotten enchanted by so many. Does one really stick with you?

Eric Barker
I guess something I’ve read recently that really moved me was the idea that if you try to be happier and you live in the United States or the UK and you make a concerted, deliberate effort to be happier, you will fail. The reason for that – however, if you live in Russia, China, Japan, you will succeed.

The reason for that is that so much of what makes us happy is relationships with other people, yet the cultures of the United States and the United Kingdom are very individualistic cultures, meaning that usually when we try to make ourselves happier, we focus on our selves: be yourself, do your own thing, so the efforts we make are usually in the wrong direction, if we live in the US and the UK.

We need to think socially.  We need to think more collectivist countries. Ironically, when people do the usual things to try to make themselves happier in the US and UK, they fail spectacularly. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be happier. It just means we need to think a little bit differently than the concepts that our culture usually promotes.

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

Eric Barker
Favorite book, there’s so many. There is – I’m trying to think. One that I’ve read recently that I thought was pretty spectacular was – I definitely like Mark Manson’s, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F. I won’t use the full word there.

It is for people who are curious about Buddhism and a lot of the happiness concepts that have come out of that, it is a very accessible way to look at – one of the main ideas Mark describes in there, which I found useful, is basically he says for people to look through the lens of the idea of what challenges, what pain are you comfortable with.

Because some of us there are difficulties that we don’t like to have to deal with and there are other difficulties that we’re – some people are more comfortable with failure, but they have a short attention span and they’re not good with persistence. They’ll be happy to try lots of things and if they fail at 90% of them, but succeed at 10, they’re good.

Other people are really good at persistence, but they hate failure, so drilling down, grinding away for years is an option for them. To realize what kind of suffering are you comfortable with as opposed to saying, “What do I want? What’s my big grand dream?” Well, it’s going to take a lot of work. If it’s a big grand dream, it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.

Then to ask yourself, “Okay, what challenges, what suffering am I comfortable with?” can ask if you really are ready for that challenge or maybe a better challenge would suit you. I think it’s a very interesting perspective to look through.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Eric Barker
Favorite tool. Well that would have to be my Mac Book.

Pete Mockaitis
Not the Pro, not the Air, Mac Book straight up?

Eric Barker
It is a Pro, but I used to love my Air, but now they’re all getting so small and thin, that I’m not sure how much of a distinction there is anymore. I love the Air, but right now I have a Pro. I don’t know. They’re pretty amazing.

But if there’s one tool I could definitely not live without, especially given what I do, it would definitely be my Mac Book.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, and how about a favorite habit?

Eric Barker
Favorite habit, reading. Man, that one’s really paid off for me. I highly recommend – I’m kind of like an athlete saying they like to exercise.

For me, it’s something I love doing. I often joke or half joke that a lot of the work I do is just the exhaust that comes out of my natural habit of wanting to read, wanting to learn and then that machine, which is going to run anyway, happens to produce this exhaust which luckily I’ve found some weird way to make a career out of. I’m very, very grateful for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, we appreciate your exhaust. Thank you for sharing it.

Eric Barker
…. Sorry, I’m destroying the environment.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d also like to get your take, you shared a lot of things with a lot of people, is there a particular nugget or quotable gem that is attributable to you or maybe just even reformulated, restated by you, that really does seem to resonate with folks. They retweet it. They take notes upon it when you utter it. What’s something that really seems to stick?

Eric Barker
That valedictorian study, again, I didn’t do the research, really seems to resonate with people and the self-compassion concept really seems to resonate with people.

The idea of not having to lie, not having to brag, not having to blow yourself up, not having to be a jerk, but emphasizing forgiving yourself. I think that’s a concept that’s really resonated with people, especially lately is the idea that forgiving yourself is more important than blowing up your … to insane proportions.

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

Eric Barker
Given that as we established the URL is hard to pronounce, hard to spell, hard to – not the best marketing choice on my part, happy to grant you that one. If they want to see my blog, there’s a new post every week, which is a deep dive on some evidence-based way to improve your life.

Basically Googling my name, Eric Barker, that will come up and signing up for my weekly email is the best way to keep up with what I’m doing. The book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, is available on Amazon and any of the other major book sellers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Eric, do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Eric Barker
I would point to a piece of advice that a former Harvard researcher and now bestselling author, Shawn Achor, told me that he had done research that basically said when you go into the office first thing, first thing you do, sit down and send an email thanking somebody, showing gratitude.

Simply doing that gives people a boost in happiness and there’s plenty of research I’ve cited on the blog before that shows how you start the day, dramatically affects how the rest of the day goes. The challenge I would give people is first thing in the office, send an email, and send someone a sincere thank you email. Try that for a few days, see if it helps you out.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Eric, this has been such a treat. Please keep generating the great things you produce. The exhaust has a fragrant and a lovely aroma. It’s been a lot of fun.

Eric Barker
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it Pete.

293: Body Language Insights that Get You Promoted with Dr. Denise Dudley

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Denise Dudley says: "Be that person who expands others, [so] that... they walk away feeling better about themselves or the situation."

Denise Dudley goes deep on the science and practice of optimizing your body language for making a powerful impression at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to smile more genuinely
  2. Postures for enhanced communication
  3. The powerful impact of speaking with a lower pitch

About Denise

Denise Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world, which provides 18,000 seminars per year, and has trained over 12 million people in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Denise holds a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, a hospital administrator’s license, a preceptor for administrators-in-training license, and is licensed to provide training to medical professionals in the United States and Canada. She’s also a certified AIDS educator, a licensed field therapist for individuals with agoraphobia, and a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities across the US, and the author of Simon and Schuster’s best-selling audio series, “Making Relationships Last.”  Denise speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, communication, personal relationships, interviewing skills, and career readiness.  Denise’s latest book, “Work it! Get in, Get noticed, Get promoted,” is currently available on Amazon.com, and is receiving all 5-star customer reviews.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Denise Dudley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Denise, thanks for joining us.

Denise Dudley

I’m delighted to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I think we’re going to have a ton of fun. You have taught many people many skills, but I want to talk about one of your skills from back in the day and that is your ability to catch snakes. What’s the story here?

Denise Dudley

Well, I will tell you first of all that of the many interviews I have done in my life, no one has ever asked me this on air.

Pete Mockaitis

I love hearing that. Thank you.

Denise Dudley

It’s a brand new question. I love new questions.

I really am a tomboy. As much as I’m dressed up in front of audiences all the time and all these sorts of things, in my real life, my real Denise is somebody without makeup on, with my hair tied up in a knot, outside looking under rocks, having fun, looking at frogs, playing, swimming in lakes. That’s who I really am.

As a kid I had a great father. My father is passed away now, but he was an adventurer, actually a jeweler. By trade, he was simply a jeweler/watchmaker, but he knew everything about the out of doors and everything that did everything. He knew how ducks flew and how things swam. He taught me how to catch snakes because we just found every creature on the earth to be interesting.

I learned how to be a really good snake catcher. I can dazzle my friends because a lot of my friends really don’t like snakes. I can actually catch snakes very well and hold them for a while and tame them and then pet them and share them with people, pass them around. My one rule though, of course, is that-

Pete Mockaitis

They appreciate that.

Denise Dudley

Oh yeah, they love that. Yes. Some people won’t even go near the snakes I catch, but they’re kind of interesting creatures.

My one big rule which I’ve taught – I have two boys who are now in their early 20s. Of course, I’ve passed on the trade so they know how to catch snakes well as well, but I’ve always said “But whatever we catch and look at, we must put back exactly where we found it,” so everyone gets to go back unharmed no matter what it is we examine.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Could you tell us are there a couple pro tips to bear in mind should we want to go catch snakes after this conversation?

Denise Dudley

Yeah, so let me teach everybody how to catch a snake. There are a couple methods but the best way is to make sure that you are wearing first of all long pants and shoes because snakes really don’t want to be caught. They don’t seem to enjoy it so to speak.

When you’re first running up to them, getting ready to catch them, they will sometimes turn around and snap at you. But of course, I don’t catch poisonous snakes, obviously. I’m not a crazy person. It’s not really going to hurt you if they bite at you, but you still don’t want to be bitten.

If you’re wearing long pants and shoes, what you do is you get up and just gently, and I mean really gently, just lay your foot down on top of the snake as close to its head as you can get so that you’ve trapped it. You’ve got your foot not on it in any harsh way, but just kind of gently keeping it from moving and then you’ve got to get in there and get your fingers, your thumb and forefinger, right behind the snake’s head, right behind its jaws. At that point it can’t turn.

There’s a point where the snake’s head, because of its skull, is fixed. If you catch a snake farther back on its body, it is perfectly capable of whipping around and biting you and you don’t like that. It doesn’t feel good. But if you catch it right behind the head, you can hold into it.

Then all snakes, it’s very strange, if you hold them long enough, they finally just decide that you’re okay. Then you can let go from behind their head and then they just kind of crawl around on your – I guess they don’t crawl, do they? They slither around on your arm and just seem to be quite happy to be with you. It just takes about usually three to five minutes and then they just decide that it’s okay to be captured. That’s how you catch a snake.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that you went there. It’s thorough.

Denise Dudley

Yes, yes. Well, I’m a teacher, right?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I practically feel like I can do it.

Denise Dudley

I think you should try it.

Pete Mockaitis

I don’t think my wife will like it, but I’m intrigued to try it.

Denise Dudley

Give it a whirl and call me if you have any problems.

Pete Mockaitis

Can do, can do. Now, your most recent book is called Work It. I’d like to hear a little bit about – what’s the primary idea of this one?

Denise Dudley

Absolutely. Sure. This is my most recent book. It actually is an act of love. I’ve been working with a population recently that is not the population I’ve worked with for most of my adult life. Mostly I’ve worked with adult learners teaching assertiveness training and management, communication skills. I really work mostly with communication skills in my career.

But I’ve worked most recently now just because of a few invitations I’ve had to come into high schools and colleges, I’ve worked with a lot of people who are graduating from both high school and college and heading out on their first, I’m going to call it, career job.

I always try to say your career job is to be distinguished from when you delivered pizza in high school or whatever it was you did back then. This is the job that you really think might become the thing that you could do for a very long time and hopefully aligns with your interests and passions.

I’ve been working a lot with that population of students and loving it, by the way, so a lot of times at the end of the talks I’ve been giving about how to put your best foot forward in an interview or how to discover what your passions are and people will come up and ask me for some kind of a reading resource and I didn’t find one that I thought really fit all of what I believe, so I wrote one.

It’s one of those, there didn’t seem to be one, so I wrote it. I wrote Work It. It’s called Work It: Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted for young people who are just entering the career market. It is a gift of love because I’m donating all of my royalties to youth organizations throughout the country. It’s my latest little passion right now.

[6:00]

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool. We have listeners often say, “Hey, how do I stand out? How do I do the get noticed part of this?” I’d love to get your perspectives here and feel free to not be limited to folks who are in their very first career job, but those that are some years in. What are some of the top principles when it comes to getting noticed and standing out?

Denise Dudley

Absolutely and I would want to point out just as you’re sort of implying, that really when I wrote this book, a lot of people came to me who were well into their careers and said, “I needed this book just because I’m changing careers and I wanted to really learn what I needed to do to polish up my resume and do all the things that you need to do if you’re going to get out there even in your mid-career point.”

Here are the things that I usually talk about. For one thing, I think that it’s important to – I believe that almost everything in the world actually stems from excellent communication skills. I could talk about this for hours and hours, but I believe that the way that we stand out, the way that we can get noticed and the best way is to make sure that we have command of all of the vehicles that we use to communicate ourselves to other people.

When I talk about communication, I don’t just mean sitting here talking. I mean facial expression, eye contact, what you’re doing with your hands, your actual vocal tone and loudness. I like to go into details about all of those things and make sure that I do my best when I’m working with people to bring all of the communication components into alignment so that someone really is an excellent, I always call it a walking, talking, audio/visual representation of who you are.

To master those sorts of skills, I think helps just about anyone to stand out. Good communication skills, being able to say what I want, to be positive, to be willing to take on projects that I’m asked to  do, that kind of moves over into having a positive attitude, having a can-do attitude. I think that helps us to get noticed, if we’re going to be hired to be promoted within the jobs we already have.

A lot of it has to do with our intentions I guess I would say. When I approach a job, when I approach a task that I’ve been assigned by my employer, do I approach it with a “Sure I’ll do that. I’ll take care of that,” sort of an attitude? Do I look like I am someone you want to be around? I think that has a lot to do with it too.

Even the crabbiest of employers and supervisors do prefer to have people around them who have more of a positive personality. Showing our positive sides I think also helps us to get noticed .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I’d love it if you could maybe unpack in a little bit of detail here. When it comes to folks doing it wrong, what are some things that I would say show up frequently and are easy to overlook and what are the fixes for it?

Denise Dudley

Oh great, that’s a great question.

There are few things that I think that people initially do wrong. Again, going back to communication. Let me just break down communication for a second and then I’ll address this.

When I talk about you, your overall you-ness, as I would call it, I like to talk about, as I’ve mentioned a couple of these already, but I want to mention all of them. I like to talk about your facial expression, what it’s doing; you’re eye-contact, what’s happening with eye-contact. I like to talk about your posture, where your posture is; your use of hands, your hand gestures. Those are your visual representations.

Then there are three auditory ones: your voice tone, what the tone sounds like; your voice loudness, how loud you’re being; then finally, your verbal content, the actual words you’re using when you go to talk to people. Within those seven components, there are things that people do right and wrong within each of those. Let me just start with facial expressions .

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, let’s do them all. A wrong and a right for all seven.

Denise Dudley

With facial expression, what we want to do is we want to start with what’s called, technically there’s a word for everything, what’s called a neutral to positive open-facial expression. Now what does that mean?

It means that when you first look at me, I’m looking open. I look approachable. I have a neutral toward positive expression on my face, which means I’m not scowling but I’m also not smiling wildly because if I smile too soon and too much I look kind of scary in a way, like you might not want to approach me. I work toward neutral toward positive, skewing slightly toward positive when I first see you, when I first approach you .

When you first look at me, we know from a bunch of research here about first impressions. There are really two important first impressions.

There is a first impression that’s been really chronicled very recently, which now apparently occurs within about one second, actually under one second, a flicker of a first impression. Of course, a first impression that is found within one second can be only your facial expression. It can’t be anything else because I haven’t talked to you yet, I haven’t opened my mouth. You don’t know what I’m going to say.

Facial expression is the first first impression. It’s important to make sure that it looks open and not closed, not unfriendly, and not wildly smiling because that, as I mentioned, looks a little weird.

The things that we do wrong are sometimes we don’t pay attention to that very, very first facial expression moment when I have the opportunity to impress you toward the positive.

We know another thing about first impressions and that is that once you’ve made a first impression, it is almost impossible to alter it, almost impossible the research shows.

I mentioned that there are two first impressions, that one second first impression and then another first impression occurs within about, we believe, five to fifteen seconds of meeting someone. I personally think it’s within about ten to fifteen seconds that we’re making that first impression, which is now based on a little bit more.

I can see your face moving. It’s a little more plastic. I can see you smiling at me, which is the next thing I think is important to make sure after I presented that initial neutral to positive open facial expression, that I immediately go into a smile.

A smile is a very, very important personal trait to have. I usually spend a lot of time talking to people about the importance of smiles. We know from all sorts of research, which gets reported quite a bit in Forbes magazine and every other place.

We know that smiling does all kinds of things for our bodies, lowers cortisol, brings up serotonin, lowers blood pressure, lowers our body temperature actually, lowers heart rate, does all kinds of things for us, the people who are smiling, but it also transmits to the person we are smiling at. It actually allows the other person to experience those positive sorts of effects as well.

That smile is an important thing to cultivate. I sometimes come across people who decide that their personal shtick is that I’m too cool to smile. Have you ever met somebody like that? Like, “I’m just not going to smile. I’m not smiling.”

Pete Mockaitis

It’s like they’re brooding and they’re sipping a latte. They’re thinking some deep thoughts.

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Exactly. They’re deep and they’re edgy, so smiling doesn’t really fit in. I try to tell people, “Look, really, smiling is one of the best things you can possibly do.”

Also, research shows there’s a lot of crazy research out there on smiling, research actually shows that people who smile, rather than seeming less intelligent or less with it, we actually – we receive the benefit of the doubt, that we probably are smiling because we are intelligent, we are in control, and we do know what we’re talking about. Smiling is an important thing.

The next mistake I want to talk about, of course, is the reverse of that, just thinking I’m not going to smile because it’s not worth it. I’m too busy or I’m too cool.” I think that’s a big mistake. Facial expression, very, very important .

Pete Mockaitis

I’d love to talk, if I could at first.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, please.

Pete Mockaitis

About when it comes to smile, I think some people would say, “Hey, I’m not anti-smile, but it just doesn’t seem authentic or genuine and can’t you kind of tell when a smile is real or if it’s fake based on wrinkles elsewhere in the face that appear or don’t appear.” What are your thoughts in terms of smiling naturally and cultivating a more sort of natural smile that is real?

Denise Dudley

Good question. Of course, I don’t know if you’re referring to this or if you know about it, but there have been a bunch of studies out there that talk about real versus fake smiles and that technically when we put subjects in a room and show them smiling faces, they’re pretty much able to tell whether it’s a fake smile or a real smile on the photograph of the person they’re being shown.

This is where I go with that. We do know that fake smiles, fake smiling is better than not smiling at all.

Pete Mockaitis

No kidding.

Denise Dudley

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, insight

Denise Dudley

Yeah. For a couple of reasons. One of them is that such cool stuff by the way. I don’t want to get all geeky on you.

Pete Mockaitis

Please do.

Denise Dudley

But we know – here’s some cool things. We know that there is a brain-body connection. There just is. We know it from lots of ways.

For instance, if I were to sit here right now and tense up every muscle in my body and I held it, and held it, and held it, and held it. Pretty soon my brain would start to assess what my body was doing and think “Something must be wrong. We’re all tensed up.” I can actually talk my brain into experiencing anxiety simply by tensing my muscles up.

Conversely, we know through meditation, deep relaxation that if I meditate or if I think of a relaxing thought, I sit in a room, I quiet my mind, I can actually do things like relieve muscle pain and actually lower heart rate because my body is basically listening to what my brain is thinking and saying, “All must be well. I guess I can relax. I guess there’s no danger here.”

This brain-body connection is quite real and verifiable. We know that smiling, when we smile, what happens is that our brain is monitoring what our body is doing. Our brain actually senses the muscles of our face coming back in a smile and it senses that those muscles are coming back to smile and says, “Something nice must be happening. We’re smiling.”

That brain actually releases serotonin, the feel good hormone, simply by sensing that the smile muscles are being pulled back.

There is a very interesting study that was done. This was by a man at Stanford. He’s passed away now. But he actually did a study. This was a while back actually. Then there were several others that have been done since then using other methods.

But what he did was he had people, he had subjects at Stanford actually make two different sounds. He just simply had them make these sounds. One group of people was asked to make the sound of e, eee, a long e, eee, which mimics a smile, eee. Then the other people-

Pete Mockaitis

Eee. It’s like you’re talking to a baby.

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Eee, eee. And it pulls your mouth back. Then he had another group of people make a u sound, uuu.

Pete Mockaitis

Uuu.

Denise Dudley

When you do a u, your mouth turns down, uuu. It looks like it’s sort of a downward turned mouth. So eee versus uuu.

Based on what they were making, the sound they were making, they were asked to rate their moods. The people who were making the e sounds were actually rating themselves as much happier. They felt good after making that sound and not so much with the people who were pursing their lips. They didn’t feel as good doing that. That was just simply with making sounds.

This man, by the way, if anybody wants to look up cool research projects, this man’s name was Robert – if I say his name, I’ll have to spell it for everybody because I believe it was pronounced Zajonc, but he was – I think he was Yugoslavian or something. It’s actually spelled Z-A-J-O-N-C, believe it – it looks like Zajonc, I think, but it’s pronounced Zajonc. Don’t ask-

Pete Mockaitis

That makes me smile saying it.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, I know.

Pete Mockaitis

Zajonc.

Denise Dudley

Zajonc, yeah. He did all kinds of interesting research projects with how people feel based on body language.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s intriguing. It sounds like part of the equation is, so a fake smile beats a no smile, but a real smile is even better.

Denise Dudley

Much better.

Pete Mockaitis

And we can get there by sort of just naturally putting our body in the spot, whether that’s meditating or having some quiet time or saying eee. Are there other sort of quick hit tactics that just kind of put you in a naturally smiley place?

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Good question. One thing that I suggest is that when you first meet somebody, in order to think of a genuine smile, I happen to be a really smiley person. I like to smile. I think I must know the benefits of smiling because I do feel good when I smile and I do smile genuinely at people, but for people who are thinking, “Eh, humanity. Eh, not another person I have to smile at.”

If you’re just not feeling it or if it’s not inside of you to smile, I always try to suggest to people, well, as you’re meeting somebody just think of something about them, if you know anything about them or you’re even looking at them, think about the most positive thing you either know or see about that person.

Just go ahead and as you walk up to someone, it’s just a good way to focus. It’s what I suggest to people. Just to say as I walk up to someone just think, “Beautiful red hair,” or just something, just track on whatever you can. Or, “This person just received an award,” so whatever it is I know about this person that makes me like them or feel good toward them.

It could be superficial like red hair or significant like something that they achieved, but one way or another if I can track on some truly personal thing about that person I’m about to smile at, it will certainly make my smile more genuine .

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hm. I like that. Thank you. Alright, we talked smiles in depth and I love it. Maybe we won’t get through the seven and that’s fine.

Denise Dudley

We may not.

Pete Mockaitis

But let’s hear about eye contact.

Denise Dudley

Eye contact, very, very important. There are a couple things that people do wrong with eye contact, things that we do right with it. I spend time talking about eye contact even though it’s in a sense part of facial expression because it has its own personal set of important rules.

For one thing, it’s very important, no matter how shy we are or reluctant we might be to do so, it’s very important that we make eye contact with people we’re interacting with, very important, whether that’s our boss, our coworkers, our children, our spouses, people we’re interacting with in the subway, whatever it is we’re doing. If we’re going to interact with someone, we want to make that eye contact.

There are a couple of times when it’s absolutely imperative and that’s when you’re either giving information, sharing some information with someone like, here are directions on how to do something or when you are giving instructions.

If you have a position at work where you need to orient someone to a job or tell them how to do something, very important that you make eye contact with the person at that point. It just helps lock in, “Here’s what I’m telling you. Please pay attention.” Eye contact, very, very important.

But the other part of eye contact is sort of a rule of eye contact, is that we make it, but we also break it. We mostly make it and then we look away for a little flicker of a moment and then look back again. We want to make direct eye contact, but that we break eye contact as well.

Now some people will ask me, “Well, when I look away, where do I look?” Well, anywhere. It won’t matter, just look away for a second and then look back. If you don’t break eye contact whatsoever, you’re going to appear one of two ways. There are two types of people who don’t break eye contact.

The first would be an aggressive person, someone who is intimidating me. If you think about somebody, whoever it is you might be thinking of right now who might have made eye contact with you and never looked away, just looked at you, and looked at you, and looked at you, it starts to get intense and it starts to become uncomfortable unless you just look away for a second, just break it and come back.

The other set of people who don’t break eye contact are people who are in love. If you’re in love with someone or you’re romantically inclined. Just think back to if you’re in love right now or if you’ve been in love, how you just don’t want to look away from that person’s eyes.

That’s a good thing. It’s an energy exchange. But when we’re first meeting people out there in the world or working with people at work, we want to break that eye contact so as to not appear either romantic or aggressive. Now, I believe that there are some people who use eye contact quite deliberately to be aggressive and know that they are showing you that they are in a position of power by not breaking it .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I believe there was a – maybe an Office episode about this. Don’t break eye contact and don’t break the handshake-

Denise Dudley

Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

As a means of showing your power and your authority there.

I guess I look away maybe more than is optimal just because I’m thinking hard about like what they’ve said or what is the implication of this stuff. Any thoughts associated with the ratio? It sounds like you’re saying you pretty much want to be on eye contact with brief breaks. How do we think about thinking when it comes to conversing with someone while also making eye contact?

Denise Dudley

Well, if you’re someone who looks away a lot, one of my suggestions – because some people do that. Some people want to close their eyes in fact while they’re thinking. I suggest that if it’s a really important conversation that’s going to continue for a while, that you do what I call pre-calling it.

I always suggest to people that if you have some kind of thing that you really want to do that steps slightly outside the norm of what a normal interaction might look like, that you just pre-call it.

That you say, as Pete, you say, “You know I really want to focus hard on what we’re about to discuss this afternoon and I want to tell you that sometimes if I’m not looking at you and I’m looking down it’s because I’m thinking very hard about what you’re saying to me. I just want to let you know that that’s just something I do in order to truly absorb what it is you’re saying.”

I think it’s okay to say that sort of thing. Then the person goes, “Oh, alright. Okay,” and they kind of get it.

Because a lot of times if we look away, one of the things that if I’m talking and you look away for a long period of time, it tends to make the speaker run out of energy. I start to lose my energy because I’m thinking – I sort of trail off a little bit like, “Well, okay, is he still here. Is he not?” I’m not getting that feedback loop.

Continuing that eye contact with the person we’re speaking with is actually completing a communication feedback loop which is telling me as you look at me, I am with you. I am with you in this conversation. If you tend to break it a lot, I would just pre-call it and say, “This is what I do in order to concentrate.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. When it comes to making the eye contact, are you looking right at one eyeball, you’re shifting two eyeballs?

Denise Dudley

Sure, so good.

Pete Mockaitis

Which eyeball should we look at? Eyebrow? Nose?

Denise Dudley

You’re so good. I love your questions. Okay. This is going to take hours. Let’s have like a five hour interview because I love these questions.

There are a lot of things about where we look. For one thing, we want to try to look at both eyes. Now, the closer we are to someone, if I’m sitting very, very close to you, you can tell that I’m shifting from eye to eye. If we’re eight feet away, we’re not really actually shifting eyeball to eyeball. We’re just looking at the person’s eye area.

If we’re way, way, way back, like 50 feet away, then actually eye contact gets perceived in the upper third of the face. We know that from research. Anything in the upper third of the face is perceived as eye contact, but the farther away we are from someone, the more it seems like eye contact, the closer we are to someone, the more important it is to look directly in the eyeballs.

We do our best to move back and forth between the two eyes. However, I always suggest to someone, this happened to me the other day. I was talking to someone who had one eye that was impaired. It was clearly not a functioning eyeball, so I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious.

We were standing very closely together in an art gallery actually, an art museum. This was a guard and he was telling me stories about the art work. I wanted to make sure that I just focused on the eye that was working because I didn’t want him to actually think I was assessing the other eye, so I stayed on that eyeball really out of politeness plus it’s the only one that’s functioning. If he wants to see me as looking at him, I’m going to need to look at that eyeball.

I actually tailor it to what’s happening with someone if they have any kind of a visual impairment. Otherwise, looking back and forth at both eyes is probably the best idea. I love that question.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Thank you. All right, we’ve got the facial expressions. We’ve got the eye contact. How about posture?

Denise Dudley

Posture. Posture says a lot about us and there’s some weirdly interesting studies about posture.

Posture says a whole bunch of things that we might or might not expect. A lot of times we might assume that posture might tell others that we are attentive or that we are organized. It also, for some reason, makes people decide whether we’re intelligent or not. Good posture is associated with intelligence, which is not a bad thing to have is that kind of association.

Posture tells us everything. You have posture whether you’re seated or standing or walking. You always have posture .

A few things about posture. One of the things is that sometimes I like to talk to women just for a moment and then I’ll bring men back in.

But a lot of times women got taught, especially older generations of women, far older than you or I are, a lot of older generations of women got taught to stand somewhat sideways in what was called in the 1950s, model’s pose. Model’s pose said that we put our feet together very closely and then we turn slightly sideways in order to show off the most pleasant and slender aspects of our figure. How’s that? Boy, a little bit of sexism from the ‘50s here.

That is not a powerful posture however. If I were to stand kind of sideways while I talk to you, it would look weird in modern day world.

But what we want to do instead is to stand, I like to call it architecturally, so that my feet are slightly apart. My most powerful position for posture is to stand with my feel slightly apart, so I don’t look like a big tall thing that comes down to a tiny little point, so feet slightly apart.

Then I want to make my upper body match my lower point, so I bring my shoulders back and into position so that I’m standing in a very comfortable but we’ll call it spread out sort of way so that I’m not deliberately trying to look tiny.

Now with that shoulders back suggestion there, a lot of times women like to wrinkle their noses at me if I say that because women become self-conscious about their chests.

I generally like to tell women it doesn’t matter if your chest is big or small, you like it or you don’t, no matter what it is you think about it, I promise that you will look better, more powerful, more assertive, more in charge of yourself with your shoulders back than if you’re slumping forward and trying to cover up your chest. You will simply just look better.

Taking that position is very, very important. Taking that position of I am here. I am no bigger or smaller than I really am and I own my own space. It helps you to assume that everyone in the room understands that you’re here and you’re here to stay.

Back to the brain body thing for a moment because I think this is interesting stuff too. A very interesting study was done with shy people. Shy people were asked, in this case, to sit in a meeting. You know how a shy person might sit, kind of folded over, minimizing themselves so that they don’t appear to really be present.

They were told by the researchers to sit in this meeting, you don’t even have to talk, just sit there, but in this case spread yourself out, just spread out a little bit. Spread your legs out, put your arms on the arms of the chair, put your shoulders back, own your space in the meeting. You don’t have to do anything but that.

Then they were asked after this meeting to self-rate their own ability to be assertive and when they actually spread their bodies out, their brains basically listening to what the body was doing, the brain thought, “Wow, you’re sitting there as if you own you space. You’re sitting there as if you’re a person who knows what he or she is talking about. You must be feeling good about yourself.”

They rated themselves completely more in control and more assertive just by spreading out their bodies.

Pete Mockaitis

Very good. All right, so shoulders back, own your space.

Denise Dudley

Shoulders back.

Pete Mockaitis

Anything else on posture?

Denise Dudley

Sure. You have posture when you’re seated as well, so when you’re seated you want to make sure you unfold your legs if at all possible and put your feet on the floor. That’s the most positive and powerful position to sit in when you are seated.

Making sure you do all those things, arms at your side when you’re standing or arms on your lap or on the top of the table or on the arms of your chair if you’re seated, not fidgeting, not playing with your cuticles, not doing any of those sorts of things, but making sure that you look like you are comfortable and calm with your arms and your hands .

Pete Mockaitis

Anything else associated with hands?

Denise Dudley

Oh yeah, we can talk about hands next. Your hands are saying tons of things about you.

Generally speaking I would say that you probably, all your listeners out there, are probably using their hand motions perfectly correctly unless you’ve received some kind of feedback to the contrary, which could be that somebody says to you, “Whoa, you sure use your hands a lot,” or if they just start watching your hands while you’re talking and it looks like there’s a bumblebee between the two of you, then you’re probably using your hands in excess.

What we want to do with our hands is to make our hands match our message. We do want to definitely use our hands because hands help to describe what we’re talking about. They actually help our brains to continue thinking right.

For instance, if I were describing to you a beautiful park with a lake and swans on it, even as I’m sitting here talking to you right now, I’m actually moving my hands because I’m thinking about a park and a lake and swans. It actually helps my brain to visualize what I want to describe. Hands actually help guide our words in ways.

But we want to use our hands because it also helps the listener if they’re looking at us to know what we’re talking about. If I kept my hands right at my sides and I never ever moved them it would look stiff and rigid and it would look like I wasn’t coming across in a natural way.

Another thing about hands is that we like to take a tip from newscasters. Newscasters know to use their hands, but they keep their hands within a fairly small area because they really are in a box basically. When we view a newscaster on television, we see a talking head, as we call it, sitting in a box. If they were to gesture way, way, way outside of that box area, we would lose their hands, so they stay within a small area.

I always suggest to people that you do the same, that you keep your gestures within about we’ll call it a foot and a half area outside of your own body.

Pete Mockaitis

This is so good. Thank you. I’d love to talk about voice, but I’m also watching the time. Maybe you tell me is there anything else you really want to make sure to emphasize before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Denise Dudley

I would like to mention, if possible, voice tone because I think it’s very important. Again, just knowing what I know about working with people and doing so much work in communication, it’s a very good idea for all of us, men and women both, to stay in the lower ranges of our voice tone .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, okay, I’ll do this. That’s the problem. I don’t want everybody to now start walking around talking like a truck driver who smokes a cigar, but we want to stay in that lower range because that’s our power range. That’s where we sound more like we know what we’re talking about.

Speaking very quickly to women, women have something that’s called a widely varying intonational pitch pattern. Isn’t that something? It means that we go up and down and up – it’s very, very musical, very melodic, but that upper most pitch pattern is where we lose our power, where we go, “Well, hello,” and it’s really high.

We want to stay in that lower range because it lends more credibility to what we’re talking about. Cultivating a lower pitch pattern is a good idea for men and women both .

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Denise Dudley

Okay. Gosh, I have so many. The most obvious one is really a quote that comes from Mahatma Gandhi because it is really what I believe and it’s one that gets quoted a lot. Then I’d love to give you a second one which is really my voice. It’s something that I say that has helped me so much in life.

But the one that is really in my soul is the idea that we should all be the change we want to see in the world. I think that says so much because sometimes, even I, I get out there all the time and I’m working with people, I work with young people all the time, and sometimes I’m even in my hotel room and I’m thinking, “I’m just one person. Maybe I did talk to 100 people tonight, but that’s just 100 people and how many millions of people are there.”

I start to think about one little tiny drop of water in the ocean. Then I think, “No, no, by behaving this way, by being the change I want to see, if we all did that, we would create an amazing movement of change.” I’ve always loved that particular quote. I would want the world to know that that’s what I would love to live by is that idea.

But I also want to tell you another quote because it’s something that is really my quote. It comes from my life experience and I’ve told so many people this. It’s actually in the book too that I wrote.

That what I believe is that there are definitely times in your life when you cannot tell the bad news from the good, especially when you’re stuck right in the middle of a situation. And you could think that the worst thing in the world was happening to you and lo and behold, it’s about to become the best thing that ever happened to you.

I like to encourage people to know that you don’t know the bad news from the good until you get down the road a little bit and figure out what the repercussions are from whatever it is you’re experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Thank you. Now you’ve said a lot of studies. Do you have a favorite?

Denise Dudley

I was kind of a study junkie because of what I teach.

We’ve already talked a lot about the smiling studies and there are a lot of them about lowering blood pressure and I even know – these are legitimate studies, so I don’t ever quote studies that I can’t really find the abstracts on.

But recently, since we’ve already covered smiling, I have been enjoying so many studies out there on walking. I’m talking to lots of audiences about walking. We kind of know intrinsically how walking works. It’s just a great thing to do, but it’s a mood enhancer and it’s a creativity enhancer. It does all kinds of things. There are some great studies.

There’s one that came from – well, from the Midwest, not so far from Chicago, from Iowa State University. There was a study that they did of getting people to walk, subjects to walk. All they needed to do was walk for 12 minutes, so this isn’t very long. It’s just getting up and moving.

They called it – in the study it’s called incidental ambulation. Don’t you love that? Incidental ambulation, which means walking without a purpose I believe, but they just got people to get up and walk.

In this study they even told the people in the study, “Okay, we want you to get up and move around for a little bit before you come back to the task at hand,” which was really a fake task. They were testing walking, of course.

They even told them, “When you come from walking, we’re sorry, you’ll probably be tired and you might not really be in the mood to finish this test, but we just want you to get up and take a walk for a moment,” so they even negatively biased the experience of the walkers.

But, of course, when the walkers came back, their mood was improved, they were better able to focus on the test they were taking. All good things happened from that in a mere – in 12 minutes basically.

There are a whole bunch of other ones. Walking tests recently – walking research is amazing. Stanford University figured out that walking for just five to fifteen minutes increases what’s called divergent thinking which is what they mean is creativity. It also helps with plasticity of the brain. Cognitive performance improves while you’re walking.

Max Planck Institute did a whole bunch of studies on it and found out that cognitive – basically just thinking, the ability to think improves while you’re walking. The only caveat there is you need to walk at you own preferred speed. It creates a rhythm in your brain that your brain enjoys, which facilitates thinking.

I’m loving studies recently on walking because they are reminding me to get up and walk every now and then.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely, thank you. Now, how about a book?

Denise Dudley

Well, I probably could be quoting business books, since this is a business, but my favorite books are really not business books because sometimes I just need to get out of my own head.

One of my favorite all time books is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. It’s reportage at its best. It’s before Tom Wolfe ventured over into novels and fiction. He was really one of the best reportage writers in the world.

The Right Stuff
actually reviews our space program in the United States. A brilliantly written book, just a fun book to read and so interesting, just about what astronauts had to go through. I’m loving that book.

Another one I want to give a shout out about I read two summers ago and it’s Bill Bryson. I happen to love Bill Bryson’s writing. He wrote a book called One Summer: America, 1927. It’s a factual book about all the things that happened in America in 1927 and it is a crazy good read. It’s exciting all the things that happened back then. I recommend that book as just a great book to relax with.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Denise Dudley

I’m an article reader. I know that there’s the movement out there, what they call the TL;DR, which stands for too long, didn’t read world, where “Oh, that’s too long. I’m not going to read it.” That’s not why I like articles, although articles really are quick as opposed to books.

I like articles because I can sample a lot of different ideas in a short period of time. If I have an hour to read before I go to bed, I can read articles and learn ten different things about science and about dinosaurs and about human emotion and whatever else if I just read the right article.

For me, since I’m an article reader, I happen to like Pocket. I subscribe to Pocket. Pocket sends me all great kinds of suggestions. I don’t read them all, but I like it.

I love Reddit. There’s no doubt I like Reddit even though people kind of laugh and yes, sometimes I click on the funny tab for Reddit to look at funny things because I think that’s good for my soul.

I also like to read outside of the United States about the United States because it’s a very interesting perspective. I discovered it when I have to travel a lot for work and so sometimes I’m reading about the US while I’m sitting in London, so there’s a different perspective when you’re not the US, talking about the US.

One of the newspapers I like to read is called the Globe and Mail. It’s Canadian, so it’s very close to us but it has very interesting US perspectives. I like the Globe and Mail.

Then finally I like something called The Browser. In this case it costs money, whereas Reddit and Pocket and StumbleUpon are all free. I think The Browser is about 35 bucks a year or something, but they send me really good suggestions for articles to read as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Very cool. Thank you.

Denise Dudley

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Denise Dudley

Yeah, when I am working with audiences, the thing that I say that I think most people resonate with, and it’s usually after of course I’ve been talking to them for a while, is this.

I tell people “In human relations, in communication, in your life as you walk around and illustrate who you are, everything counts.” I even have a slide at the end of most things that says everything counts: how you talk, what you do, what you look like, how you interact with people, how you think, your work product, your actions, your thoughts. Everything counts. Everything is you.

You don’t ever get to get away from you. You don’t really ever get to do something that doesn’t represent you even if you wish you could. Whatever it is you’re doing, it counts. I think that that’s good news. I would say that if everything counts, from my facial expression to how I treat people, then why wouldn’t I want everything to count in a direction that makes me the very best possible person I could be.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, thank you. Denise, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Denise Dudley

I’ve got a website. It’s DeniseMDudley.com, like for my middle initial, M, so DeniseMDudley.com. Of course, I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook, and Twitter, the usual.

I’m also the founder of a very big training company called SkillPath Seminars, which is a very big company. I’ve sold it, but I’m still quite involved in it all the time. If there were no other way that you could remember to reach me, you could call SkillPath and they could put me right through. Those would be good ways to reach me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Do you have a final challenge or a call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Denise Dudley

Yup, I do. I thought about what I’d want to say and it’s this. I’m a huge believer in this.

I want to strive for myself and my call to action for everyone else is that I guess I’ll describe it this way, that there are times when you meet somebody and you’ll think of someone right now. When you meet somebody and it could be in the grocery store checkout line, it’s somebody you work with, it’s someone you’re related to, but when you walk away from them, you feel better about yourself or you feel better about the world or you feel like it’s not such a bad place or something.

I call it being expanded, that somehow I feel expanded because of having been in the presence of a certain person.

Then there’s the other type of person where when I walk away from then and, again, it could be an incidental interaction in a grocery store, I feel, what I call, contracted. I feel like my energy has been sucked out of me and I have to sort of tuck in and make myself small for a while in order to protect what energy I have left.

Expanded or contracted is what I call it because it feels like that to me. My call to action for everyone is to be that person who expands others, that by the time you finish an interaction with someone, no matter what that interaction is, that they walk away feeling better about themselves or the situation.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Denise, this has been so fun, so helpful. Thanks for going into the depths with the research and the goodies. I wish you tons of luck with your book, Work It, and all you’re doing.

Denise Dudley

Thank you so very much. Gosh, I hope everybody gets out there and catches snakes and does everything else as a result of this.

289: How Executives End Up in the C-Suite with Cassandra Frangos

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Cassandra Frangos says: "If you're passionate about what you do and you love what you do, that's going to show through."

“Executive Whisperer” Cassandra Frangos outlines what it takes to become a Chief Something Officer and how to garner needed  support along the way.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When to follow—and when to disrupt— company culture
  2. One thing our listeners and most CEOs have in common
  3. How to pick up on social cues that can make or break your career

About Cassandra

Cassandra Frangos, Ed.D., is a consultant on Spencer Stuart’s Leadership Advisory Services team. She collaborates with Fortune 500 leadership teams on executive assessments, succession planning, leadership development and top team effectiveness. Previously, Cassandra was the head of the global executive talent practice at Cisco, where she was responsible for accelerating the readiness of the talent at all levels of the organization to transform the business and culture. Through partnerships with the executive team, she deployed innovative approaches to organization design, succession planning, assessment, coaching and development programs to drive business results and innovation. She also played an integral role in the 2015 succession planning for Cisco’s CEO, one of the most respected and longest-tenured CEOs in the tech industry.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Cassandra Frangos Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Cassandra, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Cassandra Frangos
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a little bit interested to hear your story, how you made the leap from being a vice president of Global Executive Talent at Cisco over now to your current role.

Cassandra Frangos
Yes, so it’s actually a funny story, where I actually worked with Spencer Stuart at Cisco.  I worked on our CEO succession, and C-suite succession.  And Cisco was really just I think a great company that was able to partner with many firms, and in my role of Executive Talent I did a lot of executive assessment and succession myself with my team.  But when it came time for CEO succession, I really wanted an external partner and Spencer Stuart was that for me, and just was fabulous at helping me think about, how do our internal candidates compare to the outside and what are some other things we should think about as we go through the CEO succession process?
So we became friends and partners along the way, and then a few years later, after Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco, was well established, Spencer Stuart came knocking at my door and said, “We’d love to have you as part of the team.”  And for those listening, they did not violate any non-compete, so it was all above board.  But yeah, I was happy to go work with many of the people that I had worked with previously.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent.  And I’m sure, boy, with that role, doing talent at Cisco, I’m sure you must have just learned so many things and seen so many things, in terms of applicants and interviews and just the whole process of folks coming on board.  I’d love it if you could maybe just share a tip or two, when it comes to, “Hey, as someone who’s done a whole lot of hiring and supervising of hiring, here are some do’s and don’ts”.

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think part of it is, there are so many ways that people look at you in terms of your brand internally and externally, and people have ways of being a few degrees of separation.  So sometimes you think, “Oh, they haven’t called my direct boss”, but actually someone has called your direct report from few jobs ago to find out who you are as a leader.  So, I think the world is hyper connected and just know that don’t burn any bridges as you go along in your career, because that is so important.
And as I was in the role of talent, that was always a key part, is, what’s this person’s brand and what would they bring to a company like Cisco?  And then even as they were looking at internal jobs in Cisco, what was their brand in terms of the last team they worked with or what were they like as a young manager and what would they be like as an executive?  So there’s always interconnectedness there.
And then always just be mindful of how you treat people.  I think that’s always something where, how did you treat the person who actually walked you into your interview, or the admin who was helping you get everything scheduled?  How you treat those people is actually even more important as you think about even marketing yourself for a new job.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.  And I’d like to follow up on your point about not burning bridges there.  In putting together this course about changing jobs and whether or not you should stay or go , it’s been interesting how a lot of listeners have said they’re really scared to burn bridges and maybe they ought not to leave as a result.  And so, my intuition about this is that there’s a good way and a not so good way to leave, and burning bridges specifically refers to kind of leaving people in a tight spot.  So, any pro tips for exiting gracefully and how to not let that fear stop you from taking the opportunity?

Cassandra Frangos
Right, it’s a good question.  So my advice would be, if you’re a senior and you’ve got a huge team that you’re responsible for or a large part of the business that you’re responsible for, is always be thinking about your own succession.  That’s one way to not leave a company in the lurch.  So many senior executives are constantly thinking about their own succession, so that they’re not leaving a company in the lurch.  Or even if they move on to a different internal role, there’s somebody who is really ready to take over the business or take over the team so there’s some continuity there.
The other is, I always like to give people the advice of, leave a job on a high note.  Don’t think about leaving the job when you are on a downhill.  Think about changing jobs internally or externally when you really feel like you’ve maxed your potential, everything is running well and it’s a good time to hand off to somebody else.  Don’t necessarily think about leaving it when it needs a big turnaround or it’s a mess, because chances are you’re going to need to be fixing it and it could burn a bridge if you’re leaving it into complete shambles.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you, that’s helpful.  And so, let’s talk about your book here, Crack the C-Suite Code.  What’s the main idea here?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so it’s actually inspired by a lot of executives or aspiring executives that I’ve worked with over the years who kept asking me, “So how do you get into the C-suite?”  It seems like this mystery of a question sometimes, and I felt bad that everybody thought it was such a mystery.  So I just wanted to write something that outlined different paths to the C-suite and make it inspirational, in the sense that there are many paths, many different ways to get there and it doesn’t have to be just one answer for everybody.  It can take many different turns for each person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  Well, share with us.  What are some of the main insight takeaways here?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so there are a few different paths.  One that you would probably think of is, stay at a company for a really long time and reach the top.  There are so many executives who have inspirational stories where they started out on the front line and then reached CEO, or they started out really not qualified for some of the jobs that they had and they ended up in the C-suite.  So tenured path is certainly one that I talk about in the book.
The second is you’ve reached maybe a peak at your company and you say, “I really, really want to make it to the C-suite, but I don’t think I’ll make it here.”  And they jump out and actually become part of the C-suite of maybe a smaller company or just a different type of company.  I see that happen all the time, where someone’s dream and they can’t sleep at night if they’re not a Chief Financial Officer or they’re not a CEO, and they just won’t necessarily make it at their current company.  So if they go to a different company or a smaller company they reach the top and absolutely love it and enjoy being part of the top.
The other path is the founder path, where you’ve worked maybe at a smaller or larger company, you’ve had great experience and you have such a passion for starting your own company, and that’s where you take the path of founder.  And just really have an idea that you feel passionate about and you really want to make a difference with your own company.  That’s another path.
And then finally the path that’s probably least likely for you to be able to control it, but leapfrog succession is something that’s actually becoming more of a trend, which happened at Cisco, where leapfrog succession is where you were a couple of levels below the C-suite and you jumped over a level to get into the C-suite.  So for example Cisco’s CEO jumped over a level to become the CEO, and that’s becoming more and more common.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing.  And what are the circumstances that make that occur?

Cassandra Frangos
I think there are a few different ones.  One is the company is really ready to embrace a new leader, who is a bit more innovative or even has some new ideas to embrace new technology or take the business in a different direction.  It doesn’t necessarily mean a full turnaround, but it is someone who has some different ideas and is able to leapfrog the company, if you will, and to integrate success.
The other thing is they have established themselves internally as really being someone who has great followership across the company.  So when we announced Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins – standing ovation from across the company.  People just saw him as a natural fit and somebody who would really take Cisco into the future.  So if it’s a leapfrog it does have to be someone who has great followership.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.  Well, so we have a few pathways there, in terms of segmentation and arriving at the C-suite.  And I’d like to maybe sort of go back in time a little bit for folks who are not a year or two or three away from that point just yet.  Can you also share, within the book you’ve got some kind of universal accelerators and derailers that can really make a world of difference, when it comes to the rate of progression?

Cassandra Frangos
Sure.  Accelerators can certainly be looking at something that you haven’t done before.  So if you are a few levels or even several levels below top executive roles, it’s taking on the white space or a new assignment, something that you’ve never done before, it sort of reinvents yourself, you get to know different executives across the company.
The other is just collecting experiences, and I love this.  One executive I worked with – he would always describe it as each experience he’s collecting little nuggets that help him become even more valuable to the company and his career.  So that can often be accelerating.
And then the other is really having the right sponsorship internally and externally in the company.  So if you are inside a company and you’re thinking about making the next step, do you have the right sponsorship of key people who would really say, “Absolutely promote this person.  I would bet my bonus on this person.  They will get results, they’re the right kind of fit, they’re absolutely the right person to accelerate the company or in that particular role.”  So you do need really good sponsors along the way, and people who will really take a risk on you as well, because chances are not everybody’s done these jobs several times over.  Many CEO will say, “I’m not really qualified to do this job”, but somebody is willing to take the risk on them.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.  And do you have any pro tips for how you go about identifying those sponsors and winning them over?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think one of them is chemistry.  If you don’t have great chemistry with someone, they’re not going to sponsor you.  So it can start off as a mentoring relationship where you are just asking for advice and then over time you build a relationship, and then it really grows into more of us sponsorship where they are willing to say, “I’m going to take this person on and make sure they get promoted.”  So it’s being smart of who you’re connected with and who you might have chemistry with, because if you don’t, then you can’t really force it.  It’s not something that you could just say, “Pete, I want you to be my sponsor.”  It’s not going to happen if we don’t have a relationship, or there hasn’t been some way where we’ve been successful together.  So I think that’s important as you think about sponsorship.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  Well, how about the flipside of this, the derailers?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so this one is fun, where if you think about…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, is it?  Doesn’t found fun, Cassandra.

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh]  Yeah.  This is a question that I asked many senior executives, and I said, “What’s been something that you’ve seen derail other executives?”  And they said, “Too big of an ego.”  And you just hear the funniest stories – that’s the way this plays out.  Arrogance really doesn’t get you too far in the world, and a lot of senior executives will make it to a certain level and then you just see them derail because of too big of an ego.
And I think with also the way the world is going, in terms of more interconnectedness, and think about collaboration – no one wants to work with somebody who has too big of an ego or is just arrogant, where they only want to hear themselves talk and they don’t want to hear anyone else’s point of view.  So that can be something to really watch out for.  You need to have confidence of course, if you’re going to make it to the C-suite, but if you’re too arrogant it really won’t get you anywhere.  And you know all those people you’ve met; I mean you know them right away.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear the stories.

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, I’ll tell you one.  One was where an executive who constantly got feedback that he would not listen to anyone’s point of view.  So he’d be in meetings and he would interrupt you every two minutes.  Doesn’t matter who it was that would interrupt them – could be a brilliant engineer that really had a great point; just kept interrupting, wouldn’t listen to anyone’s point of view, everyone left the meeting deflated.  And then if they received feedback or, “We might need to move the product a different way” or, “We might need to think about this differently”, just said, “No, I’m right.  I know I’m right.  I’ve always been right, and thanks for the opinion.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, noted.  Don’t do that.  Thank you.  I want to also dig into your take on, you say a lot of times when there is a failure of leadership it is largely due to a cultural misfit.  And sometimes I wonder when I hear “fit”, if it’s just a euphemism for something else entirely, like, “I’m not going to tell you that this person is a jerk” or, “We hated him” or, “He completely failed to deliver all the things that we wanted.”  … to deliver upon.  But I think other times there’s something that’s really true, in terms of cultural fit, whereas this person is A, the culture is more so B, and it’s not a fit.  So could you just really lay that out in terms of several examples for what shows up as, “Hey, these things fit” or, “These things don’t fit”?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think it’s looking at what kind of environment people can flourish in.  So, we’ve all met someone who would probably be great in a very structured, thinking culture, and they just would really flourish in the way of having procedures, policies, doing the same thing very reliably, and would just get really excited about doing that every single day.  On the flipside you can think about someone who would probably absolutely love to work for Apple – would love the innovation, love different ways of creating new products, and they’re probably willing to take some risk.  Maybe it’s a little bit more agile.
So you can think about two different spectrums and you can even think about yourself as to where you would fit most readily inside a culture.  And you can really feel it because you can get a sense of, “I’d really be excited to work here” or, “I think this would stifle me and I don’t think this would be the best culture for me.”  So I think it can go different ways, where certainly people can use culture as an excuse to, “Well, this person just didn’t work out”, or they really do breed the culture.
You can also think about… I live in Boston and around great universities, and there’s always this debate of what’s the difference between Harvard and MIT.  And I have actually a friend who’s a professor at each.  And the MIT professor is really entrepreneurial, loves to do things different ways, tries different things in the classroom.  And then Harvard Business School is really grounded in case study method.  So this professor that I’m friends with, he is very reliable in the way that he teaches because it’s through the case study method and that’s how he was taught and that’s how he knows how to teach.  So if you put him at MIT, he actually might not succeed because he can’t teach cases over and over again.  And if you put the MIT professor at Harvard, he may not actually be great at the case study method.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s a nice dimension there, in terms of stable repetition, follow the process, versus new, bold, innovation, different stuff.  So, that’s a cool one where we could see a misfit.  Could you give a few more examples?

Cassandra Frangos
Sure.  I think the other is a little bit more nuanced, in terms of, are you a fit with the top team or the team that you’re part of?  So there was one executive that I worked with, where just could not get to the right place in terms of finding his way in the culture; just couldn’t really find a way to establish himself in a way where he was respected.  And respect is everything in an organization, and your ideas are intangible.
So he couldn’t get his ideas through because he just wasn’t really catching some of the subtle cues in the culture.  And it was just a shame because he was brilliant, but without having that acceptance on the team or the team saying, “Hey, let me help you learn this culture.  It’s pretty complex and I want to help you succeed.”  So that can be just something really subtle, where someone can be not successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are some of those cues that one might miss?

Cassandra Frangos
I think it’s how people communicate.  So if you’re a person who tends to just love to communicate by email and actually not walk down the hall – that can be a cue that you’d miss where actually if you observed a little bit you’d see actually everybody is buzzing around the hallways and they love to say, “Hey, let me catch you for two minutes to run this idea by you.”  Instead you’re just kind of doing it all by email and you’re wondering why you’re not getting anywhere.  So that could be a cue.
The other is it’s a highly social environment, so the way you can get work done is actually by building strong relationships.  And not that you have to go to dinner with them every night, but it’s that you actually do show an interest in them personally and you want to really understand them and build a relationship so you can get work done.  If you’re missing that cue and actually just jump to, “Alright, here’s the agenda, here’s what we need to get through.  How are you going to help me get this done?” – probably they’re not going to help you because you didn’t build a relationship with them.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious now, do you see it in the reverse, in terms of, “We’re a very task-oriented kind of a culture and your attempt to build a relationship with me is unwelcome and a waste of time.”

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, absolutely.  Yes, I’ve seen that many times over, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood.  Well, I like these dimensions because it makes it all the more real and tangible for me.  So we’ve got innovation versus stable, is it more email versus walk there face-to-face, is it more task-oriented versus relationship-oriented?  What are a few more distinctions?

Cassandra Frangos
I think the other is how hierarchical is it.  Some organizations really rely on the work structure and you must go to this person and then that person, and follow somewhat of an order or a hierarchy.  Other organizations are really, “It doesn’t matter.  Go to the best person who has the answer, or just find your way through to the right set of people who will help you.”
So that can depend, where I have seen some stumble where you actually didn’t follow the hierarchy and now you’ve gone sort of several levels that it didn’t make sense and you’ve actually caused some conflict just because you didn’t observe how some of the hierarchy and order worked.  Or if you are actually just trying to go more to the source and people are seeing you as, “Why did you jump down to talk to all these different people that they don’t know who you are and it’s intimidating?”  So just finding those subtle cues is also important as another dimension.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on, in terms of cultural fit.  I guess at times there’s something that could be helpful about breaking from the norm.  And so, what’s your thought on when is it optimal to zag, as opposed to toe the line?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, sometimes you’ve been hired actually to zag outside of the line.  So sometimes I’ve seen people who’ve been hired where you are actually hired to be disruptive and I don’t want you to listen to, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it”.  That’s often an annoying line for many people.  So, they might actually have an explicit charter and if they communicate that that’s their charter and they are looking for new and different ways to accomplish something or a new way of doing business, it can often be I think a great accelerator for a business.  It can be a lot more challenging if you have a culture where they love to say, “We’ve always done it this way for 50 years, so who are you coming in and telling me to do this different?”  But yeah, it can be really interesting when that happens.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes.  So now could you give us a little bit of detail in terms of, if folks are looking to rise quickly, we talked about some universal accelerators and derailers.  Are there any other smart approaches – you used the word “brand” several times – in terms of really making that pop, in terms of you’re deploying your experience and everyone’s thinking, “This person’s great.”

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think first of all life is short so it’s finding what you love.  I think if you’re passionate about what you do and you love what you do, that’s going to show through, and chances are you will accelerate on your own in the sense of people can really see you’re great at what you do and you love what you do.  If you have those two things, it can really take you far.  And that’s where also sponsorship can come in.  If people see that you’re really loving what you do and you’re good at it, they will more likely sponsor you.
The other thing is, I wouldn’t be afraid of failure.  There’s been lots of readings around this lately, where people are really willing to openly admit their failures and learning from them.  If you don’t learn from them, then certainly that can be just failure.  But thinking through, what are some risks you can take that could accelerate you?  Many, many times I’ve seen executives take a big risk and it paid off and they accelerated right to the top.  So that can also be something important.
The other is, you also have to think about, do people want to work for you?  So if you are going to accelerate to the top chances are you will have people who work for you, and what are you like as a manager or as a leader?  It can’t just be that you are great at managing up, or your boss thinks you’re fabulous.  It’s now more important to think through, what do your direct reports think, what do your peers think in terms of your effectiveness, and what do your leaders think about you in terms of your effectiveness?  So it’s having that 360-degree relationships, but also followership and having the impact you need on all of those different stakeholders.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good, thank you.  And I’d also love to make sure, while I’ve got you, to get a little bit of the insider perspective, if you’ve got some tactics or tips, tricks or stories from many of the executives that you’ve gotten to interact with personally?  What are some insider goodies that anyone who wants to be awesome at their job should know?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think it’s certainly thinking about your career and your profession as a way where you’re almost putting the company interests first as well where it’s not about you.  I think that’s where the ego part came in where we were talking about before.  So if you’re out for yourself people will see right through it.  If you are out for creating impact for your company and the profession or whatever it might be that you’re part of, I think that is often something that differentiates many leaders.
Also, I can’t emphasize this enough – being willing to listen and really being a sponge for learning and really thinking through, “What did this person just say, so that I can really think through how I can act on it or make a difference based on what I’m learning and seeing?”  Many CEOs will say they’re lifelong learners, because they’re always listening, they’re always curious, they’re always thinking about some of the signals they’re seeing from customers, from the market, from employees.  So I think listening and being curious and learning all the time is something important.
The other I would say is reinvention.  Reinventing yourself always is something that will take you, I think, very far.  John Chambers, who I used to work for at Cisco, who was one of the greatest CEOs in the tech industry and also a wonderful person – he’ll say that he reinvented himself every three years.  And it was something that always accelerated his career, because he never wanted to be stuck in old business models or old ways of thinking.  He had to keep reinventing and being fresh and keep learning and always thinking about all the different senses and all the different pieces that would help him reinvent himself.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.  Now on that listening point – I’d love to get your take on, how would you paint a picture for what outstanding world class masterful listening looks, sounds, feels like, versus kind of run-of-the-mill or what passes for listening in day-to-day interactions?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah.  So I think wonderful listening is, you really are listening with all senses.  That’s why many people study body language, because what people actually do when they’re watching body language and they think about, “How did my words have impact on me and how did that make that person feel?” – I think that’s a really important way of listening, is really looking at someone’s body language.
Also just intently really hearing them, and pauses are okay – I think people are so afraid of pauses – where you really are just taking it in, what they just said, and you’re soaking it up.  And sometimes taking notes by hand.  We often all now take notes by a computer or iPhones, and actually taking notes pen and paper or your iPad pencil, you often can remember what somebody said a whole lot more by actually writing it down.
And then also just being aware of subtle cues and the tone.  If someone said, “Oh, I’m doing great today!” or, “I’m… I’m doing… I’m doing good today” – there are different ways that you can hear the fluctuation in someone’s voice.
And then on the flipside I think a terrible listener is somebody who’s just waiting to talk.  I often see that in some of the settings where I coach different teams of executives, and I can just tell the executive who is just really not listening to you at all or listening to the group, and they can’t wait to talk and get their point out.  And their point actually had nothing to do with the previous point, so the conversation actually feels like ping pong, versus it builds on each other and they truly listen to each other and build on each other’s points.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love your take – if you see that a lot in executives, how do you imagine they got to be executives?

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, I think some of it is, do they stay executives if they have that behavior still?  So I think there’s one thing to become an executive.  So some people can actually get there, but to stay there also requires another kind of finesse, where you and I read the newspaper every day and hear of an executive who didn’t make it or suddenly was abruptly leaving their company.  Chances are they probably had some of these derailing behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you end your book with a final question.  What is it?

Cassandra Frangos
Question is: Do you really want to be in the C-suite?  And I pose that because it’s not for everyone.  Not everybody really wants to be in the C-suite.  It takes a lot of work, it’s also a lot of responsibility, a lot of I think tenacity, and it takes a pretty big toll on your family and your personal life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you.  Well, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Cassandra Frangos
I think you touched on a lot of it.  I would just say that finding your own path you don’t necessarily have to follow a perfect formula, but finding your own path can be really fun.  And setting your own career vision is something really inspiring.  I actually read my paper that I wrote for my master’s program and the vision I wrote is actually what I’m doing right now.  So, if you can think longer-term and think about what’s motivating to you, you can have a really fun career.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful.  Thank you.  Well now, how about a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Cassandra Frangos
Yes, I actually have it on my desk right now.  It’s, “Be yourself, because everybody else is already taken” by Oscar Wilde.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I love Boris Groysberg’s study on stars.  So what really makes stars in different companies.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, thank you.  And a favorite book?

Cassandra Frangos
Love the book Resonant Leadership, because actually it’s two of my professors who are in different schools, and I didn’t know that it’d actually be in the school of these two different authors.  But Richard Boyatzis taught in my master’s program at Case Western, and Annie McKee who taught in my doctorate program at University of Pennsylvania.

Pete Mockaitis
We had Annie McKee on the show.  Very nice.

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, yeah.  She’s wonderful, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Cassandra Frangos
I love the Hogan Assessment actually.  It’s a tool that actually helps a leader understand their leadership profile, but also their derailers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.  And a favorite habit?

Cassandra Frangos
Thank-you notes.  Handwritten Thank-you notes.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a particular stationary, or how do you do it?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I actually got a gift from someone that I coached of stationary with my name on it and my favorite color of purple.  And so, I love just writing – whether someone did something small or big for you – just writing something personal to them.  Because you can do an email – it’s too fast, it’s too quick, it’s actually not that special anymore.  So, handwriting it and getting something in the mail is pretty special.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I think actually relates to my favorite quote of really being yourself.  I think that often resonates with people, where I just often say, “This doesn’t sound like you.  Are you trying to do this because you think you should do it, or do you really believe you should do it?”  So, I do hear people thanking me for that often, where they’ll say, “You know what?  I was myself and it paid off, and I’m really happy that I wasn’t trying to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with.”

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

Cassandra Frangos
LinkedIn.  I’m on LinkedIn all the time, I’m posting different things.  But my personal email is on there, or you can just write to me directly from LinkedIn.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I would think about how to reinvent yourself.  Back to the John Chambers piece, where just what are some of the ways you’re going to reinvent yourself, either small or big, to make sure you can really, truly succeed?

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.  Well, Cassandra, thank you for the book and for this conversation and demystifying this stuff.  It’s been a lot of fun and I wish you all the best!

Cassandra Frangos
Well, thank you.  Same to you!

285: Upgrading Your Promotion Potential with Terra Winston

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Terra Winston says: "Stop looking at everything on your to-do list as having equal value to the people around you."

Terra Winston sheds light to the main pieces of getting promoted: learning precisely who promotes you and what they value.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two major considerations for anyone who wants to be promoted
  2. Goal-setting considerations to align yourself with your boss’s needs
  3. Why and how to promote yourself

About Terra

Terra Winston is the Ringleader of inTerractions and Principal of inTerract Consulting.  For over 20 years she has impacted thousands of people through her leadership programs and coaching.  A life-long learner, she has channeled her passions into success in multiple arenas, from engineering to HR, from Corporate America to entrepreneurship.  Terra holds a BS in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia, an MBA from Stanford, coaching certification from CTI, and a not-so-secret passion for Doctor Who.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Terra Winston Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Terra, hello and welcome to How To Be Awesome At Your Job.

Terra Winston

Hi, I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you.  I’m excited to have you.  And I learned a little bit about you, and one thing is that you have a passion for Doctor Who.  Tell us about this.

Terra Winston

Oh Pete, I do, I really do.  And I have to say this is what happens when you don’t have good cable coverage.

Pete Mockaitis

You’ve got to go to the UK.

Terra Winston

You end up following monsters.  Actually there was a point in time when all the cable companies switched over to digital.  And so I had a TV in my bedroom that didn’t have a cable box, and I was like, “Am I going to pay money for my bedroom?  No, I’m not.”  And what that relegated me to was 13 beautiful channels, just 13.  So I found myself at times at night, “No, I don’t want the news.  No, I don’t want the infomercial.  Hey, what is this?”
And there I found this crazy British show with some of the worst special effects I’ve ever seen.  But, it wasn’t the news or an infomercial.  And so, I started watching it in the background and I fell in love with it.  And I think what still connects me – and I know there are tons of people just like me come out the shadows and admit it, that are Doctor Who fans – is the promise of exploring all of space and time.  And as a learner, that to me is all the possibilities.  Why wouldn’t I want to follow that?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it does sound like fun.  And I’ve never actually seen the show.  In prepping for this interview, I just was pulling up Wikipedia and YouTube.  It was like, “Okay, I know Doctor Who is a show.  UK, sci-fi.”  But I’ve heard of it many, many, many times, but never actually seen it.  And so, I understand the latest – this is no spoiler, this is in the news – the latest regeneration of Doctor Who for the first time is a woman.

Terra Winston

It’s a huge deal in the Who-verse. But it’s, like I said, all the possibilities.  How wonderful is that, that you can have a legacy character and it can grow with the times?  Quite frankly, if we looked at some of our other long-standing television shows, you kind of wish they would evolve, right?

Pete Mockaitis

James Bond will be a woman next time.  Janette Bond.

Terra Winston

Yeah, Janette Bond.  But yeah, you don’t want to know where she hides the gun.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, well, I think we’re warmed up.  Thank you.  So tell us, what’s your company, inTerractions, all about?  Which is a very clever name – you have the capital T for the Terra in the middle of inTerractions.  What’s the story here?
Terra Winston

First of all, the name is one that people are always wondering.  I will tell you this is what happens when you try to buy an URL, and everything is taken.  Even crazy words like “Google” are taken.  You have to start resorting to slamming your name in the middle of words, just to see what works.  But inTerractions for me is a place that helps good people do great things.  And so, I get to work with individuals and entrepreneurs and leaders and even whole teams, and help knock down all the barriers that keep them from fulfilling their highest potential.  And so whether I’m doing coaching or whether my team is doing training, or even facilitation or consulting, we’re really about problem-solving, and get all that mess out of the way so that you can be your best.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  And so, in learning about you something that really resonated for me as a potential fit between what you know and what my listeners want to know, is, you do some real work with professionals about getting promoted, and how that is done.  And so, I’d love to get your take here.  You’ve talked to a lot of people in a lot of environments and backgrounds, and you’ve had the fortune of going deep with that – Coaches CTI Training, oh yeah.  So, tell us – how should we start thinking about it?  If folks are looking to get promoted, what’s sort of your main philosophy or orienting principles to start the journey?

Terra Winston

So now, Pete, I have to warn you – I’m from Jersey originally, and what that means is I’m very practical.  And that’s how I dig into my work as a coach.  And I think back to my time in HR, my time as a coach, and all the various Industries and leaders I’ve worked with, and I will tell you this – I repeat the same advice for anyone who wants to get promoted.
Number one – understand who promotes you, and then number two – understand what they value.  And often times people get that mixed up.  So, it is very rare in an organization that only your manager has a responsibility and the ability to promote you by themselves.  It usually requires enrolling people.  Chances are there’s a conference room full of folks – probably your bosses, peers, and the manager above that, probably HR, and there may even be some other hangers-on that all kind of get in this conversation and have to vet whether or not someone can be promoted.  And if you’re not aware of that, it’s very easy to think that you’re killing it, in terms of your work, but not realizing that there are other factors at play.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh Terra, I love that so much.  This reminds me when I was an intern at Bain and I was all about getting that job offer, and I had a sort of like an “a-ha” moment, in which I assumed that the manager was the person who made the decision – that’s what I was told.  And so, I was working closely with this guy – Kyle – who was awesome, and his title was Senior Associate Consultant.  And so we were doing the day-to-day work, but Kyle was so cool and friendly, and I just thought we were like buds.  And so then he was talking about, “Hey, they’ve made some mistakes here, we’ve got to really sharpen some things up for the offer.”  And I said, “Oh, isn’t it the manager who makes the offer?”  And he’s like, “Well yeah, but I have the primary input into that decision because I’m kind of day-to-day working with you and seeing what you can do.”  And I said, “Oh wait, I’m supposed to be dazzling you?” [laugh] “I thought we were just buds, Kyle.”  And he was like, “Well, yes, I would like to be dazzled.”  And it was like, “Okay, thank you.  This was helpful.”

Terra Winston

It’s so true, and it’s not always easy.  And I will tell you, I have actually coached people who have been in organizations for 10-15 years, and the landscape can change.  And so the people who were involved in promoting you five years ago – the organization may have reworked, the power structure could have changed, just in terms of politics.  And all of a sudden you find out the people that were involved in your
promotion before aren’t as involved anymore.  So you’ve got to stay on top of that.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’m intrigued, to what extent is… Because you’ve worked with many different organizations.  To what extent is this kind of quiet and shrouded in mystery – the Council of Elders who make the determination, versus it’s very much clearly out in the open?  Or how do you gather that information?  Is it as easy as saying, “Hey, who all makes the decision?”  Or how do you get it?

Terra Winston

You’d actually be surprised.  Most of it is actually pretty open, but we just don’t think about it.  So, for bigger companies – I say mid-size and bigger companies that have the annual career planning, management planning process – they usually start at some point with you being given goals and objectives, a junior manager sits down with, and then there is a point in the mid-year when you talk about your career and how you’re doing against your goals.  And at the end of the year they’ll get your review, and that will then lead to next year, and usually maybe some money involved.
Now, what’s going along with that that’s often called the performance management process – there’s a backend to that.  So when your manager takes back your objectives or your ratings, they go into a meeting with, usually their peers, or some subset of their peers, and they are talking about you versus someone else on another team.  That process is usually very clearly outlined.  And if you were to ask your manager, “Well, how do you guys come to the ratings?” or, “What’s the process where you guys determine who gets promoted?” – they can very clearly tell you.  We just don’t ask.
And it usually isn’t something that involves you to be involved in, and so they don’t think to tell you.  So at least get the primary players.  Now all the influencers, some of that – it’s a matter of asking some people who may have been there.  That’s where mentors and sponsors come in great in an organization, but you should be able to very clearly figure out who the group is.  Now, for those of us who work in smaller organizations, it may be a single line.  It could very well be your manager and then the owner of the business.  Or if your manager is the owner of the business – ta-da!  You know exactly who makes all the decisions.  But you should be able to ask and get 90% of the way there.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s good, thank you.  Alright, and so then when you talked about the goals, I want to get your take on. How often are the stated goals the real goals, versus, should you push harder and get after something that actually matters more to your boss, and your boss’s boss, and the organization at large?

Terra Winston

Okay, I love this question, because remember, I said there were two pieces.  It was knowing who promotes you and knowing what they value.  And so the goals that you have are very similar to your job description, and they list what your role should be.  Now that doesn’t tell you anything necessarily about what it takes to get ahead.  What that tells you is what your minimum expectations are.  And we tend to get that a little bit twisted.
When it comes to the realities, your manager and everyone that promotes you – they’re humans, with all the beautifulness and the flaws of being human.  So there will be some things that may be on your plate that are more interesting to them, because it makes them look good, or it may be something they’re more concerned about, or maybe they just happen to love that area.  So, there will be things that are on your plate that they go, “Ooh!”, and there will be things that are on your plate that they go, “Okay.”

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.  And the side effects really help actually.  I like that.

Terra Winston

So in my very scientific way.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, because I think you’re right – some of them go, “Ooh”, because it’s like, “Ooh, there’s a lot of dollars associated with this and that’s very exciting.”  And other times it’s not even rational like that; it’s like, “Yeah, that is a dumb process that we’ve had for a long time, and I hate it.  And oh, you’re going to go fix it once and for all – ooh, that is exciting to me.  I value that and it gets me going, even if maybe the size of the prize in dollar terms might not be that huge.”

Terra Winston
Exactly.  And I’ve coached people who have lost promotions to peers who didn’t stack up the same amount of numbers, that didn’t deliver on all the objectives in the same way, and then it feels very hurtful.  But what they did do were things that were either visible or highly valued to the people who make the decisions.  And that’s not fair, but that’s reality – so getting a sense for kind of what those things are.
And I’ll tell you the other piece – goals can also be very misleading.  I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve been brought in, where the leadership in the organization says, “This person is not ready to be promoted.  They have everything that they need but they’re still not ready.”  And when I ask what is that thing holding them back, it may be something like executive presence.  Do they have the gravitas, do they have the temperament, are they showing up as a leader?  Nothing to do with their work.  And then I go and I meet with the individual and I say, “Why do you think you haven’t been promoted?”  And the person says, “I’m not working hard enough.  I just need to deliver on these goals.”

Pete Mockaitis

Powerful disconnect.

Terra Winston

Powerful disconnect.  And it’s so easy to run yourself into a corner and then be really disillusioned.  That’s how good people get lost.  And so, paying attention to the goals is great.  Understanding what people value, and that is what they value in terms of the task and what they value in terms of the relationship and the being of a leader.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, that’s great.  And so, when it comes to getting a sense for what they value, I think one action step is just to observe – where are their “Oohs” versus “Uhhs”, and really seem engaged and asking follow-up questions and their eyes are getting brighter?  So, what are some other pro tips for gathering this intelligence on what the folks value?

Terra Winston

So people will always ask about a lot; the things that matter to them.  So, when you get to a one-on-one or when you happen to be talking those infamous elevator conversations and you’re kind of bumping into people and they say, “Hey, how’s that so-and-so project going?” – that tells you that that’s something that’s big enough on their mind.  They didn’t ask you how that report B1716C paperwork was going.  So, they will tell you with attention.
Also pay attention to town halls or announcements.  What are the types of projects or programs or initiatives that get the big billing, and then kind of where does that trickle down to your work?  In those places you can tell that those are important initiatives to people.
And last resort is, sit down and talk to your manager or talk to someone else and say, “I’m working on all these things.  What do you think is the most exciting piece?”  Now, what you’re not asking is, “Where should I put my energy?”  Because they’re going to tell you, “Everything”, because that is the responsible thing to say.  But, “Tell me, of all the work that I’m working on, what do you think is the most exciting for the company?”  Or, “Give me your opinion.”  Their opinions will let you get a glimpse into the things that turn them on.  You can hear it in their voice at that point.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, that’s good.  Okay.  Well, maybe could you give us a story or an example that can make some of this stuff come to life here?

Terra Winston

Absolutely.  So actually I want to continue the story about the poor guy who thought he had to work harder to get his promotion.  And it was interesting because as a coach I can’t come in and say, “I’ve spoken to everyone and they say that your work is great, but you just don’t seem like a leader.”  And I will tell you the frustration that I had is they absolutely said to me, “He just doesn’t seem like it, and we can’t articulate why.”
And I come to this poor person and I had to observe him and get a sense for how he showed up in the room.  And I will tell you the little things that we did – and I think this is the important piece of it – remember, it was about presence.  The piece that was so critical is, he just needed to show up with more power.  And so, the things that we worked on, Pete, believe it or not, was where he sat in the room, to the pacing, we looked at the way that he was dressed and the way that he delegated to people while in the room, because he was a servant-leader, he was someone who was so gracious, he was the exact kind of person that you want to be a leader, not one of these blowhard people.  But he was getting exiled because people couldn’t see how great he was.  He didn’t always deliver in his confidence.
But understanding number one, what is the culture of success?  So there’s a success profile in every organization – good, bad or indifferent.  When you look at the types of people that get the best opportunities, the people that get promoted, that move up fast – you will start to look and see patterns.  And so, where those patterns are will give you a sense for the types of attributes, leadership attributes that are valued for a success profile.  And you start to look at where are their gaps.
So, “These people always seem to be very extroverted; I tend to be very introverted.”  Now the answer is not then to change who you are.  But the answer’s to figure out how to use your strengths to deliver the same general feel.  So for this guy, who tended to be a bit introverted, and like I said, the nicest of people, to show power… There’s one version of power that bangs on the table, but we worked on showing power by granting power to others.  And so, understanding that part of how he was showing up and how it then related to how he got his goals done, we were able to get him over this hump.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing, when you talk about the profiles of power and the patterns that show up.  I once was doing some Myers-Briggs coaching 101 for all of these rising executives at an international beverage company.  We’ll not say any names.  And it was fascinating how time and time again it was like extroversion, extroversion, extroversion was popping up.  And sometimes as part of the coaching, trying to help them see the value of different preferences and all that, I was like, “So can you think of some folks that you work with who prefer introversion?”  And some of them were like, “No.” [laugh] I was like, “Really?  This isn’t going how I expected.”  But it was startling.
Then when I did talk to a couple of those who preferred introversion, it was almost like they were in the closet.  It was like, “Oh yeah, what I really like is just to be able to think about things for a while.”  It’s so exhausting being around these folks.  And so, I think that’s interesting to highlight that explicitly.  And you said good, bad, indifferent, and I like that because at times I think you’ll notice that you may not just resonate with that.  I think I’ve seen in some organizations it’s like, “Wait a minute.  This rock star – I notice time and time again this person seems to be doing all this extra work that doesn’t really seem urgent or essential, but she just busts it out time after time after time.  And oh, there she is, getting an earlier promotion.”  It’s like, “Oh, so I guess we love that around here.”  It sort of opens your eyes there.

Terra Winston

It absolutely does, and that’s why knowing who promotes you starts to play into this.  So say I am one of those introverts in that extrovert international beverage company that you talked about.  And I feel like I need to be heard but people can’t hear me in big groups.  I may schedule one-on-ones with some of the people that are in the promotion room.  Now you don’t schedule meetings to say, “I want to talk to you so that you can say something nice about me when it comes time for promotion”, but you start to build those relationships.  You casually drop in some of the work that you’ve been doing that they may not hear about because your voice just isn’t as loud as everyone else’s.  When they get into the room they will then be able to access that.  So you play them together.

Pete Mockaitis

And so I’d love to get your take here, in terms of, this is an issue that comes up with listeners frequently – they’ll say they get feedback that they are great, they’re doing great work, they’re a top performer and all this stuff, they’re very impressive in these ways, but “Oh, unfortunately there are just no advancement opportunities available.”  So, I’d love you take, Terra, on when you hear that message, what are your options?

Terra Winston

Right.  So first, you’re totally allowed to go home and grab a drink and be really mad.  That is by far…  I grant you permission to feel that way, because I think one of the dirty little secrets about organizations is that they actually don’t exist solely to help you manage your career.  They actually are doing their business.  And so, it really is this lovely combination of, are you ready, and is there an opportunity that the company needs?  And so it can be really frustrating when those two things don’t line up.  So number one – I don’t want you to have despair.  That’s not about you.  I think sometimes we take that as a hit to ourselves.
But after you do that, whilst you’re waiting for a position to open, know that you own your career, so if you can’t get promoted in the company, you should be promoting yourself in your own role.  And this is what I mean: So a promotion is someone giving you a bigger scope, a bigger impact, bigger responsibility or a new experience.  That technically is what a promotion is.  I know we all tend to think of the extra money that comes with it, and the title.  But really, a promotion is about increasing your impact in some kind of way.  So you do that.  So talk to your manager.  Think about, “Okay, I’m working on this one project and it impacts our region.  What can I do that maybe will cross several regions, or multiple functions?  What type of additional work can I do?  Can I look at my manager’s plate and offer to take something off of that, so that I can grow my expertise?”
So you should be increasing your scope.  So basically you’re going to give yourself your own promotion.  By doing that when something else comes up – and it always will, because business changes so fast – you will have demonstrated skills, impact at the next level.  Sometimes that gap is what people believe we can do, versus what they’ve seen us do.  So you’ve already demonstrated that and made it very visible.  And by the way, even if you decide not to stay in the organization, you can then use that extra experience to parlay yourself into a promotion somewhere else.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s good.  And so, I’d like to think a little bit here, do you have any pro tips sort of in the bite-sized department?  Any tips, tools, tactics, favorite scripts or key phrases, sentences you love to say or suggest to folks when they’re playing this game?

Terra Winston

So I’ve got two.  One you can use immediately and one that may take you a little bit longer.  So the first one, the quick one: “Likability is the killer app.”  It always, always is the killer app.  So we tend to work with people that we like.  We give people extra chances if we like them.  If we’ve built some type of connection, if you make a mistake I’m more likely to give you some grace for it.  I’m more likely to see your potential if I think that you’re someone that’s likable.
And what happens – we have all these wonderfully nice people when we work with them as peers, but they go into a meeting with someone who maybe has some influence, and they’re so focused on proving their credibility that they let nerves erode the personality that they have.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, yeah.

Terra Winston

So, I work with executives and I have some executives that will call me before they go into major meetings, and we’ll just run through kind of what they need to cover.  And number one is usually, “They called you into this meeting because they know how good you are.  You just need to make them like you.”  And so, what I tend to tell anyone going into networking at all is, number one – you want them to like you, number two – you want them to think you’re smart, number three – maybe you want to stay connected.  Nothing else matters.  You don’t have to convince them to marry you on the first date, right?  So, likability is the thing that you can start today.  Let your personality shine through, let people see how great you are, and make that connection and it will take you so much further.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, thank you.

Terra Winston

So the longer term one is actually some of the best career advice I’ve ever gotten.  I can’t take credit for it, because someone gave it to me.  And what he said to me was, “It’s always easy to stand out when you have a job or a role that does not have many peers.”  So if you think about in a typical company maybe there’s an army of accountants, or there’s HR people in every region, and all those things.
When you do really well, you have to do exceptionally well to stand out from the crowd, because everyone’s doing well.  Or you may stand out because you had a particularly bad year.  But when there’s lots of comparison points it’s really hard to stand out.  But if you’re willing to take a risk and take a role that maybe does not have as many peers… So, “I was an accountant but I’m going to work on this new turnaround.”  So it just feels different, then they don’t have as many people to compare it to.  So every victory looks like a bigger victory.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that.  And right now I’m thinking because I’m creating this course and I’m working with designers.  I’m thinking about how easily impressed I am by the output of designers, just because I’m so terrible at drawing.  I think I know what’s good when I see it, kind of, but in terms of actually if I get into Photoshop I shouldn’t be trusted with much, just like basically rearranging things symmetrically is about what you can trust me with there.
So, I’m depending on these designers and I’m just so impressed, like, “Wow!”  And I know for them it’s like, “Yeah, that took me 10 minutes.”  And so, I love that notion because, sure enough, it you are the designer amongst the accountants, or the turnaround specialist, or the keynote speaker, the coach or whatever, sort of being distinctly different from those – they are readily impressed.  And so that’s good to chew on for a little while there.

Terra Winston

It’s so good.  I wish I got there earlier in my career, but I’d now pass it on to all of you.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.  And at the same time, it does feel like a greater risk because I have fewer role models or potential mentors who can show me what I’m doing right or wrong, or to model from.  So that’s kind of nice – it’s like higher risk, higher reward.  But if you have some other prudent approaches to fill any potential knowledge gaps you have, then you kind of have the best of both worlds.

Terra Winston

Absolutely.  And remember, everyone that’s listening to us has a high potential.  So I guess it’s the opposite advice – if you want to sit in the middle of the pack and not have anybody make too many waves, then choose a role that has lots of peers.  It works both ways, and you get to choose the kind of life that you want.  But there is no high chance of promotion without a risk of failure.  And I will tell you that failure by itself will not stop your career.  It’s so much more about how you react, respond and recover from failure.  That is what gets you by, and if you have confidence not only in yourself willing to take the risk, but willing to know that whatever you trip up on, you can figure it out – that’s your cue to win.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  Well, Terra, I’d also love to get your take, since you do that good coaching stuff, can you share what’s maybe some of the irrational stuff that we’ve got going on that can impede the promotions from happening, whether it’s lowering your beliefs, or risks not taken, or safety?  What do you see, in terms of high-performing folks, in terms of some sub-optimal stuff going on in their mind that is limiting?

Terra Winston

So confidence by far is the biggest one.  And I know we’re used to hearing that all the time, but what I see is people devalue those things that come easy to them.  And so, rather than saying, “Hey, this is a core strength of mine.  Let me use this and show up in my core strength”, we then discount: “Oh well, if I did that and it was so easy, it must not have been a big deal.”  And we don’t showcase it.  So we then spend all our time on some of the things that may not be our towering strengths, because we’re trying to overcome our weaknesses.  And so what you end up doing is discounting the places where you’re a superstar, amplifying the places where you might be average.  And that’s never been the key to promoting yourself.
I think another piece of it is we struggle with this balance between humility and arrogance and self-promotion.  We are now so busy in organizations that there is not one person, including your direct manager, who knows all of what you do.  And so if you don’t find a way to tell them, then it’s very easy for your great accomplishments to be drowned out by even mediocre accomplishments by someone else who’s out there screaming from the rooftops, “Look what I did, look what I did.”  And at times it can really feel like an internal distress.
When I worked at a large international beverage company myself, and I did work in diversity, I would work with some of the groups who would say, “Terra, culturally growing up from the time when I was young, I was told not to boast about myself.  We have a collective community focus.  You don’t stand out.  But then I come to Corporate America”, or Corporate Western Europe, or Corporate Anywhere at this point, “And you keep telling me that I’m supposed to stand up and put a spotlight on myself and scream about how great I am.  I can’t get over that voice in my gut – my grandmother’s voice that’s telling me that that’s the wrong thing to do.  So am I destined just to not get what I deserve?”  And answer is no.  You find your own way, and that’s again looking at your strengths.  If certain people need to know what you do, can you go in and teach a lunch-and-learn?  Can you mentor someone?  Can you find other ways to get your name out there, so that people know what you do?
So I can give you an example.  Believe it or not, I found myself in one of those Infamous elevator pitch moments.  There was someone who was my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss adjacent.  So someone very senior from me, and I was in the Human Resources team.  And there was a big movement going on around organization design.  And so now I find myself alone in an elevator with this person, and either I can shrink in the back and hopefully fade into the woodwork, or I can step up.
And what I said to this person… I happened to, when I was in a consulting firm, I’d worked on the organization design methodology.  And so I said to this very senior person, “Heard the town hall, glad we’re doing work in this area.  I actually did some work back when I was at a consulting firm.  If you ever want, I can get some of the information to your assistant, in case you need it.”  And so by being of service, the senior person, A) knew my name, B) knew I had a background in consulting and I’d done some design work and I was going to follow up with information.  So find ways to kind of bring some visibility to it.  And a lot of times high-potential people are very confident in that the good work will be noticed.  And unfortunately people are so busy they don’t always notice it.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, thank you.  Well, that’s powerful stuff.  Thank you.  Well, tell us – is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Terra Winston

No, I think that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool.  Well then, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Terra Winston

Okay, so I have a favorite quote but I feel like it’s everybody’s favorite quote.  And it’s the one from Marianne Williamson, the fact that “Our deepest fear is not that we’re inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we’re powerful beyond measure.”  And it speaks to me because I used to be so introverted, and it is what governs the coaching work that I do.  It’s so often the thing that is the key to people’s absolute phenomenal success, is something hiding behind their fear.  And so, when we get to work together and we get to identify – again, it’s like a stone standing in the way of this raging river of potential.  And we can knock that fear aside.  I’ve seen people, I’ve seen businesses, I’ve seen teams flourish.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, thank you.  And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Terra Winston

There was a study that talks about the power of loose networks.  And so what it said was, if you want to create more opportunity in your life, it is not your closest friends and closest associates that will bring it; it actually is that next level, if you think of your network as concentric circles.
And the reason why is because your closest friends that you spend time with – they are everywhere where you are.  If there was something they heard about, they would’ve told you already.  Whereas the next level out of people, who are in other bubbles, as we now call it – they have an opportunity to see things and channel them to you.  So that had been a study that absolutely comes up again and again, until about two months ago.  I did some research; I was curious if it was still adequate, if anyone had updated that survey and the study.  And I found out that they had.
And that was true, kind of early Internet days, when the challenge was visibility to opportunity.  Now with the way that the Internet is, we actually have ways to see more and more of things that were probably hidden in pockets.  Now, I still stand by that the power of loose ties is still relevant, but what the newest studies have actually circulated is that we now live in a world where you can see everybody, but you don’t know who’s legit.  I can look at your LinkedIn profile, but how do I know who I can spend time, money and energy on?
And so now there’s a rising importance of the power of former coworkers, or people that not just are loose in your network, but they have personal experience of your work.  That is where the credibility factor lies, and now the issue isn’t as much information transparency; it’s credibility. So how are you leveraging those networks, I think is the next level, of what we need to do better.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.  How about a favorite book?

Terra Winston

Right now I am in love with The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath.  The book talks about what is it that makes any given moment special.  And that could be a moment in customer service, that could be creating the best family vacation experience.  Why do certain things stand out in our minds, and other things kind of wash away with the sands of time?  And so, we now hear people say we live in an experience economy, where it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the things that you do.  And I think we’re on overload so much, those of us who learn how to create moments are going to be the winners.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.  And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Terra Winston

My tool is a person.

Pete Mockaitis

I won’t tell that person that you think he or she is a tool.

Terra Winston

That was the wrong way to put it.  She’s going to kill me because she’s going to listen to this.  I have the most amazing virtual assistant.  And I think the virtual assistant services is something that many budding entrepreneurs don’t necessarily get very early.  But having someone that has my back makes a big difference.  And so I want translate for those of you guys that are working in companies and maybe are like, “Well Terra, I don’t have an assistant necessarily for my team.”
But having someone that you can bounce ideas off of, someone that you can sit down and talk about what your priorities are, whoever that person is – my virtual assistant plays that role; she’s actually my chief of staff for my business.  And so I think everyone needs someone that they can be fully themselves and with their guard down, someone that will give them the kind of feedback, but that is not a risk of it being from maybe an evaluation prospective.  And having a right hand in that way is phenomenal, and anyone and everyone should have one.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you.  And how about a favorite habit, something that helps you flourish?

Terra Winston

So, “networking” is one of those words that I actually ban a bunch of my clients from saying, because it dredges up all these feelings for people who aren’t necessarily extroverts or who just don’t love networking.  So I’m a big believer in making authentic connections, and that can be with anybody.  And one of the things that I always do at the end of connecting with someone is I ask them what I can do to bring them closer to their dreams.  And it could be, what do you need in your regular life, it could be a career thing that you have, maybe you just need the perfect pound cake recipe.  Why not ask?

Pete Mockaitis

I need it, Terra.

Terra Winston

You need it so bad.  But we are terrible at asking for help.  And so often times, the number of times that what you voice is something that I have access to.  Now I may not, but how would you know if you don’t ask?  And so, rather than forcing someone to ask, I take it upon myself to ask them.

Pete Mockaitis

And let’s hear that question one more time.

Terra Winston

So, “How can I bring you closer to your dreams?”

Pete Mockaitis

I like that.  It sounds better than, “How can I make your dreams come true?”, because it’s like, “Are you hitting on me right now?”  But it’s still succinct – okay, I like that.  And it’s a little bit more… I think it inspires more imagination than, “How can I be helpful to you?”  So I like that.

Terra Winston

Exactly, because people always need help.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  And sometimes it might just be like, “You know what?  I want to have grass in my backyard, and I don’t know who to help me.”  It’s like, “Oh, I know a guy.”  And sure enough, the networking is happening, relationships strengthen and build.

Terra Winston

Mm-hmm.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  Okay, thank you.  And tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that tends to really connect, resonate with folks and gets quoted back to you?

Terra Winston

Yes.  So, there’s a bunch of them; some of them are not for G-rating.  You guys have to work with me as a coach and I’ll give you some of the ones… We have a good time, with me and my clients.  But no, one that actually is really fundamental for me is, “Stop living someone else’s life.”  It’s so easy to live your life based on a set of “Should’s”: “This is what I should have” or, “I’m supposed to be promoted.”  “Why?”  “Well, because that’s what you do next.”
Do you want that job?  Do you have other dreams? Is this job that you’re doing right now, does it exist solely for you to save money to start that business that you want to do, or to move halfway across the world and live life as a nomad?  Well, if that’s the case, then does a promotion get you any closer, or is it just speaking to something that you feel like you’re on auto-pilot for?  And the number of times when we stop and really ask ourselves, “Is this what I really want?” – the answer is, “No, but I don’t know what else I’m supposed to have.”  So stop living someone else’s life.  Live yours – you only have one.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Terra Winston

Please, I love connecting with new people.  I am at TerraWinston on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, because I’m not that creative with my names.  So I just use my name everywhere I go.  Come to my website, inTerractions.com.  We post information, and get connected – I would love to find out how I can help you towards your dreams too.

Pete Mockaitis

And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Terra Winston

Absolutely.  So, for those of you in your jobs – if you do nothing else, nothing else today – go to your list of annual goals.  And I want you to identify the three – no more than three – that are the most valued by your manager.  Now remember, we talked about the ways that you can tell, but stop looking at everything on your to-do list as having equal value to the people around you.  So, go through, identify what are the top priorities, and then figure out how do you manage your discretionary energy in a way that gets you where you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.  Terra, thank you so much for sharing this.  Excellent stuff.  Hopefully there will be many promotions birthed from this conversation.  And I wish you lots of luck in all you’re up to!

Terra Winston

Thank you, Pete, I absolutely had a blast.  This is a great podcast.