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Influence Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

719: Liz Wiseman Reveals the Five Practices of Indispensable, High-Impact Players

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Liz Wiseman says: "By working on the agenda, you earn the right to help set the agenda."

Liz Wiseman uncovers the small, but impactful practices of exceptional performers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s okay to not be working on what’s important to you 
  2. The five things impact players do differently
  3. The trick to leading without an invitation 

About Liz

Liz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world. She is the author of New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, and Wall Street Journal bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. 

She is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. Some of her recent clients include: Apple, AT&T, Disney, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Salesforce, Tesla, and Twitter. Liz has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and in 2019 was recognized as the top leadership thinker in the world. 

She has conducted significant research in the field of leadership and collective intelligence and writes for Harvard Business ReviewFortune, and a variety of other business and leadership journals.  She is a frequent guest lecturer at BYU and StanfordUniversity and is a former executive at Oracle Corporation, where she worked as the Vice President of Oracle University and as the global leader for Human Resource Development. 

Resources Mentioned

Liz Wiseman Interview Transcript

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, thanks, Pete. I hope I walk away feeling like I can be a little bit more awesome at my job. This is your thing. This is what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I’ve mentioned, before we pushed record, that numerous people have mentioned you by name as being awesome at your job from your book Multipliers. And you’ve got another one freshly out Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. All things we love doing here, so this is going to be a lot of fun.

Liz Wiseman
This is going to be a fun conversation, I can tell.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe to kick us off, could you share with us your favorite story of someone who made a transformation into an impact player and kind of what happened? What was the impact of that and kind of their before and after, and the results flowing from it?

Liz Wiseman
Well, so many of the people I wrote about were already awesome when I stumbled onto them. And the one I think, like if I could pick someone in the book who made the biggest transformation, it might’ve been me. Like, early on in my career, reorienting myself.

So, I came out of college like a lot of people, kind of fired up, knowing…I mean, some people don’t know what they want to do. I knew what I wanted to do to a fault. And I kind of was like knocking on people’s doors, like, “Hi, I’m Liz. I want to teach leadership and I represent good leadership. And ridding the world of bad bosses, that’s what I want to do.”

And so, I tried to get a job at a management training company and somehow wiggled my way into an interview with the president. He looked at my resume and was like, “You know, if you want to teach leadership, maybe you should go get some leadership experience.” I was like 22 years old and thinking, “That’s sterile-minded of him.” It’s kind of like he doesn’t get me. This is what I’m passionate about. It’s what I want to do.”

So, I went and took my backup job, and that one was at Oracle, which was a great place to go to work but it wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do, which was somehow teach managing and leading. So, I took this kind of consolation job, and about a year into that, I had an opportunity to transfer to another group inside of the company. This was back when Oracle was like a couple thousand people, and today they’re like well over a hundred thousand people.

And it was a group that ran technical bootcamps and I was hoping that their charter would expand, like the company is growing, they’re surely going to be building some management courses, young people are being turned into management, like wreaking havoc on the company. And so, I went into the interview, answered the questions from the VP, so it’s like the final interview for this job, and then it was my turn to kind of take charge of the interview. And so, I made my case for why Oracle should build a management bootcamp, not just a technology bootcamp. And, of course, I offered my services, like, “I would be happy to build this.”

And I thought, for sure, he would say, “Oh, that’s great, Liz. Yeah, I can see you’re passionate about that. Here you go.” And his response, it really, really imprinted me. And he was polite but essentially what I heard him saying was, “Liz, make yourself useful around here,” because his reply was, “That’s great, Liz. We think you’re great and we’re excited to have you join this group but your boss has a different problem. She’s got to figure out how to get 2,000 new college graduates up to speed in Oracle technology over the next year. And what would be great is if you could help her to do that.”

He was saying, “Liz, figure out what needs to be done and do the things that we need.” And I wanted to teach leadership and now he wants me to teach programming to a bunch of nerds, you know, programmers. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s not my thing. That’s not the job I want.” But I could see he was teaching me something. I’m like, “That’s not the job I want,” but what he’s saying was, “That’s the job that needs to be done.” So, like, “Point yourself over there, please.”

And it really shaped me because I said, “Okay, I don’t want to do that but I will do that and I’ll figure out how to be good at this.” And, Pete, I’m woefully underqualified to do this job. I came out of business school and had a teaching background, but I had taken like two and a half programming classes in college, and now they want me to be teaching programming to a bunch of hotshot programmers coming out of MIT and Caltech but I did it and it was amazing what happened after I reoriented myself, and, in some ways, subordinated what was important to me to work on what was important to my boss and my boss’ boss.

First of all, I figured out I love this job. Like, this was fun. I was having the time of my life. And then the second thing I discovered is that by doing that, all these opportunities opened up to me. And they came and tapped me on the shoulders, and said, “Liz, we want you to now manage the training group.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m having fun teaching.” They’re like, “No, we want you to do this.” I’m like, “Yeah, pick someone else who wants that job.” And they said, “No, we want you to do this.”

And I don’t know if it was because I understood the technology or it was because I was willing to serve where I was needed, but, yeah, I finally said yes to that job. And then I just kept getting bigger and bigger opportunities, and I think it was because I learned to channel my energy and passion around what was important to the people I work for rather than focusing on what was important to me.

And it shaped my whole career and just allowed me to do work that was far more impactful. And it wasn’t too many years, if not even months, after that that I was able to argue that, “You know what, we really need to invest in management training and I’d be happy to do that.” And then, I, essentially, got a blank check, like, “Liz, absolutely. Go build that. Build a team to do it.” And that work had so much more impact when I decided to work on the agenda of the organization rather than on my own agenda.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that feels like a golden key to a whole lot of career things right there. And I guess what’s intriguing is, well, one, you were fortunate in that you got to do the thing you really wanted to do anyway afterwards. And, two, I suppose, I’m thinking, that approach, in a way, it feels rather noble and virtuous in terms of, hey, there’s some humility and there’s some service and generosity that you are engaging in when you’re working on the job that needs done as opposed to the thing you want to do.

I guess I just might want to hear to what extent was there drudgery? Or, it sounds like in your story, this path was actually plenty of fun even while you were on it prior to doing the thing that you really wanted to do originally. Is that the case with the other impact players, generally speaking?

Liz Wiseman
Well, I think it is. And you said it was sort of a noble choice, and I think it was a humble choice. I wouldn’t characterize it as a noble choice as much as a savvy choice. And it wasn’t like I was just like, “Okay. Well, what’s good for me in this?” I could see there was a real need there but something happens when you are working on something that’s important.

So, like if I’m off working on my own agenda, I’m pushing a boulder up a hill. I’m trying to get people to meet with me. I’m trying to get someone to pay attention to the thing I care about. Now, some amazing things can happen when you go down that path. But, like, what happens when you’re working on something that’s important? It’s what I call when you’re working on the agenda.

Well, every time I put myself on this path of impact, working on something that was important to the company, the executive, one of my clients, I always find that people have time to meet with me, resources flow. Like, I’ve done a lot of work with executives over the years, and one of the things I’ve noticed is I’ve never noticed like a senior executive at a corporation tell me something was important to him or her, and then not have budget for it.

It’s like funny how that when you’re working on the agenda, people have time for you, resources flow, decisions happen quickly, there’s more pressure but there’s also more visibility for your work. Like, it’s not drudgery. It’s actually fun because you’re making progress. And when you say drudgery, Pete, it makes me think about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is burnout. We’re dealing with this burnout epidemic, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Resignation, whatever you want to call it. And I think we’re quick to assume that burnout is a function of effort and work. Like, we’re working too hard. We’re working too much. We have too heavy of a load and we’re going to burn out as a result.

And I’m not opposed to anyone taking time off. Like, a little R&R is probably good for a lot of people particularly right now, but I think burnout, based on all of my research, it tends to be a function of too little impact, not too much work. That what causes us to burn out is when we’re expending energy but not making a difference, not seeing how our work makes a difference.

So, like the beginning of being high impact and doing awesome work is doing work that is valued and important. And even if some of the work is tedious, like, oh, man, I remember like nights I stayed up till 5:00 in the morning trying to learn how to do correlated subqueries so I could teach them the next day. I couldn’t sustain that all the time, but I was making a difference. I was having an impact. I was doing something important. It was energizing not enervating.

And, yeah, there’s details and drudgery and hard things involved but it’s rewarding. It’s what I’ve seen in my own experience in studying these high-impact contributors. It’s a buildup experience not a burnout experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful in terms of that’s just a fun mental distinction that does so much. When you’re working on the agenda, what’s important to other folks, so many of the roadblocks that are annoying and frustrating and yield to burnout and exhaustion disappear. People are available, they make time for you, they make money for you, they take your meetings, you’ve got some support and backing as opposed to being ignored, and follow-ups. So, yeah, like that’s pretty fine.

Liz Wiseman
And you build voice. You build voice in the organization, and it’s how we build influence and credibility is by making progress on things that matter to our stakeholders. And so, as we do that and as we serve, people listen to us. And by working on the agenda, you earn the right to help set the agenda.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m loving this and that’s a lot of insight right there. So, tell me, is that pretty much the core idea or thesis of Impact Players? Or, how would you articulate it?

Liz Wiseman
I just think it’s one of the starting points is how people orient themselves. And I think if I were to kind of try to crystallize the thesis of Impact Players, let me start with the research. We looked at the difference between individuals who were considered by their leaders smart, hardworking, and capable people who were doing a good job, like doing well, versus smart, hardworking, capable people who were making an extraordinary impact, doing work of extraordinary or inordinately high value.

And so, this isn’t like top performers versus bottom performers. In a room full of equally smart, capable, hardworking people, why are some people stuck going through the motions of their job while other people are making a big difference? So, that’s what we looked at. And when I looked at those differentials and all the profiles that we built through interviewing 170 managers is we found that the ordinary contributors, typical contributors, people doing well, they’re doing their job.

And this is how managers describe them. They do their job. They do their job well. Often, extremely well. They follow direction. They take ownership. They are focused. They carry their weight on teams, which sounds great in some ways, like ideal team members and contributors but there’s stellar and unordinary times, but they tend to fall short in times of uncertainty and ambiguity. This is where the impact players handle these situations very differently, and there were five.

And it was how they handle messy problems, like, “Your job is not my job. It’s like no one’s job. It’s not really owned by this department. It’s like no one’s job but everyone’s job.” And this is actually where I think the most important problems and opportunities of an organization is in that white space between boxes. Now, in this case, ordinary contributors tend to do their job. Whereas, the impact players go do the job that needs to be done.

The second is how they handle unclear roles, where, “Okay, I know we’re collaborating, but who’s really in charge?” We have a tendency, organizations want to have more collaborative teams, flat in organizations but in these situations, typical contributors tend to wait for role clarification or direction, like wait for someone to tell them who’s in charge or give them formal authority. Whereas, the people who are having a lot of impact tend to just take charge but they’re not like take charge all the time.

They step up and they lead, maybe a particular meeting, maybe a project, but then they’re willing to step back and follow other people when they’re in the lead. So, it’s like they bring kind of big leadership, let’s say, to the 2:00 o’clock meeting, they’re the boss, but they then walk down the hall to the 3:00 o’clock meeting and they serve as a participant with the same kind of energy that they led the team. So, they’re able to step in and out of these leadership roles really fluidly, which really builds our credibility because we trust these kinds of leaders, the ones who don’t always need to hold all the power.

Pete Mockaitis
And the ones who care when it’s not “theirs.” That’s sort of endearing. It’s sort of like, “Okay, you care about this because you care about the team, the leadership, the project, the company and not just you care about your babies.”

Liz Wiseman
Oh, absolutely. It’s like they work with the same kind of level of intensity. They don’t need to be in charge but they’re willing to be in charge. And I think it’s a really powerful form of leadership. And it’s very much like sort of you take like the pyramid shape of an organization, and you turn that on its side. It’s more like the V formation of a flock of geese, where the flock can fly a lot further because they rotate that leadership.

One bird goes out in front, leads, breaks that wind, creates drag, sort of creates an ease for the other birds behind in that formation, but that lead bird doesn’t stay there forever like until it tires and then falls from the sky in the state of exhaustion, which is what happens so often in corporations. The leaders are running around with their hair on fire. They’re like all fired up, they’re working hard, but other people sit underutilized. Like, when the lead bird has done their duty for the team, they fall back and another moves into that role.

And then there’s three other situations where we see this differentiation when unforeseen obstacles drop in the way, things that are really out of your control. Most people tend to escalate those, whereas the impact players just tend to hold onto them and get them across the finish line. Not alone, pulling in help but they tend to just hold ownership all the way through.

When targets are moving fast, typical contributors tend to stay on target, they stay focused, whereas, the impact players adjust. They’re adapting. They’re changing. They’re like kind of waking up assuming, “While I was asleep, the world changed, and I probably need to adjust my aim so I stay on track with what’s important and relevant.”

And the last is what we do when workloads are heavy, like when there’s just mounting workloads, when there’s more work than…when the workload is increasing faster than resources are increasing, and most people, they carry their weight, but when times get really tough, they sort of look upward and outward for help to ease that burden.

Whereas, the impact players, we found they really make work light. Like, they don’t take all the work, they don’t take people’s workload away from them, but they work in a way where hard work just is fun. They bring a levity, a humanity, that just sort of eases the phantom workload so that people can focus on the real workload.

Liz Wiseman
That’s kind of what I found.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I was going to ask exactly that, so thank you for sharing. And so, that’s sort of like the five core distinctions. And I want to zoom in on a couple like super specific practices, habits. But, first, maybe I’d like to get your take on what discovery, in the course of all these interviews, did you find most surprising or counterintuitive?

Liz Wiseman
I should probably tell you I’ve got a little bit of a pessimist in me which maybe makes me a better researcher. But when we went in to study, like, “What is it that the top, real top contributors are doing?” I expected there to be a fair number of hotshots and superstars and people around whom the team revolved, and what I found was exactly the opposite. There were 170 of these impact players that we studied, analyzed. Not a single one of them was a prima donna, a bully, a bull in a China shop. Not one of them worked at the expense of the team, like, “Hey, I’m so good at what I do that you all need to kind of like be backup for me, or sort of accommodate me, humor me.”

They were superstars and everyone knew it. Like, that’s one of the things about impact players is everyone knows who these people are but they work and I think they’re comfortable with their stellar-ness, their awesomeness, like they get it.

Pete Mockaitis
They don’t have to prove themselves or flex or show off.

Liz Wiseman
Yeah. In some ways, and I’m just realizing this, Pete, is one of the things I found in the multiplier leader, so the other research I’ve done, like, “What is it that leaders do that allow people to be impactful and contribute at their fullest?” And the ones, the leaders I want to work for are the ones that are really, really comfortable with their own intelligence and capability. Like, I want to work for someone who’s an absolute genius who knows it, which you think, “Ooh, well, isn’t that like a know-it-all, a bully?” Like, no, I want to work with someone who’s so comfortable with their own intelligence and capability that they’re over it.

It’s not like, “I have to show up to work every day proving how amazing I am.” It’s like, “Yeah, I get it. I’m smart. I’m talented. I’m over it so now I can spend my time as a leader seeing and using the intelligence of others.” And I think these impact players are similar in that they know that they’re really valuable contributors, they know they do important and valuable work, but they don’t need to be proving it all day long. In some ways, it’s so obvious. They were comfortable with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool.

Liz Wiseman
I thought there’d be some brilliant jerks in the lot but there weren’t, at least not in my sample.

Pete Mockaitis
And then these 170, they were identified by their managers, they’re saying, “Boy, this guy is really an impact player”?

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, they were. And so, we didn’t go in and decide who was. We asked managers to consider the people that they have led over their career and identify someone from each of these two categories – impact players, ordinary contributors – and we also had managers identify someone who I later called an under-contributor – smart, capable, talented, should be amazing, like someone you hire, like, “This person is going to be awesome,” but yet they’re not. Like, they’re under-contributing relative to their potential and capability. And that was interesting. There’s like a whole set of things to learn there.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s different than the five key distinctions that we already covered? Like, they don’t do the things that the impact players do or is there more?

Liz Wiseman
Well, I think kind of in that ordinary contributor station, like you would see people who are well-meaning, working hard, and they’re doing their job. When you see people in that under-contributor kind of position, sort of on the stratification, you see a lot of people who are really pushing their own agenda, you often see people who are trying so hard to be valuable, trying so hard to like get ahead, maybe that they’re honestly annoying.

Like, “Hey, hey, how am I doing? How am I doing? Am I doing great? Was it good work? Hey, hey, coach, what? Can I sit next to you on the airplane? You know what, hey, let’s go hang out.” They’re needy, maybe needing too much attention, needing too much feedback, and they end up becoming more of a burden than a contributor on teams, but, yet, they’re people who are trying really hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Cool. Well, so then I love how we’ve laid out the five distinctions. And now I’d like to get really specific in terms of what are the particular mindsets, or habits, or particular practices, words, phrases, just like the super in-the-moment tactical, practical stuff that we’re seeing in terms of an impact player? I sort of got the conceptual. Could you give us a couple examples of, “Hey, these are the specific actions that we’re seeing over and over again”?

Liz Wiseman
We talked about the first distinction kind of through my own experience, is this willingness to do the job that needs to be done. It’s about extending ourselves like beyond our job boundaries. One of the favorite impact players I got to write about in the book is someone named Jojo Mirador, and he is a scrub tech. He works at Valley Medical, which is part of an academic hospital chain.

So, there are a lot of residents there, doctors who have graduated from medical school. They’re now in their training. They’re in residency. And he’s a surgical scrub tech. Now, Jojo’s job is to prepare the surgical tools for an operation, to make sure they’re sterilized and available, and to hand them to the surgeons when the surgeons ask for them. That’s his job.

But Jojo approaches his job differently than other scrub techs. First of all, he looks on the calendar, and he’s like, “What surgeries do we have coming up? Are there any that I’m not familiar with? Let me look. Let me just like Google that and figure out what’s going on in the surgery.” And during surgery, he’s not just listening for the requested instrument.

Pete Mockaitis
“Scalpel.”

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, scalpel. Exactly. It’s like such a moment. He’s watching the surgeons’ hands, he’s like, “I want to know what the surgeon is doing because I want to know what their next move is going to be because I want to be thinking about the tool they need, so I’m ready.” And one of the surgeons told me, “Jojo doesn’t just lay out the instruments. He lays them out in the order they’re going to be used so he’s got them ready.”

And when the surgeons ask for an instrument, he doesn’t just hand them the one they asked for. He hands them the one they actually need. So, let’s say they’ve asked for like a scalpel, and he provides a gentle suggestion, he’s like, “Why don’t you try this one instead that might work better?” Of course, these residents, they’re young, they’re new, and you can imagine the pressure on them to look like they know what they’re doing when they’re holding someone’s life in their hands. And you can imagine how grateful they are that he doesn’t just do his job. He extends himself and does the job that needs to be done.

And you would think that the senior surgeons wouldn’t want these suggestions, but they do, in fact. He said, “It kind of feels good. They come seek me out before a surgery.” They say, “Jojo, here’s what we’re going to be doing. What kinds of tools do you think are going to work best here?” And they line up outside of the scheduler’s office, they kind of fight a little bit over who gets to have Jojo in the OR with them.

And they found this nice gentleman’s way of sorting this out. It’s whoever has the most complicated procedure is the one who gets Jojo. And I love the imagery of this, which is just extending ourselves out of our job scope, but not doing it in an aggressive way of taking over. It’s done with this kind of sense of finesse of, “I think I can be helpful here.”

Another one of the behaviors we see is that these impact players, they don’t tend to wait for an invitation. I think a lot of people want to be amazing at their job, who have a lot of passion, who have a lot of talent, or maybe holding back a little bit, too much waiting for someone to come along and discover them.

And maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my career teaching leaders, coaching executives, part of my message to people is like, “Ooh, your leaders probably aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they’re thinking about you. They’ve got their own set of things and they probably don’t have time to figure out, ‘Okay, wait a minute. I’ve got this meeting coming up. Who are all the possible people who might be valuable contributors?’” Like, sometimes, we need to invite ourselves in and go where we’re uninvited but do it in a way that people are glad we showed up to contribute.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really interesting because I think this has come up a number of times, like, “Oh, so many things you attend, it’s unnecessary, it’s a waste of time, and you should figure out polite ways to excuse yourself from them.” And this might be the first time I’ve heard someone say, “There may be times where you want to try to get into a meeting that you weren’t invited to.” And the way that could be super appreciated, like, maybe can you give us some verbiage or an example there, because I can imagine ways you might say it that could come across as appreciated as opposed to like, “Whoa, stay in your lane, buddy”? Could you give us an example there?

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, let me share two. One is about just initiating meetings that no one’s asking you to do. Eli Van Der Kamp at Target, she’s a project manager there, and her job is to get all the technology in a Target store up to speed and ready to go before a store opens. Well, this isn’t her area of responsibility but she can see that, “You know what, we’ve been dropping phonelines in here.” And her job was to get them up and running, but she’s like, “I don’t think we actually need those phonelines because, now that we have fiber optic cables, the phonelines that were needed for the alarm systems in the store, like fire alarms, we don’t need those.”

But it wasn’t that they didn’t need them, they sometimes needed them, and it was sort of complicated, and no one’s asking her to do this, but she realizes the company is wasting money on this. It’s a $92 billion a year company, it’s not a significant amount of waste in a company that size. But it’s significant enough, she decides she wants to do something about, so she just kind of invites herself to lead this meeting, calls people together, explains the problem with no sense of judgment whatsoever, “But we have this problem, and we’re like buying phonelines that we don’t need and it’s wasting money.”

And she just lays it out and invites people to step up and solve it. It was a complex decision tree. They worked it all out, owners stepped up, emerged, the problem is solved and she steps back. It’s sort of like inviting yourself in to lead and volunteering to lead where nobody has asked you. Now, it could be inviting yourself to a meeting nobody is inviting. So, I had experience with this, it was probably midway through my career. It preceded the most valuable piece of work I ever did for Oracle.

And I think, at this point, like I’m the vice president of Oracle University. I ran training for the company in human resource development, and I’ve particularly been focusing on some executive development, and had been working with three top executives to build this what was our flagship leadership development program. We called it The Leaders Forum. And it really consisted of two parts, which is teach our executives around the world like our strategy so they really understood that, and then build some leadership skills.

And in the process of doing this, it became clear that the strategy was not clear. So, we were bringing executives in, like 30 people at a time, presenting the strategy to them, building some skills, setting them on their way, and they’re like, “You know, the strategy is not clear.” So, the three executives I was building this program with, we heard the feedback, and we tried to make some adjustments, and it’s still not clear.

Finally, it comes to a head and we realized we have to stop these training programs until the strategy for the company is clear. I’m in that meeting. We decide this needs to happen. One of the three executives says, “Okay, you know what, I’ll get together a meeting of all of our product heads, all of the senior executives, and we will clarify the strategy.” Okay. So, I know that meeting is happening but I’m not included in this meeting because it’s a product strategy meeting and I’m responsible for training. But the meeting was happening the next week, and I decided that I probably should go to that meeting, not just to listen in, but I felt like I could really help.

And so, this is, I don’t know, this was a meeting of, let’s say, nine of the top 12 executives in the company, and I just decided to show up. And so, I show up, I knew the president would be thrilled that I was there, maybe not some of the others, but I get there early, I sit down, and one by one, like the various executives are coming in, they’re kind of like, “Hi, Liz,” and they know this is a product strategy meeting and they’ve got the head of training there. And they’re like, “Hi, Hi.” And then one particular executive came in, his name was Jerry, and he looked at me, and he’s like, “What are you doing here? Like, you’re the training manager. This is a product strategy meeting.”

And this was an important moment for me because I kind of squared my shoulders, looked at him, and said, “Jerry, we’ve got a really convoluted strategy right now that leaders around the world aren’t able to understand. Like, this group has got to take a lot of complex information about our products and distill it down to something that’s simple and clear, and that’s actually something that I’m pretty good at and I thought I could be of help.”

And he still wasn’t entirely convinced but I think the president said something like, “Yeah, Jerry, Liz is really good at this. And trust me, we could use her help.” And then I just paid attention, and I listened, and I listened to this conversation. Now, the fact that I had taken that job teaching programming helped me to really understand what they were talking about and be trusted to even be in the room, but I’m like taking notes.

I’m like, “Okay, what about this? And I like this pattern.” So, I’m now starting to reflect back to them, “Well, here’s this issue that I see coming up and I hear this, and it seems like these seem to be the three biggest drivers.” And they’re like, “Could you say more of that?” And it’s a longer story but, cutting it short, after two or three more of these meetings, they finally decided that they’re going to kind of obliterate the whole strategy, rebuild it from scratch, and they’re like, “Liz, we want you to be the author of the strategy. Like, we’ll all give you input but we want you to be the one that puts shape to this.”

And it was something I was able to do and it made a pretty big impact in the company, and I just think it’s so funny that maybe the most valuable work I did for the company was work I kind of forced myself into just a little bit. And I wasn’t forceful and I wasn’t rude but nobody asked me to do it. I just knew it was something I could be helpful with.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Okay. Well, so then any other examples leaping to mind in terms of a particular practice that makes a load of difference, sort of a small difference but huge leverage?

Liz Wiseman
Well, one of the ones I found was so interesting was this how people handle moving targets. And do you kind stick to what you’ve agreed to? Like, someone gave you a target, “We’re trying to increase market share by 12% year-over-year.” That’s like your goal, maybe your business development meter. What we find is that ordinary contributors tend to stick to those targets and they stay focused, whereas the impact players are constantly adjusting. In some ways, they’re reactive.

I wouldn’t say they’re reactionary but they react differently. Like, they’re assuming that they’re off target. So, it’s kind of like the metaphor I would use here would be like a violinist. So, if you play the violin, you know that you have to constantly tune that instrument. And, honestly, it was kind of mysterious to me when I was younger, like maybe younger up until like just a couple of years ago when I was like, “Why can’t they tune their instrument before they get up onto that stage? Like, why do they play poorly before they play well?”

And it’s like because even that movement from their backstage to centerstage, they’ve got to tune it before they perform. And it’s this tuning mentality, like lots of little small adjustments. And what we found the impact players do is they respond well to feedback but they don’t wait for feedback. They’re asking for feedback before it’s offered.

Shawn Vanderhoven, is someone who works on my team, and when Shawn started working for me, he would ask questions when he’d start a project, “Okay, what’s the target here? What does a win look like? What are we trying to accomplish?” And once he understood that, he would then start submitting work as part of that, and then he would ask a different set of questions, like, “Are you getting what you need? What can I do differently? What do I need to change so that it better fits the need?”

And he does this with such frequency that he then goes and corrects his works, comes back, submits it. But in the five years I’ve worked with Shawn, I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever had to sit down and have a tough conversation with him. I’ve never had to sit down, and say, “You know, Shawn, this is off and I need you to get it back on.” And it’s not that he doesn’t need that correction, we all do, but he always beats me to it. He’s fixing and changing and adjusting before I ever ask. Like, he’s doing the asking. And it’s so easy to give him feedback.

And one of the other like little distinctions that makes a really big difference is that people aren’t…these impact players aren’t focusing the feedback on themselves, like, “How am I doing? What do I need to do differently?” The focus is on the work, “How can I make this work better?” So, where others are maybe reacting to feedback people give them about themselves and their performance, the impact player is getting information to help them constantly adjust and tune their work so that their work is relevant and on tune.

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, maybe if there was an overarching theme that separated the impact players from everyone else, and I should say it’s not really about people. It’s more about mindsets that we tend to operate in. It’s like what separates an impact player mindset, that I and others tend to go in and out of from sort of a contributor mindset, is how we deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. And the difference we found is that the impact players, when they encounter situations that are out of their control, they tend to dive head in to these situations, kind of like the way an ocean swimmer, or a surfer, like seizes massive oncoming wave that’s kind of scary, like I would turn and run, panic, and get tumbled in the surf, but they dive head into and through this wave.

And they tend to move into uncertainty and they tend to look at that uncertainty and ambiguity through an opportunity lens rather than a threat lens. Like, where other people see, “Ooh, that’s uncomfortable. Roles are unclear. That’s messy. That’s out of my control. Let me back away from it.” The impact players kind of wear opportunity goggles and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s messy, uncertain, uncomfortable, but there’s…let me find an opportunity to add value.” So, they tend to bring clarity to situations that other people tend to steer clear of.

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

Liz Wiseman
Criss Jami, “Find a purpose to serve, not a lifestyle to live.” And when I saw that, and I just saw this today, I thought, “That really captures a lot of what I’ve learned studying these people who were having a lot of impact is that they are not like pushing an agenda, they’re not necessarily pursuing a lifestyle. It’s they’re finding a situation that needs them and contributing wholeheartedly in that.”

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

Liz Wiseman
I think maybe the one that is most useful to the work I do is just this idea that we tend to overestimate our capability, that I think it’s the Kruger-Dunning effect, that we tend to think we’re better at things than we actually are. And this is the dynamic that I’ve seen play out in my work, kind of studying the best leaders, is that when we get put into a leadership role, we tend to focus on our intent, and we tend to not see our impact on others. Like, most of my work is about looking into this space between our intent and our impact, like learning not to operate based on our best intentions but to actually operate based on the effect that we’re having on others.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Liz Wiseman
I’ll give you one that this is a book I like because it made me so mad. I was really jealous when I read it, like kind of green with jealousy because the book is Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. And the reason why I love it is because, A, it’s an amazing book, and Ed Catmull is an amazing storyteller.

And it’s a story of Pixar, if you’re not familiar with the book, so it’s really like looking into “Why does Pixar consistently produce amazing films. Like, is that an accident or is there actually a system behind that?” And the answer is there’s a system behind it, there’s a reason why, and it’s not coincidence, and it’s how they lead and it’s the culture they built. And the reason why this book made me so mad is I got that reading and it was not too long after I had written Rookie Smarts and I’m like, “Wow, this is an amazing illustration of Rookie Smarts. It’s like what happens when you’re new to something and the innovation that comes out of it.”

And it’s an amazing example of what I call multiplier leadership. Leaders like Ed Catmull who use their talent and intelligence to bring out the best in others. And I’m like, “Wow, how did he do in one book what took me two books to do? And he did it better than that.” But I really loved that book and it’s full of fun, interesting, very practical ways of leading.

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

Liz Wiseman
Index cards. Succinct is not my strength and so I have to work at succinct in writing and in speaking. And so, I use index cards, and when I’m pulling together final thoughts before giving a talk, a presentation, if it can’t get on the index card, it’s not part of it. So, I use it to really boil down my thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Liz Wiseman
I think a favorite habit would be, I guess, I call it check in before diving in. And I’ve been there, like some people would say that I’m a workhorse, like I’m definitely not a racehorse. I’m a workhorse. I’m one of those people who just like grind through stuff. And I usually like to get right to work and I’m excited about it, I jump in. And one of the things I’ve learned to do with my own team is before we start working on something, to just take sometimes up to half of our allotted time and just check in, like, “How are you? How are you doing?”

And it’s gone well beyond pleasantries, and it’s typically like a chance for people to say, “You know, I’m not doing well. I’m struggling.” And sometimes we’ve spent hours, like we had a day blocked to work on something, and we spent hours just on, “How are you?” Sometimes it’s like, “Well, I’m disappointed that I thought by now I would have this done, and I don’t.” So, there’s been these moments where you could really check in and connect with like how people really are before we work on stuff. And it’s made all the difference for our team who’s gotten us through really some tough times.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a key nugget you share that tends to be quoted back to you frequently?

Liz Wiseman
It would probably be something…it would be better said than this because I think other people would probably say it better than this. It’s just like, “Be the genius-maker not the genius.” It would be some version of that.

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, I’m pretty easy to find. TheWisemanGroup.com is a little bit of information about the work that my team and I do. ImpactPlayersBook.com, MultipliersBook.com, I think RookieSmarts.com, RookieSmartsBook.com, I’m honestly sure about that one, or, like I’m @LizWiseman on Twitter.

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

Liz Wiseman
Maybe a challenge and a suggestion. The challenge would be to ask yourself, “What might I be doing with the very best of intentions that is a barrier to impact? Like, what is preventing me from doing the most valuable meaningful work?” And it’s often things that we’re doing with our best intentions.

And if someone wants to get on the path of impact, maybe a challenge to start here, which is to find out what’s important to the people that you work for, whether it’s a client, a boss, internal customers or stakeholders. Find out what’s important to them and make it important to you. And all the right things tend to flow from that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and impact in your future endeavors.

Liz Wiseman
Thank you. It’s nice talking to you.

694: How to Make Your Voice Heard with Connson Locke

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Connson Locke says: "Making your voice heard is not just about dominating other people."

Connson Locke reveals the factors that get people to sit up and take notice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we pay attention to some more than others 
  2. The elements of an influential voice
  3. The simple secret to becoming more likable 

 

About Connson

Professor Connson Locke joined the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2008 where she teaches Leadership, Organizational Behaviour, and Negotiation and Decision Making.  Connson has over 30 years’ experience as an educator, coach, and consultant working in Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, and Australia. Prior to entering academia, she served as Regional Training and Development Manager for the Boston Consulting Group where she was responsible for the learning and development of consulting staff in 10 offices across Asia Pacific.

Connson holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Business Administration (Organizational Behaviour) from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.A. in Sociology from Harvard University where she graduated with honours. Her new book, Making Your Voice Heard, uses the research on power and influence to help people speak up to those who have more power than they do. 

Resources Mentioned

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Connson Locke Interview Transcript

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

Connson Locke
You’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, my pleasure. I am excited to talk about how we can go about making our voices heard. But, first, I think we need to hear just a bit about you, bungee jumping in Thailand.

Connson Locke
Well, bungee jumping in Thailand, it was in my early 30s and I was going through an early mid-life crisis and I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I thought, “I’m just going to go away on vacation by myself.” And in Asia, at least at the time, it was quite safe for a woman traveling alone. So, I went to Thailand and I thought, “Oh, look, there’s a bungee jumping place that’s over a lake.” And I’d always wanted to bungee jump, and I thought, “It’s over water so it’s probably safe, right?” It was only afterwards that I found out if you hit water at such high speed, it’s like hitting the ground.

And so, I went, I got this tuk-tuk driver, and the tuk-tuk is like the local taxi, he didn’t speak any English, and I pointed out where I wanted to go, so he took me there. He had never seen bungee jumping before so he was the only person there that was watching me, essentially, except for the staff. So, I stand up there, and the thing about bungee jumping, you see the photos, it looks like people are flying. You do not fly. You drop like a rock.

So, I stepped off the platform thinking, “Oh, I’m going to fly like a bird,” and I just went, boom, straight down, screaming. So, afterwards, I go back to the tuk-tuk, and the driver was staring at me, like, “Oh, my God, I cannot believe what you just did.” And he’s like tapping his chest going, “Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” like your heart must be going crazy, and I said, “Yes?” And so, he bought me a bottle of water, which he makes hardly any money but he bought me a bottle of water because he felt so bad for me. That was me bungee jumping in Thailand.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom? I bet that probably plays in your head from time to time. That’s unforgettable. Well, so I take it that it wasn’t something you’re going to do again?

Connson Locke
No, no, it was one of those things I wanted to try once but that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there you have it. Well, I’ve been skydiving and hang gliding, and I loved it, but bungee jumping just feels like my stomach would go, “Waah,” just from the jolt.

Connson Locke
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t know if I would do so well. Okay. Well, so I’m glad we covered that. That’s important. And now it’s also important, your book Making Your Voice Heard. That is something, boy, our listeners have asked for before. Can you tell us what’s kind of like the core thesis here?

Connson Locke
So, this is all about what I call upward influence. How do you influence people who have as much or more power than you do? And this is something that has always interested me. And I teach leadership at the LSE, so I’ve been teaching leadership for about 13 years now. And what I noticed in a lot of leadership courses, the focus is very much on, “How do the leaders influence their team?” But, come on, if you’re the boss, how hard is it to make your team do what you want them to do? Like, okay, you’ve got to engage them and all that, but still.

What’s really important and what I struggled with for the 16 years before I entered academia was, “How do I influence my boss?” or, “How do I influence the client?” or, “How do I influence the people who have more power than me, the government official, or whoever it is that I’m trying to convince?” That’s the challenging thing and that’s what the book is focused on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m looking forward to digging into the particular details. But maybe could you start us off by sharing with us a particularly surprising and counterintuitive discovery you’ve made while doing this research?

Connson Locke
I suppose what I find interesting about it is that it’s possible. What I mean is I’ve always been a very shy introverted person and, growing up, I’m Chinese-American, and growing up my parents were very traditional Chinese, I always grew up with this idea that, “Hierarchy is hierarchy and you’re not supposed to argue with your boss. Like, you don’t disagree with your boss. That’s crazy. And why would your boss change his or her mind because of what you say? They are the boss.”

And so, to me, I guess it’s not counterintuitive but it was something that was surprising for me is that, actually, this is something your boss wants you to do in a lot of cases. Like, they want to hear your voice, they want to get your opinion, and if you think that something is going wrong and you can fix it, they want to know that. So, it’s one of those things that, once I realized it’s beneficial for the organization, oftentimes the people in charge want to hear your voice, then that kind of changed the way I looked at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I concur as someone who has been both the boss and the follower. As the boss, it is genuinely helpful when I say something and someone tells me, not necessarily, “That’s the stupidest idea ever. You’re so wrong.” But rather, “Hmm, do you think that’s the best course of action, given X, Y, Z?” and I go, “Oh, shoot. Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, thank you.” And then, “It’d be like disastrous if we went ahead and charged ahead with the thing I originally thought of, so thank you, collaborator, for bringing that to my attention.”

Okay. Well, so then I want to dig into the how-to of that. But maybe, zooming out, can you tell us, kind of fundamentally, what makes some people more influential than others? And I’ve had listeners say something like, “Hey, sometimes I’ll be in a meeting, and I’ll say something, and then someone else, and it was sort of like, ‘Hmm,” kind of barely acknowledged. And someone else will say just about exactly the same thing, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and there’s like enthusiasm and movement, and I think, ‘What the heck is going on here?’ And it feels horrible.” You feel so small when that happens. But what are some drivers behind that? What makes someone more influential than someone else?

Connson Locke
So, sometimes it’s pure bias, sometimes there is maybe the person who is being paid attention to is maybe physically bigger, or is taller, or has been around longer, or is more senior. So, these are things you don’t necessarily have control over and there are biases towards listening to those people more. But what you can do to be that person that people listen to is there’s reputation, and then there is delivery style, and, of course, there’s content, obviously, but we’re talking about two people presenting the same amount of content, so who gets listened to more, assuming all other things are equal.

Reputation is what’s called basis of power. So, basis of power are where you get your power from, and if you’re the boss, you get your power from things like you have access to rewards and punishments. But if you’re not the boss, you get your power from two things. One is called expert power, which is people respect you for your expertise. And the other is called reverend power, which is people like you, but this takes time, you have to build it over time.

And if you’ve built that respect, if people respect you, and they go, “Oh, okay. Well, I’ve worked with Connson for a long time, and when she says something, I know that it’s worth listening to,” or, “I’ve worked with Connson a long time, and I really like listening to…I’ve really liked working with her, so I think I will listen to her.” That is something that can really feed into that. So, that’s the reputation.

But the other thing is the delivery style. And delivery style is everything from your body language. We think a lot about body language but, actually, I think what’s even more important than body language is the voice. What are we doing with our voice? Are we emphasizing? Are we being monotone? Are we using pauses? And that’s something that we can practice, but, also, it’s delivery is like it’s being pithy, it’s like getting to the point, it’s catching people’s attention. So, it’s that combination of how do you sound, how do you look, and what are you saying.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s talk about both the long-term game and the short-term game. Let’s hear first some quick hits, the do’s and don’ts of sort of like the voice and the presentation and the delivery style because that’s something we can do immediately and, hopefully, see some impact. So, what are the top things that give us an influence boost versus an influence ding?

Connson Locke
Okay. So, when it comes to delivery style, think of how you look and how you sound. And I’m going to assume that what you’re saying is the same regardless, so let’s focus on how you look and how you sound. How you look, if you’re online, you need to pay attention to lightning. If you’re not online then, obviously, you don’t have to worry about that, you’re all in the same room anyway. If you’re online, you also need to pay attention to sound quality, so getting a good headset so people can hear you.

The other things about how you look is think about your clothing, your hairstyle. Are you standing up straight? Are you slouched or are you taking up space? So, the good things are, if you’re standing up or sitting up straight, you’re taking up some space, which means you’re not shrinking, you’re not kind of hiding, but you’re really owning that space. You’re using eye contact while speaking because that’s what makes people…that’s what makes you come across as confident. And you’re using a tone of voice that’s confident and natural, a pace that’s natural, and you’re willing to pause.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you maybe give us a verbal demonstration then associated with what does a nice influential voice sound like versus a not-so influential voice?

Connson Locke
Sure. So, if I’m trying to tell you about what makes me influential, yeah, and I’m talking and I’m just kind of using a lot of filler words, it’s not very engaging and, after a while, you kind of tune out. Instead, if you’re short, sharp, sweet, you deliver the information, look confident, sound confident, and deliver your information in sharp bites. Okay, I’ve got a confident tone of voice, I’m pausing in between each point, and sometimes I’ll change my tone if I’m emphasizing something or maybe I’ll say something a bit softer if I want to get your attention. That’s using your voice to its potential and it’s something you can practice. Everyone can practice at home. You record yourself on your phone, you play it back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. It’s so funny, in the first one, my attention started drifting just within a couple of seconds, and this is kind of my job is to pay attention to everything you’re saying.

Connson Locke
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And think about how we’re going to package and present it. So, I thought that was pretty funny and then there may very well have been some listeners, I think you’d notice the same thing or maybe even skipped ahead, like, “Oh, I’m bored right now. Let’s get more.” So, that’s potent there. And then part of it is practicing and recording yourself so you can just hear and see the difference for yourself. Any other tips in terms of doing the preparation so that that is possible?

Connson Locke
You know, who I think one of my best coaches has been, and he hasn’t meant to be my coach, my husband who I have been married to for about 20 years now. He’s a very impatient person. And when I first started dating him, I would tell him stories about what happened to me at work, and I’d go on and on and on, and he would just drift off, like he was not listening anymore.

So, over the years, I learned to be very much to the point. Like, I think a great way of practicing is to find a friend or a family member who you know is pretty impatient and practice telling them a story. If you can keep their attention, you’re getting to the point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like it. Okay, so that’s the vocal stuff. You mentioned clothing, and maybe this is common sense but maybe perhaps not common practice. What are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to clothing?

Connson Locke
With clothing, you have to pay attention to the culture of the organization you’re in. Don’t make assumptions. I had a student who went for an interview at an advertising company, and she wore a very conservative dark blue suit, and she noticed that everyone around her was wearing colorful funky kind of creative clothing. She did not get the job. So, don’t make assumptions about what’s the appropriate clothing or not. Really, you need to observe the culture around you and adopt what is best in that environment.

Pete Mockaitis
I notice in my own clothing game, which is mediocre – I’m wearing a T-shirt right now but you’re cool with it. Thanks, Connson – is that just sort of little things in terms of like, “Oh, there’s a wrinkle I didn’t notice before but, oh, now I see it and it’s there,” or, “Oh, there’s a little bit of a spot of, I don’t know if it was maybe a little bit of grease or oil or ketchup I got to wipe up and had just a smidge of that sort of oil or residue left behind.” So, it’s like a wet spot but it’s there for, I guess, the day. That’s what I find with clothing is those little things.

And, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder how much do people care but I think I’m coming around to thinking that even if it’s not fully in their conscious purview, it’s sending a little bit of a signal that’s impeding influence. Would you agree with that or what do you think about those little clothing things?

Connson Locke
I think with clothing, it’s the impression that you make. So, if there’s a little stain and you hardly notice it, I doubt anyone else is going to notice it, unless you point it out to them, which I would suggest you don’t do. But, otherwise, it’s about the general impression. And so, as long as, in terms of the general impression, if you’re making the impression that you want to make, sometimes you want to make a more casual impression, sometimes you want to make a more formal impression, and so it’s all about that kind of broad impression that you’re making, and that’s what you should be aiming for. I wouldn’t worry too much about the little wrinkles or the stains.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thanks for that. That helped there. I think fit also can factor into things in terms of if it’s a little too tight or a little too baggy, it looks quite different than when it’s sharp, like, “Oh, yeah, that fits you just right.” You just look good no matter the context. Okay, so clothing, we’re not going to say much more about that. When it comes to that expertise and the reputation, sort of the long game, how do you recommend we develop that well?

Connson Locke
So, developing expert power, the most obvious way to do it is just to be really good at what you do, be really good at your job, but also to make sure people know that you’re good at your job. So, for example, when I first started working at LSE, I got a lot of good evaluations as a teacher, but not everyone knows what evaluations everyone else is getting. But the head of my group was so impressed with my teaching scores that she actually had this little, at one of the staff meetings, she gave me a little award for getting the best teaching evaluations that she’s ever seen.

And so, that was great because I didn’t have to brag on my own behalf, which never looks good. She was the one who kind of let people know what I was doing, and that helped me gain expert power. So, then my colleagues were like, “Oh, wow. I didn’t know that Connson was good at that.” So, it’s being really good at what you do but also making sure, finding a way to let people know that you’re good at it.

If you want to build expert power with a particular person, it can really help if you can help them solve a problem that they’re working on, that they’re struggling with, because then you’re helping them solve this problem and they’ll be grateful, and they’ll also be like, “Oh, you’re pretty smart.” So, those are the ways of building expert power.

Pete Mockaitis
And then what I’m intrigued by your fantastic evaluations, and maybe particular pedagogical things that are not within the scope here, but is there anything you do in the classroom you think that is particularly powerful when it comes to being liked and influential by your students?

Connson Locke
I think, in terms of the evaluations that I’ve received, there are two things that students usually say. One is they can tell that I love what I teach, like I really care about this. But it’s not just that I’m so fascinated about the topic that I teach, it’s that I care about helping them become better leaders. So, when I teach, it’s not me kind of indulging myself. When I teach, it’s about helping my students become better at leadership, at influence, at doing better in their careers, and they can tell that. They can tell that I want to help them. So, that really engages them.

The other thing is I tell lots of stories, and they love the stories. So, I tell stories about my kids, about my husband. I guess I’ve already mentioned something about my husband today, and it’s just I bring all of my personal experiences into it, and they think that’s very engaging.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Okay. Well, so then when it comes to the workplace, well, hey, that’s been a common theme we’ve seen in terms of just caring, just is huge in terms of people pick up on it, they want to reciprocate, you’re motivated, you get more creative ideas, you look out for their good, and so all kinds of great things happen just by caring, and caring can be rare in some environments, so it really is a distinguisher. So, what else do you recommend folks do to bolster their likability at work?

Connson Locke
So, in terms of likability, so expertise is one thing, and we’ve already talked about that. Likability is different in that it’s really about getting to know people as people, not as work colleagues. It’s really having that curiosity in a person. It’s wanting to connect with people just for the sake of connecting. So, for example, I don’t know, if you’ve got someone who works at the front desk, and you’re walking past the front desk to go to the stationery cupboard, pause at the front desk, chat with them, get to know them, at least get to know their name and who they are.

It’s that connecting with colleagues, chatting with people at the coffee machine. I know that doesn’t happen so much now with the pandemic and everything. I had a colleague, just today, who’s helping me with something, and she was so amazingly helpful. I said to her, “I’m going to take you out to dinner in return.” And so, it’s that taking the time to get to know people and appreciate people. That makes you likable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, you also write a bit about energy and body cues. Can you share with us a little bit about what are these, how do we identify them, and use them to our advantage?

Connson Locke
So, when it comes to body cues, I think most of what I think is important to focus on is what you are communicating to other people because that’s what you have control over. And what I think is most important, when you’re trying to be influential, is communicating confidence. And so, confidence, communicating confidence is everything you learn in presentation skills training – stand up straight, take up space, use eye contact, sound confident, all of those things.

When we’re trying to interpret other people’s body cues, we have to be very careful because it’s really easy to misinterpret. So, one thing I usually warn people about is narcissists are great at looking confident, and we confuse confidence with competence, and, obviously, it’s not the same thing. If someone looks confident, we think that they’re pretty competent. The next time you are interviewing someone or listening to someone, and you think, “Wow, they really know what they’re talking about,” just question yourself a little bit, “What am I basing this on? Am I basing this on the fact that they sound really confident? Or, am I actually basing this on something concrete?”

Like, if you’re interviewing someone, how do you protect yourself against a narcissist? There are a couple of things you can do. One is you ask for specific examples of what they’ve accomplished, because once you get the examples, then you can hear how they talk about the examples. Do they talk about it as if they did everything themselves, or do they give other people credit?

And the other this is you ask other people how they were treated by this person, especially the receptionist or the junior people, because narcissists tend to talk down to people who they don’t think are very important. So, I guess the bottom-line is don’t read too much into other people’s body cues, and, in fact, try to get additional data to make sure that what you’re interpreting is accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that sounds dead-on. And then I find there’s an interesting blend, I was chatting with my buddy Connor about this, not Connie, not Connson – Connor. And he said, I think I was chatting, it was a speech therapist. I was taking my son to a speech therapist, and she said, “Yeah, his pronunciation on words is pretty good but when it gets stretched out to a whole sentence, it does get a little bit harder to understand.” And I thought, “You know, I’ve always thought the word was pronounced pronunciation, and you’re the speech therapist, so I would imagine pronunciation is your whole game. So, if you say it’s pronoun-ciation, then I’m inclined to think maybe it is.”

And I think it’s so fascinating, and maybe this is agreeableness, the personality trait that I’m capturing here, but it’s like there are some folks who seem, and she was very sweet, but there are some folks who seem very confident and positive that their way, their thoughts are correct. And I, who have, I guess, a decent bit of humility and agreeableness, or whatever the construct is, when I receive that, I go, “Oh, okay. Well, I kind of thought it was this,” or, “Hmm, that doesn’t make much sense to me given A, B, C in my own experience, but you really seem to think…”

And so, it’s tricky and, often, that’s the conversation I have with friends, it’s like, “Wait. Am I crazy? What’s the deal here?” And so, hey, help us if you can. Help us decode that. Like, how much stock should we put in the confidence of another person relative to our own knowledge, data, expertise? And it’s probably not a one-size-fits-all answer. I’m putting you on the spot, but how do you think about that dance?

Connson Locke
The way I think about it would be trying to break down, “Is this person…Do I feel like this person is confident in what they’re saying because of the way they are saying it? Or, are they actually putting some data and some logic and some actual concrete support behind what they’re saying?” Because if they’re giving me some concrete support, okay, maybe I’ll be a bit more confident in what they’re saying. If it’s simply they’re delivering it with confidence, no, don’t be fooled by that.

I’m just going to use my husband as an example again. When my children, my daughters are now teenagers but I remember when they were younger, when they were like eight and ten years old, and my husband is the full-time parent. And one time I heard one of my daughters asking her father about a history question. We live in the UK so, obviously, they’re not going to ask me a history question. I don’t know about the queens and the kings of England and all of that.

So, they asked their father, who’s English, and he gave a very definitive answer, and so they went and did their homework. And then they came back to me the next day, and they said, “I got that question wrong. I asked daddy, and daddy was so confident, and so I thought it was right, but it was wrong.” And I was like, “Yes. Well, you should really double-check for yourself. Daddy says things confidently but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.” And so, my daughters were learning that lesson very early on, but I think it’s something we all have to keep in mind. Just because someone is saying something in a confident tone doesn’t mean it’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, Connson, tell me, any other key things you want to make sure to mention about making your voice heard before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Connson Locke
I think one of the most important things we need to understand about making your voice heard is that it’s not just about dominating other people. It’s not just about being heard. Like, you have to have something to say. You have to have a reason why you’re doing this. So, what has helped me over the years, as I said I was very introverted before and had a lot of trouble making my voice heard. But what has helped me over the years is that I have a higher purpose in a way. I’m helping people learn, I’m helping people be better at what they do, and that’s what drives me.

So, I think instead of just thinking, “How do I get loud enough so everyone is going to hear me?” you should be asking yourself, “What do I want to say and is it worth saying? Is it actually going to add to what’s happening out there?” The other thing I would say also is influence is a two-way street. So, it’s not just about trying to convince the other person that you’re right. It’s actually about getting to know the other person as well and being open to them, asking questions and finding out what their perspective is, and having a two-way conversation.

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

Connson Locke
Yes, so there’s a book by Kahlil Gibran called The Prophet, and there’s a quote from that that says, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that holds your understanding.” And it took me a very long time to understand this, but now that I’ve been through failure, I’ve been through a lot of pain over the years – I’m 55 so I’ve lived, you know, I’ve done a lot of things – I now understand that when you go through a painful experience, you’re growing and, as a result, you actually get bigger.

And I kind of think of it as it’s kind of like a snake shedding its skin. So, each time you go through this painful experience, you kind of shed a skin, you’re getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and it’s how you grow. It’s how you develop. And so, when I look back on my life and the painful experiences I’ve had, I now no longer regret any of them. There was a time when I hated it, I was like, “Oh, my God, why did I do that job? Why did I have to go through that? Why did I have that horrible boss?” But now I’m like, “You know what, I learned from that and I’m better for it and I’m bigger for it.”

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

Connson Locke
I would actually say, and this is a little bit controversial, the power poses study.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, Amy Cuddy.

Connson Locke
Yeah, Amy Cuddy, power poses. And it’s only controversial because in her original research with her colleagues, what they found was that holding a power pose changes your hormones. It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases testosterone, makes you more confident. And other researchers that tried to replicate it did not find any effect on hormones. And so, it became this big thing, like, “Oh, we can’t replicate it. It’s a false study. You should stop talking about it.”

However, what they did replicate was that people who held a power pose for two minutes – and a power pose is not something you do in front of other people, you kind of do in the privacy of a bathroom or something – you do feel more confident as a result. And when they actually did things like they had people do a presentation. Half of them did a power pose before the presentation, and the other half didn’t, and the people who were judging the presentations didn’t know who had done a power pose, but they judged the presentations.

And the presentations that they found more engaging turned out to be the people who had done the power pose. So, I actually think it’s one of those things that it’s so easy, a two-minute power pose. I do it before a big presentation when I’m really nervous. It’s just one of those really easy practical things that, yeah, that’s what I love. I love those easy practical things that you can just work into your day and it doesn’t take much time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Connson Locke
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Connson Locke
It’s a 12-week course in rediscovering your creativity and it doesn’t take much time. I did it while I was working at the Boston Consulting Group, actually, so I didn’t have much time. But it took maybe half an hour a day, and then maybe a couple hours on the weekend, but, as a result of following that 12-week course chapter by chapter, it just kind of put me back in touch with, I don’t know, the joy of being alive, kind of put me in touch with rediscovering, like noticing colors and nature and all of these things that I had kind of lost touch with.

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

Connson Locke
A favorite tool I actually think is in my job I lecture so I’m using PowerPoint all the time, which I actually love PowerPoint if it’s used properly, if you’re not using it as a Word document, but you’re actually using it for visuals and shapes and all of that. But PowerPoint has this notes function which I really like using.

The other favorite tool, nowadays when I’m teaching online on Zoom, the polling function. I love polling and I found I can really get students, especially my undergrads who normally won’t…I’ve got like 200 to 300 undergrads at a lecture. In a lecture hall, they’re not going to raise their hands but if I give them a poll, it’s anonymous, and they’ll answer, and I get to know them that way as well. So, I love the polling function.

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

Connson Locke
One thing that my students have said, they appreciate that I share, is how much I used to struggle when I was younger with my making my voice heard. And I often tell the story of when I was a teenager, I think I was about 15, when I was on vacation with my parents, and we were in a hotel, and my mother said, “Can you go downstairs and ask the front desk for a newspaper?” And I was so stressed out by that, I was like, “What? No, I can’t. You want me to ask a stranger about…? What? No.”

And my students laughed when I talk about that but I think they appreciate me kind of revealing how far I’ve come and how it is possible if you are painfully shy and introverted to evolve and to actually get your voice heard.

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

Connson Locke
I have a website ConnsonLocke.com, and that’s Connson, C-O, double N, S-O-N. C-O, double N because I was born in Connecticut, L-O-C-K-E.com.

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

Connson Locke
You know what, I think one of the most important things is to take time for yourself, is to really not just take time for yourself, but to take time to get to know yourself and to really understand, “What are your priorities? What are your values? What do you find important in life?” Because if you don’t understand that, you can’t bring your best self to work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Connson, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you make your voice heard.

Connson Locke
Thank you.

649: How to Persuade through Better Listening and Adapting with Brian Ahearn

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Brian Ahearn says: "The skill of listening starts with a choice, and when you make that choice... it becomes a habit."

Brian Ahearn shares how to improve your influence by listening well and adapting to different personality types.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What every professional can learn from insurance agents
  2. The 5 critical ingredients of listening STARS 
  3. How to DEAL with the four different types of people 

About Brian

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. A dynamic international keynote speaker, he specializes in applying the science of influence in everyday situations. 

Brian is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer designation. This specialization was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence. 

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, is an Amazon best-seller and his LinkedIn courses have been viewed by more than 75,000 people. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors! 

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME. 

Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

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

Brian Ahearn
Thank you for having me back on. Third time is a charm, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Well, you’re in rare company there. That doesn’t happen very often. Maybe like three-ish times. Well, the listeners can’t see this but I’m charmed by your background. You have a screen which has the How to be Awesome at Your Job logo, cover art, and it says, “Hello, Pete.” And then you have a tasteful backdrop. I guess you got an Amazon, which looks pretty realistic. What’s the story here?

Brian Ahearn
So, in the COVID lockdown world that we’re in, I knew that I was going to need to do something to differentiate myself, and I saw a friend who’s a bigtime National Speaker Association speaker and he had put a studio in his house, and he was kind enough to spend about an hour with me one day to walk me through everything that he did, and we converted our daughter’s old bedroom.

And so, I’ve got a beautiful backdrop and a 55-inch TV and I can give standup presentations where I’m walking up to the camera and moving. It’s not just a face-on Zoom, and clients have loved it, and potential clients are blown away when they see their logo and their name up on the screen on a Zoom call.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and it’s different I don’t know why but it is. It’s different than sharing your screen with an image of that with you like in a corner. It just is and I don’t know why or how it matters but it does.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think clients are going to see me from like the waist up moving back and forth and turning towards, and getting a sense of, “Hey, this is a little bit what life was like prior to the pandemic. I’m seeing this person really interact with us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it does. It’s more three-dimensional literally because it’s behind you in the third dimension. So, Brian, not that I had any doubts but this just reinforces that this was the right choice to have you on a third time.

So, you’ve got a fresh book. It’s funny, I was a little slow, as you may recall, to reply to your email because your book is called Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents. And I’m like, “Well, you know what, most of my listeners are not insurance agents.” But, nonetheless, I think you’ve really identified some universal skills and principles that benefit all professionals, and so we’re going to zoom into a couple of those.

You’ve got some good acronyms, kind of STARS and the DEAL model, we’re going to talk about. But, first, maybe you could just tee it up broadly, what can and should non-sales professionals learn from insurance agents?

Brian Ahearn
Well, everybody is selling all the time, and so when people say, “Well, this book is for insurance agents.” Well, it’s really for all salespeople because we look at the entire sales cycle and how the psychology of persuasion applies throughout each of the steps. But even somebody who might say, “I’m not in a formal sales role,” they’re still selling themselves, their ideas, and things, especially if they’re working in a large corporation. So, understanding the deal model of how to interact with people is critically important for those folks. So, I feel like anybody who knows that moving forward with getting a yes, selling themselves, their ideas and things, they’re all going to benefit from the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you’ve got some great perspective on listening and a helpful acronym STARS, which is funny because I think of STAR for interviews: situation, tasks, action, result. But you’ve got a different STAR associated with listening and I think it makes a ton of sense. So, can you lay it out for us, when it comes to listening well, why should we do it and how should we do it?

Brian Ahearn
Well, when I worked in the corporate world and I was involved in sales training, a critical component of being a good salesperson is the ability to listen. And, unfortunately, a lot of people haven’t experienced this, but good salespeople only talk 25% to 30% of the time. They ask good questions and then they stop and they listen, and they ask more questions. But you have to be a good listener and you have to be confident in those skills. And while we are taught to read and write and speak, almost nobody goes through a class on how to be a more effective listener.

So, as I was interacting with our field sales team back in the day, I came up with this acronym to make it very easy for people to understand what it takes to be listening stars. And it’s simply this: stop everything you’re doing, that’s the first letter, the S; pay attention to tone of voice, T, because it conveys emotion; A is ask clarifying questions; R is restate your understanding of what you’ve heard; and then S is scribble, take notes.

And I think if everybody could do those five things and just work on doing those things better all the time, you would be blown away by how much more effective you could be as a listener. You’d become listening stars.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I love this in that it makes a lot of sense. Those seem to be five critical ingredients and often overlooked ingredients. Help us out with some of them in terms of it sounds easy to do but most often people are not doing it. Maybe tell us, how can we do each of these better? Like, how can we stop excellently? What should we really look for in the tone, etc.?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. So, when it comes to stop, you cannot give your attention to more than one thing at a time. You could try to fool yourself, and you could say, “Well, I can finish this email while I’m listening,” but you’re never really giving your attention and, therefore, you’re missing things. And we saw this when we were running little workshops and experiments, and we saw that people who gave their full attention to listening, they weren’t distracted by a second task or taking too many notes. They were catching 75% more of the facts that were being shared as compared to other people.

So, if you think about that, if you are a salesperson, or any position you’re in, if you discipline yourself to stop so that you can fully pay attention, and you’re catching 75% more than your competitor, you have a huge advantage. So, I think anybody who is listening to this podcast will catch themselves doing other things, and that’s okay, that’s a slap on the hand like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.” That’s your first step in awareness. And if you keep that up, eventually you’ll find yourself stopping all those other things for longer and longer periods which is going to certainly help you be more effective in terms of what you’re receiving through your ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brian, I love it when you drop a clear number like that. Boy, I’m thinking about there are just so many opportunities. Like, 75% more facts, I mean, that’s huge because someone might grab 10 facts, and then a listening star, could grab 18 facts, and those incremental 8 facts can make all the difference in terms of I’m thinking of it like in negotiation, like, “Huh, that thing I captured could surface a win-win opportunity that we could totally overlook had we not captured that upfront.”

Or, you can say, “Hmm, that little piece could really help me deepen my relationship with this person down the road.” It’s like, “Oh, hey, I remembered you liked flyfishing,” or whatever they like, and then you’ve got a cool opportunity to engage in subsequent conversations, build connection, camaraderie, etc. wow, 75% more facts from a conversation is just like 75% more opportunity, possibility, impact.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say, too, it’s not just the positive facts that you catch. Sometimes it’s the negative facts that might make you say, “Hmm, this isn’t a deal I want to go through with.” When I worked with an insurance company, a lot of the role of an underwriter is to get as many facts to make a determination, “Do we want to write this account or do we not? And if we do write it, at what price?” Catching those things, even the negative things, impacts the decision-making on behalf of the company, so it was critically important on the positive and the negative what are you going to catch or miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, decision-making in terms of making those decisions optimally and the facts are just the top of the funnel, so that’s huge. So, for stopping, you notice that you’re doing something else and then bring it back. And this kind of sounds like any number of mindful practices and exercises, like with your breath or whatnot. How else can we get better at stopping?

Brian Ahearn
Make an intentional effort to do it. Just to tell somebody, like, “Hey, hold me accountable here.” If you’re sitting in a meeting and you tell somebody, “I’m really trying to work on my listening skills and I don’t want to be distracted. If you see me kind of going off or something like that, just give me a nudge.” But that accountability is probably enough at that point just to get you to do something different versus if you never said anything to somebody else. So, it really starts with a commitment.

And what I want to say about this, Pete, every step in the STARS model, it’s a skill but it’s not a skill that people don’t possess and cannot get better at, and I’ll give you an example. I’m 5’9” and I weigh 210 pounds, I was always into weightlifting and things, but I was never able to dunk a basketball. And if somebody came to me tomorrow and said, “Hey, Brian, this contract that you’re looking at, it depends on your ability to dunk a basketball.” I’m like, “I’m out. Never been able to do it. It’s not a skill I ever possessed, and it’s not one I ever will, given my physical characteristics.”

But the skill of listening starts with a choice, and when you make that choice, the more often you make that choice, it becomes habit. And that’s where you, all of a sudden, you’re finding yourself stopping more and more, paying attention to tone more and more, asking those questions, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And if I may, I’m thinking about what distracts me from listening. It’s often my body in terms of like, “I’m hungry,” “I’m thirsty,” “I need to pee,” “I’ve been sitting for too long.” How do you recommend we address those in particular or is it all the same in terms of redirecting it right back to the person talking?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think the consciousness of it, like when you start thinking like, “Oh, I want to go to the bathroom,” or, “Oh, I’m getting so hungry,” it’s still like shake your head and say, “Well, wait a minute. There’s going to be time for me to get some food. I need to just bear down here a little bit more.” And give yourself some grace, too, because sheer willpower is like a muscle. It gets tired too. And as we are mentally tired, as we are physically tired, as we are hungry, all of those things will impact our ability to give focus and attention.

So, if you have an opportunity to do something different, like, say, “Hey, Pete, I’m loving this conversation but can I take a short break? I just need to get a little carbohydrate in me. I just need to get like a piece of candy or something.” And that person is probably going to say, “Sure, that’s fine.” They may be feeling the same way, and so that might be license for them to go do that thing too.

And I think that when you’re the person who’s engaging somebody to help them be more effective listeners, I always make sure, like when I’m doing training sessions, every hour, we have at least a 10-minute break. And I know that carves out time but if people can use the restroom, can get a refreshment, can stretch their legs, can clear their mind, that next 50 minutes that I have them, they are so much more focused than if I try to just plow through two hours.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s absolutely true. I’ve seen it many times on both sides of the presentation table there. Okay, so that’s stopping. So, tone, you say that there is a lot in it and we should pay attention to it. Expand on that, please.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think everybody knows two people can say the same thing. Two people could make an apology, and one person can seem sincere and the other one doesn’t, and it’s not so…

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m sorry.”

Brian Ahearn
Exactly. We hear it all the time when people are caught, media figures are caught, and, all of a sudden, they’re issuing that standardized apology. But I always thought about the example that my wife called me one time, and I was at work, and I could hear the wind blowing, and I said, “Are you playing golf?” And she said, “Yes.” And that three-letter word, yes, just the way she said it, I said, “You’re not playing very well, are you?” And she goes, “No,” and then she started kind of unburdening herself.

But that’s a clear indication. Three letters, one simple word, and just by the tone, I could tell that she wasn’t playing well. You’ve been married now for a little while, I’m sure that you can hear some words like, “Fine.” When you say, “How are you doing?” “Fine.” You realize, “They’re not really doing fine. There’s more behind that. I can tell,” and that’s usually based on tone of voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so, are there any tone things that people tend to overlook or a great sort of telltale indicators? Because I think that sometimes in my own tone or others, I notice…how do I say it? It’s like they’re energized and excited, and then they’re back into sort of like perfunctory, like, “Uh-oh, duty, responsibility, process, compliance.” I don’t know what words I would use for those tones but sometimes you could see they’re jazzed about this and not so jazzed about that. And so, I can pick up on that and I find that pretty handy. What are some other key dimensions of tone to look out for?

Brian Ahearn
Well, where somebody emphasizes. You can have a sentence, “I didn’t steal that toy.” If you say that to a little kid or somebody, depending on where they put the emphasis, “I didn’t steal that toy,” or, “I DIDN’T steal that toy,” “I didn’t steal THAT toy. I stole another toy.” Right? So, paying attention to where that emphasis is and that tone is coming out, starts to become an indicator too. Because if somebody says, “I didn’t steal THAT toy,” then you might think, “Oh, the way you said that, you might’ve stolen some other toy,” or something like that.

But a lot of times people aren’t aware of it and they’re a leak, so to speak, and we do this with our body, too, and how we verbalize things and how we move. But there are leaks that will really let you know more about what somebody understands. And some of this goes back to the work of Dr. Albert Morabia and in his work on communication.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like the words and the tone and the gestures. It’s the proportion of…

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And what they say, I think, is 55% body language, 38% tone, yeah, and 7% words. And speakers get up and all the time they tout that and they say, and I was guilty of this at one point, they’ll say, “People are going to remember your tie more than what you said.” That is not what his work was looking at. His work was looking at when the message and the messenger seem to be incongruent, people will focus a lot more on how somebody looks, their body language, and their tone of voice. Because, going back to that apology, two people can say the very same words. And if somebody says it in a way that doesn’t seem sincere, you start focusing on the body language and the tone. That’s what he was talking about in his research. Not a blanket, “People aren’t really listening to your words.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you for setting the record straight there. And that sounds a lot more true, certainly, in terms of if they said, “Ah, ah, ah, I didn’t steal anything.” It’s like, “Well, your words say that you didn’t but there’s something. You’re very nervous for some reason, and that’s what I want to be keying in on.” Okay, so tone. And then how about some asking clarifying questions? What are some of your favorite clarifying questions?

Brian Ahearn
Well, let me say this about questions. First is I’m never an advocate of interrupting somebody when they’re speaking, but when you don’t understand and you recognize in the moment, “I don’t really understand something,” it shows that you’re engaged in the conversation. So, if you’re telling me a lot of stuff, and I say, “Hey, Pete, can you hang on a second? When you said this, did you mean that? I’m not really sure.” It gives you an opportunity to make sure that I do understand and clarify, but it also shows that I’m engaged in that conversation because if I just button up and don’t say a word, you might start even wondering, like, “Is he even paying attention? I mean, he hasn’t said a word. He hasn’t given me any gesture. I don’t know if he’s engaged in this conversation.”

And it’s even more difficult over the phone because you can’t see the person. So, I think utilizing clarifying questions is a great way to stay engaged in the conversation so your mind doesn’t wander. It lets the other person know that you are in that, and it just helps you clarify what it is that you’re hearing.

And to your question, too, a simple one is when you say what are some of the questions. It’s, “Help me understand,” or, “I’m not really sure. Could you explain it?” But it’s a question. So, you have to say, “Well, I don’t understand something,” “I’m not clear on what you said,” “I don’t think I hear what you’re saying,” “Can you explain?” “Can you expound?” “Can you do something to help me out here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s grand. And I do like a 90-minute training on clarifying questions alone for like collaborators in terms of what you really need to understand before you embark upon a piece of work such that you don’t end up giving them something that they don’t want, in terms of like the deliverable, the timing, the process, the resources, the audience, and the motive.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I will say this, we talk about STARS in the book in the section on qualifying. So, in the sales process, when you finally have the opportunity to meet with a client, you want to assess, “Do we want to do business together?” Not all business is good business, “Can I do business? Do I have the capacity to fulfill your needs? And do I want to?” And you’re making the same assessment of me as the salesperson, “Do I want to do business with this guy? Can he meet my needs?” Questions are what help us determine that, and that’s why we talk about the STARS model in the qualifying part of the sales process.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’ve asked some clarifying questions. And then restating, how should we do that?

Brian Ahearn
So, whatever it is that you understand somebody to say. Pete, I know your listeners can’t see this but if I ask you, for example, about your business. You’re proud of your business and you know all this, and I’m putting my arms out really wide. You have this vast wealth of knowledge. If I’m working, for example, with insurance agents, they don’t need to know all of that. There are certain key things that they want to understand and so they’re going to hone in on those.

And as they do, those are the things that they’re going to probably come back and say, “So, Pete, your business sounds awesome. And if I understand you right…” and then I kind of come through and I lay out a few critical things about what it is that you need in your insurance protection. “If I hear you right, Pete…” and then I clarify that. And you may come back and go, “That’s exactly it, Brian. Thank you.” Or, you might come back and go, “No, you’re missing it. It’s the claim that I had. That’s why I’m upset.” And so, we can circle back and make sure that we’re both on the same page.

But no matter how well I do with listening, I will never know everything going on in your mind and so I don’t want to make that assumption that I do, so I, therefore, am going to try to restate to the best of my ability, “Here’s how it boils down for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. And then note-taking, I mean?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I use S for scribbling because N would’ve been STARN and that would’ve blown the whole model, right? So, I always encourage people to take some notes, but this is not writing the great American novel. It’s not trying to get down every word that people say. And while we can use certain tools like laptops to get a lot of information, that actually can hurt your listening because they say a lot of times students are trying to take down everything the professor is saying and they’re missing context and other things.

I encourage people to just bullet point things that they’re going to need to circle back on. So, I might’ve heard you say you had a car accident. I don’t need to stop you right in the middle of your story to say, “Tell me the details,” because you might. But if you don’t, I‘ve got that little bullet point and I can say, “Hey, Pete, you mentioned you had a car accident. Can you tell me a little bit more?” And I start asking, “When was it?” “What happened,” and all those things but it’s because I have that bullet point to remind me.

It also maybe just a few quick bullet points so there are things that I can fill out after our conversation is over. So, maybe I catch the name of your pet, I catch the name of your wife, or other things that I think will be important for me to remember down the road. And so, I bullet point those and it triggers my mind, and then I start going back, “Oh, yeah,” and I remember the type of dog that you said you had, and how long. Certain other things are triggered by that bullet point. So, that’s what I mean by scribble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. So, there we got the listening, STARS, cool. And we’ve got another perspective, you called it the DEAL model, and you’re thinking specifically about four personality types. Well, first, lay this on us in terms of what are the types? Where do they come from? And how do we identify them?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. People are probably pretty familiar with DiSC, the DiSC model. And when I was working with the insurance company, and this was probably ten years ago, a training organization came in and used something that was similar to that. I don’t remember exactly what it was but it was similar to that, as a way to try to identify yourself, and it was a little more self-reflective than others.

And a guy I worked with came up and said, “Man, it’d be really cool if we could tie the principles of influence that you teach to the different personality styles. Are there some that are more effective than others?” So, I did a survey with my blog readers, and I took some very generic descriptions and said, “Read these and choose what you think you are,” and then that kind of funneled them in. And then I was asking them all the same questions, but I could look at the results then, and say, “Wow, people in one category seem to be different than people in these other categories.”

So, through the course of that, I came up with driver, expressive, amiable, and logical. And I like that because it’s spells DEAL and we deal with people, and the people I worked with, the salespeople, want to close deals, so it becomes very easy for them to remember. And it’s focused on, not self, not that it’s unimportant. It’s very important to understand ourselves, but it’s other-focused. I wanted to try to determine, Pete, are you a driver, that person who’s more focused on getting things done than relationships, and you like to be in control? Or, are you the expressive, the person who’s really relationship-driven but also really likes being in control?

And then that amiable, which is the relationship-oriented person who is more about self-focus and self-control. And the logical person is a task-driven individual but they’re not focused on controlling others or situations. They’re more focused on themselves, their own thinking, their own self-control. So, that’s a very basic model but it’s good because salespeople don’t always…I mean, I’m not going to go up and say, “What’s your Myers-Briggs, Pete?” And I wouldn’t be able to figure that out.

But this is a pretty simple model to assess people, and once you feel like you’ve got a handle on the type of personality, then we talk about the principles that are most effective in terms of being able to ethically influence them.

Pete Mockaitis 
Okay. So, it sounds like it’s, if I were to stick them in into a two-by-two, the dimensions we’re looking at are their level of task focus and their desire to control others?

Brian Ahearn
And situations, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, with the driver, being high-high; the expressive being, I don’t know, low-high, they care about the relationship.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I just say that, yeah, there’s a demarcation and the bottom of it is the person is very relationship-driven.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say good examples of that that I used in the book, Steve Jobs would’ve been a driver, right? That guy doesn’t care about being your friend. It is just about the work and get the stuff done. Oprah Winfrey, I think, is a great example of an expressive. She wants to know your story. She wants to get to know you and help you, but yet she is completely in control of her media kingdom just like Steve Jobs was in control. So, in the respect, they’re very alike but they’re very different in terms of their interactions with people on an individual level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And so, how about examples for amiable and logical then?

Brian Ahearn
Amiable is always a little bit tougher in terms of coming up with examples because they’re not necessarily limelight people, and a lot of the occupations that they tend to move into aren’t ones that are necessarily in the limelight because they’re very relationship-focused and a little bit more self-control, self-focused than other in terms of control. They tend to be things more like counselors and teachers and nurses and social workers, and those aren’t always positions that are in the limelight. Now, that’s not to say that because you’re an amiable you can’t lead a company. You absolutely can. But what we tend to see is people move more into those positions that are not as much in the limelight.

Brian Ahearn
Mother Teresa would be an awesome example.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And logical?

Brian Ahearn
Logical person, again, very, very task-focused but not about controlling others or situations, more on the self-focused. And a great example here would be a Bill Gates or an Albert Einstein. And I would hope that you’d agree and your listeners would agree, if you have five minutes to try to sell an idea to each of these people, I hope you would go about doing it very differently with Steve Jobs versus Oprah Winfrey versus Mother Teresa or an Albert Einstein because they’re going to respond to different things and for different reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. In terms of like Bill Gates doesn’t care much about your story most likely. If you’re talking about he’s trying to save the world in some dimension, I don’t know, climate change or vaccines or something, and then you say, “You know, Bill, let me tell you how I got interested in malaria,” I have a feeling Bill doesn’t want to hear, and maybe he does. I don’t know. But I would imagine he’d be more intrigued by, “Here’s the innovative cool thing that we’ve got going on here and why it’s different than what’s ever been used before, and why it’s way more cost-effective at saving lives than the previously existing technology available,” versus, Oprah would probably not be as into that. She wants to hear the story about how you got into malaria.

Brian Ahearn
Well, here’s a really good example, I think, for the logical versus the driver. According to the research, the survey that I did with blog readers, both of those personalities responded to the principle of consistency. And that principle says that we feel an internal psychological pressure and an external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and what we do.

I would think that somebody like Albert Einstein or Bill Gates, when they say something, they believe they’re right because they trust their intellect, they’ve thought it through, they’ve been methodical, and they’ve come up with a decision, and that’s why they believe what they believe. And if you can tie your request into that, then it makes very logical sense for them to say, “Absolutely.”

You go to the driver who is also driven by that principle of consistency but it’s a lot more ego-based. When Donald Trump was on “The Apprentice,” when he said something, he believed it. Even as president, when he said something, he barred the door on the facts just because he uttered it, he believed it. And I think to a great degree, a lot of people who are in that driver situation, they trust their gut, and so when they say something, they believe they’re right but it’s not for the same reason as the logical. But, nonetheless, if I can tap into what they’ve said, what they’ve done, or what they believe, it becomes easier for them to say yes. So, same principle, but very different reason on why it’s so compelling for each of those personalities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. I’m reminded of I heard there’s like a legendary story, and I believe it’s true, the person doing the interview wasn’t lying, about Bill Gates, Microsoft, the XBOX, like they’re having a meeting about this thing. And, at first, Bill says, “What you’re proposing is an insult to everything I’ve done in my career in terms of like how it’s going to work and how it didn’t utilize the DOS/Windows, whatever stuff that he built up.”

And so, the meeting wasn’t going well for a long time until someone said, “Well, what about Sony?” He’s like, “Yeah, what about Sony?” And then it sort of totally changed his thinking associated with dominance and market share and influence and being in the living room, and how Microsoft and Sony were both kind of growing on these dimensions, and Sony has got this PlayStation, and they’re like, “Yes, we’ll give you everything you’ve asked for. Go for it and do the XBOX.” And so, that’s interesting in terms of like the set of facts that he’s focused on, logical, sure enough, was the persuasive thing that got it done when those were brought front and center for him.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say, too, that contrast phenomenon, right? He’s being compared to Sony, somebody that he looks at as a peer, a competitor, somebody he doesn’t want to be beaten by. If they had made the wrong comparison, maybe there was a little upstart company that was doing something, and he might’ve looked at it and said, “Who cares?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, or like Nintendo. Like, “Yeah, okay, Nintendo has got Mario. I don’t care.” But Sony, “Oh, that’s a different story.”

Brian Ahearn
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well so then, maybe if you could give us an example of some things that you might hear out of someone’s mouth that would make you go, “Hmm, driver,” “Oh, yeah, expressive.” Just a couple of telltale words, phrases, sentences that kind of cue you in to thinking, “It sounds like this is where you’re landing here.”

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think a lot of times, and I don’t like always making generalities, generalizations, because they’re always exceptions, and I absolutely recognize this. But I think a telltale, a lot of times, for drivers is they don’t stop talking.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brian Ahearn
You really have a hard time getting a word in, edgewise, because they want to be in control of the situation, they have an opinion on everything, and, therefore, they’re continually going. And so, that can be a clue right there that, “I’m dealing with somebody who’s not giving me any space to step in and share what I need to share.”

If you’re going to try to influence somebody like that, you have to be okay with that. You have to recognize, you have to pick and choose the battles, and then step in where you get that opportunity or ask a question that might make them go, “Hmm, what do you mean? Tell me more.” Now, you’ve kind of got the platform back. But I think that’s the big telltale for a lot of drivers is it becomes kind of hard to get a word in edgewise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And expressive?

Brian Ahearn
I think expressive is a lot of times people, and these are entertainers and politicians, people who know the importance of having a relationship, they’re probably a lot more of the storyteller, somebody who’s got a, “I met somebody and here’s a story and here’s another story.” So, they may do a lot of talking too. They’re expressive, they’re very outward, but they also allow you that space to ask about you, and you feel a little more connected to them, and some of it may just be because of the stories, but you’re like, “Hey, that’s funny. I like that person.” You don’t feel like you’re necessarily being talked to or talked at as much as maybe you will from that driver, who’s kind of tell you what it’s got to be like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And amiable?

Brian Ahearn
Amiable is a lot of times are going to be the ones where you have to pull a little bit out of them. I’ve always pictured an amiable, if you’re going to go to the movies and you’ve got six people, and you say, “Hey, what do you guys want to see?” Amiable is probably like, “No, anything is cool with me,” because they’re very laid back, very relational. They’re just happy that they’re hanging out with everybody, and they’re cool doing whatever.

The driver would be the person who might say, “Well, if you guys are going to see that, I’m going to head home. I don’t want to see that movie,” and they’d be okay heading off by themselves. So, I think with the amiable, you’re going to see people who are very relational, very laid back, not looking to be the life of the party. You may have to do a little bit more to draw them out. You’re probably are going to get into much deeper conversations with somebody like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And logical?

Brian Ahearn
Logical person is going to be somebody, obviously, who’s very analytical and they’re thinking they’re going to be very fact-oriented. They’re going to be the people who don’t just share an opinion. They will do some research so that they can speak intelligently on something. Before they open their mouth, they want to really understand what they believe and why they believe it so that they can feel comfortable in terms of sharing it.

And that one, I would say from experience, people will say that I am an expressive just because of what I do, but I am absolutely a logical person. I’m a deep thinker about things, and I always tell my daughter, when she asked me a question, I’m like, “I don’t have an opinion on that because I haven’t really looked into it and I’m not going to just say something.”

Pete Mockaitis
I feel the same way, and particularly, in business-y situations. I remember, talking about insurance, I was buying some insurance once and it had some absurd clause, I was like, “Wait. And this kind of make it sound like you don’t pay any claims ever. So, what’s the deal here?” “Oh, no, one has ever asked that question before.” It’s like, “Well, so can you share with me some evidence that you sometimes pay out claims because this kind of reads like you never have to?”

And so, when I’m in sort of a business conversation, that’s kind of what I want, it’s like, “I want a profoundly compelling evidence that proves that you got the stuff. Like, you’re going to deliver what I’m seeking to be delivered.” And so, I think that often makes people feel very uncomfortable because usually they don’t have the evidence that I want. And so, they need to kind of like try to be compassionate, it’s like, “Well, okay, if you don’t have that set of facts, can you give me some alternative sets of facts that maybe I can plug into my spreadsheet and deal with how I need to deal with to prove it out?” But, still, it’s logical, like got to have it.

Brian Ahearn
Well, this can be a shortcoming when you’re the one trying to persuade. Let’s say you’re really good at building relationships. That’s an awesome skill to have but if you get into that situation with a logical like you, if you make a friend, okay, that’s cool. But if you don’t, that’s cool, too. You just want to buy the insurance.

So, if a person only is able to lean on what their strength is, that strength ends up being a negative, a weakness with certain people. And this is why I try to emphasize in looking at this model. It’s not about you, it’s not about what you’re good at, it’s not about your strengths; it’s about the other person. Learn what the psychology is and then understand what the psychology is that applies to them, and get good at that.

So, in a sense, be a little bit of a chameleon in terms of how you interact with people, not being a false person, but just recognizing that just because you like having these great relationships, you’re going to have some clients, and they could be great clients, but they’re just not into the relationship part. That’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, maybe since insurances is your specialty, maybe I’ll just put you on the spot. Let’s say you’re trying to sell auto insurance to these four different types of people. Can I hear a sentence or two of a custom verbiage that might be very appropriate when you’re making that pitch to a driver versus an expressive versus an amiable versus a logical?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. Well, if you’re talking to a driver, then scarcity is something that comes into play a lot. The mistake that people would make is talking about all the things that somebody might gain or save, but what you really want to talk about is what they might lose.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brian Ahearn
So, going in and having that conversation and framing something instead of gain, like they don’t care so much about saving as what they may be losing, and framing it that way, “You’re overpaying,” instead of, “Well, I can save you a bunch of money.” That would be a particular approach.

When you move down and you’re talking to somebody who’s an expressive, understanding that they’re going to be more relationship-oriented, you’re going to want to tap a little bit more into like, “You’re going to want to make that connection.” They’re going to want to look at you and say, “That’s a person that I really like and I want to do business with people that I like.”

Another effective principle in terms of interacting with folks like that is consensus. What are other people who are like them doing? And by bringing that in, that becomes a strong decision factor. Whereas, again, the driver, they don’t care what everybody else is doing. They think of themselves as completely different and unique. So, that’s a little bit about how you’d be different with this person who’s the expressive.

When you move over to the amiable, also very big on relationship, so you’re going to want to certainly make sure that you tap into liking because they’re probably not going to want to do business with somebody that they don’t like. So, connecting on what you have in common, talking about those things, being complimentary where genuine compliments are due. But they also surprisingly respond really well to the principle of authority.

And so, by really showing that you know what you’re talking about, that’s not challenging to them; that’s comforting to them. And so, by deferring to something like, I might say, “You know, Pete, I’ve been in this business now for more than 30 years. And something that I found is really important.” That little tidbit about, “I’ve been in business for 30 years,” isn’t coming across like a bragger to them. It’s giving them a sense of comfort that, “Wow, okay, I like this guy and he knows what he’s talking about.” And so, that becomes a little bit more of the tact that I take with that person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then the logical?

Brian Ahearn
So, the logical, obviously they’re going to be fact-driven so you’re going to need to be able to show authority not only that you have some personal authority that you’re good at what you’re doing but bring in data, bring in information from respected individuals or organizations that would support your claim. If you don’t do that, then you come across to the logical person as just somebody who thinks they know everything. Much better to bring in that support of the information, “Where did you hear that quote?” “What did this particular report say?” That’s what’s going to give somebody, who’s a logical individual, a sense of comfort.

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

Brian Ahearn
As I said at the beginning, I wrote this book for a specific market. I wrote it for insurance agents, and that was because trying to write a sales book can get super generic. When you keep talking about products or services, and people start reading it, “That doesn’t apply to me. Well, that’s…” So, just on the counsel of somebody I really respect, I thought, “You know what, I’m going to tighten this up. I’m going to make it specific to insurance. It’s what I know.”

But then I realized, as I got into it, that every step in the sales cycle, if somebody is in sales, they’re going to benefit from understanding the psychology that applies. And that even people who aren’t selling are going to benefit from learning how to be a listening star, how to deal with different personalities so that they can sell themselves and their ideas. So, I would just encourage anybody, if you see yourself in any capacity as selling, check the book out.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And, now, a favorite quote?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think the one I find myself referring to more than ever now is something that my high school football coach said, and I attributed it to him for a long time, until somebody said, “No, that was the Roman philosopher Seneca.” But it is, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” And ever since I was a sophomore in high school and heard coach say that, and recognized that if I worked really hard, good things would happen.

And even when the good thing that I want doesn’t come about, it’s amazing, Pete, how all that preparation comes in in a different way, and, all of a sudden, I’m like, “Hey, that preparation is helping me now over here.” So, it never goes untapped.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brian Ahearn
One of my favorites, was Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. And just reading about what he and all those other people in those concentration camps endured was unimaginable. But the takeaway for me was towards the end of the book when he said, something to the effect that, “Every freedom can be taken away from a man except for the last freedom; where to place your thoughts, what you’re going to think about.”

Nobody. And he said, basically, it didn’t matter how much the guards beat them, threaten them, or do anything, they could never ever make them think what they didn’t want to. And that is incredibly powerful.

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

Brian Ahearn
It’s called Voice Dream, and it’s an app that I downloaded on the advice of a friend on my iPhone. And when I write something, I have it up usually in Google Docs, and I just pull it into that app, and then I can listen to it. And it’s amazing what you catch. You write it and you think it’s good, and then you hear it, and you’re like, “Eh, it’s not exactly how I wanted it to come across.” So, it has helped my writing immensely. I’m working on two more books so I use it all the time.

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

Brian Ahearn
First will be LinkedIn. I connect with everybody and I guarantee your listeners, if you reach out to connect and you don’t put a reason, I will come back and say, “How did you find me? I’d like to understand why people are reaching out.” And if you do put in a reason, I will still respond because, as my most recent blogpost said, “Social media is supposed to be social.” And the way that we do that is by having conversations with people. And so, I will absolutely respond to you on LinkedIn.

The other place, Pete, would be my website which is InfluencePeople.biz. Just a tremendous amount of resources out there if they want to learn more about this topic.

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

Brian Ahearn
I think it would be to start dedicating time to understand the influence process. Influence, in some respects, is like listening. Very few people learn how to do it well and yet we use it every single day, I say from womb to tomb. As soon as a baby is born, he or she cries. They’ve got a need they’re trying to get met.

Some of us learn how to do it well and it helps immensely with our professional success and personal happiness. So, I hope people who are listening will say, “You know what, maybe I need to dig into this a little bit more. I could use the ability to have more people saying yes. That would be helpful in my life.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brian, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your influencing.

Brian Ahearn
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete.

582: The Five Behaviors That Make You an Indispensable “Go-to” Person with Bruce Tulgan

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Bruce Tulgan discusses how to build real influence and become the go-to person in your workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset that makes you indispensable
  2. Why you shouldn’t stick to your speciality
  3. How to stop juggling and start finishing tasks

About Bruce

Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of It’s Okay to Be the Boss and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. Bruce’s newest book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, is available July 21 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his website at rainmakerthinking.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Bruce Tulgan Interview Transcript

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

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you so much for having me back on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. And last time we spoke, which is way back in episode 302, I was impressed with just how real a sense you had for the worker and the crisis of under-management, as you called it at the time. Can you tell us, what’s the lay of the land right now in terms of the worker experience amidst remote work and pandemic, and what’s really going on here?

Bruce Tulgan
I think most people right now are feeling a tremendous sense of uncertainty. A lot of people, of course, are afraid for their health and wellbeing, or the health and wellbeing of their colleagues or their family. I think a lot of people are worried about the security of their jobs. I think in the environment where a lot of people have been furloughed or who have been let go, usually as a result of just economic necessity by employers, are leaving fewer people to do as much work, or more work in many cases, trying to reinvent the work in some cases, or trying to figure out what to do the same and what has to change. I think most people are feeling very vulnerable to a lot of forces outside their control.

And, look, even before the pandemic era, I think, like employers were trying to get more and more and more out of every person. Most people were feeling, I think, like they have to deal with more and more people, up, down, sideways, and diagonal, all over the organization chart. People are fielding requests all day long from their colleagues, not just from their boss and their teammates but from people in other teams and other departments.

So, I think people are grappling with a tremendous sense of uncertainty and over-commitment, and that’s where we find ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you addressed many these questions even before the pandemic came about in your upcoming book The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. Can you tell us, what’s the key thesis here?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, everywhere I go people are saying, “Gosh, I want to be one of those indispensable go-to people but how can I say yes to everyone and everything?” And the result is you get over-committed, and then, all of a sudden, you’re juggling. Pretty soon, if you’re juggling, you start dropping balls. What do you do? You work harder and harder and harder. You try to juggle faster and faster and faster.

So, those, increasingly with the questions that people have been asking me in our seminars, led me to our research. One of the things I’ve been doing for years is studying what I call go-to people. Everywhere I go when I’m doing talent assessments, I ask everybody, “Hey, who are your go-to people?” For years I’ve been trying to figure out, “What is it that these people are doing? Why did they make it to these go-to list over and over and over again, consistently over time? What is it that they have in common? How is it that they don’t get over-committed and don’t suffer from siege mentality, and don’t go from saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ to saying, ‘No, no, no, get away from me, it’s not my job. You’re not my boss.’?” So, it was really an effort to study that data and draw the lessons from it that led to this new book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, do tell, what does make a person a go-to person? And, first of all, what are the benefits of being a go-to person? I imagine job security, feeling good about yourself. But you may have a more research-based answer to that.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. Look, if everybody always wants to go to you, this gives you an incredible source of power that other people want to work with you, other people want you to want to work with them. And so, I wanted to see, “Well, what is it about these folks?”

It didn’t take long to realize that it was a true service mindset. People who they really want to add value in every interaction with others. They really want to add value. They focus on, “Hey, here’s what I can do for you not what I want from you.” And so, it sounds very selfless but, of course, that is exactly what leads to over-commitment syndrome, right?

So, that was the conundrum, right? How do you make yourself a go-to person and serve others consistently without succumbing to over-commitment syndrome? And what I came to realize was what makes it seem like an unsolvable puzzle, is actually the key to the solution, that it was the people who realized that, first and foremost, you have to fight and defeat over-commitment syndrome. You have to resist the over-commitment syndrome because if you say “Yes, yes, yes” to everyone and everything, you end up doing nothing for anyone ultimately because you make lots of unnecessary mistakes. You get into all kinds of trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this is resonating in terms of that’s what makes an indispensable person is just that they want to add value, they genuinely care. We’ve heard this sort of theme in a number of ways, from a number of guests. They’re not so much motivated by climbing the ladder, being the top dog, looking awesome. They just really do believe in what they’re doing and want to help people and achieve those objectives. So, cool. So, there we have it. That’s the thing that makes them indispensable and, yet, they also have to then play defense against the tendency to overcommit to do everything for everyone at all times. So, how is that done?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I started calling this the peculiar mathematics of real influence because it’s become conventional wisdom that if you don’t have authority you have to use influence. And I try to figure out, “Well, what do people really mean by that, use influence?” Often, what they really mean is stand-ins for authority. And what is authority? Authority is control over rewards and punishments. Authority is a position, power, whereby you enforce the rules using rewards and punishments. That’s what authority is.

Influence is power you have without position. But this leads a lot of people down the wrong path because, “Are you supposed to badger?” Sometimes people deputize themselves, right? They go over your head, or they go to their boss, or they try to play the quid pro quo, “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you. You don’t do this for me, then maybe I’ll withhold my support for you in the future.” Sometimes they try to flatter and ingratiate themselves. But none of these things build real influence.

The reason I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence is it’s an asset that you have but it lives in the minds of other people. My influence with you lives in your brain and your heart, right? And so…

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I feel powerful.

Bruce Tulgan
Right. So, that’s why the mathematics are so peculiar because if you try to badger, or bribe, or threaten, or bully, or ingratiate yourself, or go over somebody’s head, you lose real influence. They stop rooting for you, they root against you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That kind of sucks.

Bruce Tulgan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to not think, if possible.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, so you might get your way in the short term but in the long term, you do not build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds. So, the way you build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds is by conducting yourself in a certain way. And I call it playing the long game one moment at a time. It’s doing the right thing in the short term so that, in the long run, more good things happen for everyone. That you try really hard in the short term to conduct yourself in a way that makes things go better for everyone over time.

And so, as a result of that, you build a track record of making good decisions. You build a track record. Nobody wants to hear no to their requests. So, so many people they say, “Yes, yes, yes” to please you in the short term.

But a lot of people, they’re saying, “Yes, yes, yes” because they’re trying to please you right now. I always tell over-promisers, “Mark my words, you will be known for whether you deliver on that promise ultimately, so you might make me happy in the moment, but if you over-promise and don’t deliver, that’s what I’m going to remember.”

Whereas, in fact, you don’t have to say yes to everything. What you have to do is take people’s needs seriously, you have to engage with the ask, engage with the request, give it respect and due diligence. And what you want to be doing is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons every step of the way. And this is what builds up your real influence. When you become known as somebody who’s adding value in every interaction sometimes by saying no. You’re adding value in every interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, this just reminds me of my marriage in terms of often what is needed is empathy and listening as much or more so than swooping into action and fixing things, and it also takes less time but more maybe mental effort in terms of remembering, “Ah, yes, this is what I need.” And so, I liked when you said that in terms of respecting the request, you’re sort of you’re taking it seriously, you’re honoring it. And I can kind of just imagine, I’m thinking about my buddy Pat right now. He seems to exemplify a lot of the things that you said here, in terms of you’re really listening, you’re interested, you’re curious, you’re kind of saying, “Oh, so what’s the implications of this? What’s at stake? What makes this hard? What have you tried so far?” I guess having that kind of conversation and then offering, hopefully, something that’s somewhat helpful along the way even if it’s not you, goes a long way.

Bruce Tulgan
That’s exactly right. So, what sets apart the go-to person who’s indispensable? It’s the person who’s most likely to help you get your needs met on time, on spec, in ways that build up the working relationship rather than damage it over time, right? So, the people who are most consistently likely to help you get your needs met, that’s why you keep going back to that person.

You go to somebody who says, “Yes, yes, yes” and doesn’t deliver, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody who only has no in their repertoire, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody though who is all about trying to add value. So, let’s say you come to me and say, “Hey, look, I’ll offer that you do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” If I’m a go-to person who’s really trying to build real influence, I’m going to say, “Look, if it’s the right business decision, if it’s aligned with the chain of command and the mission, if I can understand the ask and I’m the right person to do it for you, if I can do it, if I’m allowed to do it, if I should do it, if I’m good at it, if it’s one of my specialties, or it’s something I can get good at, if it’s something I can get done for you, I’m going to do that because it’s my job, not because you’re going to offer me a quid pro quo.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Bruce Tulgan
Be the person other people don’t want to disappoint not because of where you are on the org chart but because of how you conduct yourself, how you treat people, and the role you play in the workplace.

So, that’s the peculiar mathematics of real influence. Sometimes you got to take the bullet by saying, “No, I’m not going to do that for you” and making somebody unhappy in the short term, or, “Yes, I can do that but in a month, not right now.” But, over time, you build the reputation. So, that’s why I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence because the more you really serve others, the more power you have in that they want you to succeed, they want to do things for you, they want to do things with you, they want to make good use of your time.

So, there’s five steps that we identified that sort of come out of that way of thinking. And the first step is, if you don’t have authority, align with authority. So, there’s still somebody in charge, so it’s, “Oh, hey, work it out at your level.” Well, wait a minute, step one, make sure you understand what’s required, what’s allowed, what’s not required, what’s not allowed. So, first, you’ve got to go vertical before you can go sideways or diagonal.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say align with authority, in practice that just means something like, “Hey, boss, we’ve got this request coming. It seems helpful.”

Bruce Tulgan
In a way, it does. Because, look, you’ve got three choices if you’re trying to work things out at your own level, right? One, you sort of say, “All right. Hey, let’s proceed until apprehended. Let’s just do this and let’s hope this is the sort of flipside of better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” But, often, if you proceed until apprehended, you have a lot of work to undo because, it turns out, “No, that’s not what we wanted you to do.”

Another possibility is that you escalate every disagreement, right? And then the other possibility is that somehow you try to use some kind of stand-in for authority, like a quid pro quo or some other form. But what makes the most sense is to go over your own head first. And so, yes, it’s, “Okay, boss.” But here’s the thing, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, does that mean that I have to go to my boss before I work out anything at my own level?” And the answer is only if you’re not already aligned with your boss.

So, you want to be that person who already knows what your boss would say. You’re so aligned that you almost could speak for your boss. And if you have people who report to you, should they have to come to you before they work things out at their own level? Only if they’re not exactly sure what you would say. So, that vertical alignment becomes an anchor. But I put it there first not that every single time you are going to work things at your own level you should go over your own head but, remember, you’re not going to be in a position to work things out at your own level unless, first, you have really good vertical alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s excellent. We’ve heard from Mary Abbajay about managing your manager and how that’s so critical to have those conversations up front in advance, what’s important to you, what are the top goals, what are the least priorities, etc. So, are there any other particular key questions or things to cover with boss that go a really long way in terms of getting that vertical alignment?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, here’s what you want to be doing. Number one, you want to be making sure you know mission, priorities right now, ground rules, action steps, so that’s where you want to be getting alignment. And then, today, tomorrow, this week, what are our execution priorities? And, also, you want to be feeding information up and down the chain of command about anything that’s changing in the boardroom, or anything, “Hey, here’s some frontline intelligence,” that can help your boss stay in the loop on the other end of the spectrum.

So, you want to be having regular structured conversations with your boss. If anybody reports to you, you want to be having regular structured conversations with the people who report to you. That’s the vertical anchor, right? Then you’ve got guardrails, and then you got to create structure and alignment sideways and diagonal. And here’s the thing, so much sideways and diagonal communication comes in meetings but a lot of it comes in relatively unstructured informal communication.

Much of what we have to say to each other all day at work is asking. Much of our ongoing dialogues are making requests of each other. And so, sometimes this happens in the middle of a Zoom team meeting with cross-talks, sometimes it’s a text or a call. When we used to work together in offices and other workplaces, it might be stopping by one’s cubicle, or a hallway conversation.

And so, one of the things that we identified that these go-to people do is once they have vertical alignment, and they’ve got their guardrails, they know what’s not up to them, that leaves a lot which is basically everything else. So, then step two is know when to say no and how to say yes. And that’s really not creating a bunch of cumbersome bureaucracy but it means putting some due diligence into how you take an ask or a request and make sure you really understand it. Tune in to other people’s needs, tune in to the ask, and then make sure you really understand it.

If somebody starts to make a request, stop them and visibly take notes. Ask good questions. Make sure you really understand what they’re asking. That’s a great way to respect somebody else’s needs and tune in to their ask. And then, know when to say no, “Can I do this? Am I allowed to do this?” And then, “Should I do this?” which is that’s the tough one, right? “What’s the ROI on this?” And sometimes the answer is, “Not yet,” or sometimes the answer is, “I’m not sure. Go back and fine-tune this ask so I can give it even more due diligence.” Sometimes it’s, “Yes, I could do that in two weeks,” or sometimes it’s, “Oh, you know who could do that for you is this other go-to person I know.”

So, steps one and two are align vertically so that, step two, you can give every ask the due diligence it deserves. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that to be a go-to person you’ve got to say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” No, every good no frees you up for a better yes. Now, yes is where all the action is. Yes is where you have an opportunity to add value. But don’t waste your yeses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the image that comes to mind for me here is like just a venture capitalist in terms of there are many, many deal opportunities that come across their desk, but the right answer tends to be say no to the vast majority of them to say yes to the ones that are just right. And even then, still, most of the yeses are not fruitful in terms of creating value but, boy, a few of them are plenty fruitful so it works out.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. And, look, it is an investment decision. It’s how you’re going to invest your time and energy. You can’t do everything so it’s a matter of if you’re going to beat over-commitment, you have to get the right things done. You can’t do everything for everybody so you have to do the right things.

So, step three in the process is work smart. And what that means…

Pete Mockaitis
Before you we go from there, working smart, I’d love to hear, do you have any pro tips on how you recommend articulating a no when necessary?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, look, a lot of people say, “The secret is knowing how to say no.” I have racked my brain and I have looked at data from hundreds of thousands of interviews, I cannot find a proper sugarcoating for no that makes it taste good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bruce Tulgan
So, I think, yeah, you got to learn how to say no is kind of a red herring. The trick is knowing when to say no. And when to say no is when yes will turn out to be a disappointment, when yes is going to turn out to be the wrong answer. That’s why it’s playing the longer game because your no’s are as valuable as your track record of making the right decision on no. No is a huge favor. No, at the right time, is a huge favor because the ask was half-baked. So, we might say yes and go off in the wrong direction, “No, no, no, let’s fine-tune that ask a little more before we say yes.” Or it might turn out that this was not a priority and it’s going to take up a huge amount of opportunity costs.

No and yes are all about opportunity costs. You want a yes to lead to a productive collaboration where you’re going to make an execution plan and execute on tangible results that end up adding real value. So, every bad yes is a squandered opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s well-said. And I agree that there is no way that you can say no, that I found, that makes everyone say, “You know, thank you so much, Bruce. That’s amazing.” So, maybe if you can’t make it taste good, how do you make it taste the least bad? So, if you had to tell me no right now, Bruce, “Hey, Bruce, could you give a thousand copies of your book for free to our audience? I think that’d just make a huge difference for them and they’ll really appreciate it.”

Bruce Tulgan
Well, see, I’m going to consider that one, but let me take it as one that I would have to say no at the outset. So, what I would say there is, “Oh, hey, I need to know more about that ask. I need to know who are those audience members. How do you anticipate we get it to them? What’s the upside?” You have to ask a bunch of good questions. So, the first part of helping somebody swallow a no is asking lots of questions to understand their ask, not to humor them but to really investigate the opportunity.

Then the next part is you say, “Oh, hey, I can’t do that for the following reasons, right? Gee, I could feed my family tomorrow or I could give you some books. I’d love to give you some books but I got to feed my family.” That’s, “I can’t. I don’t have the resources so I’m not allowed to.” It could be if you’re one of my government clients, I am not allowed to do that because that’s a violation of law.

But let’s say we get past the, “I can do that for you, I’m allowed to do that for you, I’m just not going to because I’ve balanced I evaluate this is not my top priority.” So, I might say, “Hey, I shouldn’t do this because it’s actually a bad idea.” And then I might try to talk you out of it which could end up being a big favor to you, “I don’t think you should pursue this idea.”

It could be I say, “Hey, I might be able to do this in a few weeks or a few months, so if you’d be willing to stay in dialogue with me, I’d be willing to revisit this down the line. Now I’m not stringing you along. If I know the answers, know I’m going to tell you no.” But maybe the answer is, “Gee, if you’re bound and determined to do this, get books and give them to a thousand of your listeners, I’d hate to miss that opportunity, so let me see if there’s some way I can make this happen.”

Another might be, “I’ve developed another go-to person and I could do a huge favor for that person because that person happens to have an extra thousand books, and I bet that person would be thrilled to have this opportunity to give those books. So, I’m going to put the two of you in touch. I’m going to do you a favor by introducing you to that person, I’m going to do that person a favor by introducing that person to you, and you’re going to proceed.”

Worst-case scenario I say, “Hey, let me explain what I do. I sell books not give away books. So, if down the road you want to buy some books, I’m your man. Or what I normally do is seminars, so if you need someone to do a seminar, hey, I’d still love to work with you.” In other words, what you want to do is be authentic. And so, when you’re saying no, you’re explaining why, you’re trying to help the person come up with a solution to their need maybe. At the very least, you’re saying, “Hey, I want to understand what you do. Let me explain what I do. Maybe somewhere looking around the corner, there’s a way that we could be valuable to each other.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, what are some of the best clarifying questions to really respect the request and do a great job with this? One of my favorites, as we’re talking through this, is something along the lines of, “What are you hoping to achieve by getting a thousand books out there for free to listeners?” Because that’s sort of like sparks all kinds of potential ideas and opportunities. Do you have any other kind of go-to questions, huh, go-to questions for go-to people, that help you do a great job of clarifying?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. So, I think it’s useful to come up with the objective because then you might find out that the person hasn’t crystallized the ask very much at all if you can help them meet their objective with a much better ask, right? But I think basically what you’re trying to do an intake memo which is really building a proposal from the inside out. So, what you want to know is exactly what’s the deliverable. So, in a way, that rhymes with the objective, “What’s the deliverables exactly that you want?”

And then, “What’s going to be required of me? What part of this can you do? How can you help me help you? How can you help me help you help me help you?” You can keep going on that track. But, “What’s the timeframe? Let’s estimate the resources that would be needed, the obstacles. Whose authority do we need? Where are we going to get the resources? What’s the time horizon? What are the steps along the way? What would be the sequence of steps and ownership of each step?” You want to build a short proposal inside out, even if it’s on the back of an envelope or on a napkin.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so funny about this, as I imagine how this plays out, even if you ended in no, they’d be like, “Oh, this is kind of a buzzkill because we’re really excited about the progress we’re making, but at the same times, as a result of having spoken with you, I am enriched and en-valued, if that’s word, and better off because now I have some more insight and clarity on what I’m up to and what I should go do, so even though you told me no, I am better off for having asked you.”

Bruce Tulgan
I think so. And even if you already had it crystallized, doesn’t it tell you how I do business? Doesn’t it tell you that I’m serious about trying to help? I’m serious about understanding what you want, and I’m serious about trying to do what I can in the conversation, and maybe following the conversation to operate in such a way that it adds value for you. And so, a big part of this is slowing down so that you make good use of other people’s time, show other people that you’re serious about adding value.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, please, continue. Step three, work smart.

Bruce Tulgan
So, step three is work smart, and sometimes people are like, “Oh, yeah, work smart. Got it. Never heard that one before,” right? But the reality is a lot of people think that to be a go-to person you just gotta keep working and working. What is the go-to person? They’re just the one who can outwork everyone. And, in fact, if that’s your only strategy, you’re going to burn out.

So, then some people will say, “Oh, well, work smart. Well, what does that mean?” Well, on one level it means do the things you’re already really good at, do the things you can do very well, very fast, with a good attitude, you know you can deliver on that. The problem is that most people don’t have the opportunity to only work in their area of passion and strength, right? So, “Oh, not good at that. Sorry. I’d like to but I’m committed to working smart so I won’t be able to help you with that.”

And so, what I tell people is there’s a lot of tasks, responsibilities, and projects you’re going to have to do that might not be something you’re already good at, or that’s in your area of passion and strength. But if that’s true, slow down and get really good at it. Don’t just wing it. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t keep trying to, “Oh, you know, I’m so busy that I don’t have time to stop and get good at it.”

If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to stop and get good at it, you are in a pickle, right? So, you gotta stop and get good at it. Learn best practices, “Oh, this is how I do it.” Is it? Well, is that the best way? Maybe you need to learn, “No, no, I’ll figure it out on my own. I don’t want people to see me learning. They might think I’m not competent.” Well, they’re going to think you’re not competent if you pretend to know how to do it and then make it up as you go along and reinvent the wheel, then you’re going to seem not competent.

One of the ironies is that people who are really good at stuff know that people who learn in plain sight are probably the ones who are going to get good at stuff too. You’re not showing yourself to be less competent by learning in plain sight. Again, you’re showing the kind of person you are. Like, so, look, if you ask to do something, I go, “Oh, that’s my specialty. I can already do that very well, very fast, with a great attitude and deliver for you.” Okay. But if it’s not my specialty, and I say, “Gee, I keep getting asked to do this, let me tell you, that’s not my specialty, but it’s going to be one of my specialties soon. I’m going to learn best practices, I’m going to study, I’m going to master them, I’m going to develop repeatable solutions to the most common problems and issues and needs, I’m going to create job aids to guide me.”

That’s how you professionalize what you do. Find the best practices, create repeatable solutions, get good tools. So, anything you find yourself having to do regularly, professionalize, and then you make it one of your specialties because once something is one of your specialties, then think of any minute or hour you spend on one of your specialties, you’re going to add more value with less likelihood of failure than something that’s not one of your specialties.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Bruce Tulgan
So, there is a kernel of genius in working in your area of passion and strength, there’s a kernel of genius in, “Hey, that’s not my job,” because, really, what somebody is saying is, “Gee, every minute I spend doing that, I’m not going to be adding optimal value.” But everything you professionalize and make one of your specialties is another thing you can do very well, very fast. So, specialize for sure, but when something comes up that’s not your job, you got to kind of put it through the following routine.

First, is it something that really shouldn’t be your job? Like, “This is a wild goose chase,” or something like that, right? Like, “Well, wait just a minute. I’m not even sure if anyone should be doing this.” Or is it something that’s not your job, like the paperwork part of almost anything. Well, I always say to people, “Actually, that is your job so you should professionalize the paperwork part to it.” Or is it like, “Well, it’s not my job to take out the trash.” Well, that’s what I call “Somebody has got to do it, so don’t be a jerk about it.” And, okay, maybe you don’t have to be the goffer, but maybe you’re like, “Okay, I’m the guy. Sure, I’ll be the one to take out the trash,” and you do it really well.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I remember when I was the junior person on the team in consulting, we needed lunch, someone had to get lunch, and the delivery apps were not proliferating at the time the way they are now, and so I did it but I did professionalize it and it was appreciated because I kept disappointing people, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t want beans in my burrito.” It’s like, “By golly, I’m just worked a full-blown burrito spreadsheet, and you’re just going to circle what kind of rice, what kind of beans, what kind of meat, and then we’re going to pass that little printout around, and then I’m going to Chipotle, and then no one’s disappointed anymore.” And they loved it, like, “Ha, ha, ha. Great.”

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. And it’s like, “Oh, I’m the lunch guy.” Well, wait, no. What you’re showing people is, “I’m willing to be the guy to get lunch and there’s nothing I do regularly that I just wing it and make it up as I go along. That’s just how I do business, is I professionalize the things I do.” And the funny thing is, also hidden is these other things that are sort of close to your job that, “Hey, maybe that could be another specialty.” Or, okay, it’s far away from your job, but, “Hey, maybe that could be one of my specialties.”

The funny thing is there’s a tension between spending most of your time on your specialties and then paying attention to the things that are not your job because those are your opportunities to actually expand your repertoire.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. And I tell you what, I really appreciate when I talk to someone and they say, “You know, I don’t know how to do that yet but I am excited to learn or to come up again and again. I just need to nail this down.” And so, I appreciate that. And I guess sometimes the answer is, “You know what, actually, we need it perfect and we need it fast, so maybe you’re not the right choice right now but you could be some weeks, some months down the road.” And other times it’s like, “You know what, that’s the best yes I’ve gotten out of everybody I’ve asked. I’ll take it.”

Bruce Tulgan
I’ll take it. Right, exactly. And, by the way, so you’re putting people on notice that, “Let me be clear, I am a professional but this is not one of my specialties, but I’ll take a crack at it. But be on notice that this is my first go around, or whatever it is,” and it’s one of the reasons why job aids, repeatable solutions, and best practices captured in checklist and stuff like that, checklist is a good example, because, “If I haven’t done it in a while, maybe I’m rusty. The job aid is going to help. If I do it all the time, the job aid might keep me from going on autopilot. If I can’t do it, and I need someone else to do it, and they’re like, ‘That’s not my specialty,’ I say, ‘Oh, here’s a job aid,’ that’s going to help you learn a lot faster.”

It also will help me educate my customer and state, “Let me just show you so you can understand.” Job aids come in really handy when it comes to trying to get someone new up to speed faster on something that isn’t their specialty.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you’ve reference job aids numerous times, and I contextually can glean that this is a document that contains useful information about how to do a job. Can you expand on what are the components or key elements of a great job aid document?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a job aid is anything that helps you follow best practices, apply repeatable solutions, or draw from repeatable solutions, to extrapolate for a problem of first impression, or a past work product that gives you a jumpstart on making a new work product.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this could be a checklist, it could be a process map, it could be an instructional video, it could be some example deliverables, just sort of anything that, hey, it’s going to do the job.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a checklist is a classic example, a plan is a classic example. Sometimes surgeons use a job aid which is that somebody uses a magic marker to put an X on the right spot so that they don’t cut on the wrong side. That acts as a job aid and it comes in handy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s working smart. What’s the fourth?

Bruce Tulgan
Step four is finish what you start. And people will say, “Oh, I’m always so busy I’m always juggling. I’m double and triple-booked for meetings,” as if that’s a badge of honor. And I tell people, “If you’re double or triple-booked, that means you can’t decide what meeting to go to. And if you think you’re multitasking, there’s no such thing. And juggling is what you’re actually doing because multitasking is a fiction. What you’re actually doing is task-shifting.” And some people do it really fast, that’s why I call it juggling. But if you’re always juggling, you’re bound to drop the ball.

So, one of the things we wanted to look at is the people who were able to have a really busy schedule and an ever-growing to-do list but they still get stuff done. And what we identified was that the people who get the most done are the people who break work into smaller chunks and break their execution time into bigger chunks. So, it’s bigger chunks of time, smaller chunks of work.

And so, the drill is simple. Look at your schedule every day but find the gaps in your schedule, your “Do not disturb” zones for focused execution. And then look at your work and your to-do list, and plug in doable items, doable tasks, doable chunks of work in those scheduled gaps. So, what you’re looking at, so you know there’s 168 hours in a week and nobody is making any more of them. But, in fact, if you create scheduled gaps in which you execute on concrete results, and start with the highest-leveraged concrete results, then you are actually manufacturing time for yourself because what you’re doing is you’re obviating unnecessary problems, you’re obviating problems hiding and getting out of control, you’re obviating squandered resources, you’re obviating work either getting done wrong or not getting done, you’re obviating holding other people up.

So, high-leveraged time is setting someone else up for success. High-leveraged time is avoiding an unnecessary problem. High-leveraged time is planning for optimal use of resources. High-leveraged time is if there’s a set of steps that need to be done in sequence, and one of them takes time up front, so I call it preheating the oven, is a great example, or putting the bread in the oven before you make the salad. It’s sequencing. Those are all high-leveraged execution times, and that’s how you start to create more and more scheduled gaps for yourself in which you can get more and more concrete results done.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like the notion of the oven, or it’s sort of like getting something in motion so that it’s moving while I’m doing other things.

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. So, it’s giving somebody instructions, it’s cleaning the machine, sharpening the saw, what Covey would say, sharpening the saw. It’s high-leveraged time. But you got to execute, execute, execute. So, people who don’t make time for focused execution, they’re the ones who are always busy but never finishing things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the fifth step?

Bruce Tulgan
Is keep getting better and better at working together. And there’s so much finger pointing, and so much politicking in the workplace, and that’s because everyone knows relationships are where it’s at. The problem is, yes, the relationships are key, but if the work goes wrong, the relationships go sour. And if the work keeps getting better and better, the relationships get better and better. So, I always tell people, you know, take time to review and look around the corner together.

Every time you get a task, responsibility, or project done with somebody, stop. Don’t go into a conference room and blame. Don’t whisper behind people’s back and finger-point. What you do is go to your collaboration partner, and say, “Hey, here’s what went well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And let’s look at how we can work better together going forward, and let’s look around the corner and plan the next collaboration.” So, it’s basically taking a continuous improvement approach to relationship management.

So, when people say, “It’s all about the relationships and networking,” that doesn’t mean making best friends and politicking or undermining the people you don’t like. It means taking continuous improvement to working relationships and things will go better and better and better. And if you do that, if you align up and down the chain of command, and then put structure and substance into your sideways conversations, if you make good decisions about yes and no by really tuning in to the ask, if you professionalize what you do, work smart, finish what you start, and you keep fine-tuning how you work with people, then people notice how you conduct yourself.

The ones that people keep going back to over and over and over again, the ones everyone wants to work with, the one everyone will want you to want to work with them, that’s what they do, that’s what go-to people have in common. And when you do that, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, the problem is I’m the only go-to person here.” Well, are you sure? They say, “Well, if I work in a greater organization, well, that would make it easier to be a go-to person.” Well, sure, if you work for a greater organization it makes it easier. But it turns out, if you conduct yourself this way, you become a magnet for other go-to people. It becomes much easier to find go-to people. And if you can’t find them, build them up. They will remember.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bruce Tulgan
Stephen Covey says, “Remember, you can’t take a screwdriver to somebody else’s head and tighten the screw or loosen the bolt, but you can control how you respond to other people.” And Covey called that being response-able. So, that’s one of my favorites.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, how about Pavlov? Thanks, Pavlov, I’ll do that again. I always tell people, if you reward people in close proximity to the performance in question, then they’ll say, “Thanks, Pavlov. I’ll do that again.”

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, right now, I guess my only tool is this studio we’ve just created. It is now my portal to the world because if you’re in the business of selling hot air to auditoriums full of people, this is not the best time. And so, we’ve created a production studio so that we can deliver our research services and our training and consulting services right from this portal to the world.

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

Bruce Tulgan
The best place to go is RainMakerThinking.com or I’m told you can link in with me at LinkedIn or @BruceTulgan on Twitter.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Every single interaction you have with people, stop focusing on what you need or you want from them, and focus on what you can do to add value. Focus on what you can do for other people, and you will build up the most valuable asset you possibly can have, which is real influence. You will build that up. And just remember that the bank is the minds and hearts of other people. So, stop focusing on what you need from other people and start focusing on what you can do for them, and you will become very rich in real influence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bruce, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your adventures and all the ways you’re indispensable.

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you. Well, you’re great at this. You make it so easy and you make it so much fun. And thanks for bringing out the best in me here.

579: How to Grow Your Influence and Lead Without Authority with Keith Ferrazzi

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Keith Ferrazzi says: "You do not have to control more. You have to influence more. You have to co-create more."

Keith Ferrazzi discusses how to turn colleagues into teammates by changing how we lead and collaborate.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How leaders (unknowingly) alienate their teams
  2. How silos came to be—and how we can break them down 
  3. An exercise for creating authentic connections with your team 

About Keith

Keith Ferrazzi is the founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a management consulting and team coaching company that works with many of the world’s biggest corporations. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Ferrazzi rose to become the youngest CMO of a Fortune 500 company during his career at Deloitte, and later became CMO of Starwood Hotels. He is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewForbes, and Fortune and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who’s Got Your Back and Never Eat Alone. His mission is to transform teams to help them transform the world. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

  • Miro. Boost your collaborations with the ultimate online whiteboard at miro.com/awesome

Keith Ferrazzi Interview Transcript

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I am looking forward to helping people be awesome and learning something too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, so you are renowned as a connector. And I’d love to hear, do you have a particularly favorite story associated with how a connection came to be?

Keith Ferrazzi
Wow, oddly-enough, in 53 years, I’ve never been asked that question.

Pete Mockaitis
I love you, man.

Keith Ferrazzi
So, look, and I don’t know this is a great story or not, but it’s so important that you get intentionality in your life around what you’re trying to achieve, and then start asking yourself who would you want to get to know in order to try to achieve that and co-create things with them. A number of years ago, I was just out with Never Eat Alone, Oprah was, of course, the best thing since sliced bread in terms of advancing book sales, and I had been wracking my brain about how I could get to Oprah. I was not a well-known dude at that time. I was well-known in the business world but not in the general world.

And I was just passing by at a marketing desk, and I had said something to her about how important it would be to really just think about getting on Oprah. And an intern, who was only with us for about a month, often in the corner, piped up and said, “Oh, well, I don’t know if it helps, but my aunt is Gayle King.” And I go, “That might be helpful.” It’s amazing. It’s like the point is if you don’t get clear and you don’t put it out there with abundance, then you’re going to be missing opportunities because you never can know who knows who.

I’ve also been in situations where I had mentioned on a podcast, “I wanted to get to know so and so.” And a high school kid reached out to me and did the work. He did the work in his network. He found his friends who had parents, and blah, blah, blah, and ultimately I’d gotten introduced to the CEO of Johnson & Johnson which was the thing that I put out there. So, again, you put it out there, it has a chance to manifest.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. That’s really cool. And for those who have not watched Oprah, Gayle King is her best friend that she references frequently, “My best friend Gayle,” and that’s wild. So, thank you. So, now, your latest here is called Leading Without Authority. Can you kick us off by sharing the case for why that’s important for professionals these days?

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, look, the world has really changed a lot in business, and it’s interesting, in the last two to three months, there’s been more solidification of the way we work, and the future of work has happened in the last two to three months than it happened in the last 20 years, no question in my mind. And the ability today for anybody in an organization to be a transformation agent, an agent of transformation, is more available today than ever before.

Now, I’ve always believed that anybody with a vision and audacity and a willingness to serve the people around them could achieve extraordinary things. I tell the story in Never Eat Alone about me in my 20s becoming the chief marketing officer of all of Deloitte, right? And that was ridiculous, and it had to do with, I didn’t know it back then, it had to do with my capacity to lead without authority, to lead through a strong vision and a willingness to share the stage with other people who I co-created with until they named me the chief marketing officer because I had the vision that we wanted and needed to do that.

Today, it’s not only possible, it’s mandatory. Most organizations are in real dire need of innovation, transformation, constant adaptability, and anybody who’s listening to this, you can be the tipping point for transformation. Gandhi, one dude was the tipping point of transformation. Martin Luther King, one dude, the tipping point of transformation. It is absolutely possible to be the tipping point of transformation but you’ve got to lead a movement. And this book Leading Without Authority teaches you exactly how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s exciting. Well, so you mentioned a few examples, yourself and some leaders of renowned history.

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I’m not putting myself at par with Harriet Tubman. Not at all. I’m just saying no matter what kind of a movement you want to lead, whether it’s a meager movement inside of your organization to transform the way you do business, or it’s a social movement, it’s all borne on the same principles.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a story of someone who perhaps was frustrated, they were banging their head against the wall, not getting much results in terms of trying to lead because they didn’t have authority and things weren’t going anywhere, and how they turned it around?

Keith Ferrazzi
In chapter one of the book, we meet Sandy. And Sandy is a lovely woman, a well-intentioned HR leader, she’s not the top leader. In fact, she’s kind of pissed off at the top leader because the top leader has said to her, “Sandy, I want you to design a compensation system for the company as a whole. And, by the way, the sales folks over here, they are running their own play and trying to create a compensation system unique to sales. Would you head that off for me please,” and then he disappears like the coward that he was, because he, in reality, knew that he couldn’t stop it.

The head of sales in that company was more powerful than the head of HR, and the head of sales had created, like a lot of sales organizations do, a shadow HR function, and a lot of them do pretty much what they wanted to do. So, Sandy walks into the head of sales operations, a woman named Jane, and says, “Jane, I just want to let you know I’m creating this compensation system. Let’s sit down so we can reconcile what you’re doing with what I’m doing, and I can basically tell you how you should be doing it differently.”

And Jane is like, “Oh, thank you very much,” and never invited her to any of Jane’s meetings. And Sandy was like, “Well, wait a second. I’ve been ordained as the head of compensation. Why aren’t they letting me in these meetings?” Because they didn’t have to, because Sandy didn’t approach it in the right way.

When I ultimately got a chance to talk to Sandy, I met her at a conference that she had hounded me, and said, “I really want to meet you. I really want to have coffee with you.” And I said, “Sure, sure, sure. Let’s do it.” So, we had coffee, and she’s like, “Oh, I’m so exhausted. I think I came to the wrong company. I was very successful in where I was before.” And I said, “What’s going on?” She goes, “Well…” she told me the whole story about Jane and all of her frustrations. And I said, “Well, how’s your team?” And she says, “Well, they’re exhausted too. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to keep them.” “How’s your team?” And she looked at me, she goes, “Well, I thought I just answered that question.”

And I ultimately got to the point, I said, “Sandy, Jane is trying to build a compensation system. She’s responsible for all of sales. Whether you like it or not, she’s on your damn team and you’re being a really crappy leader.” And it was not in Sandy’s framework that this person who she vilified and was obstinate and not compliant was actually a team member that she had to serve and had to work with and she had to co-create with. Once she got herself pivoted around the fact that she was being indulgent and lazy, and she needed to actually work with this person differently, she approached this person, and this person not only came around but they ended up being great partners.

And what we found out, subsequently, was Jane was also embarrassed because the sales organization was not really playing ball with Jane, wasn’t showing up to meetings either, and Jane was embarrassed. She needed a friend, she needed a partner, but the way that Sandy bound in there with policy and compliance at the forefront just alienated her. So, it’s a very important story, and I think it’s one we’ve all faced at some level or another. And her taking a very different mindset toward somebody that she had previously thought of as an adversary, ultimately yielded extraordinary outcomes for both of them and the company.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a great shift in mindset that can make a world of difference. And I guess you don’t need to go into all the particulars of this individual example, but I’m really curious. Like, salespeople, you know, they want their fat commissions and their bonuses, and I don’t even know how that squares with a kind of global compensation system for a company. How did they crack it?

Keith Ferrazzi
How did they reconcile it? Well, it was interesting. First of all, one of the things that the relationship made Sandy recognize is, you’re exactly right, it couldn’t be a global compensation system. There had to be a local compensation system, there had to be both global and local at the same time. And what they ended up doing is created a beautiful model that had some basic principles that ended up being utilized by sales and, at the same time, cascaded out throughout the whole company.

So, this ended up being a model for all divisions to be able to use so that people could localize their needs. And, look, all the head of HR wanted was to save money on a centralized HR compensation program system, and he did that. He saved money and everybody sort of got their tweaks that they needed to make the program work.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about silos. I understand that that is sort of a big obstacle at times to pulling this off effectively, or at least we perceive it as such. I’m thinking about Dan Heath’s book Upstream you quoted repeatedly, “Every system is perfectly engineered to get the result that it gets.” So, can you orient us as to what is the value of silos and how do they come to be and what do they serve?

Keith Ferrazzi
By the way, these are such smart questions. So, silos came to be in the industrial era where everybody gets something, you pass on to the next person who did something, and you pass it on to the next person, sort of the conveyor belt of business, and that worked until the ‘80s. And then in the ‘80s, IT systems came along. I don’t know if you actually wanted this history.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Keith Ferrazzi
The IT systems came along like SAP, and they started to create what’s called the matrix where in the olden days Italy had everything they needed. They had their HR systems, they had their banking, they had their marketing, they had their budgets, everything happened in Italy, and they sold the products in Italy. And then, periodically, all the money would get scraped back from Italy and given to central headquarters which would create the very small central functions.

Well, when you had technology that could scrape the money every day, you had a more powerful CFO and a CFO function, you gained a more powerful chief marketing officer function. Policies, global policies sprung up, and you had HR systems, and supply chain systems, and people in Italy couldn’t even order their damn pencils anymore. Everything was a matrix. There was the vertical P&L and then there was the functional matrix.

The reality was everyone talked about the matrix, but matrix back then was nothing more than silos right on their side so people still clung to who’s got control. At every interface, the question was, “Who’s accountable and who’s got control?” and they fought for it, they scraped for it. This is where I screwed up when I went to Starwood Hotels so I served my way using Leading Without Authority. I served my way into a beautiful chief marketing officer job at Deloitte.

Then I go over to Starwood, and I’m given this amazing global job, and I walk in thinking that I’m the next best thing since sliced bread, and I think that I’m going to design this amazing global brand, and I didn’t give respect to the head of Europe who was running a very solid European marketing plan, but I scraped their dollars back and thought that it would be better to re-allocate. Now, look, I wanted to create a global consistent brand and all these things, but I could’ve co-created with him. Instead, I clung and I leveraged the power and the authority I had in my matrix.

Well, the long and short of it was we were both right and we should’ve been working together. And the head of Europe ended up becoming the CEO and just totally took my budget away as global head of marketing, and I decided this isn’t the place that I wanted to work anymore. So, the important lesson in all of this was that we’ve been fighting for too long, and the reality is you wake up today, and work is done in a very different way. It’s not even done in a matrix. It’s done in a network.

So, everything that your listeners are trying to do in their lives professionally, they have a goal, it’s a fuzzy vision, maybe it’s a distinct goal, and then they have a set of people, a network of people that they have to work with to get it done. That’s a team. That is a team. And that’s chapter one, “Who is your team?” And that was what I was trying to tell Sandy, “Who’s your team?” We need to redefine certain things. There are mindsets that have been guided since the industrial era that even though matrix happened, we’ve been clinging to old mindsets that, “For me, to be transformational, I’ve got to control more.”

You do not have to control more. You have to influence more. You have to co-create more. And I believe very much in diversity inclusion because I believe the diverse opinions inclusively offered will yield higher-performing outcomes. It yields innovation. And so, if you’re leading a network of people, and you’re boldly getting their input, and you’re boldly making big decisions with diverse and challenging insights, you’re going to be transformational, which is a different way of leading. Your team doesn’t exist in the way you thought of it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so it sounds like it all starts with changing a couple of your perspectives in terms of who’s on the team and how you engage and lead. Tell us…

Keith Ferrazzi
Can I challenge that for a second?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Keith Ferrazzi
So at Ferrazzi Greenlight, we study a bunch of stuff. We study how people and leaders should act. And what I’m saying is leaders and people should act to manage in a network not lead without authority. But how to get them to do it is another thing we study. How do you actually change behavior? And you don’t change behavior by changing mindsets. I know that that sounds odd.

There’s a wonderful phrase I learned from AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. “You don’t think your way into a new way of acting. You act your way into a new way of thinking.”

So, if I want somebody to change their mindset, I change their practices. And, one day at a time, we’ll wake up, and like, “That works. That works,” and the mindset changes. So, you start with the practices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then let’s chat about some of those practices in terms of where would you recommend we start first, then second, then third?

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Chapter one is “Who is your team?” so there’s a very distinct practice where you need to do what’s called a relationship action plan. A relationship action plan literally walks through, “What are we trying to achieve? Who do we need to achieve it with?” And then I even give details about how do you manage that on an ongoing basis with relationship quality scores, etc. So, really, number one is the practice of putting relationship action plans together.

The second practice is earning permission to lead. And I define the metric that I call porosity. Now porosity, it’s a word that exists. It doesn’t exist in the way I use it. Porousness means how porous, how absorptive. A sponge is very porous, right? A glass is less porous.

Leaders have to make people porous. Leaders, in the old day, if you led with authority, you don’t have to worry about porosity. You just said you’re a boss, you told somebody something. They absorb it. That was their job, “My job is to tell you. Your job was to absorb it,” right? So, in the new world where you may or may not be telling somebody something that they have the interest or the desire to absorb, you got to work at getting it absorbed, and that’s leadership. And there’s a whole strategy I called serve, share, and care.

How do you let people know that your job is to serve them? How do you let people know that you are authentically a good human trying to be of service? The vulnerability, the openness, a lot of Brene Brown’s work, a lot of Amy Edmondson’s work, our own research institute has gone into this stuff very deep. And then how do you really land that somebody believes you care about their success?

And there are practices and conversational tips and tactics and tools on moving that forward. There’s also lots of tactics around, “How do you co-create? How do you collaborate?” I think old-school collaboration is broken. Old-school collaboration is like there’s really more buy-in which meant, “I came up with an idea and I’m going to sell you one.” That’s buy-in. Co-creation is, “I have a vision. Let’s, you and I, wrestle this until we make it extraordinary.” Right? That’s the world of innovation that we live in today, and that’s what we need.

So, anyway, there’s tons of chapters and each one has very distinct practices about how do you lead in a network, how do you lead when you don’t have that authority. And, by the way, that doesn’t mean you’re not a leader. You could be the president of a company and still need to lead without authority because there’s always a set of individuals that will resist your idea if you try to foist it upon them with the traditional control and authority mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, let’s dig into some of these little tools, tips, tactics associated with how you really get across that you care about someone and you are trying to serve them and their interests.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Empathy is critical. Creating empathy between two people is really critical. And think of empathy as a bridge from where you are now to a productive relationship. But what is the key that opens up empathy in its most accelerated path? Like, what’s the thing that would create empathy between the two of us in the most accelerated fashion? You want to take a stab at it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m listening well.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. By the way, great one. The fastest path to activating empathy is vulnerability because vulnerability creates us. Where you sit and where I sit, how do we create us? I’ll give you a little practice. I’d be curious if you want to do this with me. There is a practice that I use at the beginning of meetings called sweet and sour. Sweet and sour. What’s going on right now in your life that’s sweet? And what’s going on right now in your life that’s sour?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot more than happy and crappy for the record. It sounds a lot more professional and enjoyable.

Keith Ferrazzi
Did you come up with that or did you read that, happy and crappy?

Pete Mockaitis
My buddy Connor shared that with me. I think it’s from camp or something.

Keith Ferrazzi
That’s funny. What’s happy and what’s crappy? I don’t know. I kind of…I might even adopt that one, what’s happy and crappy. By the way, I love that actually. I love happy and crappy. Okay, I totally take it back. I don’t like sweet and sour. It’s happy and crappy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re going to switch then. We’ll trade.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah, so happy and crappy. I win. So, what I’m happy about is I’m happy about the book. I’m also happy that we had the book release is over and the exhaustion of 4:00 o’clock a.m. podcast, not that this is exhausting and a 4:00 o’clock a.m. podcast but I was doing those, right? So, that I’m all happy about. Sour is my son. I have two boys, got one at 12, one at 16. They’re very long protracted pregnancies. No, I’m just kidding.

They were foster children. And the 16-year old, you know, he’s turned a corner in many ways but he’s making very bad choices, economic choices. And at a time when he doesn’t have a job, he’s not making good choices. And that would typically lead me to want to hold him accountable and restrict funding from him because of his very bad choices. And, unfortunately, we’re at a time when we’re in a crisis, and he has no sources of income so I’m struggling to set boundaries and still be supportive, and it’s very difficult for me, and I don’t think I’m being a very good father. So, that’s my sour.

What’s yours?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, I’ll tell you. Well, I guess the sweet and sour, alright? So, I think sweet, actually, hey, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a surge of enthusiasm for online learning so I’m seeing some actually pretty excellent growth in revenue and such, so that’s pretty sweet. What’s sour is, well, I’ll say what first came to mind and then we’ll discuss this afterwards. Well, at this moment, there is in the U.S. a whole lot of unrest, protests, riots associated with the murder of George Floyd, and conversations about racism and police brutality. And it just makes me sad when I read and I observe and I see the state of where we are and how difficult it can be to heal and transform. It just makes me sad. And I’m feeling hopeless in terms of I don’t quite know for me what I can do.

Now, I think I might know what you’re about to say, Keith, but you tell me. We were talking about vulnerability, what I just shared is sour but it’s not particularly vulnerable to me. That’s just something that I think all of us are kind of dealing with right now. Is that fair to say?

Keith Ferrazzi
It’s cool. First of all, when you asked for this, different people have different natural proclivity of their own openness. So, this is like when we ask somebody, “What are you really struggling with at work?” and your boss asks you that. “Well, I just work too hard.” So, your answer was authentic. It’s something you’re struggling with. How you’re internalizing it could be more vulnerable. You could be talking about a level of depression that you’re having, difficult concentrating, etc. That could be more vulnerable.

But, yeah, I mean, the window of vulnerability is open to how you want to be. The reason I went to personal, and went more deeply personal, is because I wanted to set a tone, and I could’ve gone more, right? If I’m doing this with a group of my friends that know me for years, I would go more vulnerable on things. And sometimes in certain environments you don’t but it’s a start, right? That was a start, and it does breed empathy. It does breed empathy. And then you move from there.

But we help teams create this kind of relational connection as one of the elements. There are eight elements. We coach team through eight elements of transformation. And we believe right now there is a very important opportunity for any member of a team or any leader of a team to re-contract with a team, to reboot how a team’s social contracts exist.

So, for instance, is there a social contract where we care about each other? Is there a social contract where I feel responsible for your success as I do my own? And that’s a contract. Now what’s the practice that follows that contract up? Is there a contract that we’re going to tell the truth in meetings? Or is there a contract we aren’t going to talk on each other’s backs? Many teams have contracts that talk behind each other’s backs. It’s not written on some value statement on the wall but it’s what happens.

I wrote all these up and we’ve done $2 million worth of research on how to apply these methodologies in a remote world. In a remote world, we find that you get a real degradation of trust, and you get a degradation of vulnerability, and you become much more transactional, so a lot of this has to be more intentional.

I put a website when all this happened. I put the $2 million worth of research studies up there. It’s called VirtualTeamsWin.com. And it has been very effective for people, and a part of it is a free contract that you can use to re-contract with your team and do a set of social norms. Now, I do that for a living with teams. I go in and I re-contract teams’ social norms, and I coach them to adopt these behaviors. But I wanted to write a book to help anybody be able to do that. And that was the intention of Leading Without Authority. How do you go into a group of people and help them rewrite their social contracts so you can achieve extraordinary things together?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’m starting to see the pieces are coming together a little bit here. I see that vulnerability led to empathy powerfully as you demonstrated. I guess I know what you’re dealing with, and I feel a closer connection to you as a result but I don’t yet know that you give a hoot about me and what I’m trying to achieve from that alone. What comes next?

Keith Ferrazzi
So, people are always talking about, “How do we get higher degrees of engagement in the workforce?” Well, have them co-create with you. Most old leaders would just dictate. I love reaching out to people and saying, like I said earlier, “Hey, I got an idea but let’s wrestle this together because I think together we can come up with a solution that’ll really kick butt, right?”

So, you got to get into a co-creation. Through the co-creation together, then you’ll have even more time. You’ll have more time to become deeper connected, right? Continue to lead with that authenticity, lead with that sincerity, that generosity, be of service, but along the way you have an opportunity to celebrate somebody in front of another person, “Hey, I’ve been working with so and so. Gosh, she’s just amazing. She’s so smart.” That is another way to show generosity.

So, I think of it as a DNA strand where being of service and being authentic keep intertwining with each other, because the more vulnerable and authentic you are, the more people will open to you authentically and vulnerably back, the more you can learn about them, the more you can be of service, the more you be of service, the more time they give you. And, together, the relationship creates loyalty. And I think this is true of all relationships, not even just work relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Well I’m curious, if you’re going about doing this sort of thing and you hit some roadblocks and people just don’t seem to be jiving with what you’re trying to do, what are means of diagnosing and correcting what’s going on?

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, lots of advice in the book on this. One of the whole chapters is called, “It’s all on you,” where I come up with six deadly excuses that we use to not work with people collaboratively. And a lot of it is because you bump up against the wall and someone’s difficult or obstinate or distracted. And you’re just like, “Oh they should cooperate with me. They should collaborate with me.” It’s like all on your terms. And so I twist it and I say it’s all on you.

Sometimes, you have to go 99.9% of the way to engage somebody before they start to move halfway toward you. Like with my son, when he first came into my house, I couldn’t say, “When you start acting like my son, I’ll be your father.” He’d be like, “Well screw you. I don’t want you to be my father. anyway” And so I had to work 99.9% harder and on the way, I had to stay there and be vulnerable and try to be the best dad I could be while he was saying, “You will never be my father.” And sometimes we have to do that at the workplace if we want to be high integrity leaders.

Keith Ferrazzi
What I think is most important is that we decide sometimes also when we need to walk away if you can walk away. A lot of energy gets eroded when you are working your butt off to try to convert somebody that is a resistor when you should be working to create outcomes with people who are desirous of getting outcomes with you. Because often the momentum of working with people who are desirous of getting outcomes with you will actually be the thing that you need to convert the naysayer, so don’t spend too much time trying to intellectually convert the naysayer. You should be focusing as well on actually getting results. So, a lot of the methodology of Leading Without Authority is take some small wins and get them over the line as well.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
No. Look, I mean, this was an eight-year passion project. And now I’m creating books, and, just like yourself, I’m creating leadership courses, and I really do want people to be able to be extraordinary in this new world.

I also just started a foundation called Go Forward to Work. And the principle of it is we’ve done a lot of transformation in the last couple of months, I want people to go forward to work, not back to work. I want us to define what the future of work is because I think it’s alive and living right now in this time of crisis, and I want to document it. And I’m working with about 80 CHROs of some of the biggest companies in the world to define what the practices of the future of work are today.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Oh, yeah. I think it was “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I think it was Emerson. But the principle is sticking to your guns too long is foolish particularly if you get more data and you get a better argument.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I just started using technology in very different ways. I’m using Slack, I’m using Asana. I think it’s so important. Of course, Zoom has been extraordinary. I think it’s so important for us to begin to be much more rigorous in our use of tools to support our business, and that’s not traditionally been done. Even in big organizations, I don’t see some of these tools being used for communications, for program management, for knowledge management, for process redefinition and management. They’re great tools so I would start using some of them.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
I think it’s the definition of all the work that I’ve done, it’s always ask, “Who?” When you figure out where you want to go, you’re trying to think about what you want to do, how you want to get there, there’s a question that we under-curate, and that question is, “Who?” Right? “Who do I need to do it with?” And then all of our science and research helps you be extraordinary, and it helps you be awesome at your job, relative to that question “Who?” from a relational and collaborative standpoint.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
KeithFerrazzi.com is probably the best. I’m very proud of a leadership course we just created there. You can get the book everywhere, but KeithFerrazzi.com is a great place to start. I check my own Instagram too if anybody wants to say hi.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Have a vision for something that could be transformative in your workplace, and identify the first person to bring into the team to co-create that vision. And the wonderful thing about the first person you bring into your team, you’re actually bringing them into their team, meaning this is a real co-creation. Don’t hold this idea up as yours. It’s yours and theirs. Go kick some butt and go be transformative. The next thing you know, you might end up rising up to be an executive at the company because of your transformation.

Pete Mockaitis
Keith, this has been a treat. Thanks so much and keep on rocking.

Keith Ferrazzi
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. It’s an honor.