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644: How to Sharpen Your Skills for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet with Michelle Weise

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Michelle Weise sheds light on the learning challenges professionals will face in the near future—and how we can prepare for them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to surface your hidden skills
  2. How to keep AI from making you irrelevant
  3. Nifty tools for upskilling quickly

About Michelle

Michelle Weise was just named to the Thinkers50 thinkers to watch in 2021. She is senior advisor to Imaginable Futures, a venture of The Omidyar Group, and BrightHive, a data collaboration platform. 

She is former chief innovation officer of Strada Education Network and Southern New Hampshire University. She led the higher education practice at Clay Christensen’s Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Her most recent book is LONG LIFE LEARNING: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet (Wiley, 2020). Her first book, with Clay Christensen (2014) is Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Michelle Weise Interview Transcript

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

Michelle Weise
Great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as I was reading all about you, one thing that I found, I guess, touching or moving or wanting to touch up on for a moment was we’ve spoken with some people who have worked and written books with Stephen R. Covey, and it was just sort of beautiful to hear some memories of that great man and teacher who’ve lived on, and, likewise, I wanted to hear a bit from you, to start us off, about working with Clayton Christensen. What’s something folks should know about him and who he was when you were collaborating with him?

Michelle Weise
He was one of the most generous people. He would always kind of make you feel like you were the most important person talking to him at that moment. And, it’s funny, I had a lot of folks who would see him speak at large events and they could sense his sort of folksy tone from him and his kindness, and he would say these beautiful things, and people would turn to me and say, “Is he really that nice? Is this for show?” and it really wasn’t.

He was sort of rooted in that way. He was driven by a really intense faith. He was a Mormon. At his funeral, it was kind of amazing to hear the incredible amount of service he did on the sidelines. And that just sort of…that feeling of just kindness and generosity that was emanating from him, I think it just showed through every action.

And, for me, it was life-changing to work with him directly and to write with him and to learn from him, and to go very deep into the theories of disruptive innovation and sort of see where he would get frustrated with kind of the misuse of his theories. And everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from him.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing. And so, oh, yeah, we’re going to be doing a little bit of storytelling, I suppose, here about your insights associated with long life learning. I keep almost saying life-long learning every time, it probably happens to you a lot with your collaborators here. So, well, hey, let’s go meta for a second. Michelle, tell me, how can we tell this story most effectively?

Michelle Weise
Yes, so the reason why we’re getting tripped up on long life learning is we’re so much more familiar with this concept of life-long learning that we should be constantly learning how to learn throughout our lives. What I tried to do in this book was to move us into action. I was just noticing a lot of inertia around this concept because we know we need to reskill throughout our longer more turbulent work lives. But where is the actual infrastructure to sort of take these on and off ramps, in and out of learning and work, or do both at the same time and not have it feel so painful?

And so, for me, this mental shift comes through this concept of a longer life. If we extend our life spans, which we know since 1840, we’ve tacking on three months of life to every single year since 1840, so our life spans are just definitely extending but so are our work lives. When you look at early Baby Boomers and how long they’re staying in the workforce and how many job changes they go through by the time they retire, it just helps us kind of snap us into attention, and to say, “We have to start building a better functioning ecosystem in which we can access the education and training we need in order to thrive in the labor market.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that thesis seems to just make sense as a natural implication of living longer and such. So, could you maybe share with us something that’s surprising or counterintuitive as a discovery that you’ve made along the way as you’re putting this together?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I have been doing a lot of research on the future or work, and what I noticed in a lot of the literature and the analyses out there by chief economists as they’re trying to sort of forecast all the different kinds of ways in which jobs are going to become obsolete or this industry will become decimated by these technologies, what I realized was this kind of intense focus on the “it”, or the things or the jobs, or the tasks and numbers.

And so, what I realized is if we actually kind of move away from thinking about the future of work to the future of workers, and all of us having to somehow kind of move through this learn-earn, learn-earn cycle, to me it kind of helped surface some of the most intractable issues and barriers that we need to solve for today.

So, what my book does is it really actually elevates the voices of people who only have a high school degree, who are constantly being overlooked for work they could actually perform, and noticing where the barriers kind of coalesce. So, these concepts that I come up with around better career navigation, or better wrap-around support services, or more targeted educational pathways, or more integrated learning and earning, and more fair and transparent skills-based hiring practices, those aren’t just coming from me thinking what we need to do. It’s really kind of trying to gather all this qualitative data.

We did over a hundred hour-long in-depth interviews with folks to sort of sass out, “Where do people keep kind of bumping up against pain points?” And if we designed this future system better, then all of us are going to actually end up benefiting. It’s the same idea of the curve cuts that we did when we kind of created the Americans With Disabilities Act.

When you’re cutting into the curve and you’re making a sloping curve, you’re not only helping folks who are disabled who need to use a wheelchair, but you’re helping mothers pushing strollers, or FedEx delivery folks with their dolleys, you’re helping runners, cyclists, skateboarders. It’s this idea of universal design. But when we want to target our focus, because it just seems like this huge, expansive challenge, we focus on the people, the future of workers.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so then, as we got a lot of workers listening right now, can you sort of frame things up for us a little bit in terms of…? So, you make a point that the old model of, hey, there’s education, then there’s work, then there’s retirement isn’t what we should be relying upon going forward. Can you expand upon that?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, just the notion that we could have one or a handful of jobs and retire in comfort, that’s already become sort of a quaint notion. And when you look at the amount of job changes that people are experiencing by the time they retire, folks are already going through, on average, 12 job changes by the time they retire.

And so, as we think about that longer more turbulent work life that is shaped by rapid advancements in technology, we can only extrapolate from there, “Wow, we may have to somehow entertain 20 or 30 job changes by the time we retire. And so, how in the world are we going to navigate that when one is just so difficult to navigate?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, lay it on us, how should we navigate these optimally?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I think the perfect illustration of what’s not working today is when we look at what the pandemic has shown us, which is when retail and hospitality were just completely decimated as industries, we had no way for people who were in those customer service roles or those frontline worker roles to actually transfer their skills from retail or from hospitality into something totally different but to identify their kind of transferable skills.

And I think, all of us, we believe that we have really important kinds of skills. Those transferable skills that can help us port our assets from one specific area to another. But, in general, when you think about the job market, we think about it in such a linear format. We kind of, if we start off in retail, or if we start off in office admin, when we think about advancement, we think within that line of work. It’s harder for us to sort of think about moving beyond that industry that we started in.

And the reason why we feel that way is because that’s what employers tell us, right? The employers want to see exact work experience in hospitality to move you up to a manager role. We don’t have ways of validating other kinds of experiences. So, one of the key solutions for us that are exciting for us to anticipate, and we already see these different kinds of AI-powered platforms.

What they’re doing is they’re helping us surface maybe some of our hidden skills. The skills that aren’t necessarily recognized by a formal credential, like a degree or a certificate or a certification. And what they’re doing is, as we’re typing in, I used to be a barista, that signal of the barista helps the platform actually surface, “Oh, did you know that folks who were baristas they have these specific competencies and skills.”

So, there are ways in which these platforms can not only help us surface our own skills but then help us envision pathways where we might actually be 75% of the way there towards something in human resources, or 85% of the way there towards something in advertising and marketing. We just didn’t know it; we couldn’t envision it for ourselves.

So, these kinds of tech-enabled platforms are interesting kinds of seeds of innovation to look at that might help us not only kind of validate our own skills whether we’ve acquired them through taking care of our own families or through work experience, and also understand the kinds of gaps we might have to fill in order to move into these other opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really interesting when you mentioned that if you’re a barista, you can very well have under the surface like all of these skills that you’re applying there. And that reminds me of a previous guest we had, Todd Rose, talking about dark horses and how what might seem like completely different skills are actually, if you zoom way in, super similar in terms of, “Oh, actually, well, you’re using your hands to shape these things into other things so that they fit. Those are similar.” Much like, “Oh, you are optimizing a manufacturing production schedule is sort of like solving a puzzle over in the realm of math or physics or something that, who would’ve known, those are quite common or quite complementary.”

Michelle Weise
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these platforms you speak of, how do we get our hands on one? So, can I go to some website right now and it’s going to tell me all my hidden skills?

Michelle Weise
So, that’s one of the challenges. There is like a free one off of Emsi called Skills Match where you can start to surface and kind of build a resume using these technologies. But this is one of the challenges and this is what I’m trying to point out in my book is that there are hundreds of thousands of innovations and solutions out there. The problem is for any normal person to understand where to go, like if we’re suddenly laid off, we don’t know who to call, where to go, who to talk to.

There are so many of these solutions out there but they’re not knit together in a way that’s easily understandable and navigable for any person. It’s not that we need a whole slew of new innovations. We need these things to become just more accessible so we can understand and comprehend how to navigate this who to go to for, “How do I know that when I pick this learning experience, a future employer is going to validate it and understand what it means? And how do I know precisely which skills I need to acquire? And which school actually offers those three competencies? I don’t need a degree, maybe. Maybe I already have a degree. I don’t want to go back to school full time. How do I get just what I need in order to move on?” And that’s one of the challenges.

But there’s a bunch of these groups, like Skyhigh, FutureFit. And what they’re doing right now is they’re more B2B, they’re more working with enterprises and trying to help them get a better understanding of who’s in their workforce. Because a lot of companies, and it’s very odd to think about it this way, but most companies don’t actually know what their people can do.

They know job titles, they know names. They don’t have a real granular sense of the skillsets, the competencies, all those hidden talents that folks have. So, that’s where these innovations are starting is trying to help employers be less wasteful, not always recruit externally, but look at the talent that they have right in front of them, and think, “Maybe I could actually take 30% of these folks and build their skills in X, Y, or Z technique or strategic goals for the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s exciting, and, indeed, it just seems like a huge opportunity that’s just waiting to be plucked. A great manager would know a lot of what their team is capable of. Yet, how is that information captured, collected, and transmitted elsewhere? And one of the incentives for doing so, you’re like, “No, Michelle is a rock star. She’s working for me. Get your hands off. I don’t want you to snag and do a completely different function.”

Michelle Weise
That is a real challenge within the companies. Yeah, this kind of like zero-sum game of, “Oh, if you take my person, you’re hurting me versus helping the company.” It’s hard to get out of that mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, unless you have sort of a widespread culture and reciprocity and such so that you say, “Hey, you know what, there’s give and take, I might lose Michelle for a couple months, but I’m going to get Phil who’s amazing and fills another role that we really need,” so there’s that trust there that can be handy.

Well, now, you just got me dreaming big, Michelle. I remember I once, I don’t know if I’m going to do this or not, but I hope someone is doing this. But when you talked about the high school folks who did not have diplomas and yet are capable of doing so much but it’s hard for them to sort of prove that. I kind of imagine just like forming this whole business where we just sort of like assess the crap out of people in terms of like all of these batteries of things because I come from strategy consulting and we did case interviews, and I found that that was a pretty excellent means of identifying if some folks have a particular set of skills. And so, that’s one kind of a test for one set of skills.

Likewise, there’s many tests for many other skills. Wouldn’t it be cool if folks could go to some sort of facility for a week or something and get a rundown on all their skills in a language that firms could read and understand, and then open up opportunity for people as well as savings for the companies? It seems like someone should have invented that. Maybe it needs to be me or maybe that’s in the works. But, Michelle, give us your take on to what extent does that exists, a means of identifying and appreciating hidden skills so that companies can save money and not have to hire the Harvard grad, and professionals who don’t have the degree can see some cool opportunities?

Michelle Weise
Yeah. So, what you’re identifying when you’re talking about seeing how someone responds to a case study is you’re testing their problem-solving capabilities, you’re trying to see, “What kind of systems-thinking, critical-thinking capabilities do they have?” I was just talking to a colleague who used to work at Arthur Andersen and they had this very open-question format where they would do the same things where they’d be trying to assess out someone’s sense of initiative and collaboration and these more fuzzy things, but trying to see how they talk about this in the context of solving a problem.

The good news is that there are these innovators who are working on new kinds of ways of assessing curiosity, problem-solving, all these really important kinds of skills that we know are going to be deeply valuable in the future of work. Because as we think about the rapid advancements of AI and how intelligent these AI are, where it’s not only able to read, drive, see, but it’s also able to write poetry, it can paint Picassos. It’s getting scary how far these technologies are sort of infiltrating our lives. What is our human advantage? What is our competitive advantage when we compare ourselves to these machines who can usually do some of this work far more flawlessly than we can? And it comes in these human skills.

So, places Imbellis and Mursion and all these different groups are trying to figure out ways to test out someone’s problem-solving capabilities where you’re on a computer and you’re thrust into this setting where you’re in this natural environment in the mountains and something is dead in front of you, and you need to kind of poke it and look at it, sort of see what is going on, and you’re trying to figure out what happened.

And so, on the backend you have psychometricians kind of figuring out what all those clicks mean, what are you doing when you’re putting these two datasets together. So, there’s really interesting ways in which groups are trying to democratize the process, and say, “We’re looking for the best problem-solvers in the world. If you can kind of solve this problem, this is really exciting.” And it makes me think of what you’re talking about with Todd Rose’s concept of the dark horse.

One of the most valuable assets that we will bring to the table is our ability to take concepts from seemingly unrelated domains and make them make sense in the context of the problem we’re trying to solve. So, InnoCentive, as an example, this was a platform that was created partly because at Eli Lilly, these chemists and scientists couldn’t figure out a problem so they posted it online and they found out that a lawyer could actually solve the problem using his sort of different kinds of contextualized expertise to help them figure out a way forward. Or, when they tried to figure out how to create more efficient ways of solving for oil spills in oceans, it was actually a pastry chef who talked about the process of making chocolate mousse and how that might actually help us think through how you remove oil from water.

And this is all, I’m totally stealing this from David Epstein’s book Range, but it’s this idea of, “How are we going to cultivate not only problem-solvers but people who can display that sense of range?” And it doesn’t always come from a four-year college degree. We don’t always get that real intensive interdisciplinary learning that we probably should. And, for me, for the next steps for higher education, that is a real opportunity for them to kind of break down silos across disciplines and departments. But, as we think about those skills that are going to make us most valuable, it’s going to be those kinds of hidden ways of thinking about problems.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s hit that for a minute there. So, AI can do a lot, and right now we’re very much evaluating humans being able to draw from different disciplines and putting them together. So, What are the fundamental kinds of principles or distinctions that…? Like, we think human brains are going to be able to do this better than machines even 20 years from now. What are those things? It’s not playing chess or Jeopardy, but what is it?

Michelle Weise
I think probably the most helpful way of thinking about it is when I talked to an executive from Apple who, he actually went to Stanford for a mechanical engineering degree, but as part of his general curriculum he took a class on ethics. And he mentioned that that class is probably one of the most valuable classes he had while he was an undergraduate, because when they’re producing technology, new technologies, new products, the thing they have to think about is, he called it sort of volume impact repercussions, where they have to think of second-, third-order effects of what they’re building, because, in an instant, millions of people are going to be leveraging whatever it is they are producing. And so, they really have to kind of anticipate forward and think, “What are all the ways in which this can go wrong?”

And if we think about where we are today with social media, we didn’t do enough of that. We didn’t extrapolate enough far forward. And when you hear the co-founders of a bunch of these different social media companies, you hear them say, “I didn’t think that this is the way that it was going to be used.” But this is what humans do bring to the table when we sort of bring ethics and judgment and values, and try to think forward.

And this also has implications on the kinds of people you bring around the table to do that sort of analyses. It has to be a diverse group. It cannot just be young white male undergrads kind of thinking about this problem. It has to be a diverse group of folks kind of thinking about those volume impact repercussions. So, I think those real skills in exercising judgment are going to be critical, that we can’t rely on the AI to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, second-, third-order things. And I guess that makes sense to me in terms of like as I think about things that are like playing chess or Jeopardy or even like composing or painting, it’s sort of like they’re all kind of bounded in a way in terms of find the right answer, or the right move, or apply a principle of color or sound.

Michelle Weise
Right, they’re finite. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Versus saying, speculating as to what social media and how it will impact us with widespread adoption. That does seem harder to stick inside code. Anything else that we humans do great?

Michelle Weise
So, a couple of years ago, Amazon had tried to leverage AI to diversity their hiring processes, and they thought maybe AI could do a better job than humans. And so, they kind of built out this new system, the AI started kind of going through the diverse set of applications. And then it was the humans kind of watching and seeing the output to sort of identify, “Huh, kind of strange that so many of these folks are named Jarod. Or, a lot of them played lacrosse.”

And they started to realize, “Oh, my gosh, we’ve trained the AI on flawed data.” They kind of looked at their existing talent pool. They tried to sort of say, “These are the senior leaders at our company that do great work.” But what they did was they trained the AI to search for people that looked and sounded exactly like their existing leadership, and that is not a way that you diversify your talent pool.

And so, it took humans to kind of notice and sort of exercise some judgment to say, “Wait, something is wrong. Interrogate it. Look deeply, look into the data,” and sort of say, “Oh, okay. We’ve got a problem here.” Because the AI will only just kind of repeatedly get smarter and smarter with the data that it is trained on. And we see this also happening, unfortunately, in the legal system where we’re developing sentencing structures based on deeply inequitable past data of how we’ve punished people.

So, we need this kind of deep-thinking humans for the future who have enough domain expertise to be able to question the AI because we cannot just let it…the crazy thing is that most companies…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Jarod is in here. Whatever you say, robot.

Michelle Weise
Yeah, most companies like don’t know if they can trust their AI right now. I have a statistic in the book where they are not comfortable auditing the sort of their existing AI.

Pete Mockaitis
Not comfortable auditing it?

Michelle Weise
Yes, so this is from an Accenture study that basically fewer than a third of companies surveyed have a high degree of confidence in the fairness and auditability of their AI systems, and less than half have similar confidence in the safety of those systems. So, we’re so reliant on these technologies and yet we don’t fully trust the algorithms that undergird them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I buy that even in a very easy example. I think about machine-generated transcription, which, I mean, that’s existed for 20, 30, 40 years and yet it’s still not great. I don’t know. If you have 98% accuracy, okay, that sounds really impressive, but that’s really still like three errors every minute. And so, in this conversation we’d have a hundred or two, and so I wouldn’t call that good.

And so, anyway, I just find that, I don’t know, not to be quite grouchy, but I’m a little skeptical myself in terms of maybe eventually it will be awesome but right now I’m not super impressed, and maybe I just haven’t been looking at the right places to blow me away.

Michelle Weise
No, what you are pointing out is what this MIT economist named Daron Acemoglu calls so-so automation. So, like when we think about just the rise of ATMs in the last few decades, what’s interesting about an ATM is that it is far better than a so-so technology because it actually completely made obsolete the role of a person counting money because it could do it really well.

And we don’t actually have a lot of technologies that we’re building today, the transcription one is a perfect example, or the robots that we use in warehouses where we have to depend on people as pick-and-packers to be able to sort of get the thing out of the robot’s sort of treasure trove and put it into a box.

So, we’re creating technologies that are just so-so. They’re not great enough to completely obviate a certain task. And, as a result, we’re not creating enough forms of truly creative labor. Because when ATMs kind of took over, what was fascinating to see is the sort of burgeoning of the services industry in banking. It wasn’t that people just became useless, it’s that they actually transferred their skills into different domains.

Here, what we’re having is a lot of kind of unfulfilling what researchers called ghost work. It’s this kind of interstitial stuff that we have to do on the backend even when we’re training AI. You have tons of people, these mechanical turkers who are working for cents on the dollar, who are identifying all the photos that are coming up from the AI to say, “That’s a face. That’s the same face as that one. That’s a body part. Ooh, that’s not a body part we want to show.”

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s a cat. That’s not a cat.” Right?

Michelle Weise
Exactly. And, “Not a hotdog. A hotdog.”

Pete Mockaitis
Silicon Valley.

Michelle Weise
But we have a lot of terrible work that’s emerging because of that not-great-enough technology. Right now, we’re in this awkward phase where we’re not creating enough forms of creative labor.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michelle, these are a lot of interesting ideas. I’d love it if we could sort of zoom in here now for the professional who are maybe in their 30s or 40s who got a lot of work left in their career before retirement, likely. So, what’s our game plan in terms of learning the right stuff effectively and well and keeping our careers moving in a great trajectory?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I think one way forward is, unfortunately, for us as job seekers, a lot of the burden rests on us, and a lot of the financial risks also rests on us to make these decisions on our own. But moving into the future, what we really need to see and what, I think, will signify the kind of company that we want to work for are the ones who stop this kind of dis-investment in training their existing workforce and start to realize, “I have all this talent within. How do I help them acquire the skills they need to be successful?”

And I think the most powerful indicator of a company that is truly invested in us as job seekers are the ones that tell us, “You don’t have to do this on your own. We’re not going to just dangle tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement dollars and say, ‘Hey, we’re glad that you would like to advance your education. Go do it on your own time on top of everything else you’ve got going on in your lives.’”

The most competitive forward-thinking companies are going to realize that the workplace is really the classroom of the future. And I’m not talking about on-the-job compliance training, risk mitigation work, like sexual harassment training. I am talking about real new skills-building activities. So, it’s critical that the company not only identifies really transparent internal mobility pathways for you and for us, but it also has to be very explicit about carving out time in the flow of the workday for you to acquire those skills because it’s not fair for us to have to somehow squeeze it in on top of stitching together multiple part-time jobs, or all our caregiving activities. It’s too hard to just kind of stack that on top of everything else.

So, I think the things that we need to look out for the future are the companies that are truly invested in our reskilling and upskilling who kind of figure out ways to make that learning bite-sized, or for an hour a day, or an hour a week where we can be doing this in the flow of work. And, also, for educational institutions and providers to be able to modularized their learning in ways that’s more accessible where we’re not always bending to the sort of linear structure, the college or the university, but that it’s much more flexible and easily consumable.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a beautiful world that I’d love for us to live in. And I guess part of why this podcast exists is that we’re not there, and it is a little bit of a do-it-yourself proposition for a lot of folks these days, and fair or not, pleasant or not, stressful. So, let’s talk to the professional who’s in an environment that’s not so enlightened with regard to offering some great learning opportunity, and let’s say even, hey, they’re a little mercenary, they’re just going to go take it, “At 11:00 a.m., when there’s no other meeting on the calendar, I’m just going to do me some learning.” What are some of the top resources you’d recommend to them? I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn Learning myself, but what else would you say in terms of, “All right, you got an hour. You’re going to do some learning,” what are some of your favorite places to go?

Michelle Weise
So, one that I talk about in the book is called GLEAC. And what they do is they make this kind of mobile-friendly learning apps where they just take minutes and they have folks, for instance, who are customer service or retail folks in Prada stores, as an example, where they’re building up their reflection and communication of this kind of human skills that they’re developing where they’re exercising their judgment. And they are these bite-sized learning applications that a worker can kind of leverage while they’re working.

Another one would be Mursion that I’m kind of really interested in.

So, we tend to think of executive coaching as reserved for people kind of mid-level managers and up. What Mursion enables us to do is practice those really important human skills in a low-stakes environment. So, giving feedback, receiving feedback, these really critical skills for success in the workforce but we generally only practice them in a high-stakes environment, when we actually have to give someone really tough feedback or when we’re receiving it from our bosses.

And, generally, I know whenever I do this, I leave the conversation sort of thinking about all the different ways in which I could’ve done it better. And this environment actually has avatars in front of you, and the quality of the imagery is good enough where you can notice different people’s nonverbal cues, and you hear their voices change, and so you have to be responsive in that moment.

And it’s actually this kind of interesting AI-powered platform that’s puppeteer-ed by one human also in the background, where the human can play the role of like six or seven different people with different voices and different characteristics. And so, it gives you that chance to practice negotiation, all these different kinds of skills that we need to get better at because the fascinating thing, just in general, with human skills is even though we’re human, we’re not very sophisticated at them. We actually have to practice these skills. And just because we take a LinkedIn Learning class on empathy, we’re not somehow going to become more emotionally intelligent just from taking that one class. We have to figure out ways to practice this. So, those are the kinds of innovations that I’m excited about.

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

Michelle Weise
One thing that might be important for job seekers to know about is the existence of different kinds of alternative learning providers kind of outside the traditional realm of colleges and universities. I think most people have heard of these things called coding bootcamps where you go and you get pretty savvy in web development or frontend development and you do this for 6 to 12 weeks, you pay $20,000 out of pocket, and maybe you get this great job.

Those have typically kind of been more geared to folks who already have a degree, sort of more affluent who can actually afford to pay out of pocket. But there are these interesting other set of providers that I call on-ramps where they do this kind of really important human skills-building work but they also help learners get skills in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, data science, enough to get hired by.

There are amazing stories of a US Postal Service worker becoming a quality assurance engineer for Facebook through this data science immersive program. And what they’re doing is that they’re actually stitching together that kind of career navigation with a very precise educational pathway with a direct connection to an employer.

And so, there are these kinds of opportunities available. It’s a matter of trying to, again, it’s back to us as the individual job seekers, the burden is on us to kind of find some of these. But a really interesting example of another one is one called Climb Hire we know that Salesforce administrators, they are a job that are in demand, that are in high demand. And so, what they’re doing is they’re building these skills but they’re also embedding social capital building into the learning process where they’re helping folks, who may not have the best professional networks, learn how important it is to build relationships, build professional networks.

And when a person actually gets a job at a company, as a Salesforce administrator, the onus is on them to refer and bring someone else into the company from Climb Hire because the CEO realized from LinkedIn data, as an example, that people are nine times more likely to get a job through a referral so they’re helping job seekers and learners really build this skill because it is something that you kind of have to learn how to do unless you’re sort of born into an incredible network.

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

Michelle Weise
So, you heard me talk about David Epstein who wrote Range, and he talks about deep learning, but he says, “The most effective learning looks inefficient. It looks like falling behind.” And I love this quote just because I think when we think about all the ways in which we are kind of channeled and incentivized to achieve, we’re always measuring through this kind of testing that is actually not measuring what matters.

And if we were actually to sort of really understand what kind of learners and that kind of deep learning in folks, it would actually look like failing. And I think that’s, I don’t know, that’s important for us to know.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Michelle Weise
Probably Beloved by Toni Morrison.

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

Michelle Weise
I have one of those keyboards that are split into two and kind of at an angle.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too.

Michelle Weise
I have some tendonitis, so.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’ve got the Freestyle2 from Kinesis.

Michelle Weise
That’s what I have.

Pete Mockaitis
But you got the tents going. I didn’t get the tents. I just got the split because I’ve got, I guess, some wider shoulders and so I always found that I was…Yeah, so I like being able to stretch out and be me without having to crunch them in.

Michelle Weise
Yeah. I have the same exact one, the Freestyle2. Underneath you can flip out the thingies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s right.

Michelle Weise
You know what I realized, I think I pressed the delete button so much that I actually really kind of hurt my wrist and needed to re-shift my posture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that there’s something beautiful hiding in that. Perhaps it’s revision, commitment to excellence, iterating, learning, that meta stuff there.

Michelle Weise
Yeah, nothing you write is golden.

Pete Mockaitis
Not at first anyway. And how about a favorite habit?

Michelle Weise
Oh, walking.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re kind of known for, people quote back to you a lot?

Michelle Weise
Oh, I think maybe because I learned this from Clayton Christensen, one of the most powerful parts of the theories is when you see something that looks less than, our immediate kind of reflexes is to sort of scorn or disparage it or to dismiss it as, “Ah, it’s not an important innovation to pay attention to,” but Clay always said it could be just good enough. And that is something that I try to convey to folks. When we have that very human reflex, when we perceive newness as danger, that might be actually the precise time where we need to take a beat and look at the thing more carefully.

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

Michelle Weise
I’m always available through Twitter and LinkedIn @rwmichelle or I have a website called RiseAndDesign.io.

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

Michelle Weise
I think, in general, it’s still this concept of collaboration. I think we, generally, just because of the way we trained from K-12 on through college, it’s so often kind of this notion that things are a zero-sum game, where if you’re winning, I’m losing. But in this concept of kind of long life learning, there’s no winning list. And so, how do we actually change our behavior instead of always sort of trying to be the leader? How do we actually make sure we’re collaborating in truly distinctive ways? I think that’s something that I think about a lot. It’s a hard behavior to turn to given the way that we’re trained.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michelle, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your long life learning.

Michelle Weise
Thank you. You, too.

640: Why Being Qualified Isn’t Enough: How to Overcome Your Fear of Selling Yourself with Jena Viviano

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Jena Viviano says: "You cannot network only when you need something."

Jena Viviano shares her three-step process for making more successful career transitions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three sources of career clarity
  2. Why networking doesn’t have to feel sleazy 
  3. The three things recruiters are always looking for 

About Jena

Jena Viviano is an ex-Wall Streeter turned career coach and entrepreneur who helps ambitious professionals articulate their personal branded career stories to land their dream jobs. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 Thank you, sponsors!

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Jena Viviano Interview Transcript

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

Jena Viviano
Well, thank you for having me. I love your podcast. I’m a listener so it’s actually a huge honor to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, we’re going to be talking about job stuff, and I need to hear I understand LinkedIn had a role in your engagement story. We love LinkedIn here. Tell us all about this.

Jena Viviano
I love LinkedIn for so many reasons. But, yes, so LinkedIn is a part of my engagement story. My sister was in a job transition and she said, “Hey, can you come over the house? I need you to help you with my LinkedIn profile.” So, she took me to lunch to do her LinkedIn profile. Meanwhile, my now husband, then soon-to-be fiancé, was like decorating my apartment and getting it ready, so he had to get out of the house, and the ploy was to help with her LinkedIn, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s clever. And they had your number too, it’s like, “Okay, this is something she’ll bite on, LinkedIn.”

Jena Viviano
Exactly. They’re like, “Oh, she’ll help with that. She loves LinkedIn. She’ll totally help you with that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. Very cool. Well, so I’m excited to dig into your wisdom here. Can you start us off by maybe sharing what’s one of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made in terms of all your years of career coaching?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, gosh, I think the number one thing that I’ve realized with coaching hundreds, honestly, probably at this point, over a thousand people on a one-on-one basis and in groups and courses and whatnot, is that people don’t realize that in order to be successful in the job search process, it’s not enough to just be “qualified.” It’s not enough to just have a really solid resume. You really have to know how to sell yourself and to treat your own career almost as if it’s the brand. And a lot of people don’t even think like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’ll be fun to dig in. But when you say you are a brand, I’m thinking of a scene from the TV series Entourage.

Jena Viviano
Okay, I’ve never watched that show.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. It’s kind of trashy, so. Well, so anyway, I’m not going to go into too much detail here. But our star, Vincent Chase was considering going with a different agent, and as he was going to these different agencies, they all had the same video that they thought was really cool, and they’re like, “McDonald’s, Starbucks, Apple, Vincent Chase. Like, you are a brand.”

And so, maybe let’s just get that covered right away. What do you mean by “You’re a brand”? How is that different from a corporate brand and how is it similar? And how does it inform our thinking?

Jena Viviano
Yeah. So, I would say you have a brand whether you’re cultivating it or not. Most people, nowadays, have some type of online presence, some type of digital presence, right? So, our LinkedIn profile is a perfect example. We’re talking about LinkedIn. You have a brand, who you are, what you’re about, what you have to offer, the value that you bring. That’s all a part of your personal brand. What’s your value proposition? What are you bringing to the marketplace? Very similar to a corporate brand.

The problem is that people who are 9-to-5 jobs don’t think like that. We think, “Okay, I just have to have the qualifications, I should get the job,” when, really, we have to position ourselves as candidates for the job for our “audience,” or our ideal market, the employers. And too many people don’t think from that perspective which becomes a problem when you’re applying and trying to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of candidates that are all applying to the same job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then if having the qualifications isn’t enough, then what should we be doing? Like, kind of what are the key steps? You’ve got a program, Recruit the Employer? If someone is job-hunting now or will be soon, what’s their step one, step two, step three?

Jena Viviano
Start before you’re ready. I think that’s the first part is start thinking about it before you’re ready. A lot of people think that, “Once I’ve decided to make a career change, that’s going to happen immediately.” And that’s just not what we’re seeing pre-COVID times, post-COVID times. It’s just it takes a while especially if you’re at a more senior-level position and you’re trying to be strategic in your career move.

So, the first thing you really need to do is understand, “Where the heck am I going?” Clarity is a huge portion of the puzzle. A lot of people will first go to their resume, “Hey, I’m just going to read you my resume. That just needs to get done.” It feels like we’re doing and accomplishing something, but oftentimes it’s either, if we’re having somebody else do it, it’s a waste of money if we don’t know what we’re using it for.

So, the first step, really, in that process is understanding, “What do I actually want in my career?” And the second step is understanding, “What’s valuable? What do I have to offer? What’s the value that I can bring to the table?” And the third step would really be about marketing yourself to that job. So, understanding, “What does that employer care about? Those jobs that I’m targeting, what makes me different than every other candidate out there?” So, that would be the first three steps, is, first, getting clarity; second, really understanding the value that you bring; and, three, crafting a narrative to sell yourself in front of those employers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s very nicely organized. Three simple sections. Let’s dig into each of them. So, clarity, I think I’m a weird kid in that I knew I wanted to be doing people-development-y things when I was in high school.

Jena Viviano
That’s impressive. You are lucky.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve learned that most people are not that way and many people struggle with like, “Oh, what is it I really want?” So, how do we arrive at that clarity?

Jena Viviano
Gosh, there’s a zillion different ways to go about it, but I would say that we first need to think about it. I think a lot of people go to college. And, for myself, so I went to high school, I was told I should go get a finance degree and a marketing degree so I did both those things. I went in investment banking and realized I was really bad at finance on Wall Street. Not exactly the best place to figure that out, right?

And so, I had to start to ask questions about, “What are my actual skills and gifts? What are the things that light me up? What am I doing when I’m thriving?” And then understand, “Okay, now where does that fit into the marketplace? Where are people looking for skills like mine? And how can I reposition myself for the job?”

So, I was working at the New York Stock Exchange, and I realized, yeah, I wasn’t really good at finance, but I was really good at selling, I was really good at communicating with the CEOs of these companies that would come in, I had a marketing brain. And so, I started to move more in the sales direction, and it was only through the experience of reflecting and really asking questions to people around me, like, “What do you think I’m good at?” I would ask my coworkers that question. I was pretty bold. Like, “What do you think I’m good at? What do you think I’m not good at?” so I could understand for myself and get a little bit of clarity around, “Okay, where can I lean into my strengths instead of just trying to make up for my weaknesses?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you reflect, you ask people questions. Are there extra questions or extra ways to get answers that are really valuable?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think another piece of the puzzle is actually going into the marketplace and seeing what’s available. I did this experiment when I was trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do in my next move knowing it was not finance. I started to explore companies that I thought were really interesting. And within those companies, I would actually dig into their careers page and see what jobs even looked fascinating to me. So, I was really lost, right?

So, I could actually dive into these job descriptions and say, “Yeah, I’m not qualified for that yet,” or, like, “That’s many years in the future but I could see that path and I’m interested in what that type of role would have.” So, I’d say from a very practical standpoint, it’s actually seeing what’s available nowadays. And then, apart from that, it’s actually having real conversations.

So, we’re talking about that, the reflecting piece, the really diving in and doing your own research, and then, finally, having conversations with people who do that actual job, asking for informational interviews, and having those conversations, wondering what’s in a day in the life look like, “Am I even going to like this thing that I want to get into?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, it sounds like that’s actually, well, maybe I’m just a dork this way. That sounds like a lot of fun in terms of, “Well, let’s explore.”

Jena Viviano
I thought it was fun too.

Pete Mockaitis
“Let’s explore. Let’s see what’s there.” I remember, again, high school Pete, I was playing around the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Jena Viviano
Wow! You really were interested young.

Pete Mockaitis
A fun time. As well as I was just reading books about success goals, studying teamwork, whatever, and like, “Those guys seem like they have cool jobs. They get to coach and speak and write and talk about this cool stuff.” So, yeah, what are some of the best resources there? So, one, I just dropped the governmental one. And then there’s actually the job postings that are up and out there. Are there any other particular books, websites, tools that are handy in exploring the whole wide world there?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, you know, I have not found one that I’ve loved, so I don’t feel comfortable necessarily sharing, “Hey, this is the one to see. This is the one you should take to read up on and figure out all the different careers that are out there.” I really think that having conversations and actually utilizing LinkedIn to your advantage and seeing who to network with, to understand what do other people do in really cool companies that you’re interested in.

Here’s the thing, I worked with a lot of people, and the majority of people leave jobs not necessarily because of their job function but because of the people that they are working with or the cultures that they’re a part of. So, I’m actually a huge proponent of making people first look at the company and really diving into companies that they love to find opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you tell us some pro tips there in terms of using LinkedIn and connecting with people, how do we play that game in terms of finding the people and crafting a message that won’t get blown off and having them show up and asking useful things of them when we have them?

Jena Viviano
Yeah. So, can I ask you a question?

Pete Mockaitis
Take it away.

Jena Viviano
Like, tell me what you think of when you think of the word networking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so funny. I’ve been reprogrammed on this.

Jena Viviano
Yeah, you’re like, “It’s fun.”

Pete Mockaitis
On this very specific point. So, I’ll tell you what I used to think and what I think now.

Jena Viviano
How about that? Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’ll go with both answers. So, I used to think networking is like, “Hey, I got business cards in both hands, and I’m dropping them left and right. I say let’s do lunch. And I’m at a mixer or a cocktail party, and I’m kind of working the room and kind of moving…”

Jena Viviano
It’s uncomfortable. It feels sleazy, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, anyway, that was my old vision. And now I think of networking as just building relationships, like you meet people, you see what’s interesting about them, what they’re into, you see how you could be helpful to them, maybe send them a link or a resource or a joke or a something that will tickle them in their particular way of being, and their needs. And then, over time, it’s like, “Hmm, I can reach out to a ton of people to get some advice or guidance or direction. No problem.”

Jena Viviano
Yeah. And I would say that a lot of people still think the former of what you thought. It’s sleazy. It’s uncomfortable. I always tell people networking should not be awkward. Networking should not be uncomfortable. It should not be sleazy. It should be pushing you outside your comfort zone, sure. But, really, at the end of the day, networking is just what you described. It is mutually beneficial, professional relationships that are developed over time. You cannot network only when you need something. And that’s where people get it wrong with networking where they think, “Oh, I need a new job. I need to be networking. Yes, networking feels uncomfortable then.”

But if you’re nurturing and cultivating a group of contacts that you are building into relationships and being in relationship with, it’s not going to be uncomfortable when you say, “Hey, I’m looking for an XYZ opportunity at XYZ company. Could you introduce me? I know you know someone there.” Like, that becomes easier. So, actually, networking really needs to be looked at as a way of life and not like a one-hit wonder that we often treat it like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Okay. So, that’s the mindset that we’ve adapted. So, check, we got it. And then how do we start finding these people?

Jena Viviano
Yes. So, I said there’s usually four levels of networking. They’re actually your friends and family. A lot of people forget that your personal networking can still be a part of your professional network, especially if you’re a career-changer. And I actually did this in my own career when I was working at the New York Stock Exchange, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I would tap my friend network, and I said, “Hey, I know you guys aren’t in sales or finance or fashion,” or whatever else I was interested in, “but do you happen to know somebody who is that I could talk to about their career, and what they’ve done, and pros and cons, and what to look out for?”

And there are people that I grew up with that I forgot that they’re parents, were like head of sales at a company. So, we forget sometimes that our own network, our personal relationships, while they themselves may not have a contact, they may know somebody. So, that is the first level.

The second level is potentially current and past colleagues. Depending on your relationship with people that you work with, maybe you feel comfortable asking questions with your current coworkers, but also people who have moved on from your company, especially if you’re looking to change positions or you’re looking to stay within the industry but change to a different company. Those people probably went into a different company and are doing something similar, so they’re a great people to tap and to keep those relationships flourishing.

I know, for myself, on a quarterly basis, still, I’ve been out of corporate for a while now, I still reach out to people that I worked with in corporate because I want to keep those relationships fresh, I value those relationships, and I find them really beneficial. So, that’s the second level. The third level is actually alumni networks. A lot of people forget that your universities still want you to stay connected, and there’s actually a really easy way to search for people that went to your college. You can actually go onto LinkedIn, you can find your school’s page, you can click on a button that says alumni, and you can actually search for someone at your ideal company to talk to them a little bit about what they’ve been doing. You have that easy kind of in because you both went to the same university. So, that’s a little hack.

And then I would say the fourth level of networking is cold outreach. It’s the most uncomfortable but I have actually used it in most of my personal job transitions and where I really encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and reach out to people that they don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve been pleasantly surprised a few times when I kind of pushed people for benchmarks, statistics on cold outreach effectiveness. It’s way better than I expected.

Jena Viviano
Why do you think that is? I see the same thing, for me, personally. Do you think it’s just practice?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s…and I want to hear your numbers, roughly to the extent you have them. I think it’s just because it’s something human in terms of it’s like, we’ve all been there in terms of trying to figure out what’s next and get in there, those opportunities, and not quite knowing what to do. And so, I think there’s just a little bit of a karmic obligation that is in us, our psyches, and it just feels pretty good to help in terms of it’s like, “Wow, if I can have a 15-minute conversation with somebody and that’s going to either help them avoid a job they’re going to hate or get closer to a job they’re going to love, that’s going to impact the years of their life and thousands of hours of their life, and it’s just going to take me 15 minutes, that feels like a pretty good return on my philanthropic time.” So, I like it.

Jena Viviano
Yeah, you have a good attitude about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it doesn’t mean I’m a saint. I don’t always take them but, you know, I do, frequently. And so, that’s just my raw speculation. What do you think?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, no, I totally agree. I think there’s a couple of things. It’s a matter of how the candidate or the individual reaches out to the contact, so I think it’s never what you say, it’s how you say it. You could say the same thing, “Hey, I want your time,” and, “Hey, I want your time,” but say it in two different ways and get two different responses.

So, what I recommend for people is if you’re reaching out to somebody, customize it. Don’t send them a copy-paste whatever. Send them something that’s customized that’s going to show that you paid attention to them. Maybe you’ve listened to their podcast, or you love what their company is doing, or you see that their teams have worked on something, maybe it’s something on their LinkedIn profile you can relate to. Just customize it a little bit actually goes a long way.

And then having a very clear specific ask. Here’s the problem with a lot of networking messages. I get them all the time. I’ll get somebody who reaches out to me, and they’ll say, “Hey, I would love to chat with you. Let me know if you’re available next week.” I have no idea what their goal is, I have no idea how long they want, none of those things. So, what you want to do is you want to be very clear on, “Hey, I’m looking to explore a career in sales,” I’m just going to use that example. “I’m looking to explore a career in sales. I see that you’ve made some job transitions in your life. Would you be open to chatting for 15 to 30 minutes? I have three questions I wanted to ask you. No pressure if not.” So, it’s being very specific and also giving them an out. You’re not backing them into a corner. If they can’t do it, they’re actually probably more likely to tell you, “Hey, I can’t do it,” or, “Actually, I’ll help on the phone with you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. I dig it. And three questions, I like it because, one, that’s short and doable, manageable so I can handle three questions. And, two, it’s a little intriguing, like, “Oh, what are the three questions?”

Jena Viviano
Yeah. And, to your point, like people want to help and also people love talking about themselves. So, if you’re giving them an opportunity to talk about themselves, they’re going to be into that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s fast forward a little bit. So, we’ve got clarity, “So, this is what I’m about. This is what I want.” We’ve got opportunity. That sounds really juicy and that’s just what I’m shooting for specifically. We’ve got a great networking mindset and we’ve got some folks who have given us some insight, so that really does sound like a great place to be. So, now what? We’ve got it in our crosshairs. What do we do now?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think part of it is still leveraging your networking connections. Seventy percent of jobs are placed through connections. And so, whether you’re having that soft ask, you’re just asking somebody for a connection time, or you’re realizing, “Hey, this hiring manager is on LinkedIn. I’m going to reach out to them and proactively tell them how I can bring value.”

So, I think the next step really is understanding, “What is the value that I can bring? What does that person really care about, that hiring manager care about?” And I kind of distill it down to when you’re reading a job description, or when somebody is hiring you, you got to be thinking about it from their perspective. They’re not just hiring you to hire a body, right? They’re having you be hired for a specific purpose. And I have never found a reason, not one of these three things basically. You’re either going to save a company money, make a company money, or make someone’s life easier. Whether you’re a janitor or the CEO, you’re doing one or multiple of those three things.

So, when you’re positioning yourself for a job, if you’re having trouble understanding, like, “What is the value I can bring?” figure out which one of those three buckets you’re sitting in so you can tell your story in a way that’s going to be compelling to that employer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent.

Jena Viviano
Yeah. So, I would say that most of it comes down to you’re understanding your story, and then, very specifically, you are either reaching out to people for a networking capacity, you’re having those conversations and telling them where you can provide value, or you’re applying online. I usually say about 80% of your time should be networking and about 20% of your time should be applying online. And then from there, once you’re given the opportunity to actually get in the door, you’re going to be able to tell that story.

I’ve worked with people who have not had any experience maybe with interviewing well, and don’t know how to tell their story, and they’re kind of all over the place, and then you bring it some structure and you actually understand the psychological implications of why someone would want to hire you, it actually becomes a piece of cake.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us about that structure and how we execute that well.

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think the best way to describe it is with the number one question everybody hates, “Tell me about yourself.” Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, they say that.

Jena Viviano
The first question we all get is, “Tell me about yourself.” It’s kind of that first impression, it’s that do or die moment, and a lot of people muddy it up. We think, “Should I talk about my whole career? Do I talk about my dog? Do I tell you about my spouse? Like, what do I talk about in that question?” And I usually say break it up into three parts.

You talk a little bit about what you’re doing right now and how that’s making an impact for the company that you’re currently a part of. You tell a brief story, very brief, about how you got there, highlighting the key pieces that are relevant to the job description and any information that you gleaned before that interview. And, finally, landing on why you’re excited to be talking to that individual and why you’re excited about the organization.

So, it’s very simple. It does not need to be overcomplicated: where you are now, how you got there, what you’re excited about for the future.

Pete Mockaitis
And is that 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes?

Jena Viviano
I’d say don’t go farther than two minutes. It should be anywhere between one to two.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is nice to demystify. So, we don’t talk about the dog or the spouse.

Jena Viviano
You can but my personal opinion is that’s kind of in the rapport-building whether you’re having a conversation in the sidelines, but when you’re actually asked an interview question, they want to cut to the chase. They want to know, ‘How are you going to help us? How are you going to help us reach our goals? How are you going to make my life easier? And I want to know that first.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, hey, that was awesome, so a tricky question, “Tell me about yourself,” and a simple approach. I like that.

Jena Viviano
Simple. Don’t complicate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Give us more of those. What are common tricky questions and then the right way to answer them.

Jena Viviano
Yeah. We can talk about interview questions from strengths and weaknesses, that’s a big one. Everyone is like, “I don’t know what my strengths are. I don’t know what my weaknesses are.” And I think we look at this question wrong. We think that an employer is out to get us, like they’re going to take us and they’re going to be like, “Jeez, we just want to make sure that you’re answering the questions wrong. We don’t want to hire you.” No, they want you to succeed. They want to see if you’re self-aware.

So, when asked that question, I would pick up a very specific strength that you have, that you have an applicable story to tell, “So, I’m good at this. Here’s an example of how I’ve exemplified that in the past.” And then for a weakness, just make sure it’s not like the key thing you need to do the job well. Like, if your core function within your role is to be in Excel, and you tell them you’re bad at Excel, you probably shouldn’t be applying to the job.

So, it’s more about a weakness that’s relevant to the job, it’s not a fake thing, it’s not like perfectionism – I hate that weakness – but a real weakness that you have, and then what you’re doing to overcome it, and what you’re doing to put steps in place to make sure that that weakness doesn’t detract from your quality of work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just thinking right now, like, “What are my weaknesses?” Sometimes I think I’m lazy.

Jena Viviano
Oh, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, but what it really is I’m profoundly demotivated by pointless stuff that’s not truly value-added and leveraged. And it’s like, “I want no part of that.” Although, I can get really jazzed about figuring out how to outsource it, “What’s the process and system by which I can make this disappear from my life forever? Ooh, let’s spend hours on that. That’s a juicy problem.”

Jena Viviano
I’d say mine is procrastination. Like, that is always, ever since I was a little girl, procrastination is definitely not a positive thing and I’ve always struggled with procrastination. It was always my example, I procrastinate. But this is how I try to make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future. So, you can have real weaknesses and still get a job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. All right. Well, hey, give us another one. A common tricky question and the best way to approach it.

Jena Viviano
Yeah. “Why should we hire you for this job?” I think that goes back to selling yourself, right? A lot of people do think that they just need to be qualified on paper, 2D, but you really have to bring that story to life. So, when you’re thinking about preparing for the answer of, “Why should we hire you?” and even if they don’t ask that question directly, you should be answering that question throughout the entirety of your interview. That’s what they want to know, “Why should we hire you?”

And, really, what you want to be thinking about are, “What are the three main functions of that job and how can you do that better than anybody else?” And expressing that, we’re breaking it up into three, I’m using threes a lot on purpose, it’s easy for us to remember, it’s easy for people to listen to. So, you just break it up into three parts, “What are the three main functions of the job that the person who does this job has to do really well?” And then explaining the story around how you’ve done that in the past.

Now, let’s say, for instance, you have a glaring objection, like you have a glaring thing you have not done. Maybe you haven’t been capable of, for myself, I was in sales and I never had a sales job. I was applying for a sales position. And so, I actually brought up the elephant in the room, I said, “You should hire me because I don’t actually have that traditional sales experience. But if you’re looking for somebody that’s able to come to the table, that’s going to be able to talk to seniors, C-suite leaders, and help your company get to the next round of funding, I’m going to be the person for the job.”

So, make sure you have confidence of declaring and acknowledging the elephant in the room but also expressing how you’re going to be able to work around it.

Pete Mockaitis
And, in that example, I don’t know if I picked up on how you not having sales experience is an asset.

Jena Viviano
Yes, true. So, I didn’t go fully into all the details around that but mostly the position that I was speaking about, that individual was asking, “Why should we hire you?” and they had had the question, “Hey, you don’t necessarily have that sales experience,” and I said, “I don’t have that sales experience but here are three other ways that I do have experience that’s similar to sales, and how I would plan on bringing that market to life basically.” So, I was expressing to them the plan that I had in place to actually make that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Right on. Okay. Well, so then let’s keep it rolling. Any other tough questions, simple answers?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, tough questions. What do you feel like is a tough interview question that you’ve experienced?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s sort of tricky because I kind of know the answers, but let’s just go with it, “Tell me about a time you failed.”

Jena Viviano
Yeah, “Tell me about a time you failed.” That’s a really big one that I feel like a lot of people get scared about and think that they can’t fail. And I actually gave a really bad answer to this in an interview, and the interviewer called me out on it, “That’s not a real failure.” So, you should always express a failure that you own but also what you learned from it. It’s all about the learning. It’s a self-awareness question, it’s a behavioral question where you’re getting asked, “What is that failure but then how did you overcome it?” That’s really what they want to know.

Pete Mockaitis
And what about, I love it when…so, there’s the get-real precise, like, “Tell me about a time in which…” and so then there’s like several very specific layers. And it’s just like, “I don’t think there’s ever been a time that that’s happened to me.” What do you do there?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think, again, we have to think about why are they asking that question. They’re wanting to see, “Can you think on your feet?” They’re wanting to see, “How would you approach a situation should that situation ever come up?” And you could literally say, “I’ve never had that situation come up but this is how I’d approach it.” I’m never encouraging people to lie in their interviews, but if you’ve never had that experience, say that you’ve never had it, but then explain “If that was happening in real time, this is how I would approach it. And here’s like the three steps that I would do to solve that issue.”

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s your take on, I think, for me, Sethi is going to be on the show soon. Woohoo. Talk about the briefcase technique or providing more or less in your interview unveiling your plan. Like, “I’ve already thought a lot about the challenges facing this team, this organization, in this role, and here’s how I would go about getting after it.” What do you think about that approach? Pros? Cons? Suggestions?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think there’s pros and cons to it. I think if you’re really early on in the process, I’m not a fan of it just because I feel like you’re giving a lot away. And I think a lot of people get stressed out about that, like, “I’m giving away my information. What if they don’t hire me? They’ll just take my information and then they go on their merry way.”

I think it’s really effective though, especially if you’re a career-changer and you don’t have a lot of experience proof, but to explain how you would actually come to their company and fix some things and what your plan of action would be, your 30-, 60-, 90-plan. I think it’s really effective to prove that you’re capable of doing the job. So, I think it depends on your own situation, but I’m a fan of it later on in the interview process.

Pete Mockaitis
And anything you recommend that we don’t do? Anything that’s just old, bad, misguided advice that’s out there?

Jena Viviano
I see a lot of people actually come into the interviews too early. I know that sounds crazy but they come to the interviews too early, and especially when we were in person. People would come to those interviews and you’re actually detracting from whoever is trying to host you or whatnot. It becomes really, really uncomfortable. So, that would be the first thing. So, just come on time or about 10 minutes before. You don’t need to be showing up like hours beforehand.

I would say, also with the interview process, is not following up or not knowing what next steps look like. I see that happen a lot with people where they don’t ask those very specific questions of, “What do next steps look like? I’m really excited about this organization,” and providing that follow-up, asking, “What’s going on next?” and asking them to be transparent.

Jena Viviano
I would say another thing outside of just the interview, just in general in the job search process, we forget how important mindset and confidence is in this entire process. Like, work is not transactional. It’s actually highly emotional. And so, there’s a lot of emotions that go into the job search process. And sometimes we think we just need a really solid strategy when, really, we need to probably change our mindsets. We probably do need to change our strategy, but we also need to think about ourselves different in the application process.

If we don’t believe that we deserve to be in the room, and I see this with women all the time, if we don’t believe that we deserve to be in the room, if we don’t believe we deserve to be interviewing there, we’re not going to do really well throughout the entire process. So, I think that there’s a huge mindset component that a lot of career coaches and just in the career space we don’t really talk about because it feels fluffy. We like strategy because it feels very practical, but I think you need both things married together to be successful in the job application process.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, hey, let’s say you don’t feel like you deserve to be interviewed, what do you do about that?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I would say part of it comes down to, “What lies are you believing about yourself? And who told you that?” I see it with women all the time. I see women, I’ll be talking to a man on the phone, and I’ll be talking to a woman on the phone who’s interested in our services, and this literally just happened recently. I had a man on the phone who said, “I got let go from my job but in my next job, I want to be making $50,000 more.” And I have my female who says the complete opposite, “I got let go from my job. I’m okay if I’m only making $30,000 less than before.” This is the common narrative.

So, I think, first, part of it is for us as women, and men, to be unlearning the lies that we have believed that we’re not good enough, that we don’t have something to bring to the table because we haven’t spent the time to actually write through what is the value that we can bring and to reflect on our key accomplishments that we’ve had over the past year, five years, ten years, however long we’ve been in the industry for. So, that’s a very practical thing, is to actually sit down and reflect on your key accomplishments and what you’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, in so doing, I suppose you take a step back and go, “Hotdog! A lot of good stuff. Check it out.”

Jena Viviano
That’s part of it but I think part of it is acting, too. So, we’re talking about networking, we were talking about actually taking steps. Where a lot of people sit in the mind space of, “I’m not good enough.” Instead, we really need to be having conversations with people. We really need to be putting ourselves out there. And the more that you do that, the more comfortable you get with rejection. The more comfortable you get with rejection, the easier it becomes to continue to actually move forward. So, resilience is one of the top things I talk about a lot in my programs with my women, is, “You’ve got to be resilient throughout the process and know that there’s going to be rejection that happens. That means you’re doing something and you just got to keep pushing forward.”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I love that. And I’ll tell you I think one of the best experiences of my life was…so, I wrote a book in college, and I ended up self-publishing it. But before I chose that route, I reached out to all these publishers. And so, this is a little old-school, you know. So, I sent them the one-page query letter, just like the books told me to, and so I sent like 200 something of these out. And so then, to have that daily experience where day after day after day, I opened the physical mailbox and there’s, I don’t know, two, three, six letters back to me, and almost all of them say no again and again and again was just so valuable because it’s kind of like, for the hundredth time I’ve been rejected, and for the hundredth time I’m not dead. So, I highly recommend it. Getting rejected a ton. How else do we get over it?

Jena Viviano
I think a lot of people, we try to avoid it as much as possible. And so, then when it does happen, we really think we’re the worst things ever. But if you’re just used to getting rejected or just used to putting yourself out there and not getting the exact result that you wanted, it’s actually going to build that resilience and make you more confident. What I personally found in my own career and with other people that I’ve worked with, the more at that you get, the better opportunities that you have in the future.

I’ve seen this happen with one of our clients. She came to us and she didn’t really know what she had to offer. She literally couldn’t tell you. I asked her, “What do you do?” And she’s like, “I really have nothing.” And after our time working together, she really went through this mental transformation of realizing, “Oh, I’m actually good at what I do. Actually, what I do is differentiated from other people, and this is valuable to organizations.” She ended up getting an offer at another company, was going to be working for a leader that she really admired, was going to be making more money, and she, at that point, felt confident she was like, “No, I’m actually going to turn that down because I want to launch my business.” Like, that’s a level of confidence that I want to see most women have.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

Jena Viviano
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we kind of skipped past the resume because that’s not the first thing to do and it’s not the end-all be-all, although it’s very concrete and specific. It feels like you did a thing when you’re done. But lay it on us a couple of do’s and don’ts for the resume to make it awesome.

Jena Viviano
I’d say the first don’t is don’t spend all your time doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, that’s a nice don’t.

Jena Viviano
Just don’t do it. Here’s the thing, your LinkedIn profile is like passive income, it works for you while you sleep. Your resume is only going to work for you when you submit it. So, we have all these people that are spending all this time tweaking their resume and updating it when a recruiter only looks at it for six seconds. So, yes, you need a solid resume. Does it need to share your accomplishments? Do you need to quantify as many things as possible to make it easier for that recruiter or hiring manager to understand how you’ve been able to bring value? Yes, yes, and yes. But the hours that I hear people are spending on their resume makes me nuts. I go nuts. So, I think the main thing would be just stop spending so much time and I would rather you spend more time engaging on LinkedIn, which is actually going to work in your favor.

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

Jena Viviano
No, I would say the big things is that if you’re thinking about making a job transition, start before you’re ready, start before you’re like, “I need to leave now.” And then I would say get yourself a plan. Don’t walk into this and try the do it yourself route. Really create a plan for yourself. Either get help from somebody or create a plan because no one ever taught you actually how to find a job. Our colleges, unfortunately, didn’t teach us how to do that. And so, by creating a plan and knowing the story that you want to tell about your own career, those are the two most important pieces to the puzzle.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, it’s actually from my dad. He said this to me when I was leaving investment banking and I was really upset, I felt like I was failing everybody, including myself and my boss, and he said, “You know, Jena, a company is only going to be as loyal to you as what makes financial sense for them. So, if you need to leave for health reasons or personal reasons, it’s okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is very true. There may be some rare exceptions with small family-owned closely-held whatever organizations but for the most part it’s kind of like, “Oh, hey, the market dipped. Okay, 3,000 heads got to go, and you’re one of them.”

Jena Viviano
Yeah. And I think that we take it very personally because it is very personal but I think when we adopt that mindset, it also allows us as individuals to make choices and be strategic and take back our careers and quit waiting for an employer to tell us what’s next. We actually dare to take ownership of that.

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

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I would say right now I’ve done a lot this past year around rest and there is one book by a gentleman Alex, I’m going totally butcher his name, but it’s a blue book. I can picture it in my brain. And he talks about the rhythms of the most creative people and how rest is a huge part of that. And I took a two-month sabbatical this year and so I’ve just been really studying how rest can actually benefit us in our work.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, well, I was going to ask about a favorite book. It sounds it might be the resting book. But any others?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I would say this is such a cheesy entrepreneurship one. The first one that got me introduced to entrepreneurship was The 4-Hour Workweek. I think that everybody’s but I love me some old-school Tim Ferris.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I love Loom.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too.

Jena Viviano
It’s fantastic. We use it for training videos. I’ll send a client something. We use it all the time. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, morning routine. So, for me, it looks like getting up around 6:00 o’clock, it’s making my coffee, it’s having some quiet time with Morning Pages. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It’s basically writing freehand three pages of whatever is in my head, dumping it down. And then I’m a Christian so I read my Bible in the morning, and then I’m getting in the shower and getting ready to go to work.

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

Jena Viviano
Probably the “Don’t network when you need something.”

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

Jena Viviano
Yeah, RecruitTheEmployer.com is the best place to find all things me and Recruit the Employer.

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

Jena Viviano
Yes, I would say to take action today. So, pick one thing that we talked about, whether it’s figuring out your strategy, or you’re writing down an answer to an interview question, you’re networking with one person. Take one of the things that we talked about and start taking action today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jena, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you lots of luck in your adventures.

Jena Viviano
Thank you so much.

634: How to Get Ahead in Your Career by Developing Your Professional Value with Don Miller

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Don Miller says: "The only way you make money is you make somebody else more money."

Don Miller shares how to advance your career even without the need for a fancy title or degree.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical skills an MBA doesn’t teach you 
  2. The harsh truth every professional must accept to succeed 
  3. How to craft a compelling business case 

About Don

Donald Miller is the CEO of Business Made Simple (BusinessMadeSimple.com), an online platform that teaches business professionals everything they need to know to grow a business and enhance their personal value on the open market. He is the host of the Business Made Simple Podcast and is the author of several books including the bestseller Building a StoryBrand. He lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Elizabeth. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Don Miller Interview Transcript

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

Don Miller
I’m so glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to talk about your latest work Business Made Simple. And one of your theses is that we don’t so much need a college degree or a bachelor’s or MBA for career success, and that’s actually your own story personally. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Don Miller
Yeah, perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder but I grew up really poor and mom wasn’t home till about 7:00 p.m. and so I just learned bad habits and didn’t pay much attention in school. So, it wasn’t until, gosh, I think I was 25 or 26 that I even discovered that I wanted a career. I sort of felt sorry for myself with my friends off to college, and thought, “Well, I have to go back to college and figure this out.”

But a guy happened to give me a job in the warehouse of a publishing company, and I was just going to wait a year and then go to school because I had moved state and was going to get residency. Within four years, I was president of the publishing company and just discovered that I had a knack for business like some people do. And it happened to be a publishing company and so I was interacting with authors, and so I just thought I want to write my own book. And wrote a book, and that book ended up being on the New York Times’ bestseller’s list for about a year.

So, I left the publishing company and started just being a memoirist for a long time. And then about the time they wanted me to write my 8th memoir, I realized that if you write your 8th memoir, you’re a clinical narcissist. And so, I just wanted to be a regular narcissist, not a clinical narcissist so I switched gears and actually wrote a business book, because in order to be an author, I had to start my own little private enterprise, and I had ran a publishing company so I wrote a book about storytelling and how to clarify your business’ story. And that book ended up selling half a million copies.

And, suddenly, I had 30 employees and we scaled this business to, we’ll do about 20 million this year. We did that about five years. And I realized that the whole time, and I think your listeners will really understand this, the whole time I was scaling the business, it was just chaos. It was just organized chaos. And the more people I met who had business degrees and the more people I hired who had business degrees, none of them knew how to fix it.

And what I realized now is that from zero to 10 million, it’s basically chaos anyway. You have to just sort of lead and guide the chaos. So, I wrote Business Made Simple as almost the blue-collar version, almost the trade school version of business school. Where in a business school, you’d go and you’d read a whitepaper on trade with China, you’d study a Volkswagen ad from 1973 and how to reach suburban housewives five decades ago, and none of that, none of it, you use when you actually get a job in the business world.

In fact, business degrees, I’m convinced, really just get you an interview and to the bottom rung of the ladder. At least they get you on the ladder, which is great. But then you have to figure out how to climb the ladder. And what we found was the hidden staircase. We found that there was a certain order of skills that you had to develop as your company got bigger.

And I turned around and started explaining those to people in short five-minute videos. A 100,000 people signed up for those videos, and realized, “You know what, if I took a year and really organized this well, it could be better than a business degree.”

And so, the book now, it comes out January 19th and it’s called Business Made Simple. It’s 60 daily entries. You pour a cup of coffee, you read the daily entry, and then you get a video that day in your email box. And it will literally teach you how to negotiate a contract, how to sell, how to give a speech, how to manage a group of people, how to run an execution framework. It’ll teach you how to clarify a message, how to create a marketing sales funnel, how to create mission statement and guiding principles.

My favorite is the first 10 entries, are just the character of a value-driven professional, what characteristics do people have who tend to climb the corporate ladder very, very quickly and make a lot of money. So, I love this book. It’s the book that I wish I had when I was 22 years old, right when I realized I should’ve gotten to college like my friends. And now I hand it out to college grads, saying, “Here’s what you should’ve learned when you paid all that money for school.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s so much I want to dig into. So, the hidden staircase is a particular set of skills. Is that fair?

Don Miller
It is, yeah. I think it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Like Liam Neeson.

Don Miller
That’s right. Less deadly. Less people are dead at the end of it. More people have more money at the end of it. But, yeah, I really think it is. And it’s actually amazing to me that in MBA programs, they’re not teaching this. They’re not teaching mission statement and guiding principles. So, how do you actually align a team? How do you get a team to say, “We’re going to align around a mission here”? They don’t teach you to clarify a message unless you go to Vanderbilt University because they actually teach my framework in the Vanderbilt MBA program on how to clarify a message.

I teach an execution framework. Every company that passes about maybe $3 million, they need an execution framework. You need a series of meetings that you have at the same time on the same day, sometimes every day, sometimes once a week, and sometimes once a month, with a worksheet that you fill out and usually stand for these meetings. And at the end of that meeting, usually in the morning, everybody has complete clarity about what their five priorities are for the day, and they are kept accountable to meet those priorities.

And then, in the fourth quarter, you assess how you did, and your compensation package is actually tied to that. You install that execution framework that I talk about in this book into your company, and some companies will double in productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. And so then, it’s just a matter of doing it and ensuring then that the right things are getting executed and the focus remains where it needs to go, eh?

Don Miller
That’s where it is. I really think that the majority of succeeding in business is focus and intensity. Focusing on the right things, letting go of things that you don’t need to focus on. And then intensity, intentionally blocking out the hours to get those things done. But it’s easier said than done. You literally have to have your entire team on the same page aligned around a mission. It sounds easy but most people can’t get it done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, to that end, I’d love it if maybe you could share an inspiring story of someone who dug in and learned the stuff and saw some cool results from it.

Don Miller
Well, the most inspiring story is just our team and what we’ve done. I’ve got PhDs on my team. I’ve got people without a degree. I never ask in the interview whether you have a degree. I ask really one question, “How can you make us money? What problems can you solve? If I bring you on this team, how would you make us money?”

And you should see the looks on, especially the college grads’ faces or whatever. They’ve never been asked the question, and yet the whole point of me hiring you is to give you a paycheck that is an investment that you would give me a return on.

The very first entry in the book is about, it starts the 10 characteristics of what I call a value-driven professional. And the first characteristic is this: they see themselves as an economic product on the open market. And, Pete, that sounds probably really coarse and really harsh.

Pete Mockaitis
Dehumanizing.

Don Miller
Dehumanizing, yeah. And I would agree with that, it is dehumanizing. But in the reality, God doesn’t see you as somebody with an economic price tag on your head, your spouse doesn’t see you that way, your kids don’t see you that way, I don’t see you that way. Donald Miller doesn’t see you that way. The market, 100%, absolutely sees you that way. It’s just a fact.

If your skillset involves being able to cut up a potato, put it into a metal basket and dip it into oil for three minutes and pull it up, if that’s what you’re capable of doing, you’ve got a $15 an hour number above your head. That’s what you are worth, and that’s a terrible thing to say except when you realize that that same person is in control of what that number is.

So, if they say, “Okay. Well, I know how to deep-fry some potatoes. I’m going to learn how to unify a team around a mission statement and guiding principles so that we’re all aligned. And then I’m also going to learn a business strategy, how to keep cashflow strong, how to keep overhead light, how to keep products profitable, how to get your marketing engine going, your sales engine going, and how to look at cashflow so that we don’t run out of it. And I’m going to master that.”

You, all of a sudden, have gone from 15, to 25, to 45. And if you can do what I just said, at the end of that year, you’re capable of being a CEO with a little bit of practice, so now you’re at $150 an hour. You’re actually in control of that. So, it’s only an offensive statement to say you’re an economic product on the open market if you don’t have control of the number. And what’s amazing is most people don’t realize they have control of the number.

So, when you actually realize that, you start learning the skillsets that allow you to be a good investment. Well, how do people actually get rich? Well, the way people get rich is they’re a great investment. Our company has gone to about $20 million. We did that in five years. No venture capital, no private equity, no bank loans. We’ve gone to $20 million. How did we do that? We did that by making other people $200 million. That’s the only way you make money is you make somebody else more money.

Or, you solve somebody’s problem, or you increase the amount of time that they have. You decrease their frustration. You increase their status. Whatever it is somebody is paying you for, if you just promise yourself, “If somebody gives me 100 bucks an hour, I’m going to make them a thousand bucks an hour.” If you have that mentality, you will be wealthy.

One time an acquaintance, came up to me after a speaking he gave me, he said, “You know, you and I live in the same town. Why don’t you fly home with me?” And I said, “Well, what flight are you on?” And he said, “Well, no, I have an airplane.” The next morning, I get on this $50 million jet with this guy, and I’m asking what he does. He’s a hedge fund manager and blah, blah, blah, and I said, “Well, this is the life, man. I can’t imagine ever living like this.”

And then he said something about, “I was flying one of my clients around and they kind of like this drink and we didn’t have that drink on the plane so we had to stop and get some,” or whatever. He was just telling a story. And I realized, “Oh, he actually has this 50-million private jet because people pay him and he makes them even more money. So, now there’s a guy with some jumbo jet who’s the king of Dubai, or whatever, who actually has even more money.” And you start realizing, “That’s the key.” The key is to be a great investment so you’re giving people a strong return.

And so, when I wrote this book, what I wanted was you start at whatever you’re at, some of you listening are worth $30 an hour, some of you are worth $50 an hour, some of you are worth $12 an hour, you read the first one and you become worth about $5 more. And you read the second one and you become worth about $5 more. You read the third one you become worth about $5 more if you execute it and actually practice these skills in your professional career.

And what I wanted was you start this book being worth $15 an hour, you end it worth being $150 an hour if you actually execute the skills that you learn in the book. I wanted to make people worth more money. But the first thing you got to do, if you want to do that, is admit you’re actually an economic product. If people see themselves that way, they tend to make a ton of money on the open market.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s zoom into a few of these particular skills. Let’s say our audience are professionals. If we want to get quantitative, I mean, incomes vary wildly, but let’s just call it 75 grand a year, and maybe a few years out of their bachelor’s, so just to paint a picture, maybe half have direct reports and half do not. I know it’s a wide audience. But zero in a little bit for us in terms of what is a skill that professionals generally need and is highly valued, and what can we do to get better at it right now?

Don Miller
Well, one of the things you need to do, if you have a boss, let’s just talk to the folks who have a boss, what you want to do is you go to your boss with an idea, and you say, “I want to do this.” What you really need to do is go to your boss with a business case. And my team members know this. Don’t come to me without a business case.

And so, instead of coming to me, and saying, “Don, we really want to launch a new podcast.” Well, they would come to me and say, “Don, we want to launch a new podcast. It’s going to hit this demographic. On that podcast, we’re going to focus on these three products and only these three products. If people buy these three products, we’ll have their email address and we’ll upsell them to these other two products. If the podcast does what our last podcast did, we would anticipate that 2% of the people listening to the podcast would buy these three entry-level items and 5% of those would buy the upsells. So, we’re talking about 6.2 million. We think that that’s going to cost about a million dollars to produce so we should see a profit of about 5.2 million pre-overhead.”

You start talking like that to your boss and they’re going to promote you because almost nobody talks that way. They just go, “I think this is a good idea. Let’s throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it turns into art.” And people who understand business get a little bit tired of that. And so, that’s the sort of thing that this book teaches you to do.

If I just flip open this book and just put my finger down, so I just did it, put my finger down, there’s five pages, this is number 3 on negotiation. Here’s a skill that if you don’t have a boss, or if you do have a boss, it doesn’t matter, almost nobody has taken a course on how to negotiate a contract or negotiate a deal.

So, let me just give you one thing. The page that I turned to is that you need to understand that there’s always something “below the line.” So, you’re negotiating, it’s a package deal, there’s this bestselling author that you want to speak at your conference, they’re $50,000 to take the stage, there is something that that author wants more than money. And if you actually do a little due diligence, you’ll figure it out.

For instance, I’ve done this. I’ve told a bestselling author that I couldn’t afford to bring to one of my conferences, I said, “Look, I’ve written a lot of bestselling books. Would you want to spend about four hours together, just talking about whatever your next book is about? We can maybe outline some chapters of it or we can talk about a marketing plan. I can’t afford to pay you the $125,000 that you are to take the stage, but I would be able to give you four hours, and I think it’d be worth your time.” The person did it for $25,000.

It even gets more fun than that. My buddy runs a poetry week in San Diego, California at Point Loma University. He wanted Billy Collins to come. Now, Billy Collins is my favorite poet. I’m that geeky that I actually have a favorite poet. He’s really funny and he’s brilliant but he’s probably a hundred grand to come speak. He is like a rock star in the poetry world. He was the poet laureate. He’s a professor at NYU. He doesn’t do very many speaking engagements.

So, my buddy started Googling around on the internet because he’s not going to be able to pay $125,000 to have Billy Collins come. He found that Billy Collins is an avid golfer. So, he goes over at Torrey Pines, he can’t get on at Torrey Pines, it’s very hard, and he says, “I want to get Billy Collins to come speak at my thing. How much would it cost for me to get a round of golf to Billy Collins?” “This guy sounds like a rock star. We’d give it to him for free.” He said, “Great.” So, he calls Billy Collins, he said, “Look, I’ll give you $40,000 and a round at Torrey Pines.” And he comes and he does it, and they raised a ton of money.

There’s almost always something below the line in a negotiation. We think we’re having a financial negotiation but we’re human beings. There’s something that people want and value even more than money. And if you can find it, you can negotiate really, really great contracts. So, you go back and you tell your boss you did that, you’re going to get another promotion and another raise. When it’s time to get a raise, they’re going to give you the biggest possible raise. And why? Because you are such a good investment that, “When we give you a paycheck, we get so much more in return.”

We all do this. If you buy stocks, you buy more stocks that are making you more money, and you divest of stocks that are losing you money. And in the open market, people are like stocks. They don’t want to be but they are. And the real pros, not the amateurs, but the pros, they really like that. They actually want to be an investment because they know how to get you a return.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you. Well, now, I want to hear a lot of things but let’s go with this. Now, what you’re putting forward here totally makes sense to me as a business owner, and I’m thinking about there’s an unfortunate reality in many workplaces that meritocracy, for whatever reasons, is broken or limited or slow, such that let’s say I’ve got a boss and then they do a performance review, and they say, “Wow, Pete, you are just so amazing. This initiative saved us all this money. This other product launch was so successful and profitable. You are just crushing it.” I say, “Well, thank you very much, boss. I appreciate that.” And they say, “And here is your 4% raise for your great performance this year.”

And so, I’m thinking, “Well, as compared to the value I gave you last year, it is miles beyond 4% more,” and then maybe you have the conversation, like, “Hey, it seems like I’m doing these things and I’m making this impact, it would seem appropriate to increase the compensation.” They go, “Oh, you know, Pete, you’re making some sense here, bud, but, unfortunately, with COVID or,” insert excuse, “there’s a hiring freeze or a budget freeze or a pay increase freeze.” So, there’s some kind of a policy something that’s getting in the way of the beauty of value created and compensation for that value created to flow as it should.

How do we deal with that?

Don Miller
Well, that’s a tough thing but when you have the skills to make people money, there’s just one thing you need to do. You need to actually make a business case for yourself. So, you’re not going in and asking for a raise or begging for a raise. If you’re doing that, the person that you’re talking to, the company that you work for, has the leverage. And so, what you really want is you don’t want to compete for the job. You want them to compete for you. And so, if they’re going to keep you and keep making this money, they’re going to have to give you more money.

And if they don’t, if you really are that good, everybody here is an economic product on the open market so you take your skills elsewhere and you charge what you think that you are worth. We have reviews at the end of every year and people get a bonus based on their performance. There are some performers that they’re great, we love them, we give them the most percent, that will be a 5% raise plus they get a bonus based on whether or not we hit our goals as a company. And that’s it.

There are other performers though, for instance my marketing director, we called my marketing director in four months before the end of the year, and said, “Look, we want to give you a 20% raise right now, and at the end of the year we’re going to give you your bonus which is a percentage of your salary as though you would have that 20% all year long.” And he was baffled, he loved it, and he said, “Don, thanks.” Two of my team members called me and said the same. They said, “Thank. This is so generous.”

And I said, “Listen, I hope I’m a generous guy but I want you to understand something. You are so good at making this company money, I have to compete to keep you. I know that some people can come in and get you, and I want you to know that. I want you to know you’re a rock star and if I pay you more, maybe you won’t leave.”

Now, there’s always somebody, some billionaire, who’s going to come in and say, “I’ll pay you some obscene amount of money because I don’t care about the money.” I can’t compete with that person but I can compete in other ways. You like your job, you get great time off, nobody here works really after 5:00 unless they want to. It’s a great environment so I compete in other ways besides money too.

But that’s where you want to get your boss. And let’s say your boss isn’t like that. Well, now you’ve got a resume. You’re going to write your resume completely differently, and the resume is going to be, “If you invest in me, here’s the ways that I can make you money.” And not every company needs the ways that you can make them money, but you’re going to find the ones that you can.

Andrew Grove, who ran Intel for so many years, says that, “Don’t be confused. Every single human being is a company. And you sell your services to other companies in exchange for pay.” Now, I got to tell you also this. We’ve had plenty of these conversations where somebody comes in and they say that to us, they say, “I think I’m worth this. I’ve made the company this much money.”

And in turn we say, “We think you’re worth a 5% raise. We don’t think you’re worth, as an economic investment, you’re two years out of college, you don’t know how to do this, you don’t know how to do that, we’re training you, you’re becoming more valuable but I think you have an inflated idea of the economic value you’re actually worth. If you stay here for two or three more years, I think you’ll learn a lot more. You’ll have more value on the open market.”

We had one person once who got pretty huffy about that and they were pretty upset about it, and they said, “Well, I disagree with you and we’re going to have to have further conversation.” Great. In the next conversation, we said, “Listen, we’re not letting you go, you have two months, we you to find another job. We’re not kidding. We actually think that if we’re going to pay you what you want to be paid, we can get somebody better with more experience on the open market.”

And that person said, “Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. I want to keep my job. I really like it here.” And we said, “Listen, if you come back and you turned in a two weeks’ notice, we’re going to be ticked. If you want to stay here for a couple more years, we will train you, you will get some experience that will make you worth more on the open market.” And that’s what this person decided to do and that is, indeed, what actually happened.

So, you’re going to have disagreements. Almost every employee thinks they’re worth more than their company does, and almost every company is paying somebody more than what they think the person is worth. They think they’re being generous. That tension always exists. But here’s how I want you to see yourself. Always see yourself as an NBA player and negotiating a salary to stay on the basketball team. And you also need to learn what it is that actually makes the basketball team money.

I love the example of JJ Watt, he’s a football player, of course, for the Houston Texas. This is a losing team. They won four games this year. JJ Watt is paid $100 million to play football. And when you watch him, he has negotiated, so during the game they play a certain song and he dances during the game before the snap on this one particular play. Well, why did he negotiate that? Because it gets the crowd riled up and they start chanting JJ Watt, it puts butts in seats, it sells JJ Watt jerseys, it makes the football team money. So, not only is he great as a defensive player, by the way, he’s a defensive player making $100 million.

He figured out how he can make the football team money. He also negotiated that nobody on the sidelines can wear a red baseball cap except for him. So, when he comes off the field, he takes his helmet off, he puts a red baseball cap on. You know why he does that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then people can pick him out, like, “Oh, that’s him. That’s JJ.”

Don Miller
Exactly it, so the camera can find him. He has figured it out. Now HEB is a grocery store in the Houston, Texas area that paid him another $100 million to be their spokesperson. So, he’s saying, “Buy your eggs at HEB.” Now, what’s he doing? He figured out how to make Houston Texas money, and he figured out how to make a grocery store money, and he’s worth $200 million. That is called a value-driven professional.

Now, if the team doesn’t want to keep him, he can go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and say, “Look, this is how much money I make at Houston Texas in jersey sales, when I show up on NFL commercials, when I agree to do at least one interview after the game. This is how much money. It’s not just about football.”

And so, as a value-driven professional, if you’re on the marketing team, you’re going to say, “Listen, I built a sales funnel that it looks like it made $4 million that didn’t exist before I got here. I also do a segment on the company’s podcast that goes on every other episode. The leads from that has turned into another $4 million, so that’s $8 million. You guys paid me $45,000 last year. I made you $8 million in value. I think I’m an $85,000 a year person. But before you say no, let me give you three more ideas that I want to implement that I think will make you another $4 million.” That’s how you negotiate.

Don’t come in and say, “Look, I show up on time, I don’t smell bad, I comb my hair, I make sure I pull my old lunch out of the fridge so it doesn’t rot. I think you owe me 5%.” Nobody is interested in that conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, let’s shift gears a smidge away from…so we had that core economic value delivery principle there. You said that your first several installments, videos and pieces of the book, are all about character. Lay it on us.

Don Miller
Well, I kind of wondered, I read these books about character and it’s talked about things like integrity, it talks about things like work ethic. Not that I don’t think that stuff isn’t important. Integrity is incredibly important. But, in my opinion, integrity is a core value of being a human being not of just being a professional. We have places for people who don’t have integrity. We call them prison.

So, you can’t work here unless you have integrity. You can’t work here unless you tell the truth. So, I started thinking, “Hey, what are the ways that real value-driven professionals, people like JJ Watt, what are the ways that they see themselves?” And, amazingly, I got to meet Barack Obama when I was on a White House taskforce. I got to spend time with Michelle Obama, I got to spend time with members of the judiciary, lawmakers, NFL coaches, professional athletes, professional musicians at the highest level. And I was looking for, “What do these people have in common?”

And the 10 core characteristics are very interesting. The first we’ve talked about at length, and that is they really do see themselves as an economic product on the open market. The second is that they see themselves as heroes not victims, so they identify as the hero in the story not the victim in the story, and that’s really critical. At no point will any of these people start feeling sorry for themselves. Heroes don’t feel sorry for themselves. They may not like their challenges but they take their challenges on. And those challenges transform the hero into a better version of themselves.

Victims suck a lot of the energy out of the room. And there are actual real victims in the world. I don’t mean to victim-shame anybody but most of us see ourselves as victims when we’re in fact not. My friend Henry Cloud defines victims as somebody who has no way out. And most of the time in my life where I’ve seen myself as a victim, I actually had plenty of ways out. I was just too discouraged to actually take them. So, we have to make that transformation from victim mindset to a hero mindset.

The third is they know how to deescalate drama. Drama in the workplace costs people a lot of money. And the reason it cost people a lot of money is because it sucks all the energy into the dramatic employee, and it’s that energy they can’t use to make a product or serve a customer. So, people who know how to deescalate drama, they’re actually worth a lot more.

Another one is that they accept feedback as a gift. We just interviewed Mathew McConaughey the other day. He loves criticism. He loves it because it makes him a better actor. Number five is they know the right way to engage conflict. The more you rise as a leader, the more conflict you have to deal with. In fact, the more power you actually have in a company, the more time you spend only dealing with problems. And so, if you understand how to engage conflict and resolve conflict and the ways to do that, you are going to rise because people hire you to solve problems. And the more problems you can solve, the more money they pay you, and the more promotions you get.

Another one, day six, this was on tough for me because I felt it a lot. It was they long to be trusted and respected more than they want to be liked. And leaders who want to be liked, or people and companies who want to be liked, they compromise, they don’t tell the truth. But people who want to be trusted and respected, they tell the truth, they set very clear expectations, and they give people encouragement when they hit those expectations. A lot of people don’t like their coach but they trust and respect that coach to make them a better player. And, in my opinion, that’s an even stronger bond.

Day seven is they have a bias toward action. I’m just going to say it really bluntly, I’ve met a lot of really dumb people who are not very intelligent who are billionaires. And the difference is they take action when other people are still thinking about it. So, a bias towards action is a fantastic competitive advantage.

Day eight is they do not choose to be confused. And this is something my business coach taught me years ago. I was thinking about a problem employee, and I was going over my problems with him and how I wanted to deal with it. And my coach said to me, he said, “Don, you are choosing to be confused.” I said, “What do you mean choosing to be confused?” He said, “Step outside yourself and look at the situation and clearly articulate what you need to do.” And, immediately, I said, “I need to fire him.” He said, “Don, you knew it the whole time. You were choosing to be confused because there’s something you don’t want to do. It’s obvious what you need to do. Stop choosing to be confused.” Isn’t that fantastic?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m going to sit with that. Thank you.

Don Miller
I’ll tell you what, I choose to be very confused about whether a cup of ice cream is good before dinner. I mean, before breakfast. I mean, before going to bed. I choose to be confused about that all the time. The truth is it’s not, right?

So, day nine is be relentlessly optimistic. People who are relentlessly optimistic, they tend to try harder things and not give up when the challenge is greater than they expected. So, optimism actually means you fail more than the average person because you try harder things, but you get so delusional about the fact that you can do it that you keep trying and trying and trying, and you accomplish more than people who don’t try.

Day ten is from Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford. And she says to us to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. And that is believe that you are a human being, always changing, transforming and getting better rather than somebody who is fixed. So, never say anything like, “I’m bad at math.” Really, the way you want to word that is, “I’ve not chosen to study math enough to get very good at it. But, of course, I’m capable of being good at math. I just haven’t chosen to study math.” That’s a fixed mindset, “I’m bad at math,” versus a growth mindset that says, “I’m perfectly capable of being great at math. I just haven’t chosen to study that very much.”

When somebody sees themselves through the growth lens, they tend to escalate in their skillsets much, much quicker than those who feel stuck like they were born bad at math. And she wrote a whole book on that, and it’s fascinating. It’s a fascinating study. In fact, I brought in a teacher for an entire day for my company just to teach everybody in the company a growth mindset. And we’d constantly say, “We don’t know how to do this but let’s all have a growth mindset.” And it’s led to an enormous success for us.

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

Don Miller
There was a guy, well, two guys, who delivered a bed to our house today. And they were in their early 20s, one of them had served in the military. As we talked to each other and I was helping with the bed, and we started telling each other stories and those kinds of things.

I said, “Hey, before you leave, can I just give you a copy of this book Business Made Simple?” And I said, “Listen, I don’t know your story about college, but I didn’t go to college. What I discovered though was a way of making money and being a value-driven professional that allowed me to go around the college system. And I wrote it all down in this book. In 60 days, you can be, whether you went to college or not, so much more valuable than almost anybody around you if you just understand and apply these principles.”

And they looked at me, and said, “Dude, this is amazing because we’ve just been approached by somebody who wants us to start a business with them by buying a warehouse and we would be delivery people and so on and so on.” I said, “That’s a great opportunity. Read this book. Take that opportunity. But let me tell you something. Learn that for about three or four years and then go buy your own warehouse because you need to own the business. That’s the key. And this book will teach you how to run that business, run your friend’s business, and run your own business someday.”

And I almost got choked up with tears in my eyes walking away because that was me. My first job was Popeyes Fried Chicken, my second job was delivering Chinese food, my third job was Kmart, my fourth job was Radio Shack. This is talking about somebody without a degree. And then somebody gave me a shot at a publishing company and I end up running that company and starting my own company.

If somebody would’ve handed me at Popeyes Fried Chicken, this book, I think it might’ve ignited my entrepreneurial imagination and maybe saved me about 15 years of running around not advancing in my career. It really is the hidden staircase. We’re all trying to climb the ladder but there’s a hidden staircase, and I think I’ve written it down in this book.

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

Don Miller
It’s from Victor Frankl. Are you familiar with Victor Frankl?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Don Miller
He saved my life many years ago. About 12 years ago, I read Man’s Search for Meaning, and he saved my life. I’ve been working on a new project that won’t be out till later this year called “Hero on a Mission,” and my brain is stuck in that right now.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is, and Sigmund Freud at the time Frankl was alive, was going around saying, “The dominant desire of men is to pursue pleasure.” And about the same time, Alfred Adler was going around, more or less interpreting Nietzsche, saying, “The dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of power.” And Viktor Frankl came along and said, “In my opinion, you’re both wrong. I think the dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of meaning. Women and men want to experience a deep sense of meaning. And when they can’t find meaning, they numb themselves with power and pleasure.” And I just thought, “That explains our culture.” We don’t have meaning and so we eat ice cream and watch Netflix and entertain ourselves and distract ourselves with social media because we don’t have meaning.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is he actually gave us a prescription to experience meaning, and it’s existential. You don’t find it in a philosophy book. In fact, he says you can’t find meaning in a book. What you can find is a recipe that if you enact that recipe, that formula, it will give you meaning. And the first was find a product or a project that you can build, something that demands action, that takes your time. Find a community of people who care about you or also spend time in nature. In other words, become involved in something outside yourself, that attracts you and brings you out of yourself and into a reality that you’re not the only person on the planet.

And then the third was find a redemptive perspective for your suffering. And what he meant by that is no matter what sort of painful thing you go through, find something in that pain that’s actually benefiting you. So, maybe it’s humbling you, or maybe it’s making you more empathetic, or maybe it’s building muscle, emotional muscle or physical muscle, whatever it is. And if you do those three things, you’ll experience a deep sense of meaning.

And, lo and behold, about 12 years ago I read that book and started applying what he called logotherapy, a therapy of meaning to my life, and, truly, I have not woken up a single day without experiencing a deep sense of meaning. I’ve woken up really sad, I’ve woken up really tired, I’ve woken up really angry or frustrated, but never ever without a deep sense of meaning. And I am so grateful for his book. It’s been the most eye-opening helpful discovery in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Don Miller
I actually created my own day planner, and you can get it for free. It’s at HeroOnAMission.com. And I fill up this planner every day and it helps me organize my mind and my time. It’s actually a reflective meditative exercise. I fill it every morning. And that has been the key to my productivity.

Another thing that I found unbelievably helpful was studying story and story structure. My favorite book on story structure, now it’s a 600-page book, typeface smaller than your Bible, is Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. But, really, when you study story, you’re studying life, you’re studying what matters in life, and you’re asking yourself all sorts of questions about what kind of story, not what I want to write but what I want to actually live. And with Viktor Frankl, the study and the understanding of story structure has been a fantastic tool that helped me experience more meaning.

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

Don Miller
If you go to BusinessMadeSimple.com, you can read all about what we’re up to. And if you’re interested, go on Amazon and buy Business Made Simple. We’re not sure what they’re charging for it now but it should be about 20 bucks. You get the 60 videos, but if you forward your receipt from Amazon to this address, book@businessmadesimple.com, I’ll send you a free mini course that I created called Zero to Ten. And it’s five videos on how I took my company from zero to 10 million. It’s not as hard as you might think it is to do that but it’s really, really messy. And so, I hope you kind of make your way through the mess in that course. So, you just forward your receipt to book@businessmadesimple.com you get that free mini course.

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

Don Miller
There are four characters in a story normally. Four kinds of characters: hero, victim, villain, and guide. The hero wants something and overcomes challenges; the victim is helpless and exists in the story only to make the hero look good and the villain look bad, the victim doesn’t play any other part in the story; the villain is seeking vengeance; and the guide is the wise sage helping the hero win.

Now, here’s the challenge. Every day, those four characters exist in story because those four characters exist in you, and all four exist at the exact same time. On any given day, you can catch me playing the hero, the victim, the villain, or the guide. I am convinced that the more we identify as the hero or the guide, the better our life goes. And the more we identify as the victim or villain, the worse our life goes. So, if you want to control how your story ends up, spend more time being the hero, more time being the guide, less time being the victim, and less time being the villain, and things are going to go okay. So, the challenge is notice which character you are playing from hour to hour throughout the day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Don, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in business that you’re making simple, and life, and keep on rocking.

Don Miller
Well, thanks so much for the time. It really is an honor.

633: How to Get Unstuck, and Find Your Perfect Career Fit with Ashley Stahl

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Ashley Stahl says: "Clarity comes from engagement an it's never going to be from thought. You really can't think your way into clarity."

Ashley Stahl discusses how to find your dream career by getting clear on your core skills, values, and motivators.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The #1 reason why people end up exhausted in their careers
  2. How to identify your 3 core skillsets
  3. How to turn a bland job into a grand job

PLUS, we’re giving away copies of Ashley’s book to celebrate the new year! We’ll send copies to the first 24 listeners who share a link to this post on LinkedIn, along with their favorite nugget of wisdom from the episode. Don’t forget to tag both Pete and Ashley in your post!

About Ashley

Ashley Stahl is counter-terrorism professional turned career coach and author of the book You Turn: Get Unstuck, Discover Your Direction, Design Your Dream Career, and she’s on a mission to help you step into a career you’re excited about and aligned with. Through her two viral TEDx speeches, her online courses, her email list of 500,000 and her show, You Turn Podcast, she’s been able to support clients in 31 countries in discovering their best career path, upgrading their confidence and landing more job offers. 

She maintains a monthly career column in Forbes, and her work has been also featured in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, CBS, SELF, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ashley Stahl Interview Transcript

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

Ashley Stahl
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to spend this time with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Well, I’m excited to get into what you’ve got to say but, first, I want to hear a smidge about your background. Now, I noticed in your LinkedIn that you have experiences both working for the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, as well as fighting terrorism, although separately. It’s not fighting terrorism with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I’m sure he’s done in a number of movies. I couldn’t list them. So, do you have any pretty wild stories from either of these encounters?

Ashley Stahl
Oh, my gosh. I’m so excited you asked me this. Nobody’s ever asked me about this.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it when people say that.

Ashley Stahl
Well, first of all, I used to answer Arnold Schwarzenegger’s government phone calls and so I would always be that intern that’s like, “Office of the Governor,” and then you would get all sorts of people across the rainbow that would be calling in. And one of my most common calls were people who would kind of sound normal at the beginning, “Hi, I’m looking for Arnold Schwarzenegger,” I’m like, “Oh, I’m his intern. I can help you.” And then suddenly they would go straight into emulating him, and they go, “Get down, we have to get out of here.”

And I was in charge of the FBI logs to basically report people who are going crazy to make sure that they weren’t an actual threat to national security. So, I was constantly having to fill out my little log every day, like, “Irene called again from Florida, David from Venice Beach,” so I was reporting all sorts of people, and that was a crazy job.

As far as counterterrorism goes, working at the Pentagon at Washington, D.C., I wouldn’t say that I had funny experiences. I feel like the experience even getting into the Pentagon was a lot of failure for me, learning how to job hunt, which informed my entire career path, mastering the job hunt. But I think that was more of a serious time. And I came into the Pentagon when NATO was trying in Afghanistan in 2011, so it was much more of a tense environment at that time and a lot of heaviness.

Ashley Stahl
Even though the Pentagon was very serious, I will say that I was caught sitting at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk asking another intern to take a picture of me to send to my mom, and I got in trouble by the head of the office and a couple of political appointees walked in right as I was doing that, so I definitely learned my lesson on respecting the situation at a young age.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, they haven’t done it.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, I couldn’t resist myself. I would, first, maybe. Okay. So, then these people who were just quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger, they had to be logged as threats, like, “Get down,” because that is…

Ashley Stahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Wow. So, by that standard he might have more threats than any other governor around because nobody else is going to call the governor of Illinois and say, “Get down.”

Ashley Stahl
Oh, look. Listen, one thing I’ve learned working in the government is that there will always be something else weird. Everybody is a special little snowflake working in government offices and they will get their share of weird constituent phone calls. I also went down to the bottom of the California building, downtown L.A., during my internship, and I would answer all of the protester grievances, so that was where I learned how to handle a lot of angry energy and kind of neutralized it and keep my people skills at bay, and those are just a couple of things.

Also, I used to get his mail, and that was the time when anthrax was a full-on trend, and so people would put baby powder in his mail to pretend that it was anthrax, which was terrifying. So, I was like the sacrificial lamb on the frontlines of the baby powder wanna-be-anthrax situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man. Well, that’s a wild cross section of experience, so that just sort of sets the stage for you know a thing or two about careers, discovering direction, designing your dream career, and more. So, I was intrigued, so as we were emailing back and forth, you said, “I’ve got some stuff that your people have never heard before,” so, I’m intrigued.

Lay it on us. How do you think about career, strategy, job hunting, getting unstuck stuff differently than other career coaches out there?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I’m pretty unconventional. There’s so much content out around how to get a job, and how to master an interview, but there’s not a lot of people out there who are going against the grain.

Like, for example, one of the things I learned early on in my career in my 20s was don’t follow your passion. Passion is interesting. It’s valuable. It’s something to consider, but it will never be as important for your career path as your core skillset. Really taking a look at what are your natural talents, what are your natural gifts, and how does that inform your career. So, that belief system is just the basis of what I write about in my book or what I do on my podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, then you talk about some core pieces in terms of core nature, core skillsets, core values, core motivations. How about we start with skillset? You’ve got a nice little listing. Tell us about it.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I have a list of 10 core skillsets because I think the answer for anybody who is feeling stuck, or unsure of what their next move is, or something is missing at work, is coming back home to who you really are. That’s the concept of making a you turn is reconnecting to yourself. And that comes back down to noticing where you’re innately talented.

And one of the things about your core skillset that can be kind of challenging is that it’s so obvious to you, it’s so natural to you, that it’s almost hard to notice that you have whatever that thing is as a skillset. So, one question I tell people to ask the people in their life, whether it’s their parents or their close friends or their colleagues…

So, when you ask somebody, “When have you see me at my best?” and I always tell people that it’s not going to be easy to tell that for yourself. It’s so much more helpful when you can collect that information from someone else so you can really take that in. And so that’s why I ask people to write their responses so that I can read them. And instead of asking them in a verbal conversation, I’ll have them text me back or something like that so I can have that information.

And then the question from there to ask yourself is, “What skillset am I using when people see me at my best?” Because here’s the truth of the matter, according to research both in dating and also with job hunting, oftentimes other people have a better sense of who you are than you do. And it’s not because we don’t know ourselves. It’s because it’s easy for someone else to neutrally see where we stand out. That might be obvious for us and not so obvious to the rest of the world, and we might not even realize that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s powerful. I think it really rings true in terms of when I’ve been amazed at the work of others, and I’ve said, “Oh, my gosh, this is so great.” They’ll say, “Well, it’s not a big deal. I just kind of cranked this out in like 20 minutes.” Often, it’s sort of like a design task because I’m not great at that, it’s like, “Oh, this is amazing. This is so gorgeous. How did you do it? It must’ve taken you forever.” They’re like, “No, just 20 minutes. I mean, it’s really no big deal.”

And so, I think that’s really true and that it comes so naturally to you that it doesn’t seem…you don’t feel victorious because it wasn’t hard, and so it doesn’t register and trigger like, “Oh, wow, I’m so proud of that thing I just did. I’m awesome at this,” because it was just that easy.

Ashley Stahl
Oh, yes. And I also think a lot of people kind of get stuck on this idea of clarity. Like, if I had a penny for everybody that said, “I need clarity,” you and I would just be on a private jet with your family right now living on an island or something, because the ultimate truth for me is that you don’t need clarity. You just need to reconnect to yourself. Hence, this concept of making a you turn.

So, the 10-core skillset—I’ll go through these for any of our note-takers—I think, really kind of bring you back to the question at the root of “Who are you really?” and then the realization that there are so many different versions and ways for you to truly harness that core skillset and use it in the world. So for example, right now on this podcast, if you notice, my core skillset is words.

And what’s really interesting to consider, as you look at your core skillset, is how many different ways there are to express your core skillset. So, in my case, words can look like many things. It can look like me being a speaker, an author. It could also look like me being a salesperson or a business development professional in the workforce. It could look like me being a real estate agent, a talent agent, because it’s all about I am turning words into money.

Another thing to really look through when you’re considering these 10 core skillsets, words just being one out of the 10, is asking yourself, “Am I introverted or am I extroverted?” because if you take at take a look at the words skillset alone, there are many different ways or versions to express that. The internal way of expressing it is as a writer, or a content creator, I mean, there are so many different ways, as an editorial strategist, whatever have you. But the external way of expressing the words core skillset is more of a speaker, a spokesperson. So I saddle both sides of the fence as a writer and also as a speaker, a podcaster with my own show, all of those things.

And so, it’s really key through that people ask themselves, first and foremost, as they’re looking at the core skillsets, “Am I an introvert or am I an extrovert?” And I know there’s a lot of research on being an ambivert, but I do think people tend to lean one way or the other.

So, would it be helpful for me to go through all 10?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes let’s do that.

Ashley Stahl
So, I can kind of just go through them for anybody who’s taking notes, kind of think about where they fit, and really start asking themselves, “Am I an introvert? Am I an extrovert? How do I want to express this?” So, the first one, other than words, which I already gave you, guys, is innovation. And you kind of want to think about this as an energy, not just a tactical skillset.

So, the innovation person is the intrapreneur, it’s the entrepreneur, it’s the creative self-starter, it’s the person who maybe maintains their own book of business throughout a company. It is somebody who is coming up with solutions for different problems. So, it’s really important if you think about innovation, you are probably the entrepreneur at heart or the highly-creative person.

The second core skillset is building. This one is very much so on energy. So, one way it can look is being a mechanic, a construction worker, a little bit more tactical. Another way it could look is a little bit more conceptual and concrete like a web developer or somebody who’s building out a website. So, there’s many different ways that you can harness these skills.

The third one is words, which was mine, and I talked to you guys about that one. And then the fourth one is motion. Motion, as a core skillset, is all about using your body, using your physical energy throughout the day. So, this could be as literal as a fitness professional, this could be like a masseuse, a tour guide, anybody who’s using their energy and their body throughout the day and being in a state of movement is the motion core skillset.

And then the fifth one is service. And there’s a lot that I have to say about this core skillset. The service core skillset is the humanitarian, the helper, the social worker, but the big challenge that I have with the service core skillset is a lot of people have different childhood wounds or upbringing challenges that kind of result in them thinking that they have a core skillset, when really all it is is a coping mechanism that they developed throughout their life.

And so, anybody who’s a service person, I always kind of pause and say, “Are you really a helper or is that just something you’ve learned? Are you just a people pleaser? Is this a coping mechanism?” So, it’s important with that particular one to ask yourself, and even any of them, to say, “Does this skillset come from a wounded place or an inspired place in my career?”

And the sixth one is coordination. God knows the world needs these people. These are the detail-oriented operations people, project managers, event coordinators. They make the world go around, make sure that we’re not dropping the ball. And then the seventh one is analysis. These are the people who have a gift for research, academia, the economists, even intelligence analysts, anything that involves you going deep and having that natural affinity to do that.

And then number eight is numbers. So, holler out to my number crunchers. This is kind of what it sounds, the bookkeeper, the accountant, the investment banker, the financial modeler. And then number nine is technology. This is the IT genius, the artificial intelligence visionary. And then the tenth one is beauty, and I love this one. These are the people who make art of the world around them whether they’re an interior designer, a jewelry designer. They have an eye for aesthetics and they have a capability of creating that.

So, like I said, all of these are expressed differently if you’re introverted or extroverted, and they also are just their own energy fields, and it really helps to kind of look at these when you ask, “When have you seen me at my best?” so that you can kind of take a look and say, “Oh, wow, everybody who’s seen me at my best is noticing that I’m in service when I’m at my best.” And kind of asking yourself, “Is that a default setting for you? Is that a natural place for you? Is that where you have a gift?” and not taking your gifts for granted because, far too often, we think where we’re great is just easy for everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. As I run through this, I think I see three contenders for me. It could be innovation, it could be words, it could be analysis but I’m pretty sure it’s not any of the others.

Ashley Stahl
Yes. Well, you’re hitting on a really good point. Everybody tends to identify with three. Like, three is the magic number.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, all right. How about that?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, anytime I’ve done this, the client, or somebody, the courses, or whatever have you, I hear somebody saying, “Oh, I think a few of these feel like me.” So, here’s a thing to know, your primary core skillset is what matters the most. That’s what you’re building your career off of. And this becomes really relevant when people say, “Should I stay? Should I go? Am I in the right job?” What I always say to that is, “Are you honing the core skillset that you want to carry with you throughout your career? Or, have you exhausted opportunity to grow?”

That’s the top consideration because you’re really carrying a skillset with you for your life. And you might express it in different ways and you use it in different ways, but when you really get that, you’re able to make career pivots or changes, and make sense of them when you go back to your skillset and really sync in to the next move you’re making, whether you’re talking to job interviews or hiring managers, being able to talk about how your core skillset relates to the next job you want, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really love that that’s a very clear acid test in terms of, “Am I continuing to grow this or am I not?” And I think it’s kind of like the Golden Goose in terms of the long arch of a career, that’s what you go to have going. Otherwise, if your skills are atrophying then you may very well be less valuable three, five years from now than when you started, which is not the direction you want to go in. Ideally, you’ll be increasingly super valuable, indispensable with the associated compensation and fun responsibilities growing all the way until your retirement part.

Ashley Stahl
You know what’s so amazing about what you’re sharing is I recently read some data that was saying every five years, one of your skills becomes completely obsolete in the workforce. And I’m aware that by 2025, about 16% of job titles don’t even exist yet. So, that’s been really relevant especially for Generation Z who’s transitioning into the workforce now to know that there’s a lot of jobs that are about to become available that we haven’t even heard of, and it’s so important to stay aware of that. And, yet, our core skillset has many different ways of expressing itself when you know what that is.

And kind of going back to you saying you have three core skillsets, it’s about deciding which one are you uniquely brilliant in, how do you want to lead with it. And I will say that they all kind of do come up with this cocktail where it’s like let’s say motion and innovation are your core skillset, you can kind of think, “Okay, innovation and motion, maybe we’re going to get a fitness influencer, somebody who creates a business and kind of honors motion throughout the business with their fitness side of thing.”

So, it is kind of fun to play with that and do the combinations with yourself, but it’s still important to know. And that’s one of the number one reasons people are exhausted in their work is because they’re not working within their core skillset or most of their days in a different skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, if you’re frequently working with clients, folks identify three, how do you push forward to zero in on the one?

Ashley Stahl
I think intuition is a really big deal and just your body, like, really tuning into your body. So, for example. I gave a TED Talk recently. I was talking about how there’s 200 million, if not more, neurons in your gut, which is why it’s called the second brain right now. And when you think about that, that’s the size of a cat or dog’s brain. And so, there’s an intelligence to you having a sinking feeling in your stomach. There’s an intelligence to having butterflies in your stomach.

So, one thing that I really ask people is about what experiences they’ve had at work even if they hate their job that they didn’t mind or that they kind of likes, and I pay attention to their body language and how their energy frees up or their voice to see where they’re getting energy. Because one of the slippery slopes I think people take in their career is they work in a zone of goodness and not in their zone of genius. And when they do that, maybe they’re working in their secondary or third core skillset, they’re really missing that juice of who they really can be in their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s handy as I think about it. For me, innovation is leaping forward because I just think about the podcast, you know. The analysis and research is a means to an end of we’re evaluating you, Ashley, and seeing, “Okay, does she have good stuff?” and so we’re using deep research in terms of like the verdicts, “Do we invite Ashley and do we pass?” And then the words, in terms of, “How do we…? What’s the title? What’s the teaser?” I mean, that just sort of we need to do that to make it kind of compelling. But what I’m loving most is the discovery, like, “Holy crap, what you say is true and I didn’t know it before. I love this,” and it lights me up, and the research and the words are kind of a means to that end.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah. Well, you know what’s so amazing about the truth is I don’t necessarily think the truth is something that people learn. I think it’s something you kind of recognize. Like, how many times has somebody said something, and all of you is like, “Yes.” It’s almost like they put words to what you knew and you couldn’t express.

And I think that’s what so powerful for me about being an author is that it’s kind of like that person that has an autoimmune condition and they’re shopping for doctors trying to get an answer, and they have this illness, and they just want to know what it is, and even if they finally get the news and it’s horrible news, there’s still such a relief to knowing what it is and knowing what you’re working with. And I think that’s the gift that we, as authors or podcast hosts, get to give the world, if words are our core skillset, as we get to put words to things that people haven’t been able to vocalize, and there’s such a healing and a harmony that we can create for people with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s true. Yeah. You know, I remember, what’s coming to mind is there’s I think it’s an audiobook publisher, Sounds True, and it’s like, “That’s just the best brand.” If I will start an audiobook publishing house, that’s the name I would’ve wanted but they already took it, because it sounds true. And that’s often how it feels when you’re engaged in a conversation. It’s like something lights up inside you, it’s like, “I don’t have the hard data but that sounds very right and true and, yes, internally.”

Ashley Stahl
Yeah. And, you know, what you’re sharing, also it’s really important for anybody listening to realize, like some of us are kind of cut off from our bodies. We don’t feel our feelings. We don’t feel what feels good. And so, anybody who’s kind of going through that as they’re listening to you and I talk about the truth, it’s like your only assignment, if you can’t feel where you’re expanding or contracting inside and where you’re feeling pulled to in those breadcrumb moments where you’re getting little nudges is just to start paying attention to what feels good. Start paying attention to where your energy is good. Start asking people where they’ve noticed your energy get really good. I think that’s just a starting point is leaning on the people around you that you can count on to educate you on when they’re noticing you really shine because it’s tough.

And, yet, one of the biggest barriers to figuring out what you want to do is listening to everybody and not even listening to yourself anymore. So, I think walking that line is a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, that’s awesome. We talk about core skillsets. We’ve also got core nature, core values, core motivations. Can you give us just maybe your favorite tactic to get a good kernel of insight into each of these?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I would say your core nature is really about the energy you bring to the room. And I actually talk about this in the first chapter of my book before I get to core skillset because I think it’s the foundation. So, one question to ask people who know you is, “How does the room change when I walk in? How would you describe my presence in the room?” When you’re able to ask that question and start to kind of collect the adjectives that you get from people around you, you’ll start to see a trend.

For anybody who knows me really well, they’re going to say the room gets lighter because I have a sense of humor and I’m a joker, and so people start to kind of laugh when I walk in because I’m kind of a goofball, stuff like that. And when you start to notice that, you can ask yourself, “Okay, here’s the top three, or four, or five adjectives I’m seeing people describe me as. This is my essence. This is my nature. This is me when I’m me.” And when you look at that, it’s like, “Who do you know in your life that has a similar nature or energy to you?” And from there, you can kind of look at different career paths that people in your life have or that you’re aware of, and you can start to say, “Okay, these are my different career options. Now, let me get clear on what my core skillset so I don’t go into a career that demands my energy but isn’t using my core skill.” So, I think your skillset is really a filter for your options.

And, from there, I would say your core values are a really big deal, and that’s something I wrote about in another chapter because there’s two dynamics in people’s career at any given moment. The first dynamic is the what of what they’re doing. That comes down to their core skillset, their job title, how they’re bringing their energy into work and what their responsibilities look like. The other side is the how of how your job looks. Given that 50% of people leave their job because they don’t like their boss, the research is in, how your job looks matters just as much as what your job is, and that comes back to your core values.

So, I think everybody has maybe five core values. And I try to tell people don’t go for much more than that, don’t choose many more than that because it’s hard to juggle that in your career. But I hold core values as foundational, fundamental, non-negotiable principles by which you live your life. And when you can start to tune into what your core values are, you can see those as a filter for what companies or people that you want to work with.

You know, I had a client who was a lawyer, and a lot of her core skillset and core nature pointed to being a lawyer, and there are many options that I pointed to but lawyer made sense. And when we got down to it, we realized that it was really a core values issue because balance was one of her core values, and she was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, which means that when there’s a deal that’s live, you don’t go to bed, and she doesn’t see her kid or her family. And so, we ended up making the decision for her to change over to family law, and that completely changed her life. There’s a process for her to do that. Now, she’s very 9:00 to 5:00. She loves being a lawyer again and she has that balance.

And so, I think for anybody who feels like something is missing in their career, often what’s missing is a core value or you’re not working within your core skillset. Those are two things to consider. And when people are radically unhappy in their career, viscerally unhappy, usually what’s happening is a core value is not just missing but it’s being violated or trespassed upon. So, getting clear on those core values and your core nature, your core skillsets, those are three steps in my 11-step roadmap to making a you turn.

And I could go on about this stuff forever but, hopefully, everybody listening can kind of take that time to look at their core values. And those are words like family, balance, authenticity, love, connection, self-expression. These are all core values as possibilities.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, core values have come up a few times on the show. And what’s your pro tip in terms of if folks kind of have an idea, like, “Ah, this is probably one and that’s probably another. But then, beyond that, who knows?” How do you recommend you go get those clear?

Ashley Stahl
We get this advice in dating. Pick somebody that has…and I love comparing job hunting to dating because there’s so many parallels it’s crazy. But we get the advice of pick somebody who shares the same values as you. But here’s the truth of the matter. Everybody’s value can look different.

I had a client who told me that her core value was adventure. And I had another client, he told me it was adventure. When I asked the woman, who lived in New York City, I said, “What does adventure look like for you?” she said, “It means trying new restaurants in New York.” Okay, great. That’s adventure for her. When I asked the other guy, “What does adventure mean for you?” he said, “Skydiving.” So, we’ve got completely different ways of expressing the core values. So, I think that’s really important, not just to write down a word that means something for you but asking yourself, “How am I showing up in this word? What does it look like for me?”

And I think one of the most slippery slopes of core values is people are too aspirational when they’re choosing their core values. So, you’re saying that this comes up a lot on the show, but I think one thing that I don’t hear often is the phenomenon that people think that something is a core value when, really, it’s just something they want more of in their life, and that’s really valuable to know what you want more of but it’s not a core value. A core value is what is the non-negotiable ingredient to who you are, and you know you have a core value when if you remove that word, you’re not you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yes, core value, non-negotiable. So, we reflect on it. And what else in terms of arriving at it? It’s not just something you want more of, but it’s something that is a non-negotiable must-have.

Ashley Stahl
Yes. So, the thing about core values is that, far too often, people are picking words that they want to be more of and not words that they are. You know something is a core value where if you take away that word, you’re not you anymore. So, humor is a core value for me. If you remove humor, I’m not here anymore. I’m not me. That’s when you know you’ve hit a core value.

I had a client who wrote peace as one of her core values, and I’m like, “Hmm, you’re not the most peaceful. I don’t know if this is a core value for you.” And she ended up totally agreeing with me. So, I think it’s important to be really honest with yourself when you’re choosing your words. Look at what they actually mean for you. Get curious for the opportunities in your life, how those core values are manifesting for the other person or for a company, let’s say, if you’re not. Maybe in your love life, you look at what it means for your partner. Maybe in your career, you look at what that looks like for the company you’re at and how your job is going to play a role in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess to distinguish, core value is a fundamental non-negotiable thing that you got to have in life or a thing. And your core nature is just sort of like your essence, your you-ness, your “What do I feel when you enter the room?”

Ashley Stahl
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Any further distinction?

Ashley Stahl
No, I think you’ve got it. Your core nature is your vibes, how the vibe is you bring to the room. Your core values are your principles, and your core skillset is your gift. And if you can really take a look at those three things, you are so much further ahead than so many people in your career. And I think a lot of people are in careers right now that maybe aren’t working for them. And if that’s the case, there’s this really cool field called job crafting, and it’s all about taking a bland job and turning it into a grand job. I love saying that because it’s so ridiculous.

[33:28]

But, really, that’s what it is. It’s taking a look at your core skillset, and saying, “How do I ask my manager…?” or if you’re a business owner, “How do I carry this into my business and initiate a project that allows me to kind of morph what I’m doing in that direction?” So, let’s say you’re working in tech but you want to be a writer. How can you ask your boss for the permission to take initiative on a project that allows you to be a little bit more of a writer but still provide extraordinary value to your company? So, I think job crafting is a really big deal if you’re not currently working in your core skillset. And I do think that people who aren’t working in their core skillset, or honoring their core values, is an explanation for why so many people are unhappy at work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, you got one more. Core motivations. What’s the story here?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, there is so much to core motivator. And one of the things that I’ve learned as I was writing the book is that everybody, obviously, is motivated by something else. So, one way to kind of tune in to your core motivator is in your job interviews, really asking yourself, “How does this manifest for me?” So, I’ll go through, there’s ten just like the core skillset, if it’s helpful for me to go through all ten.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Ashley Stahl
Okay, cool. So, number one is meaning. This is about people doing work that really aligns with a spiritual purpose. So, this could look like aligning your core skillset and your core values with a very deep sense of personal mission. Number two is about optimal health. So, this is about work that supports your health or your physical wellness. This is why you see certain people who are probably the motion core skillset. They’re motivated by doing something every day that comes with their health. The third core motivator is time. So, this is work that allows you time freedom or flexibility. This is a career that gives you a sense of control over how you’re spending your time, and it’s a huge motivator for people whether you’re in a job interview. You want to take these motivators and ask questions that allow you to get insight on whether that need will be met.

Number four is impact. This is work you know is changing the world or making a difference. I think what’s really interesting about the impact people is that impact might not show up in how their day-to-day job looks. It’s a conceptual backdrop to their job. And what’s so important about that is that their responsibilities and what they’re doing might not be tied to the actual impact it’s having, but just knowing that they’re doing something that’s making the world better, they’re a little tiny cog in a much bigger important wheel, is enough for them. That’s what motivates them.

And the fifth one is visibility. So, in the influencer space, I’m sure you’ve interviewed plenty of us where it’s work that grants you prestige or recognition. This is a career that gives you validation. And, obviously, if you’re not checking yourself, it’s really a wounded motivator unless you kind of take care of yourself and just know this about yourself.

And then the sixth one is accomplishment. So, this is for the people who are very motivated by checking things off a list. They like to feel a sense of completion. This is the career person that loves deadlines, they love that dopamine hit when they get an achievement. It gives them a sense of motion and completion and gratification.

And then number seven is training. So, this is work that actually allows you to learn as you do it. I would say that you’re probably somewhat motivated by that just being a podcast host, and same with me with my podcast. I love to learn. And then number eight is ease. And, actually, I love the ease people, like they crack me up because the person who can own that as a motivator, there’s something very refreshing about how honest they are that they want work that allows them comfort, which means it helps them avoid shame, or fear, or failure, anxiety, whatever it is. It’s a career based on simplicity. Doing work that you feel competent doing without much challenge to your growth. So, this is for the person who’s very motivated by easy times and just getting by without much thought on their career.

And then number nine is spending. So, this is work that you’re motivated to spend money in your work or save it or keep it. Some people are literally just motivated by the pursuit of money, and I think there’s a lot of judgment on those people, but I think there’s something really amazing and inspiring about someone that can say, “I just want to make a lot of money, and that’s what I’m motivated to do.”

In personal development, I think there’s a lot of challenges to that statement that there’s something below the desire for money and what is that really about. But I actually have found in my work as a career expert the past decade, and that’s really what I’ve put into the book that I wrote was just all of the interviews and surveys I’ve done. Some people naturally just enjoy what money brings to their life to a level where they’re not needing much else. This is what motivates them.

And then number ten is self-expression. So, this is work that grants you the freedom to channel your emotions and ideas, and bring them to light. So, this is a career that really leads with creating through your feelings and through your ideas. This is definitely something that motivates me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you contrast, for me, meaning versus impact?

Ashley Stahl
Yes. So, meaning, when you really look at that one, what’s different about it from impact is that it’s something that is more aligned with a spiritual purpose. It’s your own sense of mission. It’s more self-focused. So, somebody who’s seeking meaning, it’s about them. Somebody who’s seeking impact, it’s about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what’s interesting about ease is I was thinking about David Allen, Getting Things Done. He’s been on the show a couple of times and he said, “If you ever had a crank widget job in which you got a bunch that needed cranking, a widget crank, a widget cranker, that’s a job, is you just do that and then you’re done.” It’s like, “At the end of the workday, you’re not at all thinking about the widgets and the cranking. It’s just like not there.”

And so, ease, in some ways it doesn’t mean like you’re lazy or you’re a bum. It just means like I’m thinking about farmers and some of them have very long, very demanding workdays, but in a way there’s some ease in terms of, “I don’t need to think or worry about what I need to do, which is very clear. Those cows need to be milked, that field needs to be plowed, and so I’m just going to do that and roll with it. I don’t have to agonize over the political stakeholders and how I’m going to appease all of them and their complex interrelationship struggles and conflicts. I’m just going to do the thing that really needs to be done now,” and so that’s a variety of ease.

Ashley Stahl
Exactly. And I’m really inspired by these people because I find that we live in a world where it’s really easy to be complicated. It’s actually so much harder to be simple, and these people have it down. And a lot of the work that they do in this category is very meditative, it flows, it’s easy. They’re not the people who are wanting to necessarily grow in their work. Maybe they’re growing in some other area of their life, and they’re just not motivated by that in their job.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I would say the final thing that we didn’t cover because there’s just so much, I mean, having written a 300-page book on it, is people’s interest. I think a lot of people get lost on how to figure out where to put their interest in their career. And if there’s any advice I could give to anybody listening, your interest is really your backdrop.

So, for example, I love cupcakes, and that doesn’t mean that I am going to be a baker of cupcakes. There’s a difference between loving to consume something and being meant to produce something. And so, if you have an interest and you want to bring it into your career, first think about your core skillset, how you’re spending your time and doing your day, then think about your interest more as the backdrop that you’re doing it in. So, if you love travel, maybe you’re going to work at a five-star hotel, but what’s more important is how you use your skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that adds up in terms of, “I think I’m passionate about coffee.” It’s like, “Well, I mean, drinking coffee is very different from…”

Ashley Stahl
That doesn’t mean you need to be a coffee-maker.

Pete Mockaitis
“…making coffee, selling coffee, consulting coffees shops.”

Ashley Stahl
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You might hate those things, and then just enjoy drinking coffee when you’re there, and that’s all.

Ashley Stahl
Exactly.

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

Ashley Stahl
A favorite quote. I love Rumi’s quote, “Act or live as if the universe is rigged in your favor.” I have found that that quote has given me so much peace at times where whatever is happening for me in my career or my life, I can’t make sense of it, I always trust that there’s something working in my favor, and it just hasn’t been revealed to me yet.

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

Ashley Stahl
I found a bit of research from Stanford, and I’ve struggled to find it ever since. I think I read it in a scholarly journal or something like that. But, recently, I read that 84% of your best ideas don’t come at work. That was by Stanford, and I love that because it’s such a reminder of how important it is for us, I mean, all of us are innately creative beings to create white space outside of our work and stop getting into that addictive pattern of booking ourselves back-to-back-to-back not allowing for that genius to come through in our day-to-day lives.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that. When I slack off at work and I feel guilty, I just tell myself, “This is part of my creative process.”

Ashley Stahl
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And there’s the hard data to back it up. So, thank you. More of that. And how about a favorite book?

Ashley Stahl
I mean, obviously, I have to say my own book You Turn, but if that is not self-serving enough, I could say my favorite book and the person that motivated me to be a writer in the first place and really influenced the way that I write is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

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

Ashley Stahl
I absolutely love Insight Timer app. There are some meditations. There’s a woman on there, named Sarah Blondin, and she has free meditations, and I always put my noise-cancelling earphones on, and I completely turn off the world for 10 minutes, and her meditations get me so grounded in my work. I always do it before a really, really big meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ashley Stahl
My favorite habit is probably fitness, and that’s something that’s brand new. I hate that I’m saying it because it feels really trite but it was really hard for me to get into fitness. I hired a personal trainer. It’s kind of forced me to exercise a few times a week, and I’m really proud of that because it’s given me such a level of new focus and energy in my day, and I’m so glad I’m doing that.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, one thing I’ve said often is clarity comes from engagement, and it’s never going to come from thought. You really can’t think your way into clarity. So many people are sitting there, marinating, and engagement can look like so many things. It can look like as simple as reading my book or anybody’s book or listening to this podcast. It can also look like taking another job and trying it on.

Far too often, people hold their careers too heavily and they slow themselves down for making decisions. And what I think with this is I walked into the Pixar offices a while back, and I saw a big sign on the wall that said, “Fail faster.” And what I loved about that was that, to me, is the sign of a good career. If somebody who’s willing to be experimental to lighten their energy towards their career and engage in some way even if it means taking something that feels pretty big.

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

Ashley Stahl
I would say, right now, we have a bundle of courses and you can order my book at YouTurnBook.com or else you could hit me up on Instagram @ashleystahl.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I’d shamelessly have to say I hope that they read the book. I mean, it’s everything I’ve collected over a decade of work with thousands of job seekers in my courses. And it has been such a labor of love and soul. And if they don’t read the book, I would say at least re-listen to this podcast episode and take some notes on your core skillsets so that you can carry that with you into your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ashely, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and many unstuck moments.

Ashley Stahl
Thank you so much.

630: How to Work with a Boss You Don’t Like with Katherine Crowley

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Katherine Crowley says: "If you're feeling hysterical, it's usually historical."

Katherine Crowley discusses what to do when your boss is holding you back.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when your boss gets under your skin 
  2. The 20 bad boss behaviors that drive employees nuts 
  3. The most important thing you can do when managing up 

About Katherine

Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist and career consultant. She helps individuals identify and tackle psychological and interpersonal obstacles to success. She assists with career assessment, developing a personal vision, improving interpersonal skills, and creating work/life balance. 

Katherine is also the co-founder of K Squared Enterprises, a Management Consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and companies accomplish their business objectives while navigating the psychological challenges of working with others. She is the co-host of the podcast, My Crazy Office, which is a weekly workplace podcast dedicated to helping listeners navigate their careers. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Katherine Crowley Interview Transcript

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

Katherine Crowley
Hi, it’s so fun to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And you also got your own podcast called My Crazy Office. Could you tell us perhaps one of the craziest office stories you ever heard.

Katherine Crowley
Oh, my gosh. Well, actually interesting, one of my most strange experiences was when I was working for a business owner, and she was running two businesses at the same time. And so, my entire workday consisted of finding notes passed under the door of the office that I work in, in her home, and fulfilling whatever the task was that was required, having no idea what the output was, you know, what the outcome of my work was actually creating, and rarely seeing her except once or twice every couple of weeks. So, that was a strange, that’s what we call an absentee boss situation but it was just so strange because I was living in this world where I don’t fully understand what went on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you have logged a whole host of such boss behaviors, and you’ve got a great title in your book Working for You Isn’t Working for Me: How to Get Ahead When Your Boss Holds You Back. So, tell us, what’s the big idea behind the book?

Katherine Crowley
Well, actually, what’s interesting is that book, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me, came out of the first book we wrote Working for You is Killing Me, which was actually more about peer-to-peer managing up, managing down. And when that book came out, it was a national/international bestseller because it spoke to the pain of so many people. But the one thing that everyone told us, because Kathi Elster and I traveled all over the country giving talks and workshops about how to handle difficult people at work, and every lecture someone would come up and say, “You don’t understand. It’s my boss. That’s different. This person can fire me or demote me.”

And so, we realized that we needed to write a book specifically about dealing with the boss because what we learned was that people don’t quit jobs, they actually quit bosses. So, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me was about coming to terms with, “If you have a difficult boss, how do you manage them rather than waiting for them to manage you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there’s much to dig into here. So, let’s start with your four-step program for dealing with difficult bosses. Can you lay out those four steps and give us some examples of them in action?

Katherine Crowley
Absolutely. And the interesting thing is from the Working for You is Killing Me there’s a four-step of unhooking, and we apply the similar thing to the Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. So, I want to talk about the unhooking process because I think it’s very effective if you can do it. So, the four steps are that you unhook physically, you unhook mentally, you unhook verbally, and you unhook with a business tool. And that means nothing except that the first thing you have to realize is that you’re hooked. So, you know that a boss is getting under your skin if you find that you’re having physical, emotional, mental reactions every time you interact with this person.

And so, if you notice that you get a headache, that your stomach feels tight, that your shoulders hurt, that you have a hard time breathing, that you feel exacerbated after every meeting, you then can establish that you are hooked. Once you established that, then you can start to unhook. And the unhooking physically part, so let’s imagine the favorite tough boss, which is the micromanager, the super controlling, oversees everything you do, and doesn’t let you make any decisions on your own. If you had that kind of a boss, what you could do to unhook physically would be that you might, at the day’s end, work out, or go for a run, or go for a walk. You could splash water on your face, you could go for a drive, you could do something physically that helps you release the toxic energy that you may generate by having to deal with this person day in and day out. So, that’s unhooking physically.

Then, unhooking mentally has to do with kind of talking yourself off the ledge. So, let’s say your – this is very common – micromanaging boss insists that you report on every single thing that you do and everything your team does, and you find that to be just offensive. Unhooking mentally, after you’ve cooled your system down by physically unhooking, would be to ask yourself some important questions, like, “What’s happening here? What are the facts of the situation? What’s their part? What’s my part? And what are my options?”

So, going back to the micromanager, what’s happening? “This person is insisting that I give reports on a daily basis about what everyone is doing and it’s ridiculous.” What are the facts? “My boss is requiring this of me and it’s part of my job.” What’s their part? “So, maybe they’re super controlling. They don’t trust anything we do. It drives me crazy.” That’s the fun question to answer. But then what’s my part? And in this case, it could be that, “My part is that I’m taking their behavior personally, that I’m assuming that this person only doesn’t trust me, and that it’s all about not respecting my work ethic.”

So, then your options are, with a micromanaging boss, you could continue to resent them. That’s always…you’re allowed to do that. You could quit. You could badmouth this person and tell everyone how horrible they are and hope that they quit. Or you could say, “Okay, I’m working with someone who needs control. And so, what would happen if I just followed their requests and see if I can establish trust with this person?” So, that’s where you could get to by mentally unhooking.

Next, unhooking verbally is saying something to move the situation forward. So, with this boss, there’s a high-road and low-road verbal communication. Low-road would be, “I can’t believe we have to write these stupid reports. Don’t you think we can do our jobs?” High-road could be, “I understand that you’re concerned that we’re all on the same page, so let’s try this out and meet in a month and see if it really works as a system.”

And then, unhooking with a business tool is to pick from some kind of thing, whether it’s a procedure, a policy, a document, to complete the transaction. And so, in this case, you could say, you could send a follow-up email and say, “I understand that we’re going to be doing this reporting system for a period of time. I look forward to tracking it and seeing if it really works for you and open to feedback along the way.”

And so, now you’re taking yourself from the hooked part where you’re furious, you can’t stand the person, and you are in a powerful struggle with them, which is usually what happens with bosses that we don’t like, we get in power struggles, to calming your system down, finding viable solutions, and moving the situation forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the business tool piece there, that was just sort of an email or are there different business tools? Tell us what you mean by that.

Katherine Crowley
It in this case it’s an email. So, business tools, what we’d say about those is those are…they’re actually, they’re always with you. They take the emotion out of a situation, because, so often, what happens with bosses and coworkers who drive us crazy is we take them personally, right? So, business tools, anything that clarifies the parameters of your work situation. It could be a job description. It could be company policies. It could be documentation. If someone does something over and over that drives you nuts, usually we just store the instance in our mind and feed a big ball of resentment. What you could do instead is document. That’s a business tool, to write down what happened, to describe the effects that it’s having on your job, to be clear about the costs that may come, that it may cause the company.

So, it’s taking whatever the situation is and looking, “What’s the business tool I can apply here?” whether it’s, let’s say, if someone’s a chronically late person, well, there may be time policies at your workplace that you could apply to the situation rather than feeling insulted by their tardiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so those are the four steps of unhooking there. And you’ve zeroed in on 20 of these behaviors that drive you bonkers. And so, I’d love to get a quick rundown of those if you can give us the cool 30-second version list of all 20. But I’d also, first, actually, I want to hear, you say that often these can even escape detection in the first place. So, can you tell us a little bit about the detect side of things?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, detecting, that’s a very good question. What usually happens is we start to feel irritated. We start to get angry if someone starts to really bother us, and then we get into a whole tailspin, emotional tailspin, about what’s happening. Detecting requires that I look up from my situation, try to figure out “What is going on here?”

So, for example, if there’s a kind of boss that we would call a calculating confidant. And this is a kind of boss that would pull you in and ask you a lot of personal questions and look like they want to get to know all about you, and then use that information against you later on down the road. Of course, when that happens, it feels horrible and like betrayal, and, “How could this person do that?”

But if you actually detect or figure out that, “I’m working with someone for whom this is their style, this is how they operate,” then it gives you just a little distance so that you aren’t just feeling manipulated and poorly treated by this individual. So, does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, detected, in so doing you would sort of give a label and some distance, and you say, “Okay, this is not personal. They’re not sticking it to me in particular. This is just sort of how they operate and I hate it.”

Katherine Crowley
Right. Exactly. And if it’s something, like there are bosses who are chronically late. So, if they’re chronically late, to detect and understand that this is, again, this is what they do. It’s probably what they’ve done with every employee that they’ve ever worked with. Then it just gives you a little modicum, I think, of control that, “This is what I’m dealing with, not I’m doing something wrong and it’s driving me crazy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us the listing of these 20 bad boss behaviors because I’m sure we could talk for hours about them? But I wanna hear just the quick rundown like, “Okay, we got this and this and this,” so folks can recognize it in your telling.

Katherine Crowley
All right. So, I’ll just give you the list and then you can see what you think. First of all, we have categories. So, the first category is called the game players, head game players. And the top of that list is what we call the chronic critic. Then we have the rule changer, the yeller, and the underminer. Next category are the bigshots and the mother superiors. Under that we have “I’m always right,” “You threaten me,” grandiose, and control freak.

Next category is called the line crossers. These are the people who have bad boundaries. So, the first of those is lovestruck, next is the calculating confidant that I mentioned before, the tell-all, the first person who tells you more than you ever wanted to know about their life, and then the liar-liar. Next category is ambivalent leaders, and this is always interesting, I think. The first is the sacred cow, which I’d be happy to describe at greater lengths; the checked-out boss also known as the absentee; the spineless; and the artful bosses, the person you can never find in your hour of need.

Then, finally, we have what we call delicate circumstances. And that is the junior boss, someone who is younger than you, significantly younger than you; the former colleague, a colleague who gets promoted above you; the unconscious discriminator which is, these days, a very hot topic; and the persecutor. That’s the cast of characters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. I think it’s handy just to have a sort of typology in terms of, “Okay. I recognize that.” So, we could talk about these 20 in depth. But, maybe, you could zero in on maybe one, two, or three of these that are both particularly demoralizing for people as well as super prevalent? So, there’s both a high frequency and a high intensity of damage, so let’s talk about those three in terms of how we deal with them.

Katherine Crowley
Yeah, I would be happy to. I actually want to start with the sacred cow, Pete, because this is one…what’s interesting is this is a boss who will feel so frustrating but they’re often like nice people. You know what I mean? So, a sacred cow is someone who’s been in their position for a long time, they’ve climbed up the ladder of the office, whatever it is, the company, whatever it is. They usually are…the people at the top are loyal to this person because they were loyal to them, and they’re now in a position where they probably don’t have the competence really to do anything significant. So, what they want to do is just toe the line, not make any ruffles, and just do a basic job but not cause any problems.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in this instance, the boss is the sacred cow that a lot of people say, “Ooh, maybe I don’t want to cross them because they’ve historically been really good to me and…”

Katherine Crowley
That’s right. The sacred cow has friends, usually, at the top. They’re protected in some way. And so, what could happen is, let’s say you’re a very inventive or creative person and you get hired by this person, and as you’re getting higher, they’re saying to you, “We really need innovation in this department,” which may be true. But then once you get into the position, you experience that you are blocked at every step of the way. Any new ideas, they’ll say, “We’ve done that already. It won’t work.” They’ll ignore your best thoughts about how to solve a problem. They will tell you that upper management doesn’t want that kind of thing. So, they’ll do whatever they need to do to sort of put a road stop onto anything you’re trying to accomplish.

And for people who are real performers and who like to achieve and contribute, this kind of boss is deadly. Yeah, and so the thing with the sacred cow is that, going back to detect, the four Ds: detect, detach, de-personalize, deal. With the sacred cow, the first is to detect, like, okay, if you find out that someone has been there for many years, and they’re not going anywhere, and you keep pushing up against this person, which is usually what happens when you’re working for a sacred cow, you get in power struggles of constantly trying to push your ideas forward. Then you detect, you’ve got, “I’m working for a sacred cow. They’re not going to become comfortable with change. They’re not going to want to do anything innovative.”

Then the detaching would be, “Okay, this is not about me. This is about them.” And de-personalizing would be to say, “All right. So, this person is afraid of change, but maybe they need to look good.” Sacred cows still want to look good in whatever position they’re in. And so then, the deal, what can you do, would be to find out, and this is very hard if you’ve already pushed hard and been rejected and feel resentment, but the deal part would be to find out if there are any projects that the sacred cow is interested in, like things that they would love to accomplish if they had the ability, and get behind those ideas or try to make your ideas their ideas. So, if you’re willing to make the sacred cow look good, you may actually be able to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. All right. So, that’s a handy one then. Can we hear another boss here and how we’d approach it?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, a commonly occurring and destructive, I would go to the very top of the list, which is the chronic critic. And it’s funny because we have another version of the chronic critic in Working With You is Killing Me called the pedestal smasher. And these are the bosses who have very high standards for everything, and often when they first bring you onboard, they tell you that you’re wonderful and that you’re finally going to solve their problems and that they really admire your work capacity.

Once you start working for this kind of boss, the chronic critic, they then begin to find fault with everything that you do. And so, they slowly start to erode your confidence because they can always find the wrong thing. One client we had who worked for a chronic critic used red highlighter, under-liner, even online with documents to show where the mistakes were. And, literally, it got to the point where the client was like, you know, they’d go to meetings with their neck in a brace because it was so hard to deal with this person.

So, they slowly can erode your confidence and, therefore, detecting as soon as possible becomes a really important thing when you find out, and you can always ask around to see, “Is this person, have they always been so critical of everyone or is it just me?” You detect but nothing. They don’t ever find things good enough because part of what they’re doing is trying to keep you below them so that you don’t threaten them, right? So, you detect that.

Then, again, detaching, realizing this is not about you. And chances are you’re never going to have the experience where they say, “You did an amazing job.” De-personalizing is, “Okay, so if that’s how this person operates, then my job is to continue along and try to create, try to do a good job but not take their statements personally.”

And then dealing would be to do your job, to go to other places to get recognition. So, you may want to join a taskforce, or go work with another department on a special project, or go outside and join a professional association. Nowadays, those are all happening in online and meetups and things. But you do something like that to pump up your confidence again so that you can figure out what your next best move will be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you tell us an inspiring story of someone who did just that, they figured out, “Okay, we got a troubling thing in this behavior,” what they did, and then the cool outcomes that unfolded from that?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, actually, I can tell you about someone who worked for a sacred cow and it was actually for a very prestigious institution, he was very excited about the job, got there, and then had pushback for every single thing that he did. He was able to befriend that sacred cow after much frustration, a lot of hitting walls. He was able to befriend that sacred cow and found out that that individual, the boss, had a very specific project that she’d always wanted done but had never had the resources to do. He made it happen and, as a result, their department won an award, and he went on to be offered another job at another institution.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Katherine Crowley
So, there’s a good story.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And I’d also love to zoom in and hear sort of navigating these tricky situations, are there any particularly powerful scripts, phrases, questions, that you recommend and see are helpful over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. Well, I think that’s such a good question. When we wrote, in both of our books, when we talk about talking to whoever the individual involved is, we always talk about how important it is to prepare yourself. Like, one thing that’s valuable, I think, actually in knowing, like, let’s say you know that you work for a boss who always has to be right, for example. And there are those bosses, so you don’t want to go into the conversation looking to convince them that you’re right. You would prepare for that kind of a conversation by thinking, “Okay, how can I join with this person and their approach?”

So, you could say to this individual, “I know your opinion is very important to me, and I know that you usually understand things in a way that I don’t, but here are my thoughts about doing X, Y, and Z.” So, you confirm the individual’s capabilities, you try to talk to them in a way that makes sense based on how they hear and reason with things, and then you make a concrete suggestion about how you can move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, now, can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Katherine Crowley
My favorite quote may seem odd but it is by Hoagy Carmichael, a jazz musician, and it is, “Slow motion gets you there faster.” And I like it especially because in the digital age we’re all constantly running – I certainly am, I’m sure you are as well – and constantly on the go, and wanting things to happen quickly. And so, I find that quote “Slow motion gets you there faster” really helpful because it helps me slow down, focus on what needs to happen in the moment, and have patience with the process. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in any situation, and certainly in a difficult work situation is to be patient with the process.

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

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, one of the studies that we did actually was for our third book, which was Mean Girls at Work. And there, we put out a request for any stories that women had about other women who they found difficult to work with. And what we were able to glean was that, I would say, 40% of the studies, or 40% of the stories rather, what was interesting was they were not about blatantly mean cruel individuals. They were what we call passively-mean situations where people were excluded, where they were taken out of an email link, where they were not asked to join an event, a work event, or even a social event, where they were contradicted at a meeting but in a nice way, it’s that sort of passive-aggressive looks like.

And so, we found that really interesting that 40% of the women who had difficult relationships with other women, it was more of a passive-aggressive experience, and it really informed a lot of what we wrote about in the book because women do a thing called tending and befriending. We believe we need to be nice to each other and yet what happens in the workplace, because we’re not that comfortable with direct confrontation, is that people end up tending, acting friendly, and then doing subversive things.

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

Katherine Crowley
So, my favorite book is Eckhart Tolle, Towards a New Earth.

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

Katherine Crowley
So, I practice what we preach, so I will say that I do, on a daily basis, every morning I exercise and I write a list of what are my top three priorities. And at the end of every day, I also exercise again, and I practice gratitude. And I know that those things don’t sound like business tools per se, but those set the tone for the rest of my day.

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

Katherine Crowley
Yes, there are two. And one is…

Pete Mockaitis
Nice job.

Katherine Crowley
So, I’m a psychotherapist by training, so one of the things that I will tell people is that, “If you’re feeling hysterical, it’s usually historical.” Now, I did not make that up but it is such a truism that whenever I say it, people are like, “Oh, my God, that’s so true,” because it’s not the person showing up late for a meeting. It’s probably the 35 times they showed up late, and the time they were late on a deadline, and the time, you know, whatever. And that’s a valuable statement just in the sense that, again, going back to the things we were talking about, unhooking, detaching, you have to calm yourself down so that you respond in a right-sized way to whatever the situation may be.

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

Katherine Crowley
I would point them to our website KSquaredEnterprises.com and also to our podcast which is My Crazy Office.

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

Katherine Crowley
Yes. My final challenge, actually my call to action is to whatever your situation, if there’s someone who is really bothering you, there are two things that you can do. One is that you need to stop and see whether you are in a power struggle with this person, because power struggles you will not win. The second thing is you need to consider whether you’re expecting this person to behave exactly the same way you do. So, it’s always important to examine your expectations. We often get furious of people who do things that you say, “I would never do that,” and yet the most important thing for figuring out how to work with people is to understand that each person is operating from a different set of expectations and behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Katherine, this has been a real treat. I wish you luck and success, and hope that working with people is working for you.

Katherine Crowley
Thank you, and talking with you has been lovely for me.