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Influence

349: The Case for Kindness at Work with Dr. Richard Shuster

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Dr. Richard Shuster shows how being kind to others just because can help make you even more awesome at your job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The implications of being kind to others at work
  2. The two kinds of kindness and which one is better for your health
  3. The number one pro tip for being kind to your colleagues

About Richard

Dr. Richard Shuster is a licensed clinical psychologist and the host of The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster: Food for the Brain, Knowledge from the experts, Tools to Win at Life® which is regularly downloaded in over 70 countries. On his podcast, Dr. Shuster’s guests educate and inspire listeners through their stories, expertise, and passion for helping make a difference in the lives of others. His mission is to make the world a better place. His show’s growing movement strives to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others and post it on their social media using #mydailyhelping®. A sought after media expert, Dr. Shuster’s clinical expertise and podcast have been featured in such publications as The Huffington Post, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Inc., Real Simple, NBCNews.com, Cosmopolitan, Glassdoor.com, Reader’s Digest, and others.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Richard Shuster Interview Transcript

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

Dr. Richard Shuster
Pete, it is awesome to be at the Awesome At Your Job podcast. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah, I’m really glad that we got to do this. I enjoyed meeting you at Podcast Movement. We spent about half an hour talking about barbeque, and then we got into the weightier things of life.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Yes, I think most conversations should start with some mentioning of barbeque, to be sure.

Pete Mockaitis

So, let’s go right for some heavy stuff. You have a wild story, in which you had a car accident, but you say it changed your life for the better. What’s the scoop here?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Sure. So, ironically enough, had you met me prior to this accident I would have been the anti-candidate to come on your show, because I wasn’t overly happy with what I was doing. I was doing it in a large part because of expectations that I thought that others had of me. I was in the midst of creating and IT consulting company, I had just bid on a government contract through the military and won, which was pretty wild for somebody in their early 20s.
And one day, while driving, and it was just a normal Saturday, I was in a horrific car accident, in which I broke my spine. A car went careening through a light as I was making a left turn, slammed into me, which sent me into oncoming traffic after my bags deployed. And then it was a telephone pole which ultimately stopped my forward momentum.
And prior to that car accident, prior to that day, I was very, very selfish, I was very materialistic. I would refer to my business as “The Schuster Empire”. I really felt that way, that I’m superior. If anyone’s ever seen that movie Family Man with Nicolas Cage, I wanted to be him before he had the kids – the fast cars and the money and all of these things.
And so, what’s really interesting is that there’s been a lot of research done on what happens to people when they’re in near-death experiences. You always hear the cliché, “My life flashes before my eyes”, that sort of thing. That’s not what happens to a lot of people. What happens to a lot of people is when they’re about to die, time slows down quite significantly. And a lot of soldiers have reported this, going back to many, many wars. We have letters from soldiers who have talked about this historically.
So, in this moment from when car one hits me, and then the airbag goes off and I’m careening – that whole accident scene that I described to you was maybe three seconds in total. But for me in real time, it felt like it was significantly longer. I’m sitting there, watching the center console crush into my ribs like it’s somebody’s crushing a can of Coke in their hand, and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m about to die.” It wasn’t one of these Ebenezer Scrooge kind of moments, like, “Dear God, let me live and I’ll be a good person.” I was dead. I knew I was going to die.
And my thoughts then shifted to my parents, my mom in particular. I was young and I wasn’t married, and I was like, “My mom’s about to get this call that her son is dead.” And I was so guilty. What a senseless way to die. And then the next thought that I had, which kind of came out of that guilt about my parents was, “What do I have to show? What have I really accomplished in my life? What am I proud of? What are people going to be proud of me for?” And the answer was, “Not much.” And then obviously I didn’t die. It took me quite a long time to recover, but for me, Pete, nothing was ever the same after that.
Now, I went back to work after some time, and was miserable. And I stuck it out far longer than I should have, in large part because of fear. I didn’t know what I would do. That was the thing that I thought I was supposed to do. I didn’t want to let people down. But I was just miserable, and I knew I wanted to do something more and something that helped society, helped the world. And so, one day I walked away from that. I just said, “I’m done” and I walked out. And the reactions that I got from my circle were as expected – when people do things that don’t make sense to them, people tell you you’re crazy – “What? You’re doing what? How could you possibly do that? You’ve invested all this time and money”, and blah, blah, blah.
But I went from 80 hours a week to 0, and was going through this period of time where I’m finding who I am. I know that’s also very cliché, but I’m just kind of sitting around, and even though I had left, I was scared out of my mind. I had no clue what I was going to be doing next, and thinking that all this time I spent in technology was kind of wasted.
And then something really funny happened – I went to the local grocery store in the city where I was living at the time, and I heard these women talking. This was maybe circa 2003-ish, so Facebook didn’t exist; Myspace was the thing then. Well, I think Facebook did exist but it was only for college students. And so I heard these women talking about their teens doing questionable behavior on the Internet.
And so I butted in, which is something I don’t usually do, but I interjected into their conversation. I had some background in network security and technology, and so all of a sudden now they’re inviting me to speak at their PTA and I’m volunteering my time. And somebody in the audience was in the cyber-crime unit of their local police department – no idea why they didn’t ask him, but they asked me. And that guy came up to me after and he was really excited. He said, “You’re a civilian but you’ve got this knowledge. You want to come and start doing the tour with us?”
And now I’m speaking in front of large groups of people, and all of a sudden that statement that I had made to myself about the wasted time in technology, not doing things meaningful to help society – that all went away. And just doing that speaking reframed that for me. And so that led to other experiences, which pushed me towards graduate school. In getting my first master’s degree I was privileged to work with evacuees from New Orleans who lost everything during Hurricane Katrina. That was really powerful to see that. And then I went on to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology, where I then got advanced training in forensic and neuropsychology.
So, that’s what my, quote unquote “day job” became, and while I was privileged and grateful for the opportunity to work with patients directly, the thing that was really still kind of biting at me was, “How do I do something more? How do I do something grander?” And so, that’s when I came up with The Daily Helping podcast, and the show’s mission is to help people become the best versions of themselves. And of course there are a lot of shows with similar themes, and that’s aspirational. Right, Pete? You’re not going to get a certificate three weeks from now in the mail from me, your wife or anybody else that says, “Congratulations, Pete! You’re now the best version of who you are.”

Pete Mockaitis

Even if I sign up for your Elite Double Platinum Diamond program?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Unfortunately no, we just can’t make that kind of a guarantee.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh man.

Dr. Richard Shuster

I know, I know. It’s a bummer. But in all seriousness, that’s an aspirational statement. We of course strive to learn and become better than we were the day before, but applying what I learned in graduate school about neuroscience is that the research indicates – it’s very interesting – that we as a society… I’ll take a step back because my doctoral dissertation was on the impact of personality functioning from technology, and in particular social media.
So, social media really has turned us into this society where we are often presenting this idealized version of ourselves, and often a false version of ourselves to the world, because when we log on to Facebook or Instagram and whatnot, and we see our neighbor always on an amazing vacation, doing something crazy – we want to do the same thing and we want to show how wonderful we are.
So what I wanted to do with the podcast was tie the show’s movement into something that has been researched, and that is when we help people, the same structures of our brains, the same neurotransmitters, the same things fire as when we receive assistance. And a lot of people don’t know that, and a lot of people don’t think about that. So, part of my show’s movement is I encourage my listeners every episode in our call to action to go and commit an act of kindness and post it in their social media feeds using the hashtag #mydailyhelping, because I know that if I can get people…
And the goal is to get a million people every day doing this, by the way. That if we can get that many people committing acts of kindness, they’re going to feel better about themselves, they’re going to like who they are. And when we’re all liking who we are and liking what we’re doing, that’s going to make the world a better place.

Pete Mockaitis

That is cool, and a beautiful vision, and I’m so glad that you’re alive and that you took good inspirations.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Me too, me too.

Pete Mockaitis

From that scary experience. And so, you’re helping and you’ve got all kinds of neuroscience insights into helping. So, making the world a better place – yes, I am about that, and even more precisely we’re about that in the context of people being awesome at their jobs and experiencing the joys that come with that, in terms of being able to better serve others and just experience the joy of excellence in doing your thing and how that enriches everybody all the more, as opposed to being lame at your job. So, I want to get your take then on, how does helping others help us become awesome at our jobs?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So there is a lot of research done by I/O psychologists about what happens to us when we like what we do and when we’re good at what we do. And so, particularly those that have high degrees of employment satisfaction are demonstrated to have higher levels of oxytocin present in their blood. And oxytocin is a hormone that’s released by the hypothalamus, it flows out into our blood stream, and it’s really been demonstrated to do a lot of things, including promote feelings of trust.
So if you’re good at your job, you’re likely going to be more prone to connect meaningfully with your coworkers, to value your team, to be helpful to others who are in your workplace. And what the research has also shown is that people who are in that space – who like what they do, who are all about the camaraderie, who have a high degree of competence and satisfaction in their job – they also experience – how about this – less stress, less anxiety. They report having an overall brighter and better mood than those that don’t, and their relationship satisfaction is higher. And for those people who are employers – you’ll like this too – fewer sick days have been demonstrated consistently in the research by those who excel at what they do professionally.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s compelling stuff, so good news there. And oxytocin – that whole molecule is fascinating. We had Dr. Paul Zak discuss oxytocin in a previous episode.

Dr. Richard Shuster

He was actually my first guest on my show. He’s phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis

Good choice.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

So, good stuff. I’m with you there. So, being awesome at your job has benefits that extend beyond just a good review and maybe a pay raise or a promotion. That’s cool. And so, I’m curious, in the realm of helping – when you’re helping other folks, I guess I’m thinking about the Adam Grant Give and Take stuff. How do you think about that, with, sort of, your mission about changing the world and making it a better place, with more helping and becoming the best version of yourselves, and then doing these acts of kindness? How do you think about in the grand scheme of, you’ve got your resources, your time, your energy, your attention, how you spend your day. And how do you think about the allocation of, “Am I giving or am I taking? And am I giving to just anybody or am I giving strategically? Or is giving strategically really self-serving and not truly giving, and thus I don’t get the cool brain benefits?” I just want to enter this messy tangle with you.

Dr. Richard Shuster

It’s the most controversial non-controversial subject ever. It’s interesting, because there’s research on both sides of this. There are those that pose it that if you are strategically giving, i.e. giving from a self-serving perspective, that’s not truly generosity. Whereas there are others who say that any kind of altruistic act, even if it is self-serving or has some intentionality behind it, the end result is that it helps others. So, the textbook definition of altruism is “an act which helps another person, where one is expecting nothing in return”.
And what I would say is that I think both sides can be right. And I’m not saying that to pass the buck, but if you think about it, let’s use the example of strategically self-serving. So there might be a charity or an organization or something – a fundraiser for your kid’s school – and you have X number of hours in your day. You talked about the allotment of time – you have X amount of time, X amount of resources or money, and so you choose strategically to give that to something which is important to you.
To me that is just as altruistic as the person who wants to help a little old lady cross the street. It’s still an altruistic motive, you’re intending to help somebody. Even though example A – that helping is more directed, it’s still helping. There are the other proponents who say if I give somebody $5 because I think the universe is going to pay it forward to me and give me $10 back – is that really altruism? So there’s where the research gets interesting.
There have been some studies which show our brains react the same, whether we’re giving with intentionality, hoping to get something back, or whether we are in fact just giving to give. And yet, there’s also research on the other side. What we do know definitively is that if I were to take two people and hook up real-time diagnostic imaging of their brains – units that could do that; we live in this wonderful age where we have the technology to do these sorts of things – and person A gave somebody $1,000 and person B received $1,000, the same parts of the brain light up.
My take on all of the research is that I believe that you can’t help but have a sense of satisfaction when you help somebody for the purposes of just helping. When you’re just trying to do something nice for somebody else and you do it, it feels intrinsically better than it does if you’re kind of coerced into it – if it’s a fundraiser or a Girl Scout cookie drive or something. There’s just a difference there.
Whereas this reward system that I’m talking about, that I’ve referenced, which is called the mesolimbic pathway in our brain – that’s a pretty old biological system. And so what really separates us from lower animals is because of our frontal lobes, the prefrontal cortex, we have the higher reasoning abilities and we have the capabilities of applying experiences and emotions to things in a different way than, say, a dog, right? So, to me, because of the evolution of our brain and these other capabilities we have, it seems intrinsically reasonable to say that if you’re doing something that is truly altruistic, you’re going to get that extra kick of feeling good that you might not get if you’re doing it for an ulterior motive, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I hear you. And it’s funny, as you mentioned the $1,000 and the same parts of the brain lighting up, I think that in a way that’s surprising, but in another way if I really put myself in those shoes, it is similar. If I were to receive $1,000 I’d be like, “What?!” It’s like, “What a delight! This is crazy, and wild and surprising and wonderful.” At the same time, if you were to give that just for kicks, it also feels that way. I remember I’ve had a couple of experiences – not to toot my own horn, but we’ll just use the examples here to illustrate.
But I heard some gals chatting behind me in the line at Chipotle, and it was clear they were in college and pretty broke. And I was like, “Man, I remember those days – having $300 total and hoping that I could not spend all of it until the summer, where I could work and do some more, an internship or something.” And so, I heard them talking about being broke, college woes. And so I just decided to pay for their Chipotle.
And it was kind of a delight, in the sense of, “Hehehehehe.” It’s almost like I’m getting away with something. [laugh] And then they were very appreciative and whatever. But yeah, that feels awesome. And likewise, a couple of times I’ve paid the toll for the person behind me. I think I heard a motivational speaker suggest that once. It was like, “Let’s give that a shot.” And it was really fun, because then you look through your rearview mirror and they’re like, “What? Really? Huh? Awesome!” [laugh]

Dr. Richard Shuster

It’s so funny, and what you described, I do similar things. I will sometimes buy the grocery cart for somebody else when I’m in line, and the reaction you described is exactly right. They kind of freak out; they start looking around for hidden cameras, they wonder what the angle is. But I’m sure you saw in these college students the same thing that most people would experience when they do that – once somebody realizes that this is a genuine legit thing, their mind is so blown that you can see their entire perspective change. They go from suspiciousness to “What’s going on?” to disbelief to “Really?” to “Oh my God, this is so amazing.” And it’s that feeling of, “This is so wonderful.” And that’s why I’m really trying to help people get out there and do that, because the more we feel that, as I said, the better our lives are, the better everybody’s lives are.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, totally. That’s cool. In the workplace then, it’s intriguing. So in giving, you are not only just being helpful, and maybe a listening reciprocation, although I guess it’s a little bit debated whether if you fixate on that, that you may be shooting yourself in the foot, in terms of the biochemical benefits flow into you. But when you do so, you’re feeling awesome, and so that has all kinds of cool follow-on effects in terms of being able to be happy, more productive and cheerful and energetic and creative, and all that sort of stuff. I’m thinking about Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage stuff here. So that’s cool. Then how else do you think about giving in the realm of relationships and networks and colleagues and collaboration? What are some of your other favorite perspectives or pro tips there?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, one of the things that’s been very helpful for me is, I remember – I’m sure the audience remembers when those bracelets came out that everybody started wearing – WWJD, I think they were called. And it was like a reminder, kind of like this string around your finger to act in a certain way. And for me the thing that I kind of asked myself, which is my ONE thing – to talk about Geoff Woods here a little bit – I try and act in a way that all of my actions in some way can help other people, even if it’s of no benefit to me directly.
So, in terms of networking, in terms of colleagues – and not just in a work setting; this can certainly apply to your spouse, to your children, to your neighbors – it’s, “What can I do?” That’s the question: “What can I do to add value to you? How can I help you?” The quickest way to put people off is just to start talking about yourself. Nobody wants to hear that. But if we’re genuinely interested… And I’m not talking just paying lip service to Dale Carnegie. These are not secrets; these are things that have been out there for a very long time.
But when we genuinely show interest in others and say, “Oh, you do this. You’re new to our department. Well, here’s the ropes” – that person’s going to be appreciative of you. And that’s the first place I’d start is, connect with people by finding out more about them and finding out how you can leverage the things that you’re intrinsically good at to help them make their jobs easier.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, right on. That’s good. So that’s the scoop when it comes to the helping in the workplace. I’d also love to hear some of your research-based insights. Your subtitle is awesome: “Food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life”. So, could you give us some of the greatest hits, in terms of tips and takeaways for how one does transform to become the best version of themselves?

Dr. Richard Shuster

I think you have to be very clear on what matters to you, and that starts with your values. If you don’t know what you stand for and you don’t know what’s important to you, then it’s really going to be difficult for you to define with any degree of certainty who you are as a person. I tell everybody the first thing to do is get extremely granular about that, and then the next thing is to once you know your values, find out what specific things fire you.
So, people hear me talk, and I’ve had people come up to me at conventions and say, “What you’re saying is great and all, but I’m in my job and it’s a good job. I’m looking for fulfillment, but I’ve got two kids and I don’t want to start my own business”, or something like that. And so what I would say to people who are thinking that, listening to us talk, Pete, is that there are a lot of different ways to find fulfillment. And that’s why knowing what you’re passionate about matters. You can keep your day job and you don’t have to, at the age of 40, quit and go back to graduate school to become a counsellor. You can volunteer at boys’ and girls’ club or something like that. So, if animals are important to you, you can dedicate some time at a shelter or foster animals, or what have you.
So, the whole point is that it’s not such a black and white thing, and just because you like something doesn’t mean that it has to be what you love to do. We talked about barbecue; we spent a significant amount of time talking about the awesomeness of smoking meat. And yet, neither you nor I are going to be quitting our jobs to open up a barbecue restaurant, right? So, there is some common sense to this, but I will say this – if for those of us who are able to find something we’re passionate about, that it’s something that we feel good about doing, ergo makes the world a better place, helps society, and that we’re able to generate income from that – that is the tops. That is absolutely the tops.

Pete Mockaitis

I dig it, I dig it. Now, could you share with us, for you in interviewing all of your different podcast guests, are there a couple of those guests who have really made a lasting impact on how you think and operate in your daily work and life?

Dr. Richard Shuster

One for sure was Sean Swarner, who was episode 31 on my show. And Sean, for those of you who aren’t familiar with him, was voted as one of the eight most inspirational people alive. I think he won the ESPN award for courage as well. And Sean’s story was so powerful, because basically he did at two different points in his life contract two extraordinarily rare cancers. I don’t remember the number he gave on the show of the odds of getting both of these different types of terminal cancers, but the odds were like winning the lottery, a gazillion times. It was a ridiculous, an impossible number.
And yet, despite having these two fatal diseases, he overcame that. And not only did he overcome that – and one of the cancers cost him a lung – he then on to climb Mount Everest with one lung, and continued to scale Mount Kilimanjaro. He’s climbed all of the top mountains in the world, and he plants a flag for people with cancer. And hearing his story was so incredibly powerful, and it’s one of those things where if you hear it and you think about any obstacle in your life, no matter what it is – how could you not believe that you can overcome it after hearing a story like that? So I think that’s probably the most powerful episode that I’ve ever heard.
I had another episode that I recently recorded. I’m not sure if it will air before this does, but with John O’Leary, who had a similar story, where he miraculously overcame medical odds, which were like 99% chance that he was going to die as well. And shared his story about how he inspires others.
Others that have really resonated with me – episode 48, David Osborn, the New York Times bestselling author of Wealth Can’t Wait was on my program. And what was so powerful about David, and for those of you who know and meet him, he’s the most down-to-earth guy in the world. And he’s got a net worth of well over $100 million that he created himself. And his whole mission in life is to give it all away. So, what an awesome reminder for those of us driving for success about what it’s really all about. Those are a couple. There are others, but those are two top of mind that are really special episodes for me.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, thank you. And finally, you have started a non-profit recently and you’re doing some helping through that vehicle. What’s the scoop here?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, I talk about miracles in my life, and surviving my accident was the first. My son being born was the second. And before I turn people off and you think I’m rambling off a Hallmark card, my son who is now five and a half years old, and perfect and wonderful, nearly died in utero. And the miracle that I spoke of was that at 31 weeks into my wife’s pregnancy, she collapses at work and has to go to the hospital right away, of course, and we’re fearing the worst, thinking something’s horribly wrong with the baby.
And the doctor who comes out gives the “good news and bad news” speech, which I think is actually worse than just getting bad news. You just kind of want to know what it is. And so, the good news was that the reason why my wife was in debilitating pain was because my little guy was kicking her sciatic nerve, which is extraordinarily painful, and yet not really dangerous to the child, and certainly wasn’t dangerous to my wife.
So, in a way he was letting the world know that we need to get my wife into a hospital, because what the doctor told us was that she had a very insidiously slow leak of her amniotic fluid – so slow that it was imperceptible. And yet, had we not come in when we came in, my son would have suffocated to death in her womb 12 hours later. That’s what they told us. So, we’re freaking out.
And I’ll very much abridge the story for you, but my wife was on bed rest for the rest of the pregnancy, cooking until 37 weeks, but when he was born because of the lack of fluid, he had fluid to live but not fluid to move, and so he was born with a tremendous amount of developmental difficulties, yet he was smart.
And so, as he got a little bit older and we tried to get him some help, his high cognitive scores really brought up his overall scoring and we couldn’t get him all of the help that he needed for some of these other delayed areas. And we struggled. So, where we had been reasonably financially responsible up until that time, we did what any parent would do – we got our kid the help any way we could, which was we put stuff on credit cards, and financially nearly – this was in 2012-2013 – almost destroyed ourselves at the time. But I would do it, of course, as would any parent, over and over again to save my kid, help my kid.
And so, he struggled so mightily, but because we got him the help, because his teacher was so amazing and his preschool was so amazing, now as I said, I have a very happy ending. I have a very wonderful kid who can do everything that any other child can do. And what I really wanted to be able to create was this entity that helps those kids like my son that just need a little bit of a push to reach their true potential.
There are a lot of organizations in place, and God bless them and I wish we had more that are going to help those kids with severe issues. And the schools are federally mandated as well for those children that meet a certain criteria, that are beyond a certain threshold clinically or academically, in terms of impairment, that they have to give them some degree of assistance.
But the vast majority of kids with problems are not the ones that are acting out behaviorally. They’re silent, and they sit in their classroom and they wonder why their classmates are so much better at the things that they can’t do. And they are the ones who are at increased risk for things like depression and low self-esteem. And there’s nobody in this space, Pete.
Our charity’s called Every Kid Rocks, and so what we are as a … we collect money, and schools apply to be a part of our organization. Participating schools are trained by us, and they are taught how to identify these children that might need just a little push, a little bit of speech, physical or occupational therapy, so that they may reach their true potential.
It’s the most exciting thing that I’ve ever been a part of. I feel really honored and grateful that so many people have come out in support of it, and we’re just actually getting ready to launch. I don’t know when this is going to air, but we finally received our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS in July, and so now we’re just putting the final back end infrastructure in place, technology in particular. And we are going to be turning the lights on in October, so we’re very excited. And our goal is to help 10,000 children a year in this country.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome, thank you.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. So now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, I don’t know if there’s a favorite quote I have per se. I would say the Jim Rohn quote is one that always resonates strongly with me, and it’s, “You’re the average of the five people that you hang around with.” And I know that’s been overused in this space, but I want to qualify as to why, in that one of the things that we’ve discovered in recent years are these little guys up in our brains called “mirror neurons”.
And so, a number of months ago – it was actually during the last football season – NBC.com asked me to collaborate with them on what happens to our brain when we watch football. And the example there was, if you think about this scenario – why would a total stranger go up and hug another total stranger, high-five another total stranger? It’s just not something that we often do. And it’s because we have these things in our brains that are all throughout our brain, called mirror neurons. And what mirror neurons do is they wire us essentially to connect with people who evidence similar emotions or characteristics to things that we find intrinsically reasonable or valuable.
So, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Jim Rohn – all of these guys have been talking about this forever. And the “birds of a feather” – it’s another spin on the same thing. But the science behind the mirror neurons is our brains adapt to become more like people that we associate with. So, if you want to be really happy and successful, there’s a reason why being around really happy and successful people push you into that space as well. And the mirror neurons are the hardwired science behind that. So I guess I backed into that response, but I’m going to own that, Pete, and say that’s my favorite quote.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite tool?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Oh God. My big green egg. No, I’m just kidding. The things that I use the most are Slack, Trello, and Upwork.com, which isn’t a tool but it’s a place. Basically my position is, any way that I can leverage technology or resources to automate processes within my organizations, or take time off my hands, which allows me to spend more time and be more present with my wife and children, is important to me.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite habit?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Favorite habit is getting up at 5:00 a.m. every day and starting the day by writing three things that I’m really grateful for, every day.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners and folks that you’re engaging with?

Dr. Richard Shuster

What I tell everybody is, do something for someone else, even if it’s of no benefit to you. Do something nice for somebody else. And when you do that, your days are going to feel better. And if you can start stringing days together, weeks together, months together – you’re going to feel good every day.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Dr. Richard Shuster

I think I just did it.

Pete Mockaitis

It sounds like it.

Dr. Richard Shuster

I think I just did, yeah. I would encourage you, and this can be an act of kindness within your workplace, this can be an act of kindness within your community, this can be an act of kindness with your significant other. Do something unexpected, do something nice. And I’ll go even a step further – that if there is somebody who you have historically butted heads with in your organization, I challenge you especially to start doing nice things for them, and watch what happens.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, I would point everybody to TheDailyHelping.com, and that’s the mothership of everything related to the show. And you can check out all the latest episodes of the podcast and happenings right there.

Dr. Richard Shuster

And we have something called Personal Helping and I’d like to offer that to your audience, if you’re okay with that.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure, thank you. And what’s Personal Helping and how does that work?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So Personal Helping is our coaching system that I developed with a number of behavior science experts. So, there’s a little bit of neuroscience, there’s some research into strengths. And essentially, Personal Helping is going to help you do some of those things that I talked about earlier – really find out what your core values and beliefs are, what are the things that power you, how to implement some of those things into your life. And using the neuroscience of habit formation, we help you build out a schedule and a routine to where those things become a part of what you do every day, which overall makes you happier, perform better, and more on top of your game. And so, if you’re interested, we give away 10 coaching sessions a month through the platform. Go to TheDailyHelping.com/Contest and sign up, and hope that you win.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool, thanks. Well, Dr. Richard, this has been a blast. Thanks so much for taking this time and doing all you do with the helping!

Dr. Richard Shuster

It’s been great being here, Pete. Thanks so much.

340: How to Be a Chief Even without a Title with Rick Miller

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Rick Miller outlines what power really means and the five components needed to build it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Where true power comes from
  2. Five ways to create insight and energy
  3. Why supporting other people’s success grows your influence

About Rick

Rick Miller is an unconventional turnaround specialist, a servant leader, and a go-to Chief. He is also an experienced and trusted confidant, an author (Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title, September 4, Motivational Press), a sought-after speaker, and an expert at driving sustainable growth. For over 30 years, Rick served as a successful business executive in roles including President and/or CEO in a Fortune 10, a Fortune 30, a startup, and a nonprofit. Rick earned a bachelor’s degree from Bentley University and an MBA from Columbia. He currently lives in Morristown, NJ.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rick Miller Interview Transcript

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

Rick Miller
Great to be with you Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think there are many things that I’m excited to discuss with you. One of them that is chief among them – get it – is your—

Rick Miller
Well done.

Pete Mockaitis
Is your experience training at a professional wrestling school. What is this about?

Rick Miller
Well, you asked for something that was a little different. Back in the early ‘80s when WrestleMania I came out – showing a little date here – it was a couple of wrestlers: Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. I was running a sales organization at the time and I wanted to do something fun for our sales kickoff, so I went to Killer Kowalski’s Wrestling School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Now Killer Kowalski’s at the time was still the famed six foot six inch 325 pound monster that he was years earlier. Let’s just say, Pete, that the 325 had settled differently in his body.

I went with a couple of other folks. We learned to throw each other around and worked with Killer and a professional midget wrestler and were there for a couple of weeks and put on one heck of a kickoff for our sales team, one they didn’t expect.

But at the time WrestleMania was all the discussion. Again, I know they’ve had a bunch since, but back in the day it was fresh and it was new. No I didn’t garner the tights, but it was interesting to be thrown against turnbuckles and coming off ropes and things like that. I have a real respect for learning how to fall the right way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. So you went through all of this to put on a show for the sales team?

Rick Miller
I did. I did. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s amazing.

Rick Miller
Oh yeah. I mean listen, you’re trying to get people motivated and have some fun and frankly show kind of a fun side of yourself. You’re going to spend the rest of the year trying to work with the team to perform miracles in terms of generating numbers that you’re trying to build up. But at the front end of most sales years is a fun kickoff and we thought that year that was the way to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Who were you wrestling in your exhibition?

Rick Miller
I was wrestling Killer Kowalski. I had a-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the Killer himself. Okay.

Rick Miller
Yeah, I was – yeah, yeah. It was great because it was funny. You grabbed them by the hand and a little tug and of course he launched himself into the air as if you did it. I got to tell you, the sounds of 300 and some-odd pounds landing the way it did, I can’t even express to you.

But the real fun was the way the skit was set up is that I was going after Killer and I was beating him for a while, but then he threw me once and I stayed down. The way the skit was set up, I reached up and said just loud enough for the audience to say, I said, “I need help from headquarters,” and in came his partner, a professional midget.

The size difference between the midget and Killer and then obviously the midget who was the headquarters, at the time it was the computer company I was working for, and he had our logo emblazoned to the midget on his chest.

He starts throwing Killer Kowalski around in a well-choreographed dance, if you will, that they had done many times. At the end, the midget holds my hand up and we’re standing on Killer Kowalski’s chest and the crowd is going crazy because obviously with headquarters’ help you can defeat – I think at the time we had Killer Kowalski with an IBM shirt on. It was really sappy, but I tell you what, it really had the sales force pumped up.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh. That is so fun. Wow. Thank you for sharing and really painting a picture there. That’s really cool. Well now I want to hear a little about your company. It’s called Being Chief LLC. What’s this organization about?

Rick Miller
It’s the organization that I set up when I left the last big company job that I had ten years ago to give me a platform to do what I like to do, which is I do some speaking, I do some writing, and I work really as a confidant, an advisor, to business leaders who want to work together on personally and professionally being more powerful.

That’s the umbrella term. I’ve long since lost the need to run large organizations. At one point I had 10,000 people when I was at AT&T that were under my direct kind of area of responsibility. I’ve really enjoyed over the last ten years having an employee base of one. It’s working out just fine for me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Yeah. I dig it. You have articulated many of your kind of core beliefs or messages there at Being Chief in the book, Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title. What are kind of the main pieces of this?

Rick Miller
Well, the central element of the book is about power. I was fortunate enough to do a TED talk a number of years ago. The line – I thought later on about the book – but the line in the TED talk that got the most resonance was people have an awful lot of interest in the term “chief,” but they frankly have a lot more interest in the power associated with the word “chief.”

Back in the day when I got out of business school, there was a chain of titles that you tried to move up. You become a vice president to a senior vice president to an executive vice president to a president to a CEO. That was the path that many of us took. Now, the term of the day is “chief” as in chief fill-in-the-blank officer. There are chiefs everywhere.

But the reason that the term “chief” is being thrown around is because people want the power associated with the word “chief.” The book – a central element of the book, again, the subtitle is It’s a Choice, Not a Title because I believe that power, as some people define it, conventionally is kind of yesterday’s newspaper to be honest.

Power, in many people’s minds, still if they’re thinking in an old paradigm, is about authority and control that comes from a title or a position or some element of superiority. That’s an old way of thinking about power.

The book offers that real power is energy. Real power is clarity. Real power is confidence. With those, that anyone can have independent of where they are in any organization, that’s where they can have influence and that’s where they can make a real impact.

The book is all about redefining power, giving you a way to measure your power, to increase your power, and then have your power spread to other people, other parts of your organization.

Because as an unconventional turnaround specialist, which is the label that I sometimes get – although my favorite label, honestly Pete, is professional nudge – but the turnaround thing is about walking into tough organizations and organizations having a tough time and putting a plan in place not only to turnaround performance and develop growth, but to sustain it.

I think the key to sustainable growth, and this is the net of the book, the big idea is that people and the way that you deal with the power that is in a workforce has everything to do with your ability to sustain growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. In terms of the definition of power, it seems like you’re still thinking about it in terms of influence or the capacity to do work, which is sort of the same as the old or not? Could you correct me there?

Rick Miller
Yeah. Influence no question.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Rick Miller
Power is about influence. The question is who has it and how do you get it because in the old world you needed to wait for someone else to give you the promotion. You needed to wait for somebody else to say it’s time for that next rung in the ladder. As you went up in an organization, you got more powerful.

The key change is that power doesn’t come from the outside, it comes from the inside. Allowing people to find their power their way, we’re all different, and to make sure that you can become the fullest version of who you are, certainly increases your engagement. That’s one of the business topics that’s out there these days. According to Gallup, only three out of ten people are all in or fully engaged at work.

Well, some companies say well the managers aren’t doing their jobs. Blame it on the managers. Eh, you probably want to take a look at the people who you’re hiring and creating environments with them to allow them to be the best versions of themselves. That’s what I focus on.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Now we talk about energy and clarity and confidence being sort of the core underlying forces from within that turn into this power.

Rick Miller
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell us a little bit, you say you measure it and you increase it. How does that work?

Rick Miller
Well, there’s a – this is the best part. We’re happy to talk a little bit about the book that’s coming out where all proceeds are going to charity. We’ll talk about that later. But the best thing I have to share with your listeners is there is on my site right now, BeChief.com, a free assessment tool.

Take you five minutes. And allow you to answer some very simple questions and get a baseline of how powerful are you defined in those terms, Pete, that we just talked about. How clear are you? How confident are you? How energized are you? What is your influence score and what is your impact score?

From the way you answer those questions, you have an opportunity to say “How do I feel about the choices that I’m currently making and make those tweaks?”

I find that the language of business is numbers. The language of business is numbers. We can talk – my dad is a human resource professional. I used to call them personnel guys back in the day. But I’ve always believed that human capital is the area that we need to focus on. The challenge is the metrics aren’t there. You can’t measure it by zip code, by shoe size, by time of day, which you can financial capital.

I designed this tool, this very simple tool, to give people a quick snapshot of their power and that obviously opens them up to choices to what they choose to do about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’d love to dig into a bit of each of these in terms of how are your defining energy, clarity, confidence, influence, impact and then what are some of your sort of best practice pro tips for boosting each of them?

Rick Miller
Sure. Where do you want to start?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s go with energy.

Rick Miller
Okay. Energy is – we talk about power comes from the inside not the out – the core of this thing is inside actually because being chief, I’ll give you another way of looking at it, kind of pull these together.

Being chief, being the most powerful person you can be is connecting what you do to who you are, connecting what you do to who you are. If you think about who you are, who are you, really requires you to develop some insight, insight into – self-understanding and insight to me are synonyms. That’s where I think energy comes from.

Talk about five different ways that you can build insight and create energy. I suggest that part of it is being present, being focused on the moment at hand. You’ll see Pete, that many of these things are well-discussed in many different ways in many different forms by other people. My focus is not to supply you with a new piece of information, it’s to help you apply it. Supply and apply.

I’m a business guy; it’s got to be simple. I’ve got to be able to retain it. I’ve got to be able to use it. When it gets to energy and insight, first off, be present. Learn how to focus.

Second, be still. Learn how to develop your own voice. All the voices that are yapping at you from the media to a well-intentioned spouse, to your kids, to your neighbors, everybody around, everybody’s got a voice that’s in your ear. How can you develop the energy that comes from hearing your own voice and knowing it well?

Third one is being accepting. Don’t fight what is. You want to fight for the future, that’s fine, but conserve your energy. Don’t needlessly waste energy by fighting a current truth. Accept what is. The energy that comes from being generous and the energy that comes from being grateful.

I offer that there are five ways to actually measure how present are you, how still are you, how accepting are you, how generous are you, and how grateful are you. These are all your own self views, but my observation is the more you are any one of these, you can absolutely increase your level of self-understanding, your insight, and the benefit to you is the energy of knowing more who you are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s a great sort of subset there being present, being still, being accepting, being generous and being grateful. Do you have any thoughts in terms of a particular action step one can take that really takes you far in terms of being more of one or more of these things?

Rick Miller
Well, the question is how much are you doing it? Let’s take being present. I know that many people take great benefit from the time they’re being present, but even the most accomplished, enlightened, even people who are very much focusing on the mindfulness movement, which you’ve very familiar with I’m sure, would say that there’s a percentage of their day that they aren’t present. We’re human beings.

The objective is always to can you – if you are present every once in a while, can you be present more often. Then can you be present consistently. It’s all in the small tweaks.

If someone is never present and they’re always scattered, are they going to take a step from being scatterbrained and all over the place to mindful all the time? Of course not. I’m not advocating that anybody try and skip steps, but just try to move a little bit on the scale of one to ten.

If you’re a five on a one to ten in terms of being present, what benefit, what power, what energy could you get if you became a little more present than you have been. That’s the advocacy. The advocacy is don’t ask people to do what they can’t do, ask them to make slight tweaks in what they can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so you’re not suggesting a particular regiment or series of exercise to boost presence, so much as you’re just saying, “Hey, get some awareness and some focus and do more of it.”

Rick Miller
Exactly. Exactly. Again, there are wonderful places to go. I view Be Chief, Pete, as an integrated piece. I’m not trying to go – there are volumes and volumes and volumes on how to be present. I’m not trying to outdo the present movement, the mindful movement. Go study Jon Kabat-Zinn. There’s plenty of places to go.

My – as I work with executives and leaders at all levels, chiefs at all levels, the idea is how do you integrate all of the stuff that’s out there to make it actionable. You can go in any particular vein, but the idea of connecting what you do to who you are is the central premise.

I’ll take the next step with you. One real powerful practice that I’ve used with a lot of my clients, and, again, it’s on the free survey, is my belief that values, understanding your values, are the key to confidence.

Here’s why I say that. When I work with great groups of people, I will generally put up a list of – or talk about a list of 30 or 40 values that are all very positive things. I’ll say to a group, I’ll say, if you had to pick four – because you can’t stand for 50 things. You can’t take a stand for 50 things.

But in the compass, which I use, north, south, east, west, if you were to choose four and you were very conscious about those four, you spoke about them, you wrote about them, you took actions that were very consistent with them, not that you’d ignore the other 46, but the observation I make is that confidence comes when you can take a stand. Once you figure out what you stand for, you can take one.

For me, I’ve done a lot of work on this as you might imagine, my four are truth, service, equality, and connection.

Those – the test that I use and I advocate this, if you think you stand for something right now, ask the ten people who know you most, know you best, family, friends and say, “What do you think I stand for?” You might be surprised, maybe four – five, three, four, five answers, you might be surprised that there might not be any commonality. You may be okay with that. You may be okay with the fact that the ten people who know you best would describe your values differently.

The only question I would ask is if the ten people who knew you the best described your values in a consistent way, does that in fact make you more powerful? I would advocate that it does.

Yeah, there might be a difference between – I mean if someone says you’re kind and someone says you’re empathetic, okay that may be a difference without a distinction. But if you got a wildly different set of things, they could be all positive, but it’s like it is the same topic of focus.

If you know what you stand for, you can take one and then I think those people around you resonate with the confidence that you have that you stand for something. As just an example, but as we talk about connecting what you do to who you are, the two parts of the compass that are who you are, are your insight, which we talked about the five ways you can build that, and your values.

Insight and values and the study of those or the thinking about those gives you more clarity about who you are. When you take actions knowing who you are, you’re taking actions that are yours, on your voice and your values, not on Uncle Sam’s or Aunt Sally’s or a cousin or a boss or something else. I do believe it makes you more powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, it sounds like then we’ve got clarity and confidence there or is that – or are you distinguishing clarity in a different way?

Rick Miller
I am distinguishing. The confidence is there. The clarity I believe in having studied it and worked it in business situations from a start up to a multi-national, I link very much the topic of clarity to the topic of discipline. I believe that clarity, again, when you think about who you are, which is insight and values, then what you do has to do with discipline and support.

Discipline I link to clarity because I believe that if you plan the work and work the plan, if you have a vision and a strategy and tactics and you adjust, the more you reinforce where you’re going, that clarity comes through to the people around you and also reinforces it to you as well.

I think the vision and the strategy, which you identify, followed by planning tactics and implementing and adjusting, those all lead to clarity. Again, that clarity with discipline if it’s built off your insight and your values, it gets stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us an example or story of the clarity and discipline piece coming alive for somebody?

Rick Miller
Sure. Well, I’ll give you for an organization. When I have had the opportunity to walk into an organizations as a turnaround guy that things are pretty muddy. I walked into – I’ll give you an example. I was the first outsider in AT&T’s 100 year history to be recruited from the outside to come in and run a piece of a major division back in the day. First one, 100 years.

I walked into AT&T, great company, but they had all kinds of messages, all kinds of, all kinds of high potential programs or leadership attributes. You couldn’t crystalize any – it was all good, but there was too much of it.

I came into an organization, this is the one that had 10,000 people in it, and I said “Guys, we’re going to focus on one thing.” Forget everything else. Forget everything else. We’re going to focus on something I used a symbol to encapsulate it called R3, R to the power of 3, R to the third power. We had symbols made. It was on hats. It was – that’s our focus. Forget everything else. The discipline was—

Pete Mockaitis
What’s R to the three mean?

Rick Miller
It’s results for three important groups of people: customers, employees, and share owners. That’s the what, but the how was about teamwork, innovation and speed. It wasn’t R times 3; it was R to the power of 3.

It was taking – again, AT&T, back in the day, Pete, there was a rule in the consulting industry about AT&T, which means if you did – at the time, if you didn’t have a consulting contract with AT&T, it just meant that you weren’t trying hard enough because it was consultant’s galore, everybody with a different – all good stuff, by the way, but no focus, no clarity because it was all over the place.

I came in, 10,000 people all around the world, and I said, “Guys, this is the focus. The discipline that we’re going to have around this clarity.” We developed strategy and plans and implemented systems and took measurements and adjusted based on that’s all we’re focused on: results for three important grounds of people, focusing on three attributes: teamwork, innovation, and speed.

At the time we were growing at 5%. The market was supposedly growing at 10%. We tripled the growth rate and held on to that growth rate for three years before we changed organizations. I – it was a lot of things we did, a lot of things we did at AT&T that turned around that situation, but the focus on clarity and discipline to stay focused on an area was a big part of the success.

Pete Mockaitis
When you says discipline, you mean it’s about saying no to some things. What are some of the things that you said no to because it doesn’t quite fit into exactly what we’re focused on here?

Rick Miller
Well, a great definition of strategy, as you know, is defining what you’re not going to do. The best story I remember about how that strategic element came in an organization, where I was running a government unit and we wanted to go at all parts of the government: the civilian, the defense, all parts of it, but we didn’t have the resources.

Our strategy was to optimize one part of the government, so we actually said no. We actually pulled back selling to the civilian portion of the government unit at that time because we just didn’t have the resources. Strategy at that time was to focus on Department of Defense.

By the way, in that particular situation, different company, once again we tripled the growth rate. You’re right, strategy is key and often strategy is saying no. Couldn’t say it better.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very cool. All right, then let’s talk a little bit about influence and impact.

Rick Miller
Yeah. Influence to me it comes from the word support. Influence comes when you support other people. People say, “Isn’t influence when you have kind of an influence over others?” No, it comes the other way. The more you support other people, the more you make choices to support other people, that’s when your influence grows.

If you are able to listen and enable someone else’s success, your influence grows. If you’re able to model the way you’d like things to be, your influence grows. If you’re able to question people about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and help them think through it if they need it, that helps your influence grow. You can inspire them by what you do and how you do it.

There’s also this – a good friend of mine, Chester Elton, wrote The Carrot Principle. You just can’t recognize people enough. It’s such a – the word is encourage. Reinforcing what other people do, whether it’s a formal program or an informal, “Hey, well done,” encouraging other people, it’s just an incredibly powerful way to build influence by supporting other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say that the supporting of other people results in you having more influence, is it because these individuals are like, “Wow, Rick has been just so awesomely good to me, I will follow him to the moon,” or, “I’ve got his back and I will help him in any way can,” kind of sort of like a reciprocity instinct or kind of what’s the pathway or mechanism by which that support turns into influence?

Rick Miller
Great question. But it starts with listening. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The point is if I’m listening to you, if you are my boss, Pete, and you’re going to invest time with me to say, “Okay, I want to enable your success. I want to support you,” the first thing you’re going to do is ask me what do I need. You’re going to invest some time.

The benefit of truly listening – all people want to do is to be heard. You know that. If you take the time to really find out, not to come in with the “I’ve decided this is what the answer is,” and you come in with a plunger and you’re trying to ram it through an organization.

I can tell you when I joined AT&T as the first outsider, first thing I did was ask a lot of questions. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t think – ask questions. You don’t know. More often than not, the higher you go in an organization, the less you know about the subject matter which is critical to your success. It’s an inverted pyramid. Taking the time to ask questions, to learn from the people who know it best, create a bond of influence that can be incredibly powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very cool. Let’s talk now finally about that fifth element when it comes to impact.

Rick Miller
See this is where it comes together. Think about where we’ve been. Think about who you are: insight and values, what you do: discipline and support. It comes together with an ability to be creative.

Now when I say creativity, I’m not talking about some artistic ability to put colors together and be creative on a canvas. When I say creativity, I’m talking about an ability to manifest the future. That’s my definition of creativity. If you’re going to create the future, you’ve got to understand a couple of things.

First off, there’s something called internal creativity. That’s how you feel and how you think. You are in fact creating when you start thinking. That’s how the whole thing starts. People are very familiar with external creativity in terms of how you act, less so how you speak and how you write.

But if you understand that there is internal creativity, you understand there’s external creativity, and the power comes when you align all five. You’re feeling something, you’re thinking it, your actions and the way you write, and the way you speak are all aligned.

We all know the quickest way to lose credibility is to say one thing and do a different something else. We just lose all credibility. You lose all power. But your ability to understand that your thoughts lead to your actions, it should be your thoughts lead to your words. Your words to your actions. Your actions lead to your habits. Some would say your habits lead to your character and your character leads to your destiny to steal from Gandhi.

There’s a power in the alignment and the way those things flow. If you’re fully creating, again, connecting what you do to who are, I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t matter what title you have, you are powerful. The organizations that do incredibly well with turnarounds have more and more people operating in what I call an all-in way of being.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. We’ve got one more point I want to dig into in the book. You talk about the wisdom of letting go. What exactly does that mean and how does one pull it off?

Rick Miller
It’s interesting. In our culture we have taken a good idea and kind of taken it to extremes. We’re all familiar with terms like ‘whatever it takes,’ ‘nothing’s going to stop me.’ We’ve got these ideas that you work through adversity all the time. That’s not a bad idea. The problem is we don’t know when to stop.

There’s economic law called the Law of Diminishing Returns, which means from a pure logic standpoint at some point, ‘throwing good money after bad’ is certainly a phrase that we’re familiar with.

But I find that many of the great leaders that I have the privilege of working with understand the first part of it, which is okay, never give up. Drive, drive, drive. But sometimes there’s a time when you are best served, your organization is best served, to let go of an objective that may have made sense 6 months ago or 12 months ago but now no longer makes sense.

The ability to, and some would say discipline, to adjust. But some people, and you know them, are manically focused, “I’m going to do this just get out of my way.” At some point diminishing return sets in.

The idea of letting go is a very important topic and one that doesn’t get as much traction I don’t think in our culture as it needs to because I find an awful lot of people are burning themselves out going after an objective that has shifted.

I talk in the book about examples and how to do it and the focus is on first recognizing it, accepting what’s going on, investigating new opportunities to do it, and not identifying yourself with the objective. Many times this is ego driven. I am not the person I want to be if I can’t sell that next contract or can’t achieve this goal.

Separating the person from the goal, I find with otherwise very high performing individuals, it’s really important you are not that quota. You are not that objective. You are who you are. The wisdom to understand when it does make the most sense to let go of an objective that isn’t serving you is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. Well, Rick, tell me any final points you’d like to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Rick Miller
No, no. I think, again, we’ll go to favorite things, but if – if I could I would just like to mention that BeChief.com is the website. BeChief.com is where you can find about the book where all profits, author profits, are going to charity. We’ve got a wonderful charity partner down in Austin, Texas called Sammy’s House, which is an educational and a rehabilitation opportunity facilitate for kids with severe special needs. All author proceeds are going there.

They can learn about Sammy’s House. They can learn about the book. They can also, by the way, take the free quiz. This is what I’d ask everyone to take a look at. The book – I’d love to sell as many books as possible because all the money would go to the kids, that would be great, but for your audience that wants to be more powerful, the compass, the survey, if you will, is a free tool on BeChief.com.

You can also read a chapter of the book and see it floats your boat, but most importantly, take a baseline, measure your power, understand how you feel about it and how you can help others. That’s the most important thing that I’d like to share.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Rick Miller
No, the one I like, it might not surprise you, but “Power is never given; it’s only taken.” That’s one that I live by because I did spend 20 years of my career waiting to be given power. I’ve been okay. I moved up the corporate ladder pretty well. But I was waiting. For people who want to take power, I just think it’s a wonderful quote because it encapsulates everything I believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Rick Miller
Well, the research, actually I’m going to go back to the book. There’s some wonderful research done by a researcher named Segal Barsotti out of Yale. Segal’s work builds on the work done by Christakis and Fowler on the happiness effect.

Now the happiness effect is a well-known study that talks about the impact of introducing a happy person into a group. The surprising – a 20-year study by the way – talks about the a fact that if you introduce a happy person, not only is a next door neighbor likely to be more happy, but the next door’s neighbor’s friend and friend’s friend, it’s like two or three degrees of separation, will statistically be more happy.

Christakis and Fowler did a wonderful piece of well-reported research on the happiness effect. What Barsotti did was take that great work and bring it into the workforce and proved that introducing a person with positive emotions into a workplace, affects the productivity of all workers in that work place.

That’s really the fundamental element that we talk about in the book. I use the term viral engagement. It’s great when you try to do things to enable the engagement of someone who’s working for you, but viral engagement is when you’re constantly taking a look at the impact that everybody can have, that really anyone can influence everyone. Once you understand that, the opportunity for growth is great.

By the way, that makes sense intellectually, but Barsotti did the research that proved it.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Rick Miller
Right now I’m reading When by Daniel Pink. I love When. I’m a big Dan Pink fan. But I’m reading When right now and I love it because it talks about how to bring out your peak performance when it matters most.

I’m an avid reader. I’m fascinated by this one because, again, well-researched, as Daniel’s stuff always is, but the idea of professional athletes, professional musicians, what are the tips, simple tips. I won’t go any further because it’s Daniel’s book and you want to read it. You don’t want to listen to me give you the tips, but it’s a really good read.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Rick Miller
A tool. I would tell you the tool – the app that I’m having a lot of fun with now and I’ve got lots of company, so I’ll just add my log to the fire, which is the Calm app. I’m a big meditator and have been blessed with the ability to meditate, but even when things get going so quickly that it’s a little harder to slow down a little bit, the Calm app does a wonderful job. I know there’s many fans, so I’ll just add my log to the fire.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. How about a favorite habit?

Rick Miller
The habits – I am amongst other challenges, I’m a type one diabetic, so for 40 years I’ve been giving myself four shots a day. I think this habit has probably come out of the necessity to manage blood sugars and health and numbers and things like that, but actually my favorite habit is a combination of sometimes I do the meditation in the morning, followed by some really rigorous exercise, sometimes I’ll flip it.

But my morning routine, getting up and starting the day with a combination of exercise, getting the blood flowing and mediation. It seems like gear yourself up and calm yourself down, that little kind of sweet and sour, if you will, first thing in the morning works really well for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, gets them retweeting, etcetera?

Rick Miller
I don’t – not so much honestly because, again, I do draw a distinction between wonderful people who supply those kind of nuggets and those who apply them. I’m an applier. I’m a business guy. I work in organizations and I’m on the front lines.

I don’t probably generate the kind of quips and thoughtful little musings that are on the tips of people’s tongues much like most of this book is taking and always giving credit for the great stuff that’s out there, but my focus is on how you simplify and – first you have to retain it if you’re going to apply it.

I rely on others for those inspirational moments. I just try to help the people I work with apply them so that they can have a great day.

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

Rick Miller
I would point them to BeChief.com. Whatever you can find there, whether they connect with the power compass, if you will, or develop your own. But there’s lots of stuff on the website and wherever it takes you. If it takes you to the book and you can see fit to make that purchase, know the money is going to Sammy’s House and that’s terrific. But whatever you find there, I hope it’s helpful.

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

Rick Miller
I think it’s about power. Really think about who you think has it, who really has it. More often than not, the powerful people in your life, the most powerful, the most influential, are probably a family member who doesn’t have a title. It’s somebody in the community who doesn’t have a title, but they make choices that consistently show you who they are. You can’t get enough of them because they’re the people you admire.

I think that’s what power means to me. I think the more people open themselves up to that definition of power and make the choices to be the best version of themselves, it spreads and the world’s a better place.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Rick, thank you for all you’re doing to make the world a better place. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you and Be Chief tons of luck, massive sales and massive impact.

Rick Miller
Appreciate it Pete. Thanks so much for the time.

323: The Surprising Power of Seeing People as People with Kimberly White

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Kimberly White breaks down why seeing people as people dramatically increases productivity at work and in life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What you miss when you see people as objects
  2. How seeing people as people turbocharges problem-solving
  3. Three ways to change the way you perceive people

About Kimberly

Kimberly White is the perpetually amused mother of some very theatrical children, and the lucky wife of the funniest person she’s ever known. Her nine months of research for The Shift included dozens of hours working alongside nursing home employees in offices, showers, vans, patient rooms, kitchens, and one very creepy basement.

Kimberly earned a degree in philosophy, studying under C. Terry Warner and serving as his longtime research assistant. She was editor of her department’s undergraduate philosophy journal and copy editor for Epoche: A Journal for the History of Philosophy. She has also worked for the Arbinger Institute as a group instructor and as a first-draft editor of Leadership and Self-Deception.

Kimberly’s family recently moved from Harlem to the village of Pawnee, Illinois, where they have gloried in mid-western sunsets and accumulated pets at an alarming rate.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

 

 

Kimberly White Interview Transcript

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

Kimberly White
Thank you Pete. I am so glad to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well I think this is going to be a fascinating conversation on all sorts of levels. But first and foremost, I want to hear about your synesthesia. My wife also has it. Tell me how that works for you.

Kimberly White
For me it means that numbers and letters of the alphabet have colors in my mind. It’s consistent over time. But I also have concepts, so like days of the week and places that I’m familiar with and certain holidays appear in my mind in color and also located in space around me that they always appear whenever I think about the concept or the letter or the number. It’s kind of fun. It’s kind of interesting.

The only thing about it that’s proven to be a drawback in my life is that somehow I don’t know how these things develop, but I must have been young when I learned about east and west because the color I have in my head for west is the same color I have in my head for right, as in the right side of my body.

When I’m trying to get directions and people talking about east and west, I always confuse them because the color for west is the same as the color for right, when of course, when you’re reading a map that should be on the left. But I’ve learned that if I’m getting east and west directions, I have to stop and write it down because my brain is going to confuse that. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fascinating. With my wife, numbers seem to have a color and a gender to them.

Kimberly White
I’ve heard of that.

Pete Mockaitis
As a result, they’re so much more meaningful to her and she’s able to memorize numbers rapidly, whereas I rely on this old school technique of turning each of the numbers into a letter, turn those letters into a word, link those words. I’m thinking hard for like five minutes to memorize a sequence and she just has it in less than one minute.

Kimberly White
Yeah, because it brings in more of the brain. Yeah, mine has not really proven to be helpful, just interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s also interesting to me is you recently made a move to central Illinois, right?

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s Pawnee, Illinois, not to be confused with Pawnee, Indiana, the fictitious home of Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec.

Kimberly White
No and that’s what everybody asks me. All I can say is a) I wish and b) my Pawnee is much, much smaller.

Now, what’s crazy is we moved here from Manhattan.

Pete Mockaitis
That is crazy.

Kimberly White
We actually lived in Harlem. It was the biggest city. It’s all very cosmopolitan. And everybody’s a doctor or an artist or an opera singer. Everybody has tiny, little tiny places to live, but sort of big jobs and big dreams. We moved out here to farm country and it’s like being in a different country, but it’s great. It’s a great different country. We’ve been very, very happy here.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. The motivation for the move was just to have just less distraction and to be able to do more writing?

Kimberly White
Partially that and the money.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Kimberly White
I love New York, but it is so expensive to live there. Rents just go up and up and up. We just we got priced out.

Pete Mockaitis
I think beyond just the sheer income versus outgo, it would just irritate me. Writing checks that large ore paying this much for a drink or for milk or whatever you’re buying, like, “This is ridiculous,” grumble, grumble.

Kimberly White
It’s really true. I would be happy – if I saw a gallon of milk for five dollars, I’d say, “Hurray, it’s only five dollars.” This was two years ago. I’m sure milk is seven dollars now. It really did wear on you after a while, but there were lots of great things about the city too. Wonderful people.

New Yorkers get a really bad rap. It’s mostly deserved, but there are really, really good things about New Yorkers. They’re very loyal.

I’m always telling people who wanted to go visit, they always want advice from somebody who’s lived there, I tell them, “Do not be afraid to ask somebody on the street for directions. New Yorkers are really friendly that way. But don’t stop in the middle of the street and block them from walking. Then they’ll be really mad.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right, walking too slow. That’s the cardinal sin.

Kimberly White
Don’t walk too slow. Don’t do that. Just don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t stop at the top of the subway stairs. Don’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. Well, that’s a lot of fun. That’s the backdrop.

Kimberly White
There we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Then I’m going to get some more backdrop. You have a good bit of experience collaborating with the Arbinger Institute. Can you orient those who are not yet familiar? What’s this organization all about?

Kimberly White
The Arbinger Institute is a management consulting company. They’re a philosophy. They’re management consulting approach is based on the work of a philosopher named Terry Warner, who founded the company decades ago before I was involved with them.

Their approach is to teach leaders and managers how to see the people that they’re responsible for, and the people that they work with, and the people that report to them as real people not just as sort of cogs in the corporate machine.

They have found over the years that you can do a lot to improve productivity and avoid infighting and the sort of battles that develop between different departments and so on just by taking this approach.
I worked with them in college. They have a very popular book called Leadership and Self-Deception that was written about that time. I was involved. I didn’t write the book but I looked at the first draft, edited it. I was involved with the first couple of drafts of that book. It’s still worth reading today. Your listeners should check it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh absolutely. It is worth reading. I heard several guests cite this as one of their top, top books. It’s like; I’ve got to check this thing out. I actually listened to the audio version. I still hear that guy’s voice in my head sometimes, like, “You’re in the box. … going to get out of the box.”

Kimberly White
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really powerful stuff. I was intrigued just because it’s one of the few books that I know of that doesn’t have an author listed as the person, but it’s like the entire organization.

I always try to figure out this is a great book. Who should I get to talk about it on the show? Well, it’s like I don’t know because there’s not an author I can snag. You’re sort of like behind the veil of mystery as an editor.

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s something special.

Kimberly White
I know. Yes. It’s very interesting. They did that on purpose. They were very considered about that. They have a few other books out now. Usually they are primarily written by one person in the company, but they all sort of collaborate together and work on it together.

They made the decision – and this is a very Arbinger thing to do. They made the decision to have all of their books be authored by the Institute and not by the individuals so that the credit for the ideas would be shared. There wouldn’t be one person, for example, who’s doing all the podcasts. That was their point.

You’ll notice in my book that I’ve written we had the same sort of issue. It’s primarily a profile of one company and they didn’t want their name to be primary. They wanted the stories and the insights to be sort of more universal. More important, they didn’t want to feel uncomfortable offering the book to their competitors and other people in the same industry. They just wanted the ideas to stand for themselves.

That’s why there’s this veil of mystery, as you call it, is to keep it even and to keep the focus on the ideas and the work and to make it as accessible for any one person as for anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool and that’s interesting. It just really feels like it’s really based upon true values. I think it just makes it, well, I guess from a marketing perspective, all the more intriguing. It’s like I’ve got to see what this is about.

Kimberly White
You can tell that they’re really living what they preach. They have the kind of collaborative relationship that they teach other people how to have.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. You’re telling me that the name of the organization is not the real name of the organization?

Kimberly White
It is not. That just stands for Healthcare Group.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it. The mystery continues. Cool.

Kimberly White
Yeah, such a mystery.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s sort of the backstory. Then can you orient us a little bit. We talked about the main principle or concept is people as people. Can you give us a little bit more background on just sort of the conceptual piece and then I want to hear how it came alive for HG. I said the box a couple of times, could you maybe unpack just a couple of those foundational concepts?

Kimberly White
Yeah, let’s clarify all of those. Especially because the subtitle of my book is How Seeing People as People Changes Everything. The question I get all the time is how else am I going to see them. Obviously they’re people. It does bear talking about.

The point isn’t that Arbinger or I, anybody thinks that anyone really doesn’t know that people are people and thinks of them as subhuman or anything like that. That’s not what we’re talking about.

But the point is this, when I am focused and kind of obsessed with my own interests and my goals and the things I’m trying to accomplish and my fears and my dreams, when that’s the only thing that I’m caring about and thinking about, then the people around me only enter my thoughts in so far as they have an impact on the things I’m trying to accomplish. I don’t think about them beyond that.

If I’m trying to get a promotion at work, then my coworkers, I only even see them as far as they impact that. She might be a competitor, someone else who’s trying to get that promotion. That’s all I see. This is a person I’m competing with. How do I drag her down? How do I make myself look good in comparison to her?

He might not be in the running for the promotion. He kind of likes me and maybe he’ll say something good about me to the higher ups, so I only see him in so far as I can use him for that purpose. Now, the reason we say that seeing people like that is like seeing them as objects is because it reduces them to functional.

Pete Mockaitis
Only if you’re there.

Kimberly White
Yeah. Objects, they come from the factory. They’re supposed to perform something. If I’ve got a pen, it came from the factory. It only exists for me to be able to write with it. If I can write with it, then I’m happy with it. If my friend at work will praise me to the higher ups, then I’m happy with him. I don’t think any further about it.

If my pen is broken, then I’m mad and I’m frustrated and maybe I’ll throw it away. I might lick it, shake it, whatever, because it’s just an object. What I don’t do with a pen is think “I wonder what happened to make the pen feel bad. I wonder if I can talk it into providing-“ no, because it’s not a person. It doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t have thoughts. It’s just an object.

But I find myself treating other people that way too because-

Pete Mockaitis
You lick them. You shake them.

Kimberly White
Yeah, you lick them, you shake them, try to get them to do it and see how – and if they don’t do what I want, then I’m just mad and I get rid of them.

But the person who’s a competitor for the promotion for me in the office, that is not why she exists. She doesn’t exist to compete with me. She has her own life. She grew up somewhere. She has perspective. She has a culture she came from. She had hurts when she was young and triumphs and all of these things have made her the person she is. She has her own goals and her own reasons.

There are just thousands of things inside her mind and in her life having her act the way she does and bringing her to this point. But when I’m only thinking about myself, I don’t see any of that in her. All I see is “I want a promotion, she might get in my way,” just like she was a pen that wasn’t producing ink.

When we see people as objects like that, the problem is obviously, that’s not fair to her. She doesn’t exist for me. He doesn’t exist for me. It’s not fair to people. They don’t like that feeling of being seen like an object, but it’s also false. When I see somebody, just a thin sliver of what they’re … me and that’s all I care about, then I’m missing a lot.

She might have a very good reason for wanting this promotion. She might … fit for the promotion than I am or maybe not, but I don’t know. As long as all I can see is that she’s a competitor, like an object competitor, I can’t see anything else and there are bound to be important things that I’m missing.

That’s why in the Arbinger materials, you’ll find them talking about being in the box because when we see other people as though they were just objects, our perspective is so limited that it’s like being locked in a box where we can only see a few things. I can only see the stuff that matters to my goals. I can’t see anything else. It’s a way of being blinkered.

In my book I talk about it as being kind of blind because we miss so many important and crucial things and it leaves us unable to solve problems and build relationships when we’re seeing others in that shallow object-like way.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about being blinkered and blind, what this is reminding me of is some study that I think it looked at brain scans associated with people who are looking at pornography.

What was sort of troubling there is that sort of the same parts of the brain associated with using an object or tool like a hammer or a saw or something were being activated and lit up sort of in that context when they were looking at images of people, which is really spooky that there’s some sort of physical or biochemical stuff happening just inside of us that’s there.

Blindness really does seem like an apt terminology because it’s kind of like a physical dysfunction or disability.

Kimberly White
Yes, there’s just so much we miss. Nobody has ever studied the Arbinger term specifically, but they have done studies and they’ve shown similar things when you’re part of an in group and there’s an out group that you have a conflict with, like racial groups or gang members from different affiliations that you find, again, the same thing.

You find different regions of the brain activated for the people that you’re seeing as objects and as enemies than for the ones that are part of your in group and that you care about.

Like I said, this specifically hasn’t been studied, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it would show up in a brain scan because we do, we get so blinded and so blinkered when we are self-absorbed and not seeing the people around us as people.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there that it doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to live and experience collaboration and interaction with people. But if that were enough for the hardcore achievers, what are some of the results or performance impacts associated with making this mental shift?

Kimberly White
Oh gosh, it’s so crazy because I think it’s easy to hear something like this and think, “Hm, yeah, but having to get to know people, that takes time and I’ve got to earn money and I’ve got a deadline,” as though seeing people as people is going to take more time and it yields uncertain benefits.

But it is absolutely the opposite. I have seen so many cases where seeing people as objects has led to all kinds of conflict and wasted time. In my book, it’s primarily focused on the healthcare industry.

One thing that’s very, very common in health care environments is the management – it being responsible management – will sort of look at their budget and all the things that are going in and out and notice that they spent a lot on supplies, gloves and adult briefs, and wipes and things like that and will say, “Hey, I think we’re using too many. Let’s try to restrict this a little bit and try to save money on our supplies.”

The problem is that the nurses and the nursing assistants who have to deal with the patients face-to-face, one-on-one, that’s a horrifying idea to them because what are they going to do if somebody needs  a change or they need their wound looked at or they need to be rolled over and the nurse has run out of gloves. You can’t even touch a patient without gloves. There’s so many things they wouldn’t be able to do.

The nurses become panicked and the first thing they do – and this is so common – they’ll sort of sneak the supplies out of the closet and go hide them around the patient rooms. They’ll hide them in places so that each individual nurse knows that she has enough supplies for her patients. But they all do this because they’ve all been told we’re cutting back on supplies.

Then management comes and they look at it and they go, “Wait, we’re still overusing our supplies,” and they yell at the nurses and they give them lectures. They have a big in service meeting to talk about how important it is. The nurses go, “Oh my gosh,” and they hide more stuff because they’re afraid of losing their supplies and not being able to care for their patients.

This happens so frequently and things like this happen in every business as departments feud for resources and as reports try to sneak things from their boss if they feel like budgets are being constrained.

This problem only arises because the management isn’t trusting the nurses to be responsible with the supplies and the nurses aren’t trusting the management to purchase the amount of supplies they truly need, so they’re back and forth and everybody is upset and angry.

You end up spending a lot of time, and meetings, and a lot of emotional energy trying to solve this supply problem that should be going toward your actual product, which is taking care of the patients, taking care of their rooms.

When you get leaders who are willing to back out of that conflict and say, “We’re on the same side here. Let’s work together to talk about things where we can save money. How many supplies do you realistically need? I’ll make sure you have them,” then you don’t have those problems. That hording issue completely disappears when the people trust each other.

Now, no nurse, no janitor, nobody who’s on the housekeeping staff, none of these people are going to trust leadership that doesn’t value them. If I know that my boss basically just sees me as an object, I am not going to trust him. I’m not going to trust her. I’m going to feel like those nurses and I’m going to feel like I need to hoard my resources and hoard my stuff.

When you can really see people as people as a leader, you get so much more productivity, so much more cooperation, so much more openness from the people that you’re working with because people can tell that the difference. They know. They know when you’re seeing them as an object. They know when you don’t matter to them.

You can save all kinds of energy and money, frankly, because you don’t need to spend that much on supplies if everybody is being honest about where they’re going.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. You talked about resources in different environments. I’m aware of an employee who it’s kind of challenging to type all day at a laptop, so this person wants to use speech software.

They have speech software, but the laptop is underpowered in terms of RAM or hard drive space or whatever is necessary to run the thing and making the request to get the computer you need to do the work is just nightmarish in terms of the policies and the standards.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
You can have me operating at sort of half-power, which is going to amount to 30 – 40 – 50 K a year of lost productivity.

Kimberly White
Of loss, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or you can pay 500 bucks to get me a RAM and a hard drive update and I’ll be a happy camper.

Kimberly White
Right. I’ll be happy. I’ll be pleased. I’ll get my work done instead of gripping about my computer. I think so many, especially business leaders and managers, underestimate how much time is lost in complaining and in gripping and in just sort of being unhappy.

Here’s a little experiment for you. If you think about somebody that you don’t like, somebody that’s irritating and drives you crazy. Just think about how much time you’ve spent in your life just basically sitting and thinking how annoying that person is or complaining to somebody else about how annoying they are. Calling your mom, “Oh, did I tell you what so and so did today.”

We actually spend a lot of time on that and not nearly as much when we trust and value people. That doesn’t take away from our work. We don’t devote the same kind of energy to it. We tend to devote that kind of energy into working together.

I was in a building – this is in my book too – where I met two nurses. They’re both male. They were just so happy in their job. They were so happy where they worked. They were so happy with the way they were treated by management and they created this entire environment where all of the employees were supportive and helpful.

One of these guys actually had a second job in another facility that actually paid him more per hour, but he wouldn’t give up this job because it was so pleasant. He enjoyed it so much. Talk about productivity increase, talk about engagement, talk about motivation.

We spend so much time and energy trying to get employees to feel engaged, to be motivated, to be committed, to reduce turnover, all of these things. People will stay where they’re happy, where they feel valued, and where they know their feelings and their hopes, and their dreams, and their perspective matter, especially when they feel like they matter to the management.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. I’m thinking of another instance in which an employee shared all sorts of input on sort of the process and the use of contractors and how they could do a better job executing a certain area of work.

Then one or two days later, they started up doing the exact same old process with the exact same problematic contractors, threw this person into a meeting and is absorbing this with not a word of acknowledgement about the exchange.

Like, “Hey, I know what you said about the contractors and we’re really working on that, but it’s … right now, so we’re going to have to go with who we’ve got because we can’t get someone else quick enough,” just 20 seconds.

Kimberly White
That’s all it would take.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Hey, I heard you.”

Kimberly White
Right. But here’s the thing and here’s why the Arbinger approach and the stuff I talk about in my book I think are so important, it’s because that kind of thing, just being willing to take the time to explain what’s going on kind of arises naturally when you really see the people around you as people.

When you care about your coworkers, when you care about their feelings, you would always make those clarifications. You would never just ignore them. That’s how we treat the people that we care about. That’s how we treat our friends.

It’s in this environment where we just see our coworkers as objects, as other cogs in the machine that you end up kind of either feeling awkward about it or not knowing how to bring it up, all these sort of things that people end up doing that stops them from saying what they really should say. Those sorts of things arise in an environment where we see people as objects.

When we care about people, when we know them – this is one of the things that this company HG in the shift did so well – is they trained their leaders not in some process that made employees feel valued, not in some procedure that would make people think that they mattered, but they would literally tell them.

When a manager went into a new building for the …, he or she was instructed for the first 30 days or thereabouts they weren’t allowed to do anything except get to know the staff and the people. They weren’t allowed to change processes. They weren’t allowed to make new plans. They weren’t allowed to change their suppliers. They just spent all of their time getting to know people.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I’m imagining myself as that manager, like, “What an awesome month. This is just going to be fun.”

Kimberly White
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
“I can just get to know people. I cannot stress about lots of stuff.” It’s almost like having an extended vacation, hanging out with cool people.

Kimberly White
Right. Although, I’ll tell you. They continually had a problem that these managers couldn’t stand not to be solving problems because they’re managers. They wanted to go in and fix problems, so they had to make it so that they’d have to report on who they met that day and report on what they learned about people.

They’d also have to report on problems that they saw but didn’t fix because otherwise they’d go around fixing problems, which is I think just sort of a manager thing. But they would do this. They would legitimately do this.

Thirty days later – I mean just imagine. If you worked for a bad company – a lot of the time there would be these bad healthcare facilities that were losing money and they failed health inspections and they were not pleasant places to be in.

Then HG would come in, buy the facility, bring in a new manager and turn them around. That’s how they grow. That’s how they earn their money.

Now if somebody comes in, which is typical in the industry and in most industries, if a new boss comes in and just says, “You’re doing this wrong and that wrong, and this process is bad, and this person is bad. I’m going to fire a bunch of people, bring in all my own guys, tell you guys that you’re all doing it wrong.” The employees that stay just feel so insulted by that.

You might as well come in and say, “Everything you’re doing is wrong. You’re stupid,” because that’s how it feels. We got a new boss and he hates everything I’m doing. He thinks everything I’m doing is wrong. He’s firing my friends. It’s really demoralizing. It’s really, really difficult. It’s hard enough to get a new boss even if he’s great.

They would send these people in and they would spend 30 days just getting to know people. At the end of 30 days, you’ve got a staff that isn’t thinking, “He thinks I’m dumb. He hates me. He’s got all these new processes. We tried that last year. We already know it didn’t work.” They don’t disdain him. They are fond of him.

They know that he knows them. He can greet them by name because he spent all month getting to know people. He knows who has kids. He knows who works a second job. He knows who’s going back to school to get a nursing degree.

When you’re in an environment like that where people know each other and you know the boss cares about your job. When I say everybody, I mean everybody: the kitchen, the housekeeping staff, everybody. If you wash dishes in one of these facilities, the boss knows you.

Thirty days later, the boss would say – and this is the second important piece to the HG approach – the boss would gather all of his department heads and the leaders of the facility and ask them what they thought they needed to work on in the building.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Kimberly White
Now, instead of this new guy coming in and telling them all of the things they’re doing wrong and giving them a new process, he’s saying, “What do you think we can do better?” You know what? They always know. The people who are in this building, they know why it’s not making money. They know why it’s failed the health inspection.

They can feel perfectly free just to say, “I think our billing is inefficient. I think this process is too slow,” because they don’t have to feel defensive about it because nobody is attacking them.

I couldn’t find anybody who said there was a big problem that the leader had identified that the staff didn’t identify. They always get it.

Then the leader too. Now he’s a guy or she’s a girl who not only knows everybody on her staff, top to bottom, but also she has proven to herself that they know what they’re doing, that they know what the problems are, that they’re smart about identifying problems and solutions.

When she goes forward as a boss over the next years, she’s doing it with people that she trusts, that she values, that she knows, and people that she knows she can count on.

That kind of a work environment, where the boss isn’t pretending, doesn’t have an initiative, doesn’t have a binder that he’s looking at to try to make you feel good, but where the boss genuinely values you and can go into the kitchen and speak to the dishwasher by name and tell him he’s doing a great job.

The amount of dedication and hard work that these people put into their buildings is incredible. They work longer hours. They do more. They go out of their way. They do things that aren’t in their job description. They cover for each other when they’re on vacation.

I saw business behavior I would not have believed and I saw it all the time because people want to be friendly, people want to be helpful when they feel safe, when they feel like they matter, and when they know that they’re a real person to everyone around them. Then they treat each other that way. It kind of spreads.

That it’s not just – you bring in one boss who’s willing to make that 30-day effort to get to know people and treat them like they’re intelligent and like their input is good input, then everybody else becomes more willing to treat their coworkers that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a beautiful picture that you’re painting. It’s inspiring. It’s a beautiful thing. This just sparks so many things.

When we talk about sort of efficiency, many things came up. One, people are going to work at a lower wage when they’re just feeling great about the environment around them. Two, you’re coming up with all of these solutions and I’m thinking about my management consulting days. One month of a manager’s compensation is less than one month of Bain & Company fees.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
To come up with a bunch of solutions.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
In a way it’s massively efficient if it’s like we’re looking for leveraged approaches to getting solutions, we can hire the consultants or we can hire a manger who does nothing but get to know people for a month. It sounds like odds are strong you may come away with a bigger ROI on that month there than you would with a consultant or other solution finding approach.

Kimberly White
Yeah, HG is convinced that their financial success is largely due to this willingness to invest initially.

Like I said, so many people want to come in, snap their fingers, make a bunch of changes in the first 30 days, first 100 days.

In fact, I met a woman who had worked for a different company doing exactly that, going into facilities. She had 100 days to turn them around and make them profitable. She was a powerhouse. She was so fierce. She did that and made a ton of money. But she heard about HG and their way of doing things and got hired with them. When I … that she doesn’t make as much money … fixer.

But the reason she made the switch because she would go to these big meetings with the executives at the previous company and she had made them millions of dollars. She is so good. She had made them tons of money. Not one of them knew her name, not one of them. Over at HG, they all did. Even the executives made sure to get to know people and meet them. It’s a top down all the way thing.

There you go. She was making tons of money, more money than they could afford to pay her at this other … company. She left and they got her skills because she would rather be in an environment where she was valued.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. What you’re painting really does sound like a paradise, but you’ve got a chapter called The Paradise Delusion, so what’s the other side of this coin?

Kimberly White
Yup, yup. Oh my goodness, so yeah, we’re talking here about all of the good stuff and it behooves me to say none of this means that they didn’t have problems at HG. They still had turnover. You just always are going to have turnover in healthcare. They would still have government restrictions coming.

They dealt with things. None of this means that you’re not going to have problems, but you’re never going to have different departments needing or wanting different things. It just means that when those things happen, when you have people who really value each other, they can work it out in a way you can’t if everybody’s just an object to each other. You beat heads.

But as paradise delusion is concerned, the thing is very often when we are seeing people around us as objects and we’re unhappy and I would suggest that if we’re seeing the people around us as objects, we’re invariably going to be unhappy because objects are so stifling.

I found in my personal life as I went into HG and … these people and saw these friendly, familial work environments where people cared about each other and so on, it made me feel so much worse about my home life, which was very unhappy at the time.

I began to think, “Oh, I wish my husband would be like this person at this facility. I wish that my kids were as well-behaved as these people at this facility. I wish that my neighbors and coworkers were as … as these people.”

I called it a paradise delusion because I became convinced that what I needed to become happy in my life was to be surrounded by people who were going to be kind to …. I think that’s not at all uncommon when we’re unhappy, to feel like what I need is different people, different, nicer people who are going to value me again.

The reason that’s a delusion is because for one thing it’s never, ever, ever, ever going to happen, that there’s anybody on earth who’s completely surrounded by people who are always nice to him or her all of the time. Can’t be done. We are human beings. Nobody is nice all of the time. No group of people are all going to be nice all at the same time. It’s just never going to happen.

The second thing is when I think that paradise means everyone is going to be kind to me; I’m only thinking about myself. I’m thinking about what I want. I’m thinking about how I wish my husband would treat me, but in all of that – and maybe he is doing things that are unkind – but in thinking that way, I’m not sparing any mental energy to wonder what my husband wants.

What does he want from a spouse? What would he like for me to be doing? Does he want a nicer spouse? See that never crossed my mind. All I was thinking about is how I want other people around me to be different. I never thought about how they might want me to be different.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so let’s get zoomed in shall we in terms of an individual professional in the heat of battle, if you will, in their workplace. What are some of the real keys to making the shift?

Kimberly White
Okay, first of all you have to be present with people. You have to be around them, especially if you’re a leader. You can’t get to know people if they’re always in their offices and you’re always in your office. You have to get to know people and take effort.

Usually that will mean asking questions. Where did you go to school? How do you like your job? What are you interested in? What do you do for your spare time? You can ask questions of people and get to know them.

There’s no way a person can be a real person for you if you don’t know anything about them. You have to start there. You have to start with finding out about them so that you know what’s relevant and what bothers them in their life.

At HG, you’ll see this in the book, they train their leaders to ask people

Kimberly White
“What makes your job hard for you?” because it validates them in the fact that there are things that are going to be hard, but then as a leader you know what the difficulties are. Instead of sitting back frustrated that people aren’t getting things in on time, you can just find out why is it hard to get things in on time. Then you know. Very often you can do something about it.

This works in personal life too. Why do you always forget to bring the milk home? Instead of just being mad and yelling at the person who isn’t doing what they’re asked, “Why is that hard?” You might find out there’s something you can do about it. You might find out there’s something you didn’t know that was going on in the background.

Asking questions is absolutely the first step. You get to know people and particularly find out if there’s something that’s irritating to you or something that’s a problem from your perspective, find out from them why it’s difficult. It’s a very, very humbling thing to do.

The second thing is to pay attention. You can’t fake caring about somebody. You can’t fake that they’re valuable to you. You can try and people see through it. It’s a waste of time, so don’t bother.

Ask the questions and pay attention. Watch people. Is this a cheerful person? Is this a grumpy person? See what’s going on. Then if there’s a change, you’ll notice it. If there’s a change, you’ll see it.

None of us want to be that person who … ten years later they suddenly woke up one day and said, “Oh my goodness, I never noticed how much he changed. I never noticed how much she had changed.” We need to pay attention as we go and notice the changes as they happen.

The third thing I would say is to always be willing to consider whether I am the problem because I don’t know what the problem is, you see. It’s quite possible that it’s me.

Talking about the paradise delusion with our coworkers or spouses or neighbors, we can be very irritated by something that they’re doing and wish that they would change and wish that they would be better, but we can never solve these problems and improve these relationships until we’re willing to recognize what we are doing that’s irritating to them.

When I am willing and able to say, “What am I doing that’s a problem for you?” that opens up the possibility of truly being able to fix these relationships that can’t be fixed as long as the only problem I’m willing to recognize is the one that they’re causing me.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, there’s just a lot of profundity here to sit with. I think I’ll be listening to this episode multiple times and I recommend listeners do the same.

Kimberly White
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s a few more pieces I want to get if you have some time.

Kimberly White
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You say it’s possible that our worst employees can actually be the best. How does that work?

Kimberly White
Well, it goes back to the blindness we were talking about. When we see somebody as an object, we don’t really know what they’re capable of.

Some of the time, my experience has shown, that a person who is being a bad employee, who is acting out, who is resistant to instruction, all these things that make an employee difficult to deal with, very often those are people who react very … against being treated like an object. Very often these are people who are just very resistant to that feeling and can’t … that feeling.

Then when they’re treated well, when you begin to get to know them, and understand them and see where they’re coming from, there isn’t anything wrong with them as an employee. Their devotion to the work is great. Their knowledge is great. Their skills are wonderful. They just were so troubled by being treated like an object.

This is a funny story in my book. The founders of HG, their company, it became a running joke for them. When they would purchase a new facility and go in, they told me that invariably, invariably, the previous owners would tell them, “Well, watch out for so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so because they’re such trouble.” They’d give them like five names.

He said invariably when they went in and stated doing things this way, seeing people as people and started off by getting to know them and doing all that that most of those people on the watch-out-for list turned into their best employees.

We can’t make judgments about people while we’re seeing them as objects because there’s no way of knowing how much of their behavior is just a reaction to the very fact that I’m seeing them as an object.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s powerful. I have to ask, even though it feels a little too silly from the heavy, powerful stuff we’ve had, but you’ve got a chapter that has poop in the title.

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I can’t just walk away from that. What’s the story here?

Kimberly White
No, you can’t. It’s the poop chapter. I couldn’t believe my publisher let me do that. I’ll tell you why. It’s stilly, but it’s also profound I think.

This story is in the book too, but I was in a facility early, early on, the very beginning of this research, before I understood a lot these things that we’d been talking about. I learned it from these people. But I was in this facility and I was talking to a nursing assistant who didn’t speak very good English. I remember her so clearly.

Now, nursing assistants are the ones who change beds and for people who are incontinent, they change the briefs. They’ll help people to the toilet – somebody who needs to be rolled over or helped out of bed, they do all that sort of very close and physical work.

I had developed a habit of asking everybody that I met what was the best part of their job and what was the worst part of their job. I was asking this woman, “What’s the worst part of your job?” She paused for a minute and she told me that the worst part was when her patients pass away, which was just astonishing to me. I didn’t know that the people who worked in these places cared that deeply for one thing.

But the second thing was I knew what nursing assistants did, so I knew for a fact, we all know, that it’s got to be like changing the diapers and doing the poop and the diarrhea and stuff. That’s got to be the worst part. I asked her, like maybe she’d forgotten, “What about the diapers and stuff?” She looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “No, no, that’s for their dignity.”

I realized that for me poop was just this gross thing that I didn’t want to touch and that made me not want to work in healthcare because you might have to see some of that stuff and that’s yucky.

But that’s not what it was for her. Because the people that she cared for were real people to her, she didn’t see it as yucky, gross poop. To her it was well, these people, their bodies are failing them. I can help keep them dignified if I assist them with the toilet, if I keep them clean. I’m making them clean and safe and happy.

It wasn’t remotely the worst part of the job to her because it was what real people, people that she cared for, it was what real people needed.

The point of that chapter and the point of talking about poop at all is just to show how different everything, everything about other people looks when we can see them as they really are.

An object person, yes, their diapers are gross, but a real person with a life history who chats with me about their kids and tells me stories of the past and maybe tells me jokes, with that person if their body is aging and doesn’t function for them, it’s not the same thing at all. It becomes a sense of I want to help clean them up, make sure they don’t feel embarrassed.

It’s even the feces is different when we see people as people.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. This is just so good.

Kimberly White
Thank you. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share a little bit when you’re in the midst of things, I think that many of us want to, we aspire to care about people regularly and then we get caught up in our own stuff and we get defensive and such. Do you have any tactical tips for when you’re in the moment, in the heat of it, what are some great ways that you can kind of quickly bring yourself back to a caring position?

Kimberly White
Oh my gosh. You’re asking the wrong person. I am so bad. But there’s a chapter about this too. It was one of the most disappointing things – one of the hardest things, but it turned out to be wonderful about learning all this stuff and this shift and seeing people as people.

It turns out I’m still just kind of me. I’m still just kind of a jerk. I can still fight. I can still see people as objects. I didn’t just magically turn into a fairy princess who scatters flowers around. It was very disappointing. I thought I was going to be better.

I actually think the first thing to do is just to remember human beings have faults. The other people around us are going to have faults. We shouldn’t condemn them for that and neither should we condemn ourselves. We can always fix the situation later. You can always apologize. There’s no sense in getting depressed when we find ourselves doing the jerky thing that we know we’re prone to do.

The second thing is when it’s a relationship that’s pivotal in your life, a spouse or a coworker or something that’s likely to come up a lot, then I would really, really recommend spending time –

We were talking before about the amount of time we spend griping about people that annoy us, try to spend an equal amount of time or even any amount of time thinking about the person that annoys you the most and what in their life, what pains and sorrows, and frustrations might be leading them to behave in a way that you find so difficult.

Then you have that place to go to. In the moment when you find yourself frustrated, you’ve already thought about that person as a person and instead of trying to generate that when you’re already upset, which I can tell you I don’t do very well, I don’t think most of us do.

But if I’ve already thought about it and already found a way to see that person as a person, and even please, taken some steps to show them, steps of kindness, to demonstrate the caring that I have, then when I find myself irritated, frustrated, grumpy, I have that mindset present to me. I can go there.

I can remind myself, “Okay, take a deep breath. Remember that she just got over being ill and she takes a medication.” “He was really disappointed last week at his performance, no wonder he’s stressed right now.” You can remind yourself of the things you know about the person that will make them seem human to you.

We do not have to just fall back into that, “He’s so annoying.” “She’s such a brat,” kind of way of thinking. We have the power because we run our own minds, we have the power to remind ourselves of the things we know about the person that are real, that are true, and that are human.

Then if you can’t do much in the moment, don’t be afraid to apologize. People love to get apologies and to make an acknowledgement of what I’ve done wrong. Nobody ever minds, ever, ever, ever will mind hearing, “I’m sorry. I messed that up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Kimberly White
You’re quite welcome.

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

Kimberly White
Oh, we’ve had such a great conversation, Pete. I think we’ve covered everything. I just want to emphasize again how much power we have over our own lives and our own relationships.  The seeing people as people stuff, that’s not only for people who were born cheerful. It’s not only for people who were born calm. That is a decision we get to make in every moment of our lives.

Am I just going to sit back and think about myself and everybody around me gets to be an object or am I going to say, “Wait. What’s he thinking? What’s she thinking?” It doesn’t take any skills. It doesn’t take a degree. It doesn’t take a particular upbringing. That is just a choice we get to make. It’s a choice that will change everything in our lives if we’re willing to make it.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kimberly White
Well, it was just so powerful to me. One of the founders of this company was talking to me about motivating employees. He said that he’s against trying to motivate employees. He said this, “Leadership is like a fire.  A good leader doesn’t come in and blow on the flame and take credit. He sees the flame that’s already there and clears away debris to let it grow.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you.

Kimberly White
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Now how about a favorite book?

Kimberly White
The Remains of the Day. Are you familiar with that one?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know a lot about it, but I know the title. It’s ringing a bell.

Kimberly White
Yeah, and they made a movie of it. No, it is a story about a man who devoted his whole life and made tremendous and painful personal sacrifices thinking he was on the right side of history and it turned out he was not and sort of had to confront that in his old age.

I just am so moved by the human experience and just the disappointments we all have just because we’re flawed human beings. We don’t have to have lived the perfect life. Humanity isn’t about getting it right. It’s just about being human.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Kimberly White
I like to eat a chocolate smoothie in my bed and read with my door locked. I will read anything. Mostly I read non-fiction. But the chocolate smoothie just puts that over the edge, I’m telling you. It’s like ice cream without the guilt.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people when you share it?

Kimberly White
You asked great questions and brought out all the good stuff.

One thing that resonates a lot with people is this little tidbit. Before I started working on this book, I was headed for divorce. I was so unhappy. I thought this was going to be the way to make the money I needed to be independent and split. Now, I am happily married to the same man.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you.

Kimberly White
In case you’re wondering, does this really work? Yeah, it does actually. It really, really, really does. It’s not just pie in the sky. It’s not just quotable quotes. Life can be different. Life can be better than we tend to think. Humans are awesome. Ordinary people have so much capacity and so much greatness inside them. We’re surrounded by it. We can produce it and we can see it in others and it’s just miraculous.

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

Kimberly White
I would point them to my website, KimberlyWhiteBooks.com. That’s books plural. My book, The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything is available at all major book sellers. For leaders, I recommend 800-CEO-Read. For everybody else, go to Amazon and you probably will anyway.

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

Kimberly White
Yes. If you want to be awesome at your job, start by finding out where you’re not awesome. If you’re not willing to … and fix them, you can never be awesome at your job. Find what it is, fix it, and ask somebody at work. They’ll be able to tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kimberly, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing the goods. It’s powerful stuff and I’m excited to see what transformations emerge from it. Please keep doing the great work that you’re doing.

Kimberly White
Thank you so much. It’s been just delightful to be with you.

322: Delivering the Most Persuasive Words with Michel Fortin

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Legendary copywriter Michel Fortin shares how to be more persuasive in any environment and situation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The platinum rule for persuasion
  2. The OATH formula to better know the people you need to persuade
  3. The ‘so-that’ technique to bridge arguments and persuade people

About Michel

Michel is currently Director of Communications at SEO TWIST, Inc., a full-service digital marketing agency that’s also a Premier Google Partner, Facebook Partner, and Shopify Partner. He manages a portfolio of 47 client accounts ranging from small businesses to multinationals. He’s also President and co-owner of Supportibles, Inc. (formerly Workaholics4Hire), an outsourced customer support solutions and backoffice business process services provider.

He leads a team of three managers and 22 support staff, as well as over 200 part-time virtual assistants and remote workers. They handle an average volume of over 15,000 support cases daily with clients in a variety of industries and verticals. He’s also responsible for building the clientbase, developing strategic marketing plans, and implementing business growth campaigns.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michel Fortin Interview Transcript

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

Michel Fortin

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m so excited to have this conversation. And I wanted to start by hearing about, you are a drummer in four different bands. Tell me how this works.

Michel Fortin

[laugh] Well, I’ve been playing drums since I was… Oh my Lord, since I was nine years old. I started playing on a drum set that my uncle had whenever he was playing with his bands in my grandmother’s house. Every time I visited my grandmother – I was being babysat by my grandmother – I was jumping on the drum set. And that kind of spurred a nice little hobby, and now today I play in four different bands – a country band, a classic rock band, a jazz band, and a heavy metal band. So, you can see that there’s a wide range of music there, and I’m very, very busy with all four of them, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And have they ever been at the same evening or gig, in terms of, one is opening for another so you just very conveniently schedule to be in that spot?

Michel Fortin

Yeah, we all share calendars with the bands, so they know to not book a gig when I’m with another band. So I kind of tell all four bands at the same time when I’m available or not, so it works out really well. And as you probably know, from heavy metal bands to country bands is too widely diverse ranges of music, so they don’t share some of the same gig places. It’s kind of nice, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Can I hear the band names? Are they wildly creative?

Michel Fortin

It’s kind of funny, because one of the first bands a while back was at the time when I used to teach at a local college here. I used to teach marketing, marketing management, professional selling, copywriting and all that stuff. And we were all teachers, and some of them actually still teach there. Actually one just retired not too long ago. And we call ourselves Divided Highway, because we were all four different, eclectic types of tastes in the band. One was a 50s classic rock, or rock and roll type of person, the other one was a country guy, I was a rocker, and then another guy was more of a jazz player. So we call ourselves Divided Highway.
The other bands – well, one band is Nelson Colt – he’s a national recording artist. He’s actually local here in Ottawa, and we’re part of the Nelson Colt band, and we play at a lot of festivals – country festivals and what not. The jazz band is, we are just basically backup musicians for a singer. Her name is Mel. She is a very widely-known jazz singer here. And the other band – the heavy metal band – is named FTP, but it doesn’t mean what it says. It’s called Free The Puppies. So, make that as you wish, and we’ll leave it at that. [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis

So, it’s important work you’re doing, freeing the puppies. That’s good. So, you mentioned you were teaching copywriting, and that’s how I bumped into you, is I was kind of learning all about copywriting, and you popped up. And you have a bit of a legend associated with your name in the history of copywriting. Can you tell us a little bit about that? And if you don’t, I’ll tell them for you, of how you’re a big deal.

Michel Fortin

Well, my story in how I stumbled into copywriting is actually a nice story, because it kind of helps other people who are thinking about what they should do or how they should learn copy. And it’s an interesting story. First of all, I grew up with this immense fear of rejection. I was abused by an alcoholic father as a child and I thought that because of that fear, I didn’t like knocking on doors, I didn’t like being at social gatherings and what not. And so what I did was, I dove into sales. I wanted to fight that fear, and the best way to fight that fear is to dive into something that forces you to be rejected all the time.
And that didn’t do well, because I didn’t make any sales. I was still a complete failure. And I said to myself, “There’s got to be a way to get those people to call me instead of me knocking on doors and getting doors slammed in my face.” So I said, “You know what? I’m just going to write a letter. Why don’t I write this letter that’ll ask people if they want some kind of a free consultation, free analysis? And I’ll get people to come to me?” I remember I declared bankruptcy. I was 21 years old. I declared bankruptcy at a very young age, to becoming the number one sales person for this insurance company, a Fortune 500 insurance company. And so I realized, “There’s something to this copywriting thing.”
So, that’s how I stumbled on to copywriting. And I realized over time that I’m far better at writing persuasively than I am at the actual process of selling. But I realized at the same time when I was learning all these things… I mean I dove into books and courses, I tried to learn more about the process of selling – it actually helped me improve my sales and copy.
And this is what I’m trying to impart is, because a lot of people say, “Well, should I write better? Is it about the prose? Is it about the grammar?” It has nothing to do with that. It’s, learn how to sell, or learn the process of selling, become a better sales person, become a better persuader, and then that will translate into the written format.
And up to this day, I guess a lot of people will remember me as being the person who wrote the copy, who made the first $1 million in one day back in 2004, selling digital products. And that’s what’s meant my name as a, quote unquote, “legend”, although I hate to use that word. But that’s how I became famous. And today, now I am Director of Communications at a digital marketing agency, a Google Premier Partner, and I still do a lot of copywriting here of course. And that’s my story in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And as I recall, the million-dollar day was John Reese.

Michel Fortin

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

And what was the product, and do you remember the headline?

Michel Fortin

Traffic Secrets. Well, it’s kind of funny, because John at that time did a seminar – The Traffic Secrets Seminar – and he recorded that seminar and then he digitized into a video format into courses, which I wrote the sales letter for. And that’s the one that became the million-dollar day where we sold over $1 million worth of products. In fact, we sold over a million in 18 hours, but we call it “the million-dollar day”.
And then I remember when we re-launched it, it did phenomenally well as well when we re-launched it. And all I did was, we tacked odds and testimonials at the very top. But I changed the headline. I was … over this headline. In fact, it was kind of funny, because I came up with that headline at a copywriting seminar – Yanik Silver’s Copywriting Seminar. I was right there writing copy for John while I was trying to learn copywriting.

Pete Mockaitis

Real time.

Michel Fortin

In real time. And I came up with that. What would be the best headline possible? I just said, “Proof”. That was my one-word headline. A one-word headline to a 75-page sales letter.

Pete Mockaitis

75.

Michel Fortin

Yes. When you print it out, it would be 75 pages. And it did another couple of million dollars for John. I must admit – and I’m saying this with all humility – that John is a fantastic marketer. I learned a lot from him. And if it wasn’t for him, I probably would not have done that, of course. And it was also a melding of minds, because John gave me a lot of hints and tips and ideas, but it was the one thing that’s making me as a legend, if you want to call it that.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. That’s cool. And so, I guess we can dork out about this stuff, but our listeners are not so much online marketers who are trying to create information products and sell them and all that. There are plenty of podcasts about that, and we’re not quite one of them. But nonetheless, I believe every professional needs to be persuasive, both verbally and in print. And so, I’d love to get your take – maybe we’ll start broad, in terms of, if one wants to learn how to over the years of their career become progressively more and more persuasive and have people say “Yes” and to collaborate or help out on a project when you don’t have the authority to demand or fire or give bonuses or incentives financially – what should professionals do, if they want to sharpen their skills month after month?

Michel Fortin

I think the one thing that people have to realize is that we’re all in this game alone. And I say “alone”, not together. By that I mean, we all want the best for ourselves. However we try to help out each other, it’s still a selfish endeavor. And so when we try to persuade others, when we try to get people to come to our side, we often try to tell them why this is such a good idea, this is such a good project, this is such a good task. But we’re always thinking about ourselves, or we try to think of what the other person might like, which is often tainted by our own glasses, by our own way of seeing things.
I enjoy his work a lot – Dr. Tony Alessandra – a behavioral psychologist who actually teaches a lot about selling. And that translates a lot into copywriting, and I’ve used a lot of his teachings in my copywriting work as well. And he has a whole program called The Platinum Rule. As you know, the Golden Rule is “Do unto others”. The Platinum Rule is, “Do unto others as they would want to have done unto them”, rather than “What you want to have done unto you”.
And to do that, there’s a couple of things. And we could spend an entire 45 minutes just doing this, but the one thing that’s important is to understand what the other person really, really wants. That involves knowing the other person. It involves, in copywriting – when we talk about copy in a marketing context – market research. When I have conversations with copywriters who either have a writer’s block or they don’t know what kind of sales message, what kind of story they want to tell – I tell them, “Go back to your market. Do more market research.” The more you question, the more you probe, the more you dig deeper into your market, the more things will pop out at you almost instantaneously.
And it’s the same thing with persuasion in an office environment with coworkers, with subordinates, even with superiors, where you have to understand what makes them tick, what is keeping them up at night, what is something that they would want. Sometimes we look at things and we think that they’re looking for a specific thing, when it might be a whole other motivation, a whole other intent, a whole other behavior. And the more we know that, the more we can position the same request that we can make, but in a certain way that makes them feel like it’s their request, they own it, they possess it, but at the same time they’re doing it for their benefit and you’re making them feel like they’re the hero.
And that’s what I do. I do that at work. I work in an agency where it’s fast paced, it’s high energy here all the time, and we do have to have a lot of people on our side, and even with clients – trying to sell with clients. The more you know about who you’re trying to persuade, the more you’ll be able to position whatever request you’re making to get them to do what you want them to do. Not because you know what they want, but you found out what they really want.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, could you maybe give us some examples of perhaps an assumption that we might be making when we’re looking through our own glasses, versus a better way to make that request when you step into their shoes?

Michel Fortin

Absolutely. One of the things that I’ve done a lot in my life are seminars, and especially seminars in copywriting. And I did a seminar one time with David Garfinkel – one of the most well-known copywriting coaches – a brilliant man, a very good copywriter too. Fantastic copywriter actually. And he told a story once of a sales situation that kind of demonstrates that, where he was talking about a bunch of engineers sitting around a table, where some kind of chemistry machine… I can’t remember what it was, it’s some kind of laboratory instrument that they were trying to sell to this group of engineers.
And the person trying to sell to the group was talking about all the statistics and the data and the performance efficiency, and all those wonderful things. And he told the story where he found out when the people decided to buy the product, they said to the salesperson, “I’m not buying this because… There are so many things that we can actually do research on and find out about your product. We buy it because we like to touch it. We like to use it. We like to play with it in our laboratories, and we like to do things with it.”
We think that all engineers are all about numbers, but it comes down to I think something that is more fundamental, is that people do buy on emotion but they justify their decision with logic. And that applies to engineers as much as it applies to anybody else. And so, this person then went into more presentations afterwards, kind of positioning or repositioning the presentation. “Yes, I will talk about how neat and new and fun, and how you can geek out all over this product in your laboratory, but here are all the numbers and all the statistics and all the data that you can use to help justify this to your superior, to your purchasing committees and all that stuff.” So, that is a story that is very much applicable. I think you can apply that to any situation.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s interesting. So, we buy on emotion, and then justify that with logic. And so, I’m thinking… So many purchases I’ve made are flashing before my eyes.

Michel Fortin

Well, when you make those decisions to buy those products, your first reaction was to probably buy it for some kind of emotional reason. And sometimes that doesn’t mean it’s a childish emotion. It could be actually, “It makes me happy”, “I like buying stuff”. That’s probably just as normal and human as anybody. But then you’ll start to go into your mind. And you could do both things too. You can talk about all the wonderful reasons why you should buy this product; you’re trying to justify it.
But you know what a lot of people do? They also try to justify not buying the product, and they try to think of all the negative that can be associated with buying this product. They’re trying to talk themselves out of it. And as a copywriter, we need to do three things: A) we need to sell on emotion, B) we need to justify it with logic, but C) we need to handle and respond to objections or possible objections that they might have, that they will surely have when they’re going through that justification process.
So, in a job environment, in an office environment, whatever the case is – you might have to think about how you’re going to sell a particular idea to staff, whatever the case is. You might back it up with justifiable, logical reasons why they should go ahead, but at the same time you also have to think about, what are the things that they’ll come up with to negatively impact your decision, or what they’ll try to outsell themselves, or to sell themselves away from that product or service, or in this case, the idea, the task, the project. And you have to kind of prepare yourself, to anticipate those things and answer them.

Pete Mockaitis

It is interesting. I’m thinking about in an office environment, in terms of, there are so many projects that require collaboration across many functional areas and groups. And so, it’s like, “Hey everyone, give us your input on this” or, “Come to a meeting about that”, and they don’t want to. So I’m just imagining, if we look at the emotional angle, maybe you’re courting a project for a new software, tool or modular add-on that will help people do their jobs. And it might be something like, “Imagine a world where your Friday time and expense reporting doesn’t involve painstakingly pulling out receipt after receipt and taping it to pages and scanning them, but rather with a quick push of a button you can power through that moment.”

Michel Fortin

Yeah. You can say something like, “Hey John, I know that we’ve talked about your need for an assistant. That’s something that I’m trying to desperately find the budget for. And I know that you really need help, you’re overwhelmed right now. I would love for you to come to this meeting. We’re going to be talking about this new software that will be A, B and C and that will do one, two, three. However, it’s going to help us save some money, maybe be able to allocate some of that budget in order to help justify hiring an assistant for you. So, your input is so valuable and I would love for you to be at that meeting if you could. Could you come?”
That would be a way to position that. That’s just one example of course; I just pulled that off the top of my head. But it’s, where you can find ways to reposition something that is in their favor or somehow could be in their favor, and then maybe also look at how they come out on top if they do whatever you’re asking them to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Right. And it was interesting, when you talk about overwhelm – that’s a feeling. It’s like, “Yeah, I am, and it would be such a relief to have some help, support in that way.” So, maybe could you touch upon some other powerful emotions to get the wheels turning, associated with, if I’m going for an emotion as opposed to logic, what sort of emotions am I going after and can I stir up in an ethical and moral sort of a way to be more persuasive?

Michel Fortin

Well, I use a rule in copywriting called “the three rules of the 3s”. And that means that there are three things that people tend to look for when they, in this case, re-copy. But it could be applied in other situations. I talk about the three greatest human goals. The three greatest human goals are to either make or save time, money or energy. So, if you can find ways to position things that will make them or help them to understand that they can save or make more time, more money, more energy – then you’ve got them. You’ve got them hooked.
Now, the second, we’re going down the emotional path here. The second is, the three greatest human desires. And I have found in all copy that I’ve read, all copy that I’ve written, all copy that I’ve researched, it comes down to three essential things – greed, lust, or comfort. Greed – of course, doesn’t have to be greed about money. It could be great about life, it could be greed for possessions, it could be greed for having more time to travel, whatever the case is. Lust – of course, there is a sexual component, but it could also be lust for life, could be lust for health, could be feeling younger, feeling more active, more energetic, living longer, whatever the case is.
And of course comfort is the path of least resistance. People love convenience, they love to do things in a more efficient way. How can they get more time is important, but what they can do to be more convenient, to be more efficient so that they can have more time? Well, that’s the comfort level. And that’s the three greatest human desires.
And finally, we’re going to step up again – the three greatest human teasers – controversy, curiosity, and scarcity. So controversy of course is something that’s hot, that’s topical, that’s trendy. Putting politics and religion and all that stuff on the side, there’s always something that’s very controversial in the industry, in the news, whatever the case is. And if you can use that in your – and I call it “story-selling” – in your story-selling process, the more you can engage some of those emotions that will get people to do what you want them to do.
The second of course is curiosity. Creating curiosity is, I think, fundamental. We have this new term that wasn’t around when I first started on the Internet 20 years ago. But we call it “clickbait”. Clickbait is kind of funny, because I’m sure that people call something “clickbait” if they’re enticed into something that really doesn’t satisfy their curiosity or it makes them feel like, “Oh, you got me hooked onto something like this.”

Pete Mockaitis

Like a fake worm.

Michel Fortin

Yeah, that’s it. So I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about creating actual genuine curiosity. And I can talk a little bit more about that, but I’ll talk about the third, and I’ll come back to that. So, scarcity – people tend to want something more when there’s less available of it, or when it’s about to run out, because people love something that’s rare, that’s hard to get, that’s “only one left”, whatever the case is. So scarcity – when there’s less time to do something, or to get something, or to have something, and limited quantities, limited resources, whatever the case is.
So, all that to say that the three greatest human goals, the three greatest human desires and the three greatest human teasers are things that we can incorporate in our persuasion methods that will get people emotionally hooked onto what we’re trying to say and what we’re trying to get them to do.
Now, just to come back and finish on the curiosity thing. The reason why I love curiosity – it’s probably one of my favorite ones – is because of something psychologists call “the Zeigarnik effect”. And I say “Zee”, not “Zed”, of course. I’m Canadian. So the Zeigarnik effect is something that psychologists use to explain this kind of feeling of uneasiness, discomfort, when something is left unsaid, undone, not finished, until they get that closure.
And that Zeigarnik effect is very powerful because we can open a discussion, we can open an idea, we can open a request, and people won’t feel comfortable until they get that idea, thing – whatever – finished, completed, that thought finished. And it’s like finishing a movie halfway through.
I think one of the biggest controversial endings was The Sopranos. I don’t know if you remember that show, and it just faded to black when they were all in the restaurant. So, the Zeigarnik effect is powerful to create that controversy. If I say, for example, “You should do these three things”, and that’s the title of some kind of sales letter – and I’m being very simplistic, of course. And people will say, “Well, what are those three things?” There’s a very popular… This is a hundred years ago, title for an ad that said, “Do you make these mistakes in English?” Of course it was for an ad for teaching English.

Pete Mockaitis

Which ones? I might be.

Michel Fortin

Yeah, exactly. So it forces you to read what those mistakes are. So, curiosity is very, very powerful, and we can certainly use that in our interactions at the office and dealing with staff, because people are always intrinsically and innately curious.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s intriguing. And I guess in terms of closing the loop, it’s so true – I’m thinking now about my experience of watching the TV series Prison Break. I thought the first season was amazing. It was just some of the most thrilling television I’ve ever witnessed. The second season was okay; it was kind of fun. And then the rest of them – I think there are five – I think I watched the rest of the seasons just like, “I’ve just got to know what happens to these guys.” [laugh] I think I finally broke down and said, “Okay, I’m just not going to watch the episodes. I’m going to read the summaries and then watch the last one.” I had to know.

Michel Fortin

Right. And those are the best shows. Those are the ones that have the highest ratings. If you go back to, my gosh, the very famous Dallas show, when everybody was asking, “Who shot J.R.? Who shot J.R.?”, and then when they finally showed the person who shot J.R., the ratings just dropped like a rock. And that’s the Zeigarnik effect, right? But we can use that to our advantage. We can create a little bit of curiosity, get people a little bit enticed: “John, I really need you to come to this meeting. There’s something that I wanted to ask you that’s been bothering me; it’s on my mind.” And he says, “Well, what is it?” “Well, I can’t really tell you right now, I don’t have time. But actually just join me at 3:00 o’clock at the meeting and I’ll tell you.” [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, absolutely. A lot of this is reminding me of Robert Cialdini’s fantastic books Influence: Science and Practice, and his latest, Pre-Suasion.

Michel Fortin

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

And I look forward to the day we have him on the show. And in Pre-Suasion he talked about how he had cracked the code of getting students to not pack up and leave before the class was over, which was, he would paint a little bit of a picture for a case study, like, “How did so-and-so company pull off this, when A, B, C, D and E were stacked against them? You would expect with these sort of factors, that they would have a terrible time getting a marketed option for this offering.”

Michel Fortin

Yeah. I remember reading a sales letter where the headline introduced – and it was a question – and then you had the whole sales letter, and then finally, the final P.S. at the end, “Oh, by the way – you know that question I asked earlier? Here’s the answer.” So it literally forced you to read, but it got people to read the whole sales letter. So, it was interesting, and it’s a very common tactic.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s fascinating, how when you open up a question that’s interesting, and you leave out the answer, folks want to get to it. And so, that’s great. Are there any other approaches for stoking that curiosity fire within people?

Michel Fortin

Remember I told you about market research, finding out more about the market. There’s something that I teach in copywriting that we can certainly apply in an office or in a job setting, is what I call “the OATH formula”. And the OATH formula means how prepared are people to take an oath? I know I use acronyms a lot – I’m an acronym fanatic. I love mnemonics and acronyms to help me remember stuff.
And OATH is just an easy way to remember what stage of awareness are people at? Are they oblivious – which is the O, apathetic – which is A, thinking, or hurting? And that means simply this: Oblivious is, they don’t know. They just don’t know. So, you would probably need to get them a little bit more educated so that you can get them to the next level. And that may be somebody who’s not aware of a problem – some people are not aware of a situation. Maybe somebody’s asking for a raise in your company, and they don’t necessarily understand that there’s a problem that they need to solve in order to get to that level or get to the point where they can ask for it. So, they’re oblivious. And of course you can create curiosity to educate them a little bit better or get them to want to be educated a little bit better, and that’s fine, but you won’t know that until you do that kind of research.
And again, I call it “market research”, but in an office setting sometimes just sitting down with people or finding out more about who they are, what makes them tick, what are their goals, what are the goals of the company. Sometimes we say people want a raise. I found whenever we’ve done surveys within companies, especially companies that I work with, that a lot of times money is not the number one thing. Sometimes it might just be a snack machine in the corner. It could be a coffee machine. It could be more flexible hours, that they can work at home more often because Jane can be with her child, or Bob could pick up his child from school, whatever the case is. Anyways, so oblivious.
Then apathetic is, they know about the problem, they’re educated about it, but they just don’t care. So now you probably have to create curiosity, not about the situation, but about why the situation is important, and especially why it’s important to them.
The next level up is then thinking. So, they’re no longer oblivious; they know about the problem, and now they sort of care about the problem, now they’re looking for a solution. It might be any kind of solution, but they’re thinking about it. They’re thinking about possibly getting to the next level, or going ahead with it. And that’s where you need to create more urgency – why it’s important to get that issue resolved now. So now you might have to think about things that will help persuade them, not just to get them to do whatever the case is, but to why they should do it as soon as possible, why it’s important to get it done soon, sooner rather than later.
And of course, hurting is the lowest hanging fruit. They know about the problem, they know there’s a solution. They’re not just thinking about getting it; they want it now. They need it now, they’re hurting. And that’s where your lowest hanging fruit is in any situation in the market, or whatever the case is. So, it’s going to be pretty easy to create curiosity in this particular case. But at any rate, the OATH formula is something to remember.
And when you have a situation where you’re sitting down with a coworker or a staff member, and there’s a situation that you want to bring up to them – try to think about, where are they at in their level of awareness about the situation? Are they oblivious, are they apathetic, are they thinking, or are they hurting? And that will kind of frame the whole situation, the whole conversation, and help you to position in a much better way so that you can get them to do whatever you want them to do, or to get the results that you want to get out of the staff, out of the business, out of the office environment.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s excellent, because I think I’ve often seen the mismatch, in terms of, I think I saw some email that told me that I could play with better predictions and win ETH in the process. It was like, “I don’t even know what you’re saying.”

Michel Fortin

Exactly, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

I was oblivious. I think it was a tool to help you choose Fantasy Football teams and win Ethereum –  a cryptocurrency, along the way. But it took me a while just to know what are we even talking about here. I don’t know why I didn’t delete it; maybe it was curiosity at work. It was like, “I have no idea what you’re even saying to me. Am I supposed to know? I feel out of the loop. … double-check this stuff.”
So, that’s really cool, to avoid those mismatches and not just assume, “Oh, of course they’re thinking about it because I’m thinking about it non-stop.” Well, maybe they’re not. They’re not you. Sort of that Platinum Rule again. And I’m thinking I’d like to zero in on the apathetic part, because I think in a professional setting that will be a large segment of your audience that you’re trying to persuade. It’s like, “Not my job, not my prob. I’m pretty apathetic as to what you’re asking me for.” So, what are some approaches to specifically get those folks engaged?

Michel Fortin

Well, there’s a trick in copywriting called the “so that” technique. When you’re trying to explain a feature, of course a lot of people say, “Explain benefits rather than features.” And I say, “A lot of people will think a benefit is a benefit, but it’s not. It’s more like an advantage, because it doesn’t really apply to the person specifically.” So I call them “features to advantages” and then “advantages to benefits”.
I’ll give you an example. There’s an old saying; I think it was from Theodore Levitt that said that people don’t buy quarter-inch drills, they buy quarter-inch holes. And I would say that’s kind of a benefit, but it’s more of an advantage. Why would people need a hole in the first place? It could be because they want to build something faster, or it could be because they want to get whatever they’re building faster, whatever the case is.
So, in the case when we use the “so that” – “so that” is a question that you would ask at every time you try to explain something. And of course you need to be educated beforehand. You need to do your research, whether it’s knowing about the person you’re trying to persuade, or the environment that you’re in, or what that person’s aspirations are, what’s keeping them up at night, what makes them tick, what makes them excited. So when you come to explain a particular job request or task or project, whatever the case is – when you say… Actually I’ll kind of back up a little bit.
One of the things that my son, whenever he grew up, drove me nuts, was, “Why? Why? Why?” He kept asking me, “Why, Dad?” “Son, I need you to do your room.” “Why?” “Well, because it’s really dirty.” “But why?” And then I realized if I say, “Well, if you clean it up, you’ll either get a reward” or I say, “If you clean it up, you’ll have more space that you can sit on the floor and play your other toys with.” “Oh, okay. Great.”
So that technique says, if you’re saying to John or Jane in the office, “I need you to do this, so that…” And then go on, and then do another “so that”. So, “I want you to look at this new piece of accounting software, so that we can see if we can implement it in our office, so that we will have a way to save money in our accounting processes, so that we might be able to actually look at extra money in the budget, so that we can hire you an assistant you’re desperately needing right now because you’re so overwhelmed.” So that, so that, so that.

Pete Mockaitis

I dig it, because you have an understanding of where they’re coming from, and then you can link sometimes multiple – three, four, five “so that’s” to get them where they need to go. And it’s funny, as you talk about drills, I’m thinking about my wife. It’s like, “What would my wife really be into for a drill?” And I’m thinking it would be, “This drill has a shroud and vacuum around it, so that there will be no dust, so that there will be no lead particles whatsoever into the air, so that precious baby Jonathan will be completely safe of any risk whatsoever.”

Michel Fortin

Exactly. [laugh] My wife loves… First of all we call our house “the magazine house”, because she loves decorating and all that, although she’s not a decorator; she’s a nurse. And if you were to try to sell her on doing something that is, I don’t know, something that’s not related to that, you can say – the drill, “So that you’ll be able to hang up those wall pieces.” First of all, I know that she wants the house to look great because she likes to impress especially our friends and our guests.
So I’ll say, “Buy that drill so that you’ll be able to hang up those pictures that you really wanted at the store that you saw the other day at Target”, or whatever the case is. “So that it really makes the room stand out, so that when Tracy comes along, she’s going to fall in love with your living room over again, so that you’ll be the talk of the town”, and so on and so forth.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. And that just brings it all right back to the market research again. It’s like, there could be a hundred different ways to position into “so that” bridge for what matters, from what you want to what they want. And that’s very handy, just to make that very clear and direct there.

Michel Fortin

And one of the powerful tools that psychologists and psychiatrists have – whenever they try to, quote unquote, “shrink your head”, as they say – they don’t often ask questions to be answered. They’re asking questions you to find out how you feel. For example, if you say, “I really hate my mother!” “Well, how does that make you feel?” Or, “I hate it when she does this!” “Well, how does that make you feel?”
Well, guess what? That technique is a powerful technique that you can easily use in an office environment. We often tend to do research by just trying to meet and have meetings, and then surveys or focus groups. You don’t need to do all that stuff. You just sit down with the person and say, “How does that make you feel? How do you feel about that? How do you feel about this accounting software?” Or in this case, “How do you feel about being overwhelmed without an assistant? How would that make you feel if we finally found somebody to actually take a lot of the load off of your desk and off your lap?” Or, “How would it make you feel if we found a tool that can actually save us money so it allowed you to do that?” “Oh, great.”
So, probe further, ask questions. Again, people love to talk about themselves. People love to talk about what’s ailing them as much as what makes them happy. And we don’t often listen. We kind of put our fingers in our ears because all we care about is what we feel or how we think the other person feels. And that’s where we have to go into what Tony Alessandra calls “dynamic listening” or “active listening”, where we actually do listen to what they say, and then we can use that. That’s fodder that you can use in your persuasion attempts later on, and it’s a great skill to actually learn too.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great, thank you. Well, tell me, Michel – is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear a few of your favorite things?

Michel Fortin

Sure. Let me tell you a little bit about… Sometimes people say, “When I write a sales letter or a memo in the office, or a letter to my superiors” – whatever the case is, or even just a project brief – they say, “How can I make that more persuasive?” And one thing that I teach in copywriting that I found when I read other people’s copy is that it’s very cold, very data-driven, very corporate-y, corporate language. And I can understand how that is important when you’re appealing to a group – maybe C-level executives, maybe stakeholders, whatever the case is, but when you’re talking one-on-one with the person, or when you’re writing something to get one particular person involved or persuaded, even a small group of people – keep in mind that people will try to write in a corporate-y type of language, but people, like I said, buy on emotion, they justify their decision with logic.
So when you hit them upfront with the logic, even the style, the language that you use, can be seen as, quote unquote, “logical”, in this case cold, too highfalutin. So I say, be more conversational, write like you talk. You don’t have to say things that are crass or you don’t have to use street language, but you can have a conversation. And I tell people this – first of all, I’m a drummer, and I play in different bands and that forces me to learn different styles of music. But at the same time we often record ourselves at almost every practice – band practice, band rehearsal.
And the reason that we do that is not because we’re trying to have a recording of what we’re doing; it’s because I like to listen to myself. I can see where I stumble, I can see where I missed a particular drum roll, I can see where I slowed down, my tempo was not right, or I can see where I wasn’t, in drumming we call it “in the pocket”. I was not in the pocket, it didn’t feel right – the style of music, whatever the case is.
Well, it’s no different than when you’re trying to write copy, or even when you’re trying to do a presentation. A lot of people will write a presentation and they’ll expect to do a presentation, no problem. Well, guess what? It’s the same idea. Write down your thoughts, or write your sales letter or your memo, but then speak out load and maybe even record yourself while you’re doing it. And if you stumble at any point, if you hit any snag, even if you stutter – you might say to yourself that that part is not clear, or you said it in such a way where it’s not going to drive the point home, because if you’ve stuttered or you had a point where you hit a snag or you stumbled while you were reading it yourself, you know that the person reading it will even be in a worse position, because they’re not the person who wrote it.
And here’s another thing: If you have somebody else read it out loud in front of you – not necessarily the person who you intended to send it to, the recipient, but somebody else – and if they stutter or they stop or they’re asking you questions; if you have to stop in order to explain to them something, then you know that, “Maybe I have to re-write that part”, whatever the case is.
Same thing as in a presentation. If you’re doing a sales presentation in your team, at the office, in front of your group – you might want to record yourself doing that presentation. We often look at ourselves in the mirror, and that’s perfectly fine because you’re doing it live, but here’s the thing: People will try to do a presentation when they look at themselves in the mirror. You can see yourself doing the presentation, you could probably see the immediate stuff, but you’ll probably miss out on a lot of the nuances and the innuendos, or the slight, subtle stuff that you cannot catch, because you’re so focused on giving a good presentation. So, record yourself, don’t be shy. Nobody has to see it. So, when I write sales letters, I always re-read my sales letters and I record myself saying them out loud. And I will listen to them and I can see where I stumble, I can see where I need to have parts re-written or rearranged in certain ways so that the flow is better.
And so, it’s a long way to explain this, but here’s the bottom line – always record yourself in some way, whether it’s a video, whether it’s an audio, and then you can go back and fix things and change things, because at the same time you will notice things as an observer or as an audience member yourself of what you’re saying, rather than not just how you’re saying it. Sometimes I listen to myself saying it twice, because I’ll focus on what I’m saying the first time, then I’ll focus on how I said it the second time. And I’ll change things around.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s excellent. Yes, wise words. And I think I’ve felt that with my own writing and then with writing and reviewing from others. It’s like, “Have you read that yourself, because there are some flubs here?” So, lovely. Thank you for that. Now, can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michel Fortin

There are so many. I am a quote fanatic. I tend to love quotes. It’s not just because they’re quotes and it could be nice and sometimes they’re platitudes, whatever the case is. That’s not the point. The point is, how you can look at it and apply it to yourself, to your life. That’s what’s important to me.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” And I think it’s great because at the same time it applies to copy, it also applies to life in general.
So, that’s a quote that I love, because when I tend to write copy and I feel it’s not really getting the point home – again, write something worth reading. Is it worth reading, in this particular case? And sometimes it needs a little “Oomph”, it needs to be jazzed up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the “How” you say it; it could be the “What”. It could be changing the whole idea, the premise, the story that you’re trying to sell.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Michel Fortin

I think that anything from Tony Alessandra is. It probably resonated throughout our entire call today. I would highly recommend anything from him. He’s one of my favorite motivational speakers, as well as a sales psychologist, sales trainer. The Platinum Rule is by far my favorite one. Of course he’s come out with so many different ones throughout the years. But if you were to get your hands on any one course, that would be the one.
I learned about personality styles and bio personality styles when I was writing copy, teaching it to my classes. It helped me a lot to understand how some people are more numbers-driven, versus some people are more relationship-driven, versus other people who are more emotion-driven, and other people are more bottom line results-driven.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite book?

Michel Fortin

Oh, favorite book. I think a really good one, if you want to learn about copywriting especially, is Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. It’s probably a little bit outdated.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s hard to get too.

Michel Fortin

Yes, it is.

Pete Mockaitis

Way out of print.

Michel Fortin

Yeah. But there are copies floating around here and there. I believe there are some digital copies made, I cannot tell you where. I’ve had my copy for, my Lord, maybe 25 years now. But it’s my favorite book, in terms of copywriting, learning persuasion in print. And I recommend it highly.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite tool?

Michel Fortin

A favorite tool. I told you a little bit earlier about recording yourself, and I’ll finish with this. This is kind of my little inside tip. This is something that I do a lot when I write copy, especially when I’m stuck, when I really don’t have a lot to go on, or if I feel I’m not really getting, to use a drumming term or a musical term, in the pocket of what I’m trying to say. I will try to find somebody who can sell me on that idea. And what I do is, I record them. I get them to sell me on this idea, or something similar, if I want to use that.
And here’s the point: I will record the conversation, and then I’ll get it transcribed. I’ll pretty much get my copy written for me, or at least in large chunks of it, that I can use in my own persuasion, in my own writing attempts. So, sometimes when I do market research for example, I will actually call some of the happiest clients that my client has sold to, that are very happy with the product or service that they bought. And I’ll get them to explain to me why they’re so happy. I’ll try to get them to be excited and tell me what they like about the product. They’re basically trying to sell it to me. And I’ll record that conversation, transcribe it, and I pretty much have my copy written for myself.
And in order to apply this to, let’s say, a job environment, if you’re trying to sell, let’s say, some kind of accounting software to your staff or coworkers – look at other piece of software that you probably had success in selling the idea to your staff in the past, and maybe interview those people and find out what they liked about it or why they liked it. How it helped them, how it advanced their careers, or how it helped simplify their jobs or made things easier. And then try to record those conversations; not necessarily in an audio format, because sometimes people don’t like to be recorded, but take notes, find out what makes them tick. And then you can certainly look at how you can apply that to your current situation or your current attempts at persuading your coworkers.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Michel Fortin

Well, I work at a digital marketing agency. I’m Director of Communications at SEOTwist.com. That’s where you can reach me, certainly. And of course if you are looking at some of the companies that I own, I own a company called Supportibles.com. And that’s a company that offers customer service and customer support, outsourced customer support. So, Supportibles.com or especially where I work right now, SEOTwist.com.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Michel Fortin

A lot of people say, “Think about a famous quote”, and I always like to regurgitate sometimes, since it’s so often said – think different, as Steve Jobs often said. In this particular case, I would say, do different. Not just think different, but do different. Look at how something is being done or how something has always been done, and try to do it differently. Or think about ways you can do it differently. Do different.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, thank you. Well, Michel, you don’t like being called a legend, but it has been legendary chatting with you.

Michel Fortin

[laugh] Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you so much for generously sharing these goodies. And I wish you and SEOTwist and Supportibles and all you’re up to lots and lots of luck!

Michel Fortin

Thank you.

303: Inspiring Teams through Purpose with Fred Kofman

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Fred Kofman shares how to unlock the power of purpose to strengthen your team and drive better performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The first hurdle to working in a group
  2. How to find the inspiration in your work
  3. How to solve the problem of disinformation

About Fred

Fred Kofman is a Leadership Advisor at Google and former vice president of executive development and leadership philosopher at LinkedIn, where he worked with the top CEO’s and executives around the world. Born in Argentina, Kofman came to the United States as a graduate student, where he earned his PhD in advanced economic theory at U.C. Berkeley. He taught management accounting and finance at MIT for six years before forming his own consulting company, Axialent, and teaching leadership workshops for corporations such as General Motors, Chrysler, Shell, Microsoft, and Citibank. At its height, his company had 150 people and created and taught programs to more than 15,000 executives. Sheryl Sandberg writes about him in her book Lean In, claiming Kofman “will transform the way you live and work.”

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Fred Kofman Interview Transcript

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

Fred Kofman
My pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so curious to hear, so you had a nice run there as the Vice President of Executive Development at LinkedIn. You just recently made a switch. What are you up to now and what’s the story?

Fred Kofman
Well, I’m now an advisor for Leadership Development at Google. Well, the story is I would say a transition, but along the same line.

I’d been with LinkedIn for five years. They are – I feel that they are all my brothers and sisters. It was an amazing opportunity that Jeff, the CEO, gave me to work with all of them. But after five years I think I worked with almost every executive in the company, so my mission was fulfilled.

I had shared what I can do and what I can help people learn and I felt that the value of my contribution was going to start diminishing quickly because it would be mostly repeats or tweaks, whereas there were a lot of other organizations that could use that and I wanted to offer my gift more broadly.

I agreed with the people in LinkedIn that I would be out in the market and combine the work I did with them with some work I would do for other companies. Then when I went out, some people from Google asked me if I could consider doing a more extended engagement with them, a project that would be more absorbing.

I thought it was a fantastic opportunity, so I just accepted and I’m here. I’m beginning this project of Leadership Development or advising them in the area of leadership development.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. I’ve been enjoying digging into your book a little bit, The Meaning Revolution. Could you give us how do you conceptualize it in terms of what’s the big idea behind the book and why is it important now?

Fred Kofman
There’s a fundamental problem that every person that is trying to work with a team has to solve. It starts with a couple, just two people or a family, a small team and is the same problem that an organization with hundreds of thousands of people will have.

That’s to try to combine or integrate the need to have each person be accountable, to do what they’re supposed to and also the need to have each person cooperate for the achievement of the common goal.
This seems obvious. You want a group of people that work together. Every company wants the same thing. We want people to work together and each person doing what they’re supposed to do.

But there’s a hidden problem with this. There’s some incompatibility between these two imperatives. That is that if you evaluate people based on their what’s called OKRs or KPIs, which are the key results or key performance indicators, people are going to focus on their own individual jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed.

Fred Kofman
And they won’t really collaborate with others and they will even build silos to make sure other people don’t prevent them from doing what they need to do.

Today we live in an illusion where people think they are getting paid or that they’re hired to do what they call their jobs, but they’re all wrong. Every person is wrong when they say, “My job is accounting,” or “My job is sales,” or “My job is engineering.” I think everybody’s job is to help the company succeed, just like every player’s job is to help the team win.

But a defensive player will think that his or her job is to stop goals and the offensive player will say my job is to score. That’s not wrong, but it’s not true either. The job is to help the team win.

You normally do your job as a defensive player by stopping the other team from scoring, but in some instances, under some conditions, it would be better for the team if you left your position and you went forward and tried to score. For example, if you’re losing one – zero with five minutes to go.

It’s a typical strategy that teams will send the defensive players to the offense to try to tie the game. But if a person thinks, “Oh, no, no, my job is just to defend,” they will not want to go forward.

The same thing happens in a company. If you feel that your job is to reduce costs, you are going to be less interested in satisfying the customer because it could be expensive to satisfy the customer, even though the best thing for the company to achieve its mission would be to pay attention to the customer.

Or if you’re in customer retention – I tell this story in the book about somebody that was trying to sign off on Comcast and saying, “I don’t want your service.” It went viral because that was a crazy conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Fred Kofman
It lasted like ten minutes with the customer service

Pete Mockaitis
Cancel the account. Yeah, I remember that.

Fred Kofman
Exactly. That costed Comcast tens of millions of dollars in brand loss – in brand, I would say, distraction.

This was a stupid tradeoff that a person made because they think or they have a performance indicator that is how many people cancel the service during your time, when you’re on the phone.

The less people that cancel their service, the better your performance, so of course you’re going to try to convince everybody not to and you will even try anything to the point that you’re going to upset the customers and then create a brand disaster for Comcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Then that’s making a lot of sense in terms of your job is broader than your job description, whether it’s to prevent customers from leaving or what not. Then at the same time, given that there are perhaps thousands of things that an organization needs to do in order to succeed and you’ve got to have some degree of division of labor and responsibility.

How do you think about that appropriate balance between folks sort of executing on their key performance indicators versus doing whatever is necessary to help the organization win?

Fred Kofman
Yeah. That is what the book is about. I’ll give you a hint; it’s not a balance. It’s a relationship of subordination. The primary goal is to achieve the mission. That is the super-ordinating imperative. That’s why you’re here.

If you’re a soccer team, you’re there to win the game. You’re not there to say, “Well, how do we balance winning the game with having more shots or having less goals scored against.” It really doesn’t matter. It’s better to win seven – six than to lose one – zero. You say, “They only scored one goal against us,” yeah, but you lost. It’s not really balance; it’s a subordination.

But it’s very difficult to try to incentivize this subordination because the moment you tell people, “We’re all here to win,” and you can’t observe what people do directly or even if you observe, know if people are doing the right thing or not, because many times it requires judgment or discretion.

When you give people a collective incentive and you say, “We all win together or we all lose together,” you become vulnerable to predators and parasites, people that will come and prey upon the system because they are –

For example, if you pay an average sales commission, like the whole everybody sells and then you pool the money and you pay every salesperson the same, well, all the people that are below average would love your company and they will come and work for you and all the people that are above average are going to leave because they are going to be brought down by the average.

In a sense, average pay drives the best ones away, if I can do a little verse, and makes the worst ones stay. That’s a very unfortunate result in economics that if you want to encourage individual excellence, you have to evaluate people by their own individual performance. But if you evaluate people through their individual performance, you’re discouraging them from contributing to the team objective.

That is in mathematical terms an insolvable dilemma. If you just take self-interested agents and you try to create an organization, you can’t. It just doesn’t work. There’s no clever incentive system that will solve this problem.

The book is about understanding why that’s the case, but then seeing how do you manage this problem better. What can you do?

Very, I would say, surprisingly for me in an ironic sense, the solution of the most material, the hardest problem is soft. I would say the solution to the economic problem is really spiritual because the way you have to integrate a team is not by payments, not by rewards and punishments, but by inspiring them. That’s where leadership or what I call transcendent leadership comes into play.

You have to give people the opportunity to participate in a project that they feel passionate about. They’re not doing it just because you pay them, but they’re doing it because it makes sense, because it fulfills a deep longing they have in their lives. It is done in a way that is ethical and makes them proud. It also gives them the chance to connect with other people who they just crave to be in community with.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that sounds like a great place to be. Could you maybe help us go from a bit of a point A to point B sort of given what is currently the case in many workplaces? What are some of the very first steps to bring it into that spiritually robust, purpose-filled great place?

Fred Kofman
Yeah. Okay, let’s just say that some of your listeners are entrepreneurs or leaders in existing companies. The first step is to find the deeper meaning of what the company does.

Let’s imagine that I’m a doctor and I go home and I have a seven-year-old daughter that asks me, “Daddy, what do you do?” I say, “I make money.” Well, that’s not very inspiring. She goes, “Oh, well, good.” If she asks me why is that important, “Oh, because I can buy nice things for you.” She’d understand that and that’s okay. We have a nice house or we can eat tasty food and so on. But it’s not very uplifting.

If I dig deeper, what do I do “Well, I cure the sick,” or “I use medicine to make people well, to help them reestablish their health.” But if I go deeper, it’s like, “Well, when people are at risk and they have illnesses or they feel terrible or they are hurt, I help them first survive, and then come back to health,” and so on and so forth.

If I describe that as my job, as my profession, well, I feel uplifted. I feel happy and my daughter will be happy too. She will be proud to tell other kids at school what her daddy does.

I know it sounds a little perhaps simplistic, but if you are running an organization in the market, the people that are buying your product or service are finding some way in which that product or service makes their lives better. It makes them sufficiently better that they are willing to part with their hard-earned cash to acquire your product or service.

Don’t focus, as Peter Drucker, said, don’t focus on the drill because people don’t really want drills. Focus on the hole. What people want is holes. That’s why they buy drills, to make them. The question would be what is the human need, the human aspiration that your product or service is helping people to address and take care of.

You need to know that and you need to feel that in your bones, like deep inside that you’re super proud of what you do. If you’re not proud, like if you’re not on fire, you’re not going to be able to light up the people that you want to inspire. You need to feel it inside and then be able to communicate and invite people who join you in that project.

Don’t invite people to work and say “Okay, come and put your effort and I’m going to pay you.” Of course, that’s the economic deal, but the economic deal will only get you average performance.

Pete Mockaitis
This is really reminding me, Fred, of a fun chat I had. I think I was freshly hired at Bain & Company. I was chatting my fellow consultants in between some training stuff. Somehow it just sort of came up, it was like, “Hey do we do good as strategy consultants?” For me, it was kind of like, the answer was of course or else why would you have ever taken this job.

Then I went on I guess what was a rant associated with, “Well, what we do is we make companies more valuable which is extremely important because folks who are saving for retirement or for college education need for the stocks in their portfolio to appreciate and we help make that possible so that their dreams can come true.

Non-profits and foundations within their endowments have their investments placed in a basket of equities that individually we are helping make. And the leverage of us doing it is so huge in terms of being 23 years old and not having a lot of experience yet and trusted to tackle things that are going to liberate millions and billions of dollars of economic value that …”

So I went on this whole rant and the others were kind of like, “Whoa, I just thought this would be a good place so I could get into Harvard Business School or something.” I was surprised. I guess for me, I call it naïve or what, but I would just sort of assume, “But, of course, you would only choose a job that had deep purpose for you or else you would have chosen a different job.”

But different people, I quickly learned, operate from different starting points in their career decision making.

Fred Kofman
Absolutely. Yet, if you allow me, Pete, to challenge you a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Please.

Fred Kofman
I think you missed the most important part of your job when you described the benefits. I agree with every one you listed, but for me at the top of the list, not for me, economically, at the top of the list, the reason why these companies are going to become more valuable is because they will serve their customers.

The real value in the economy is not the mission of giving jobs to people or money to the investors. The real value in an economy, the one that propels humanity forward, is the competition to give value to the customers. That’s what good consultants help companies do. That’s what the mission of every company needs to be.

If not, we become a bureaucracy. But, “Oh look, we’re doing so much good because we’re hiring all these families.” Okay, that’s like 1% of the good you are doing. Don’t forget the 99% because the real good you’re doing is that people are buying your product because they find it useful in their lives.

You have no idea how much value you’re adding because as I say, if I use an Apple computer, it would cost me maybe 1,000 dollars to buy, but I would have been willing to pay 5,000 dollars. Even if Apple makes a profit of 2 or 300 hundred dollars, I made a surplus value or a consumer profit of 4,000.

Now, nobody knows that because there’s no place where I say I’m willing to pay 5,000. That’s something only I know how much value this computer is going to give me or how much would I be willing to pay for it.

I find it a little problematic today when people talk about social enterprises or “We’re doing good,” or we hire whatever people you’re hiring and say, “Well, so many families eat because of us.” Yes, that’s true, but that’s so small compared to the wealth that you’re creating in terms of life richness, not necessarily measured by money.

But we at Google today is the Input/Output conference for developers and just looking at all the developments in artificial intelligence and the assistant and all that, there’s thousands of people here that are just day and night thinking non-stop, “How can we make people’s lives better?”

There was a clip of a lady that had a difficult handicap. I’m guessing something similar to what Steven Hawking’s had. The kind of life that she was able to live because of the products that were created, it’s infinite. There’s no money in the world that would pay for that or she would not be willing to pay to access the level of quality of life that she’s able to achieve through some of these new technologies.

I want to be very emphatic. I emphasize this in the book, particularly in the last part, that there’s no system that we know that creates social cooperation and the growth and development of humanity like a market system, where everybody opts in because they think they’re getting a good deal or opts out otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. It does connect and resonate and it’s easy to get kind of lost in the weeds a bit. As we discussed this, it kind of reminds me of the book, The Goal, in a manufacturing context in thinking about you had all these performance indicators about manufacturing, but it’s really just about making an efficient product such that it can be sold profitably and then that is enriching the individual end-user who are engaging it.

I’d love it, Fred, if you could tackle, maybe just bring to life a little bit some industries that might be kind of tricky in terms of finding that fulfillment and purpose. I guess some of them could just be controversial in terms of weapons or – well, I could name all kinds of controversial issues, like weapons, tobacco, alcohol, certain insurance drugs, insurance products, hedge funds.

Could you give us a few examples of how “No, no, if you’re working here is actually awesome in this way.” Or maybe you say, “Yeah, maybe work somewhere else.” What do you think about some of the trickier ones?

Fred Kofman
Well, let’s with weapons. What would be the need that a person buying a weapon can satisfy?

Let’s just say an honorable need. I’m not talking about a criminal buying a gun to murder people or to rob them. I’m talking about good people because if you’re going to be inspired, you have to believe that your mission is conducive to some higher good. If you can’t come up with anything, then you shouldn’t work in that industry.

I’ve never worked with gun manufacturers, but I’ve heard the arguments, so I’m sure you have heard them too. What would be the argument for a noble goal that weapons could pursue?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s interesting, when I said weapons, I was originally thinking of tanks and jets and nukes for nations. But I guess on the personal-

Fred Kofman
Okay, that works too. That works. What would be the reason to – let’s just say you’re working for McDonnell Douglas and you’re a leader and you want to inspire some young people to come work there.

Pete Mockaitis
I would suppose you would say, “We are keeping our servicemen and women safer with these offerings. We can rest easier in our homes, in our nation, knowing that we can resist the threat of a foreign power who would seek to kill and enslave us and we don’t have to worry about that much on a day-by-day basis because we have brave people equipped with these useful tools.”

Fred Kofman
I would work for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Fred Kofman
That’s inspiring. Again, I’m not claiming that this is true and that there are no weapons manufacturers that are evil. There are weapon manufacturers that work for the other guys too and they create the possibility of aggression or dominance or all these horrible things.

But at best, it’s possible to work for a certain kind of military-grade weapon manufacturer or even a gun manufacturer and say, “Yeah, it’s about protection. It’s about maintaining the quality of life, of sleeping well because I am aware that any thug can come and abuse you.” That’s inspiring.

Again, it’s not the weapon, but what is it that the weapon allows a human being to do that will allow this person to take care  of important human concerns in an ethical way, meaning without aggressing or without hurting other people in a violent manner.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Now that that is well-established in terms of your view or purpose in terms of how folks are enriched by the existence of your product and service.

If you zoom into sort of the day-in/day-out of work life, how can we stay connected to that and let the meaning really serve to be energizing and empowering day after day. I’d particularly like to hear that from a vantage point of maybe not an executive or a founder, but perhaps a manager who only has a few direct reports.

Fred Kofman
Yeah, well, let’s start at the bottom, not even a manager with individual contributor. There’s a great story that I found and I use it in the book that refers to President Kennedy’s visit to NASA. I think it was 1962.

He went to NASA and was touring the facility and there was a custodian that was mopping the floors. Just being gracious, the President stopped and said hello and asked him, “So what’s your job here?” He said, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

That is culture. That is a culture that clarifies every day what are we here to do. He was certainly mopping the floors, but that’s not the way he felt about it. Just like it’s different to put brick over brick than to build a cathedral. If you keep the cathedral or the man on the moon in mind, then everything you do takes a different meaning.

This is true, there’s lots of studies. I quote several of them in my book about hospitals for example, and you’ll see the custodians in the hospitals finding a lot of meaning in helping people regain their health and cleaning their rooms and even chatting with them and bringing some joy on the nurses too.

You say, “Oh, some of these are menial tasks. They have to change the sheets.” Yeah, but in the process of changing the sheets, they’re making contact with another human being. They are participating in their life. They are giving them hope when they feel down, when they’re distressed.

It’s profoundly meaningful. It’s almost like a saintly thing to do. You’re going and touching with love and compassion people who are suffering. That’s an amazing opportunity that you only get if you work in a hospital.

I know we may consider some of these things like, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. You’re just washing clothes in a hospital or making rooms in a hotel.” You say, “Those things are just worthless, meaningless tasks,” but the truth is there are people who do find a lot of meaning in that, but it’s not about the task. It’s always about the goal, the human concern that is being taken care of through the task.

If you’re a manager, then your job is first to remember that and second to remind other people in your team what are you really doing, maintain this awareness day in and day out and everything we do is for that. Everything we do is to fulfill our mission, the service that we’re proud to provide to the community or humanity in general.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you there. Then you also mentioned a few problems that crop up within the organization in terms of things being disorganized with disinformation or disillusion. Do you have a couple actionable steps you recommend for hitting these pieces?

Fred Kofman
Yes. You may have a clear mission and everybody could be aligned to the mission, but different people see different parts of the organization and have different opinions about what would be the best way to accomplish the mission. I call this touching the elephant.

There’s a great story of a king bringing five blind men and putting them next to an elephant and telling them to describe the shape of the elephant. They start arguing. One of them says, “The elephant is like a column,” touching the leg. The other one says, “Oh no, it’s like a wall,” touching the side. The other one said, “No, no, it’s like a snake,” touching the trunk and so on and so forth.

The king at the end says to them, “Well, you’re all right and you’re all wrong. You’re all right because the part you are touching is really like you describe, but you’re all wrong because you are … extrapolating the part you touch and using it to elicit or to infer what’s the shape of the elephant as a whole.”

Many times in organizations we do that. People are close to some part of the organization and they think that the whole organization is an extrapolation of the part they perceive. The ones that see the organization are so far away, it would be like seeing the elephant from a mile away, that you can see the whole thing, but you don’t have any granularity and you don’t have the details that are required to make intelligent decisions.

I call this disinformation. Different people have different information and nobody knows the whole picture with the level of granularity that’s required to make intelligent decisions. How do you solve this?

Well, if people are aligned on the mission and they know how to share information in a non-arrogant way, I call it humility, then they can come together and each person can say what they see, and what they infer, and what they experience in their immediate environment.

Then the other people can integrate that and create the pool of common information out of which they can make an intelligent decision together, what would be the best way to proceed to accomplish our mission. But that requires kind of gathering the intelligence of everybody and creating this collective consciousness, this group awareness that encompasses the information that everybody’s bringing.

That is surprisingly difficult to do. After I wrote the book I was having some interactions with General Stanley McChrystal who wrote the book Team of Teams. It’s surprising how in the military and particularly having to fight guerrilla warfare that is very decentralized, they were dealing with exactly the same problem in spades.

One of the biggest managerial revolutions that McChrystal triggered in the US military was the creation of the Special Operations Command, the Joint Special Operations Command as a learning adaptive network, as a group of people who were operating in a decentralized manner, but were creating this shared consciousness to have all their resources available to make intelligent decisions to win the war, not win each particular battle, but to achieve the mission.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nice. Thank you. Well, tell me, Fred, anything else you really want to make sure to cover before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Fred Kofman
I’d say that one of the consequences of this revolution from money to meaning is that you can’t do it as an addition to your personality. You can’t say, “Well, I’m who I am and then I’m going to do this.” The inspiration to use meaning as a galvanizing force, that inspiration requires you to be in a certain form, not just to do things. But who you are really creates the drive for people to follow you.

You have to earn your moral authority from your life. You can’t use formal authority to do this or monetary authority or economic power. You are trying to elicit the internal commitment from people so that they give you what you have no way to extract.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a nice turn of phrase. ‘They give what you have no way to extract.’ Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Fred Kofman
Well, this is a quote from Mother Theresa that says, “Not everybody can do great things, but everybody can do small things with great love.” I find that very inspiring that this being a moral hero is not about having super powers; it’s about doing day-to-day things with great integrity, with great care, with great compassion. But it’s something I’d like to … in my life.

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

Fred Kofman
Well, I’ll tell you a shocking study if it’s favorite, but it’s the fact that the level of engagement worldwide is about 12 – 13%, so meaning almost 90% of the people hate their jobs. That’s incredible that so much suffering is happening because we don’t know how to work together and in way that uplifts human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. How about a favorite book?

Fred Kofman
I’d say from Ludwig von Mises, Human Action. It’s not an easy book to read, but it’s a treatise in economics that changed my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be more awesome at your job?

Fred Kofman
Gmail. Google search and Gmail. I think they’re incredible service opportunities. They’re so well designed.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours?

Fred Kofman
I won’t turn on my phone until I finish meditating, doing my yoga exercises, and going to the gym.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a particular nugget, a piece that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and has them quoting it back to you?

Fred Kofman
The distinction between a victim of circumstance or being a player and responding to whatever life gives you.

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

Fred Kofman
The best way would be to look at my profile on LinkedIn. I put hundreds of short videos and papers there. They’re publically available. There’s also a website called Conscious.LinkedIn.com. There’s also the book on Amazon or my previous book, Conscious Business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, perfect. Is there a final call to action or challenge that you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Fred Kofman
Yeah, find something that inspires you then live in that space. Don’t waste your life doing something that doesn’t have that juice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Fred, thank you so much for taking the time to share this wisdom and expertise. It’s powerful stuff and I just wish you tons of luck and all the meaning that you’re bringing to folks.

Fred Kofman
Thank you, Pete. It was a pleasure talking to you.