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548: How to Get Your Points Across Clearly with Davina Stanley

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Davina Stanley says: "Think first."

Davina Stanley shares expert strategies for communicating with greater clarity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why so many business presentations miss the mark
  2. The three-step “So what?” strategy
  3. The seven storyline patterns and when to use them

About Davina:

Davina Stanley has helped professionals communicate complex ideas clearly for more than 20 years. She offers a structured, ‘go to’ process that helps people think through their messaging so their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

She started coaching others when she joined McKinsey’s Hong Kong office as a communication specialist and has continued to help professionals of all stripes across many countries since then.

More recently she, along with her business partner, have published their first book The So What Strategy, which offers the seven most commonly used storyline patterns they see professionals use at work.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Divina Stanley Interview Transcript

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

Davina Stanley
My pleasure, Pete. Lovely to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I wanted to hear a bit, your career has had some interesting turns, and it started with potato farming in Australia. What’s the story here?

Davina Stanley
It did. I grew up on a potato farm, actually, in the country. And the beauty of that is that you have to constantly solve problems without having the resources that you need. And so, it was just a really great place to grow up, but a really big contrast to where I ended up. So, I ended up marrying someone who wanted to live overseas, and he wanted to be a banker, so we lived in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and then back to Australia again. So, we have been not quite everywhere but a lot of places, which is quite different to the sort of life that I started out with. It’s so fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you lived on a potato farm, does that mean you eat potatoes all the time, because I love potatoes?

Davina Stanley
Well, at the moment, I do too but I’m a bit conflicted because, at the moment, I don’t eat a lot of carb at all, so, I don’t know. I haven’t told my dad that though. I think he’d be thoroughly mortified. I think he’d be devastated.

Pete Mockaitis
Make sure he doesn’t listen.

Davina Stanley
We grew up on a diet of Sunday nights testing the load before it went to the potato chip factory, so dinner on a Sunday night, particularly during winter, was potato chips and donuts because you had the oil out, right? So, totally different than what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
Potato chips and donuts.

Davina Stanley
Jam donuts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, as a child it’s a dream come true.

Davina Stanley
We thought that. We thought that. We just had to look at the potatoes and there are the chips, or fries, as you probably call them, and make sure that there were no green or black bits. It’s just there was too much sugar in them. That was our job. Test them. You see, that was the whole point, it was not just cheap food or bribery for the children. It was actually, there was a method, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Davina Stanley
Are they still good to send to the factory? Hmm.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool and that’s fun. And I remain a huge potato enthusiast as well as a communications enthusiast, which is your cup of tea nowadays, and really for more than 20 years here. So, you worked in McKinsey as a communications specialist. Can you tell us what does that mean and what are you doing now?

Davina Stanley
So, as a communications specialist, my job was to be all across a technique called structured thinking that we used, particularly, in our role in a communication setting. So, we use a very structured approach to either help consultants come up with the stories that they needed to tell their clients, perhaps it was an update, perhaps it was the strategy at the end of a piece of communication, or also when working directly with clients, we would sometimes go in and be embedded in a team and work with a client to develop a communications strategy. So, we would be using those techniques to help consultants engage and really communicate complex information to any kind of audience that they needed to communicate to. So, we were internal consultants to the consultants really.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Consulting consultants on how to consult.

Davina Stanley
Yeah, a little bit. Exactly. And, look, it was really fun, it was really challenging. And so, I worked there for a few years in the Hong Kong office, and then my husband and I moved to New York, and I was offered a full-time position there but it was full time or no time, and I arrived six months pregnant with the one-year old on my hip, so I decided maybe that was a good time to take a break.

So, I took a bit of a break and we renovated the house and so on. And  then when we moved further on in our adventure, I just freelanced for the firm for a long time and I was helping run training sessions, I worked for the marketing practice, I did a whole lot of things, anything where I could help the teams or the firm in terms of communication.

So, I kept doing that and it just sort of gradually built it as my family has grown older and I’ve had more freedom. I’ve built it into something larger.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is fascinating. And I want to hear, when it comes to, you know, McKinsey consultants are amongst the smartest professionals in their way, or our way. I’m former Bainy, so we share some of the brand parts.

Davina Stanley
We do. We share a bit of a passion here, around the structure, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’d love to hear from you. So, given that, so even super smart folks, what communications mistakes did you see that they made repeatedly, like you could just bank on, “Okay, we’re going to have fix A, B, and C”?

Davina Stanley
All right, so there’s a few things. I think, firstly, it’s spending a lot of time on the analysis, and you should spend a lot of time on the analysis, but leaving that a bit too long and allowing too little time to prepare the communication so that there’s the risk that all these great ideas you’ve got don’t translate to the audience. So, finding a way to perhaps marry the analysis together with the communication planning, or just allow a bit more time to really think through the messaging and synthesize. So, I think anyone who’s really close to some things, smart people or not, struggle to get just a bit of separation from it so that they can perhaps get up in the helicopter and see what really matters here. So, I think that’s one thing.

And I think, again, in this, I see it at McKinsey and other places too, where people are bidding clients to overemphasize the analyses and underemphasize the communication. So, similar thing but it’s just about, “Oh, what do I think really matters?” Actually, forgetting that communication matters quite a bit. So, that’s one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you’ve sort of captured many of your ideas in your book The So What Strategy. What does that mean, the so what strategy?

Davina Stanley
So, I think we heard so many of our clients, people that we work with, saying things like, “You know, I presented to the leadership team, and I had prepared so hard, and I’d rehearsed, and I was so organized. I’d really invested in it and I went and I presented. Then, at the very end, the CEO or the leader, turned around and said, ‘Well, so are we in good shape or what’s the main thing here?’ and they just got lost in all of the detail.” And I think there’s something there that we saw happening time and time again, and people just didn’t really know how to go about distilling the messages.

And yet, when Gerard, my business partner and I would work on something together, we’d be listening to someone telling us their story. And we were talking with each other, and we realized, “Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, it’s that one or it’s that one? It’s this pattern. It looks like that or it looks like that.” It’s pretty quick for us to come up with a skeleton.

And so, we thought, “Well, perhaps a way we can really help people is simplify the structured communication discipline, the rules, like put it into a process that we naturally use,” because we’ve just done it for so long.

And when we sat down and worked through them all, we thought, well, it looks to us like there’s about seven patterns that we see being used most commonly in the business communication that we work in. And when I say business, I mean professional. It could be consulting, it could be business, it could be government.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. So, well, then we got seven different common storyline patterns, and then you said there’s also a process. So, maybe can we hear the process first and then learn a bit about what are those patterns?

Davina Stanley
Sure. So, we talk about a three-phase process. First of all, design your strategy, secondly, develop your storyline, and then, thirdly, deliver your communication. So, most people jump straight to the deliver piece, “How can I write that PowerPoint? How can I build those charts? How can I write the paper?” So, we’re saying, “Hang on. Let’s become more conscious and structured in those steps that come before that.”

And so, design your strategy is all about being really clear about your purpose for this particular piece of communication, getting really dialed in as to what specifically you want from a particular piece of communication, and then understand your audience. Well, that’s, “Let’s go appropriately deep.” If it’s an email, you’re not going to go as deep as you are if it is, let’s say, a mergers pitch or something, so it’s scalable. But you’re going to go quite deep in understanding who your audience is, and what their hot buttons are, and really getting to understanding them very well.

So, you bring those together and then think also about your process. Who do you need to involve in the process of engaging other stakeholders in your journey? So, you’ve got that sort of set before you start. And then, once you’re fairly clear on that, you may iterate back, but fairly clear on that. Then it’s time to start mapping out your storyline. And we’ve built on other parts that I think you’d be familiar with, The Pyramid Principle, which was developed at McKinsey by a woman called Barbara Minto. And we’ve taken what she’s got there, and said, “Okay, how do we make this really practical and easy for people to use?” And we’ve altered the language a bit to really help people work out what the elements are for an introduction.

And, interestingly, the strategy and then the introduction, which might only be a couple of lines in your whole communication, can take quite a big proportion of the amount of time it takes to prepare the whole thing. But you’re sort of leading to that single question you want your audience to ask, and then working out what that answer is, and you’re stating that in a sentence.

So, when I was talking about people getting stuck in the detail, they very rarely have that single message that they need to convey, and they even, less regularly, have that next layer below it, which we described as being a grouping of ideas either as a least or structured to that logic. So, there’s some rules and some principles, and we’ve built a 10-point test to help people evaluate whether their ideas fit in the right place. We’re just very strong believers that if the thinking is clear, if the synthesis is strong, then you’ll engage even if you’re not very confident, or your chance aren’t beautiful, or your prose isn’t perfect. If your thinking is really clear, and you can synthesize your message, it’s really powerful.

So, we encourage people to map that out on a single page, and in a particularly structured way, use that to test with stakeholders what their thinking is at the high level before you build anything, which changes the dynamic in the workflow and the stakeholder engagement quite substantially, and reduces the rework, because, by the time you go to prepare your communication in that last stage of delivering your communication, so much of the work is done. It’s actually really fast to prepare whatever it is that you need to prepare.

So, it’s about being really intentional about those three steps. We draw them in a triangle because we think they’re iterative, and it’s a storyline that’s a shape like a triangle, to help people have a process to use themselves, but also when they’re collaborating. It’s much easier to collaborate.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. So, while you’re on your one page, at the top we have the question we want them to be asking and the answer to that question.

Davina Stanley
We have even a tiny bit before that, we have the introduction which we call the context and the trigger, and that leads to that single question, and then the main message, and then the supporting argument underneath, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, do you have a particular recommendation in terms of just how many supporting arguments do you want? Is too few too many? What do you say?

Davina Stanley
Absolutely. Two to five, so never just one, otherwise you’ve got just one point, so one dot point. Never do that. Don’t do that. But no more than five if you can possibly help it. And if you are using a deductive structure, then it shouldn’t be more than three.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, deductive, can you define that for listeners?

Davina Stanley
So, it’s a way of building a case. So, it allows you to put forward your reasoning in classic logic language with a major premise followed by a minor premise, something that comments on the original point. But together, those two points, the first two, lead you to the third one, which will be, “Therefore, we should do something. And here’s the set of things we should do.” So, you’re always building a case towards a set of actions. And so, that’s enormously powerful when you’ve got to persuade people that a set of actions is the right set of actions to take. Like a business case or we need to change their mind about something and get them to act in the same engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so could you maybe give us an example where we sort of affix these terms, these concepts, these labels, to some actionable verbiage or argument, bullet points, so we could sort of see how it all goes together?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, absolutely. So, perhaps if we talk about option stories because people, professionals, are often needing to put forward a set of options in terms of the way something might be handled. So, let’s say there’s a new computer system needs to be installed, and there might be a few different ways in which that could be done, and somebody has a view in mind that a particular path, maybe using a particular external vendor is the way to go, but, at the same time, they know that the leadership wants to see evidence that they’ve really considered a range of different ways of doing this, and they want to see their reasoning before they actually go and agree that this external vendor is the right way to go.

So, we’d be using what we call a “to be or not to be” pattern most likely, which is a deductive one. We’ve tried to give the patterns names so they’re memorable rather than just being deductive options, deductive or something. So, to be or not to be, so your main thought there would be that the big idea that overarches all of it would be, “Let’s hire a vendor X to install this system over the next six months,” or something like that.

And then the first point, the first of those three points that sits underneath, might be something like, “Look, we’ve looked at a whole lot of different ways that we might implement this software system,” and then you’d be going in and saying, “Well, we decided to investigate vendor X because they know our business really well, and they’re trusted by us. We decided to explore doing it ourselves because we thought it made sense to see whether we could do it internally, and we decided to explore another vendor because they’ve also got a good relationship with the bank,” let’s say their organization. So, you might explain why each one of those three is something worth considering.

And then in the next limb of the story, in that minor premise piece, you say, “However, we think vendor X is the best way to go.” And then underneath that, you’d be running through your criteria as to why you think that is the best way to go, and saying why they’re good and why the others ones are not going to be so fit for purpose. And so, by the end of that one, you’d want your audience to be in a place going, “Okay, that makes terrific sense. I’ve been able to discuss with you the pros and cons of this. I understand your thinking. I agree with you. So, okay, we should get vendor X. How do we do that?” And then they’d be ready to hear from you the set of steps that are there.

In fact, this is something that business leaders often talk to us about, about the lack of reasoning that people put forward. They very often go straight to, and you asked earlier about some of the challenges that I see consultants and others experiencing. And one of those would be the lack of why and not building the case, just saying, “Hey, we should have vendor X, and here’s how we should do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, is that just your opinion and you just like the guy over there, vendor X, and you think he’s funny. What are you working with there?”

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Is he your brother-in law?” I mean, why? Why do it? And I think part of that comes from all of us when we’re working on something, we’ve got to a certain point in our thinking and our work. So, somebody’s gone through the process, they’ve analyzed their options, they’ve thought about it carefully, they’ve made a decision that they believe is the right thing, and so in their mind they’re ready to say, “Look, let’s just go. We’re ready. I’m impatient. I want get this thing done,” and they just forget that the audience is in a different place, and that’s why in our process, we really encourage people to drill into their purpose and their audience because it could be that when communicating something like that, actually you’ve got to come to the leadership group a couple of times.

If it’s a really big spend, you’ve got to take them on a journey, and so you’ve got to be really aware of where the audience is on that. Do they just need to agree with you that these are the right things to explore? Because, actually, in your situation, analyzing all the options is a big piece of work. And if you do that, that means you’re not doing something else. So, maybe because of the amount of time that’s required, they want you to actually come to them and say, “Look, we think this project is worth investigating or these options are worth considering. Do you agree they’re the right options? Great. You agree they’re the right options. We’ll go away, we’ll do our analyses, and spend a month doing the analyses, or whatever is involved.”

So, design your strategy piece is really important in that regard.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And it’s interesting, as you convey that sort of what we want them to take away, it’s like, “Wow, you really thought this through. You’ve done your homework, you’ve done the research, the investigation, the analyses.” And it’s funny, as I’m imagining you telling the story with slides, it’s like I would love to see, I don’t know, like a funnel or something which is like, “Hey, you know what, we looked at 34 potential vendors.” It’s like, “Oh, dang, that’s a lot of vendors.” “And we subjected them to these five key criteria. And, really, only two are worth looking at any further.” It’s like, “All right. I’m convinced. You’ve done some legwork and now I’m intrigued. Tell me about these two vendors that are pushing all the right buttons.”

Davina Stanley
Exactly. Exactly. So, you would use a very different structure for your story when you’re going to that initial conversation about, “Hey, let’s explore these options,” versus, “Let’s implement the recommendation.” So, that’s where the patterns come into play too. And we’ve put them on a handy little card, actually, where we’ve got the seven, and it’s on the centerfold in the book so that you can see them all on the one page.

And what we find people doing is just knowing they’ve got to do a piece of communication that matters enough to really think hard about it, and then open it up and just look at the different options. Just looking at the patterns, I think, helps them say, “Well, it could be that or it could be that,” and it gives them a place to start, and it also helps frame their thinking. So, it’s like that situation I relayed where we came out with the name “So What.” So, what does this mean? You don’t want to be in a position where you are being picked apart by your audience. So, when you’re presenting something that matters to someone more senior, the last thing I think you want is to have your proposition pulled apart and to be asked to go away because your thinking isn’t strong enough.

So, the patterns provide you with a little bit of a framework too to help you think, “Well, actually, have I thought this through enough? Have I articulated this well enough?” If you work through the ten points in there, it’s a really good set of thinking tests to say, “Are my ideas meeting that?” Maybe you’re familiar with. X consultants are really familiar with this idea of are there any overlaps or any gaps, and is a complete set of ideas? Have I organized them well?” And if you apply that test really thoroughly, then all sorts of things pop out, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, how did I miss that? I’ve got actions and reasons in the one list. Bad thing. They’re different. How do I fix that? What do I move? Do I change my message? Do I move things around?”

And you can imagine like sticky notes on a wall or something. And I see my clients do this where you put all your messages down, and you sort them all around, and move them about until they’re in the right spot. So, the patterns give you a bit of a framework for testing your thinking so you don’t get caught up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned 10 tests for thinking to say, “Have I done thoroughly enough?” So, could you share a couple more with us that tend to frequently yield insight?

Davina Stanley
We talked earlier about having a single question that overarches the whole story, it leads, it draws your audience in. So, if we’re to drill into that one particular thing, you’d want that question, which often doesn’t appear in the communication, it appears in your preparation, to be the audience’s question, not yours, which makes a very big difference to the story that comes underneath. You want it to be one single question. So, what does that mean? Well, if you’ve got the word “and” in it, that’s a red flag. Is it really a single idea?

So, being very precise about, “Is it the audience’s question? Is it the single question we want them to ask us? Is it a single question? Is it really just one or is it a long set of words, with a question mark at the end, that’s really an amalgamation of a whole lot of different things? Is it really just one? And have we distilled the highest-level question that we can then answer in a single sentence that will frame the whole story, not just part of it, but all of it?

So, getting quite disciplined about that, it pushes the thinking. And, I don’t know about you, but when I started working in this environment, I came from a creative environment, I was a kindergarten art teacher, of all things. I suspect I’m the only kindergarten teacher ever to be hired by McKinsey, but I stand to be corrected. I’d like to meet if there was someone else who’s also had that path. So, I learned about communicating in a fairly creative way. So, I learned from an Australian children’s author, a woman called Mem Fox, who has written the most stunning children’s books. I don’t know if you have children or not, but if you do, hunt down Possum Magic” and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. They’re two really beautiful children’s books, and she’s a beautiful writer. And she taught a really creative way of finding the hook and building a story, which is part of what inspired me to transition from teaching into communication.

And that sort of message of finding the hook is absolutely relevant, but using structure and discipline is quite a different thing. And, certainly, when I started using it, I found it quite confining, like there are all these rules, and, oh, gosh, to have to obey all of them, that seems a little bit hard, and just feels like I’ve been put in some sort of box. But what I’ve learned is, by way of that example around the question, is that there’s such enormous value in constraints and how they push you to think and push you to be creative.

So, the creative part of me really rebelled against the structure for quite some time. But once I’ve came to see how liberating it was to actually have a framework to use and how much it pushed me to think and come up with clever solutions, I thought it started to be fun actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so let’s have some fun talking about some of these other storyline patterns. So, we talked about “To be or not to be.” Could you give us maybe the one-minute or less version of how would you define each of these storyline patterns?

Davina Stanley
How would I define them?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like “Action Jackson,” what’s that?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Action Jackson,” that’s an action plan. So, it’s where you have an overall idea and then a set of steps that you’re going to take. So, when you’re going to have your standup in the morning with your team, and you’re saying, “Hey, team, this is what we’re going to do today.” When it’s not controversial, “Action Jackson” is the one to use. So, a list of two to five actions that need to be done that are tied together with one overall message.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And “Close the gap.”

Davina Stanley
Close the gap? That’s a fantastic one when you need to help people think differently about something. So, it’s a deductive structure, so it’s got a similar overall archetype to the “to be or not to be” that we talked about before, and that’s for going to a situation where you need to educate your audience about how something works perhaps in the new world, perhaps some regulations have changed, or the environment has changed, there’s something they don’t know that you need them to understand before they can accept your recommendation. So, maybe, “Success requires us to meet these criteria. However, we only meet some of them, so we’ve got to close the gap, we’ve got to meet the rest.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Davina Stanley
How’s that sound?

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. And the “Houston, we have a problem”? How’s that one go?

Davina Stanley
Oh, this one is Gerard’s favorite, and he particularly loved working with a whole lot of bankers in Houston last year. They really loved that it was named after them, this is, “Houston, we have a problem.” And let me first begin with we’re not to use Houston. When you’re communicating with someone who created the problem, find another way to tell the story, just saying.

So, this one is fantastic when you need to educate your audience about the nature of the problem that exists. And so, “Hey, people, here, this is a real problem,” and convince them that it’s a problem, “However, we’ve found the cause,” and then you can talk through what caused the problem, “Therefore, let’s fix the cause.” So, it’s a really proactive story.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And “the pitch.”

Davina Stanley
The pitch. This one is fantastic for proposal and business cases too, where you’re putting forward a pitch to say, “Hey, here’s a great idea that you should implement. You should hire us if you’re a consultant,” or, “You should implement this new system,” or, “Do this this way.” And then what you’re doing underneath that is coming up with a list of reasons why that’s a really great thing to do.

And so, in the book we talk about four reasons, which I’ll quickly run through because I think they’re useful for people. Firstly, we understand the problem. Secondly, we’ve got a solution. Thirdly, we can deliver a solution, a resolve, talking about if you’re the right people. And then you can manage the risks because it’s always important to cover up on that. So, that’s a brilliant one for a classic consulting pitch but also for recommending something that ought to be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about the “traffic light”?

Davina Stanley
Traffic light is brilliant for updates. So, I think that’s a really common one and it’s really tempting for people to say, “Hey, we’ve been really busy. Here’s a long list of stuff we’ve done.” And leaders that I talked to really dislike that. So, using traffic light gives you a way of pretty simply grouping and sorting the ideas so that you can come up with an overall message. And, for example, if it’s good news, “Overall, we’re on track.” “Great. Why is that?” “Well, we’ve done all these things, we’ve started this, and we’ve got a plan for these.”

When someone goes into putting forward an update, let’s say, and they’re talking to their boss, their bosses will say to me, “Look, I love hearing what’s going on in my teams. I know they want lots of air time because they really want me to know exactly what’s going on in their world, but there are times when I just haven’t got time for that. If they can come in with that single message, everything is really good. They’ll just say ‘Thank you so much. Love your work. See you later.’”

By organizing ideas into a structure like that, you have the freedom so that when your audience doesn’t have time to hear the whole story, you can still get that big idea across. Whereas if you haven’t distilled the messages, you know the classic thing where you’re given half an hour or an hour to present, and you’re part of one of those revolving door days, maybe a steering committee sort of day, or a board day, or something like that, and person one comes in and person two and person three, and all these different people come in and present to a group.

And so, during the day, the time gets lost. And so, you perhaps thought you had 45 minutes, suddenly you’ve got 5 minutes. So, by having everything mapped out in a structure with a hierarchy like that, you can still get away with presenting because you’ve got the ideas. You don’t need to take them through all of the details before you get to the big point. And update for the classic for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, and how about “watch out story”?

Davina Stanley
Watch out story, this one is fantastic when there is trouble ahead. So, you can imagine a ship sailing wrong, but at the same time is your opportunity to give the good news first, which is always nice. If you can genuinely give good news first, you want to do that, so, “We’ve been going well, however, there’s some risks ahead, therefore we should meet those risks. We should change course or whatever we need to do to address those.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s helpful as I’m sort of thinking about each of these. And I’d love to get your view on, could you maybe share an exciting case study or a story of someone who put all these together and saw cool results that they weren’t seeing when they weren’t doing this?

Davina Stanley
Sure. Sure. So, I was working with an infrastructure company toward the end of last year, and I’d worked with them for about a year, so I’d been over and ran a program and then come back a year later. And that’s a really nice thing to do in my world because we don’t always get to see the outcomes. Sometimes people will tell us or they’ll just say, “That was great,” but they won’t necessarily give us the concrete results.

So, in this case, I was working with a group of people for the second time just to give them a refresher. And a woman called Rebecca came in and we said, “How’s it all been going?” And she said, “Well, by changing, preparing the board papers that we need to prepare, and we do them every month for our area,” and they’re about leasing and finding opportunities, retail opportunities in an airport.

And so, she’d been preparing papers, which might say, “We should do a deal with this sort of retailer so that they should have shops in our airport or that sort of thing.” And the team had been spending a lot of time preparing their reports, but making that single change, which was to prepare a story using the one-pager, get the one-pager right, check it, test it first, and then prepare the paper later. By doing that, she said to me, they cut the amount of time taken to prepare those papers by 60%.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Davina Stanley
That’s 6-0. So, that was pretty exciting. Now, during that 12 months, she’d used a number of different stories, but “the pitch” I think was her favorite because she was often putting up a story that would say something that was pretty straightforward, that was something like, “We should get this book retailer into our buildings.” “Well, why is that?” “Well, they understand our business, they’ve got a great fit for the people who travel through our spaces. We can do what they deliver and we can manage the risks involved with bringing them in.” So, that was a really helpful one for her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that is really cool and I love the savings on the time on doing anything, so that is cool.

Davina Stanley
Which stops you doing the boring stuff, the frustrating stuff. I think that thing that I like because it makes you feel so much better about your job.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think maybe one of my last questions here is when we talk about sort of the supporting reasons and evidence, I think often I see a big difference between how smart I judge someone to be, fair or unfair, I don’t know. If they give me excellent evidence versus not excellent evidence.

So, for example, I was looking at like an insurance policy, and I said, “Wait a second. In this language, it kind of makes it sound like you can weasel out of anything because anything could be an alleged breach of an implied contract. Like, isn’t that anything in the world?” And then they say, “Well,” and their response was, “Oh, no one has ever raised that before.” It’s like, “Well, that’s not convincing evidence that you pay out claims, you’re not going to leave me high and dry.”

Or, they’ll say, “Well, hey, we have a great financial rating.” It’s like, “Well, that’s just about your assets versus your liabilities. It doesn’t have anything to do with customer satisfaction or your actual record.” And so, I was like trying to help them out, “I’m trying to give you money. I want this insurance. Like, can you show me this or this or this?” And I had to find for myself like how they’re rated by the National or North American Insurance something organizations. It’s like, “Okay, so you actually have fewer complaints than others so that’s not bad.”

Anyway, I don’t know, so that’s my rant. It’s like I ask a question, and instead of getting excellent evidence, I get sort of a wimpy evidence. So, what is the difference? How can we give awesome supporting reasons?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, I think the key is to keep asking a question. So, if you have a list of reasons, so let’s take your example about insurance.
How do you do that? So, firstly, look at an idea that you’re putting up, “We provide storm insurance.” “Okay. Well, how do you provide storm insurance?” Ask yourself a question that that naturally poses, and then answer it. And then if you build it out like a tree, it’s easy to see what sits where underneath, “So, we provide storm insurance,” very relevant in Australia at the moment. “Well, how do you do that?” “We offer this kind and that kind and that kind.” “Well, okay, so within the first one that you’ve mentioned, how do you do that?”

So, you keep drilling in one question at a time, one cluster at a time, and just make sure there’s stuff that really belongs there that genuinely answers that sub-question, so you’ve got a hierarchy and you keep going down. Don’t stick with the platitudes. Make sure you do dig and make sure that the idea at the top doesn’t just say, “We provide storm insurance,” but, “We provide this kind of storm insurance to this kind of people.” Make sure those messages are really specific.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I think that’s probably the name of the game is to like stop and spend some time and think about it, because as I was going back and forth with this insurance broker, “Hey, nice job.” He’s fast in responding to those emails and gave me like a sentence or two, but it’s like, “Yeah, but that’s not really what I want.” So, ultimately, I went with a different insurer. Wah-wah, that’s what’s at stake.

Davina Stanley
Well, you know what, I had the very same conversation with my insurance provider yesterday, and I went and got another quote. So, I’m completely on the same page with you there. I think being specific but also your point there about avoiding. And I see this being a real challenge in corporates now with Slack and these messaging services are being used a lot. It’s this constant flick, flick, flick, flick, flick rather than, “Hang on, stop a sec. What are they really asking here? What’s at the heart of that question? Why are they really asking that?”

And if you can put yourself in their shoes just for a moment, say, “Actually, I know they’re asking that but that’s a symptom of what they really need,” and address what they really need while including the symptom just in case you’re wrong, I think that’s part of the game, isn’t it, to stop these endless chains of conversation in Slack and email and so on that go off on tangents.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, anything else I would like to mention. I’d just say that I think people are not natural-born communicators very often. I think when they’ve got complex things to say, actually it is something that requires practice but it can be done by anyone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Davina Stanley
So, the idea of being a natural-born communicator perhaps speaks a bit more to charisma and to presence than it does to delivering something of real value.

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

Davina Stanley
A favorite quote. Well, I like the one from Picasso, which is all about. The idea that you must know the rules before you can break them. And you think of his artwork and how on the surface it looks so not well-driven, it looks so random in many ways, but he absolutely understood the rules before he was breaking them so that he could make a comment with it rather than just being random.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Davina Stanley
Favorite book. At the moment, I’ve just finished reading one called The Diamond Hunter, and it’s by a woman called Fiona McIntosh, and it was a really beautiful story.

Davina Stanley
But, having said that, a business book, my latest favorite business book is Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt. And that has really changed the way I work and made me a lot more productive but also a lot more focused on the things that I really enjoy. His concept of a freedom compass and living in the desire zone has made my executive assistant far busier, far more interested in her work, she’s got a lot more to do, and it certainly liberated me to do the stuff that I think is fun.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Davina Stanley
A favorite tool? PowerPoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Davina Stanley
Well, I’m going to come back to what I did this morning before our call actually, and that is to get up early and just allow the day to begin rather than being thrown into it.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, you know what, it’s that concept of designing the strategy. Most of the people that I worked with and I see them later, they’ll say that they now spend an awful lot more time thinking about their communication before they deliver it, and that although that feels a bit uncomfortable, it saves them a lot of time. So, do that. Think first. Do that.

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

Davina Stanley
My website is ClarityFirstProgram.com.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, I do. I’d encourage them to go through their emails and just pick five random ones that they’ve sent in the last week, and read them with fresh eyes, and ask themselves how quickly their audience can glean the key message. If they write a lot of papers, perhaps pick a paper instead and skim it. And can they get their message in less than a minute, ideally, less than 30 seconds? See whether that can be done because in an ideal world, they’ll be able to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Davina, this has been tons of fun. I wish you lots of luck in your communication adventures.

Davina Stanley
Thank you so much. Lovely to talk with you.

547: Finding Greater Success and Fulfillment with an Infinite Mindset with Simon Sinek

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Simon Sinek says: "There's no such thing as winning or losing in the infitine game, there's only ahead and behind."

Simon Sinek discusses the crucial pivot in thinking that professionals need to thrive in their careers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most professionals get wrong about work
  2. The five key practices for thriving in an infinite game
  3. How to keep your confidence during setbacks

About Simon:

Simon is an unshakable optimist who believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.

Described as “a visionary thinker with a rare intellect,” Simon teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single day feeling inspired, feel safe at work, and feel fulfilled at the end of the day, Simon is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.

Simon is the author of multiple best-selling books including Start With WhyLeaders Eat LastTogether is Better, and The Infinite Game.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Simon Sinek Interview Transcript

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

Simon Sinek
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into so much of your wisdom. You’re known a lot for talking about your why and starting with why. So, just some folks can orient to you, if they’re not as familiar, can you share what’s your why?

Simon Sinek
To inspire people to do the things that inspire them so each of us can change our world for the better.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m all about that, so we got a good fit here. And so, I also want to talk about your latest book. It’s been a couple months, but still new, The Infinite Game. Can you share, what’s the big idea here?

Simon Sinek
So, in the mid-1980s, a philosopher by the name of James Carse theorized that if you had at least one competitor, a game exists, and there are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. A finite game is defined as known players, fixed rules, and an agreed upon objective – baseball, football – there’s always a beginning, middle, and end. And if there’s a winner, there has to be a loser.

Then there are infinite games. Infinite games are defined as known and unknown players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is to perpetuate the game. This means new players can join in at any time, it means we can play however we want, but there is no finish line so there’s no such thing as winning or losing.

And if you think about it, we are players in infinite games every day of our lives. There’s no such thing as winning in your career, no one’s declared the winner of careers. There’s no such thing as winning business or winning global politics. And, yet, when we listen to so many of our leaders, they talk about being number one, being the best, and beating their competition. Based on what? Based on what agreed upon objectives? Based upon what agreed upon timeframes? There’s no such thing. There’s no finish line.

And the problem is when we play in an infinite game with a finite mindset, in other words we play to win or be number one in a game that has no finish line, there’s some predictable and consistent outcomes: the decline of trust, the decline of cooperation, and the decline of innovation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s dig into a lot of that. So, in the infinite game, the goal is to continue playing, so I guess then the infinite game would need to be fun or worthwhile, just kind of basically if that’s something worth perpetuating.

Simon Sinek
It has to be worthwhile. I think that’s a good way of putting it. Yeah, it has to exist and that’s something bigger than each of us so that we want to contribute something that will outlive us. We also play for the good of the game. And you can see this in business all the time. Finite-minded companies, if they have anything that works, any system that works, they hoard it like it’s a trade secret because they don’t want anyone else to know about it because it should only benefit them.

Some of the more infinite-minded companies, companies like Costco or The Container Store, if they figure out different systems and better ways of doing anything, they talk about it. They talk about it out loud. They share their systems so that other companies may benefit. In other words, it’s for the good of the game.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I love that. When I was consulting with the Bridgespan Group, that was a paradigm shift for me, doing for-profit consulting then nonprofit consulting, it’s like, “Oh, wait. We want the insights we come up with to be known by everyone in the social sector so that more people can do the good thing to bring about benefits for everyone.” So, it was night and day from, “Ooh, we got some competitive insight. Don’t share that because we need to keep our edge.” But your point is some for-profit entities are doing that. What’s their thinking?

Simon Sinek
Oh, the infinite-minded companies are trying to protect capitalism and advance capitalism and take care of the economy, and they want other companies to do well because they want other companies to protect and look after their employees. It’s not just a short-term finite game where maybe we win and everybody else loses. There’s no losers in this game. There’s no winners in this game. That’s the point. There’s no such thing because the game has no agreed upon metrics, timeframes, or objectives. So, we play to advance our cause and, of course, we want to build healthier, stronger companies, but two companies can do well at the same time because it’s not a winner-take-all model.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Okay. So, well, then you mentioned that there are some particular outcomes associated with trust, cooperation, and innovation when you’re working things in an infinite-game mindset, you get more of those good things than when you have a finite mindset, you have less of it. Can you give us a couple powerful examples of folks who were reaping those really cool benefits, kind of what they did, and the results they saw versus those who were not because they were thinking about things too finitely and suffering the consequences?

Simon Sinek
Well, if you take trusting teams, one of the things that infinite-minded organizations do is they strive to build trusting teams. And every single one of us knows what it’s like to be in a trusting team. It means that we can raise our hands and say that we made a mistake, or that we don’t fully understand the job that we’ve been given and we need more training, or that we need help, without any fear of humiliation or retribution. We don’t fear that we’ll be in some shortlist at the end of the year, but rather we say these things with confidence, that our boss or our colleagues will rush in to support us and help us.

Unfortunately, too many of us know what it feels like not to be in a trusting team, where admitting a mistake could get you in trouble or get you fired, where if maybe you don’t know something, it would be a sign of weakness, it will restrict your ability to get promoted or, worse, get laid off at the end of the year, and so we keep these things for ourselves. We never, never say these things out loud and, eventually, mistakes compound, and people who don’t know what they’re doing, things start to break and, in the extreme, it can collapse or end up in scandal.

And so, what you find is that those infinite-minded companies, they believe desperately in building trusting teams, and so the people who benefit are the ones who love working there. And you look at the best companies to work for, WD-40, The Container Store. You talk to people who work there, they love working there. They love their jobs, and it doesn’t matter if their product isn’t glamorous. Well, WD-40 makes lubricants, so basically a one-product company. How can you love working in a company that makes lubricant? Well, the people do, not because of the product, but because of the company, because of their colleagues, because of the leadership, because they have an infinite mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you said the word scandal, and that’s triggering for me. I stalked all the reviews of your book before this interview, and someone said, “You did the best job of actually describing what went down with the Wells Fargo fake accounts than anybody, and I work there.” So, can you kind of draw that connection there between the story of that scandal and how finite thinking is part of the key cause there?

Simon Sinek
Sure. I mean, many of us know what happened to Wells Fargo, about 5,000 employers were held responsible for opening 3.5 million fake bank accounts, and they did so because the pressure on them to meet their sales goals was so extreme that you could get fired if you didn’t play by the rules and you could get big bonuses if you did, that it led something called ethical fading where good people started to do things that were highly unethical believing that they were well under their own ethical frameworks and they were rationalized, “I got to put food on the table. This is what my boss wants. Everybody is doing it.”

And the amazing thing was they fired 5,000 people for doing it, but they didn’t hold the senior people accountable at all. The CEO eventually lost his job not because the company decided to fire him, but because of public pressure, because of Congressional pressure, and still walked away with multi, multi, tens of millions of dollars in pay. I mean, these are backward systems. These are backward systems. At the end of the day, they created a culture that was more obsessed with making money than doing the right thing. So, guess what happened? Everybody works to make money in the short term and it came at the great expense of knowing our ethical standards, but at the end of the day, it actually hurt the company more than all the money they were making. This is the irony of the finite game. The benefits actually only benefit you in the short term.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you, well-said and well-illustrated. So, then let’s maybe zoom into the realm of an individual professional, and you say that the mindset and thinking can really vary day by day, it’s like you’re not 100% infinite mindset or 100% finite mindset, but it’s, in a way, a choice that you make with how you choose to put your thoughts day after day. So, can you maybe give us some examples of typical maybe mental reactions or self-talk, and what sort of finite-thinking self-talk versus infinite-thinking self-talk sounds like?

Simon Sinek
these are not either/or, it’s both. maintaining an infinite mindset is not the rejection of finite, it’s the context within in which the finite exists. So, the problem is we all use sports analogies. We treat business or careers and politics like it’s a finite game, like there’s a finish line. We talk about winning at the end except there is no winning. We just keep going and going and going. We need to change the mindset to think more of it like a lifestyle.

Think of it more like an exercise. There’s nothing wrong with having a finite goal if you want to do exercise. You want to lose X amount of weight by X date, that’s fantastic. Goals are motivating, they’re easy to measure, we feel good when we make progress, and if we hit the goal, we feel amazing. The problem is if we hit the goal, we have to keep exercising for the rest of our lives. We can’t stop. It’s a context. Again, there’s a broader context.

But, at the same time, if we miss our goal, nothing happens. Nothing happens. And we might make the goal a month or two later, but the most important thing is we’re way healthier now than we were before we started working out, and we just keep at it. So, the goals are motivating, finite is good, but we have to remember that if we miss some of these goals, literally nothing happens and we may be better off simply because we tried. So, that’s a better way to think about approaching anything in the infinite game. Think of it more like a lifestyle rather than a game.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that is quite a turn-of-a-phrase, literally nothing happens. I think that could bring a lot of peace to me.

Simon Sinek
You want to lose 10 pounds in five months, and if you lose 8 pounds, you know what happens? I mean, you set the arbitrary goal and you set the arbitrary date. It’s the same in business. We set the arbitrary goals and we set the arbitrary dates, and we create incentive structures to drive people to hit a number on a certain date, but the reality is nothing happens if we miss those numbers. Nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, boy, that is getting my wheels turning. I mean, in a way it’s like, “Well, hey, what happened,” past tense, “is you lost 8 pounds instead of 10.” But in terms of, like, you’re not dead, you’re still…

Simon Sinek
People, organization, won’t collapse, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m with you. Well, that’s fun. That’s fun to chew on a bit. Okay. So, that’s the view in terms of so you mentioned sometimes that you can think about things not so much in terms of “I’ve won” or “I’ve lost,” but maybe “I’m ahead” or “I’m behind.” Can you talk about some of that language?

Simon Sinek
That’s 100% correct. There’s no such thing as winning or losing in the infinite game, there’s only ahead and behind. So, I’ll give you a great example. My nephew is eight years old, super competitive little kid, and does not like to lose, gets very, very angry when he loses. He played a football game and his team lost. And because my poor sister is subjected to all of my ideas as I’m writing them, she knew about this idea of being ahead or behind rather than winning or losing.

So, my nephew was very upset, and my sister didn’t dispense the standard parenting advice, “It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. What matters is how you played the game.” That’s usually what we tell our kids. My sister said, “It’s okay. Today, you had a behind day. On another day, you’ll have an ahead day.” And she asked him, she said, “What do you want to do?” He said, “I want to be a professional football player.” And she said, “Okay. Well, there’s going to be a lot of ahead days and a lot of behind days, and you want to work hard to have more ahead days, but you’re going to have behind days.” So, he didn’t think of these things as final. He started to learn that it’s a journey.

And so, he lost another game recently, and my sister asked him, “How did today go?” And he said, “I had a behind day.” And so, he’s learning that the short-term wins and losses we have in our lives, they’re just part of the journey. They’re not final. And I thought that was such a healthy way of looking at the world.

Pete Mockaitis
That is handy and it’s a nice little nudge that ahead or behind is relative to a bigger scale in terms of, “It’s not over. Here’s one snapshot in time and we’re going to have another one the next day, and we’ll see how that one looks.”

Simon Sinek
Exactly. And, remember, there are still finite games. You can still go out to play baseball, you can still go bowling. But we have to ask ourselves what we’re there to play to do as well. It’s okay to be competitive but we just have to remember the larger context.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when it comes to leading an infinite game, you’ve spelled out five key ingredients that have got to be there. Can you give us a bit of a walkthrough of those?

Simon Sinek
Sure. The first one is you got to have a just cause. You have to believe in a vision that’s bigger than yourself, something you want to work to advance, an idealized thing in the world. The founding fathers in the United States imagined an idealized future, a world in which all men are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And America will never get there. We will never get to the point where all people are equal but we will die trying. And that’s the point, to commit our lives to advancing towards the cause, and some of the finite victories we have rule us towards that ideal.

And when we have a sense of just cause, when we have a sense that our work, and the energy we invest, is contributing to something bigger, it’s what gives our lives and our work meaning. So many people work simply for short-term numbers and after a bunch of years and a bunch of bonuses, you start asking yourself, “What’s this all for?” We need to have a just cause. We need to have a clear idealized vision for the future that we can help build.

We also need to build trusting teams, I talked about that one already, and we need to change our mindset away from seeing the other players as competitors, because competitors are people you want to beat, but rather to see them as worthy rivals. Some others players, whether individuals or other companies, do things better than we do. Well, we can learn about them. Instead of getting angry or insecure, we need to look at ourselves and say, “Where can we improve?”

We’ve all had the experience at work where someone we work with gets a promotion and we got angry. Think about that for a second. We got angry at someone else’s good fortune. Well, that’s because their strengths are revealing some sort of weakness in us. And instead of getting angrier and competitive with them, we can look at ourselves and say, “Where can I improve? What nerve are they touching?” That’s really important in the infinite game.

And then the ability to completely change the strategic course to advance that cause, and, most importantly, the courage to do all these things. Because the pressures on us from almost every direction are overwhelmingly finite. The incentive structures in companies are usually finite-driven, the pressures we get put on by our parents or our guidance counselors are always pushing us to be the best, to be number one, but there’s no such thing really. Nobody wins education. And so, we have to have the courage to build and maintain this at the onset. It’s very hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s a lot here. Can you share with us what have you found, as you researched and worked with folks, are some of just really top do’s and don’ts, best practices and worst practices, associated with each of these things that professionals should start doing or stop doing right away to bring them about?

Simon Sinek
Well, as I said, the easiest one to do is stop seeing the people we work with as competitors, like age-old competition is unhealthy, but internal rivalries are very healthy. You don’t have to like the people, you don’t have to agree with them, but we do have to respect people who are better at things than we are, and we can learn about ourselves and we can learn from them. That, I think, is the easiest one and one of the best things we can do. And also just appreciate that there are these different types of people, that not everything fits the same rule, not everything is about winning or losing when there’s no finish line. So, just to appreciate the fact that the way we think the world works is actually not the way the world works.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. And let’s talk about existential flexibility a bit. I think that one might be harder to conceptually grasp. Can you expand on that a smidge?

Simon Sinek
So, existential flexibility is a capacity to make a profound strategic shift in order to advance a just cause. This is not the daily flexibility that’s required but rather the profound strategic shift. My favorite example happened to Apple. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple, they had a just cause. They want to empower individuals to stand up to Big Brother, they were revolutionaries. And so, this is the reason they found appeal in the personal computer. It was always a tool that could empower individuals to do just that. They imagined a world where one day an individual could actually compete with corporations.

Apple had already had success with the Apple I and the Apple II, those were already in big companies, Steve Jobs is already, then, a CEO, and they go off, Jobs and a few of his senior executives, go off for tour a of Xerox PARC, this was Xerox’s internal R&D department. And Xerox showed them something they invented called the graphic user interface which allowed computer users to use the computer by clicking a mouse and moving a cursor to work the computer rather than having to learn code. This was a profound innovation. Jobs saw this as way more powerful to help individuals learn and take advantage of computer technology.

He left that tour and said to his senior executives, “We have to invest in this graphic user interface thing.” One of those executives, the voice of reason, said, “Steve, we can’t. We’ve already invested millions of dollars and countless man hours in a completely different strategic direction. If we walk away from that, we’ll blow up our own company,” to which Jobs actually said, “Better we should blow it up than someone else.”

That decision led to the Macintosh, a computer operating system so profound that it really changed the way computers exist in our lives today. The entire software of Windows is designed to act like a Macintosh. The reason that computers are a household appliance and on every single desk was because of Jobs’ willingness to make this existential flex, to walk away from the money they invested and the time they invested because he found a better way to advance his cause.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, existential, I’m hearing you there. It’s like we’re saying the very stuff that you have held, like, practically as sacred, as core to who we are, what we’re about, and what we fundamentally do, it’s like, “Well, we can be flexible with that and go in a totally different way.”

Simon Sinek
Exactly. And what a lot of companies do in the face of cultural change, or technological change, or political change, is, because they fear having to completely change the way they view things, they double-down. We’ve seen this happen over and over again. Why is it that Netflix invented itself and not the television and movies? Why is it that iTunes was invented by a computer company and not the music industry? How is it that Amazon invented itself and the e-reader and not the publishing industry? It’s because they were so short-sighted and so preoccupied with maintaining their finite game that they literally missed the opportunity to advance any kind of cause because of the technological change that they were facing. Now, they’re all playing defense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. That’s good. Well, so let’s see, I’ve got a couple other things I want to touch on beyond the infinite game. Tell me, any kind of critical things you want to make sure that we get out there so that this part of the conversation feels complete?

Simon Sinek
No.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. That feels good. So, a friend of mine told me that I must ask you, because I first saw you do this spiel on Tom Bilyeu’s show Impact Theory about millennials, I don’t know if that was the first or just sort of what seem to go viral in my feeds but it was quite thought-provoking so we’ll definitely link to that. And so, I had a friend who said, “You have to ask Simon, ‘Do you have any key solutions for folks who are trying to facilitate the development of emotional maturity in millennials?’” So, you got solutions, tips, tricks, tactics? Lay them on us.

Simon Sinek
Well, number one, have empathy. Every single generation is formed by the experiences they had when they came of age. If you have grandparents who lived through the Great Depression or the Second World War, very many of them are a miser, they’re frugal. There’s nothing wrong with them because they lived through the Depression or the War.

Well, every generation is the same way, and the millennial generation was the first generation to come of age where cellphones and social media were ubiquitous because that’s their worldview. They also came of age in a time where mass layoffs at companies had become completely embraced and normalized. When you talk about getting a gold watch after devoting your entire career to one company, there’s an entire generation that has no idea what I’m talking about when I talk about the gold watch.

And so, when we complain that they have no loyalty, we have to consider how they grew up. They grew up in a world where they watched their parents getting laid off because of nothing that their parents did. The company happened to miss its arbitrary projections at the end of a year. And so they’re cynical. They don’t trust companies because companies have never shown them loyalty. So, we have to have empathy, that’s number one.

And, number two, we have to teach people the skill they’re missing, and that goes to the leaders as well. Do leaders that are overseeing millennials, do they even have the ability to listen? Are we teaching people listening skills? Are we teaching people how to give and receive feedback? Are we teaching people how to come to terms with their own limiting narratives? Are we teaching them about effective confrontation? These are the basics of leadership. If we don’t teach the basics of leadership, we don’t get leaders, we get managers. So, I think we need to teach leaders how to lead, and we need to help all generations to learn these skill sets

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s handy. And then I also want to get your view, when it comes to this why stuff, you’ve been playing that game for a while. So, I’d love to hear, have you noticed any patterns or insights in terms of, “Boy, it really seems that when folks engage in these questions of reflection, or these processes of introspection, it really seems to be delivering insights with a high probability and reliability”? So, what’s the latest greatest in how to come up with your why effectively?

Simon Sinek
Well, first, we have to ask for help. None of us is objective about our own lives and our own careers. We need somebody who has an impartial outside point of view. But there’s a fun way to do it that gets you in the ballpark. I call it the friend’s test. Basically, what you do is you go find a friend you love, someone whom you can call at 3:00 o’clock in the morning and you know they would take your call, and vice versa, you would take theirs. Don’t do this with a spouse, don’t do this with a sibling, don’t do this with a parent. Those relationships are too close. Do it with a close friend and ask them the simple question, “Why are we friends?” And they’re going to look at you like you’re crazy they’ll say things to you like, “I don’t know. Why are you asking me this?”

And so, you have to keep peppering them, but you should, ironically, stop asking why because it’s an emotional question, and you switch to, “What?” which is a rational question, “What is it about me that I know you would be there for me no matter what?” And they’ll start describing you, “I don’t know. You’re funny. I can trust you. You’re loyal,” and you have to play devil’s advocate, you kind of help them, you kind of let everybody else help them. You have to go through the process. You say things like, “Well, that’s the definition of a friend. That’s generic. What is it specifically about me that I know you’re there for me no matter what?”

And, again, they’re going to go through this process, it might be multiple times, it might be torture, but at some point they’re going to give up and they’re going to start describing themselves not you, and you’re going to get goosebumps, you’re going to have some sort of emotional reaction, you’re going to well up. My friend said to me, “Simon, I don’t even need to talk to you. I can just sit in a room with you and I feel inspired,” and I got goosebumps. In other words, what they’re finally able to articulate is the value you have in their lives, and that value you have in their lives is your why, the thing you give to the world, the reason people want you in their lives.

And, by the way, if you do it with multiple friends, they’ll tell you the same thing. If not the exact same words, they’ll tell you very, very similar words. It’s kind of amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
That is awesome and sounds like fun. I’m looking forward to doing exactly that. Well, Simon, tell me, anything you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Simon Sinek
No.

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

Simon Sinek
There is a great quote by Henry Ford that I love, that goes, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Simon Sinek
I think the Whitehall Studies are pretty amazing, that I wrote about in Leaders Eat Last, where, basically, we believe that people who go higher up in a company, the more stress you have because you have more responsibilities, etc. And what the Whitehall Studies revealed is actually the stress levels go down as you get more senior, and stress levels are actually the highest on the front lines because the more control and discretion you have, the higher you go up, it actually reduces stress. When you move control away from people, or you don’t give them discretion, it actually increases stress to a very, very high degree. So, one of the best ways to keep people healthy, you give them choices on how to do their jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Simon Sinek
Well, Finite and Infinite Games is pretty amazing by James Carse, and, also, I’m a big fan of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

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

Simon Sinek
Maintain friendships. Look after your friends. Look after the people you work with because when stress is high and the chips are down, you get many people in your corner who rush to your aid without being asked. So, the way that that happens is you’ve got to be a good friend to other people too.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and they quote it back to you often?

Simon Sinek
I think the quote that people say back to me most often is when I said, “Working hard for something you don’t believe in is called stress. Working hard for something you love is called passion.” And I think when you think passion as an input. It’s not. It’s an output. People say, “I only hire passionate people.” The problem is passion is not an input. We’re all passionate for something but we’re not passionate for the same thing. Passion can be amplified if we’re working for something that we believe is bigger than ourselves. So, I think that’s a big one.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch with your organization, with what you’re up to, where would you point them?

Simon Sinek
So, we’re in all the usual places, SimonSinek.com, and LinkedIn, and Twitter, and Instagram, and Facebook. Not TikTok. We don’t do TikTok channels.

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

Simon Sinek
Be the leader you wish you had. So many people complain that they work in companies that have bad leadership and that their bosses or their boss’ boss doesn’t get it. Well, we don’t have to quit, we don’t have to complain, and we can be the leaders we wish we had. We can show up every day and work hard to ensure that the people we work with, including our own boss, feel inspired when they come to work in the morning

Pete Mockaitis
Simon, thank you. This has been a joy and keep up the great work.

Simon Sinek
Thanks very much and thanks for giving me a place to help share my ideas.

546: Choosing Better Words for Better Leadership with David Marquet

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David Marquet says: "You want to be curious before compelling."

Former nuclear submarine commander David Marquet shares how subtle language changes can make a huge impact.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How language impacts your leadership
  2. How to use dissent in the workplace to your advantage
  3. How we’re mistaking coercion for leadership

About David:

David Marquet is a student of leadership and organizational design and a former nuclear submarine Commander. He was named one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc. Magazine and is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller: Turn the Ship Around!, and The Turn the Ship Around Workbook.  David’s new book, Leadership is Language was released recently by Penguin Random House.

Items Mentioned in the Show

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David Marquet Interview Transcript

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

David Marquet
Thanks for having me on your show, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the first thing I need to address is have you, in fact, crossed the United States on your bicycle?

David Marquet
Yeah, I have done segments of it, not all at the same time, but I’ve done various things. So, last summer, I went from Boise, Idaho to Casper, Wyoming which was epic because it took me over the Tetons and through Teton Pass. I live in Florida, like an overpass is a hill. So, I’m out there, and as I turn left, summit 20 miles that way, 4,000 feet that way, I just looked at that, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” But I made it through.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, good work. Good work.

David Marquet
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
My dad was a big bicyclist and so respect. We have hosted bicyclists at our childhood home, I recall, as they were crossing the nation. They were from Australia. My mom said, “They sure eat a lot.”

David Marquet
Yeah, that’s why you’re a cyclist so you can eat a lot. You broke a code.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so speaking of breaking the code, just as we were chitchatting before pushing record, you keyed in on my bookshelf, Stephen Covey’s “The 8th Habit,” and you’ve got a cool Stephen Covey connection. Can you lay it on us?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, when I was a submarine commander on the Santa Fe, we were doing a lot of seven habits stuff, and in some respects, everything that we did, which I write about in “Turn Your Ship Around” was simply applying the seven habits which is kind of written at the individual level and an organizational level. So, level one, be proactive, and we kept asking the question, “What would it sound like if everybody in the organization acted proactively?” And then we would put some words to it, then we practiced those words. Imagine, it worked, and so we would do that.

And so, when we started winning all these awards, the story got out, and Dr. Covey was doing this work with the Navy back on the East Coast, and he heard about it. And I get this phone call, “Dr. Covey wants to come ride your submarine.” And I’m like, “Doggone, Dr. Covey!” and I was just like running around in circles, like, “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.” And he came, it was such an amazing day. We picked him up off of Maui, it was crystal clear, dolphins were jumping. I mean, it was just one of those magic moments.

And he’s really quiet and kind of nervous, and he walks around the ship. And he finally comes up to me at the end, we’re driving into Pearl Harbor, standing on the bridge, and he says, “I know, I’ve figured it out.” First, he said, “It’s the most empowering workplace I’ve ever seen.” I said, “Well, thank you very much.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Superlative from the man who’s seen a lot. That’s awesome. Congrats.

David Marquet
Yeah, right. Right. But I didn’t like the word empowerment. I didn’t use it because I thought it’s…I labeled it a polluted word because it meant everyone had already attached meaning to it, so it was…when you said the word, you’ve got whatever you got. I mean, everyone sort of look at it through their own lens.

But, anyway, and we talked, but it was magic, and he said, “I’m going to write about you.” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, sure.” And then in “The 8th Habit,” which I see on your bookshelf behind you, I was like this spy, looking at the bookshelf behind, and I see “The 8th Habit.” And that was really amazing. And then he wrote the Foreword for “Turn Your Ship Around.” Unfortunately, he passed away, like a month after he wrote. We got the Foreword like on the 1st of April, and he went in, he had his bicycle rides. Later that month, this was like 20th or something, about three weeks later, really tragic. He never came out of his coma.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, his legacy is living on through those who he teaches and he’s taught and touched, and you’re a shining example. And you, in turn, are passing the wisdom along, and one of your big areas of focus is the language, the actual word choice that folks use. Can you kind of lay that on us? Like, what’s your big kind of aha or insight or discovery into the notion of language and leading?

David Marquet
So, here’s the deal, all the words that seem natural and normal to us, they sound normal in our ear, like, “All-hands meeting,” or, “We have a can-do organization.” All those words, the reason they’re natural is because we’ve heard from our bosses and our parents, who heard them from their bosses and their parents, which means they’re from the industrial age.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Marquet
And, essentially, it amounts to a programming, a playbook, I like to think of it, so that in a certain situation we’re going to react in a certain way. So, someone comes up to you and tells you, give you news that you don’t like, like, “Hey, I think we should delay product release next week,” and this comes as unwelcome news, of course. People react in different ways, but I predict it’s going to be react, response, reply. They’re going to either explain why they’re wrong, they’re going to defend themselves, or something like that.

Rarely, will I see curiosity, “Oh, what do you see that I’m missing? What do you know that I don’t know?” And the question is, that I was always struggling with is, “Why does my programming take me in the unhelpful direction?” Here’s another example, we tend to ask binary questions, and especially the least helpful binary question is a self-affirming binary question, “Does that make sense?” “Right?”

Pete Mockaitis
Does that make sense?

David Marquet
“Are we good?” “Right?” So, it’s not really a question. I just want to get everyone to agree and go along with me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just thinking about how lame my podcast would be if those were the questions I ask, “This is really the Pete Show, you’re just an accessory.”

David Marquet
Right. Exactly. But I see leaders doing it, I hear doing this all the time, and I think the reason is because, in the industrial age, that’s what you wanted. You just wanted people to do what you wanted them to do. You didn’t want a big discussion, and I didn’t need the workers to be involved in decision-making. But, of course, now that doesn’t work anymore. We need to let the people doing the work be involved in making decisions about the work. And so, what this means is all these language patterns, which we’ve been programmed to do, are no longer helpful. So, we have to go through the great reprogramming of the English language.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so can you lay it on us in terms of we have a few examples of things that don’t work, “Are we good?” “Yup.” “Makes sense?”

David Marquet
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, those are not ideal, not optimal, and the principle is that it doesn’t encourage conversation, engagement, discussion. It’s just sort of like, “Okay, let’s move it along here.”

David Marquet
And, in particular, dissenting, diverse, and outline opinions. These things reduce the likelihood, they don’t squish it to zero, but these are biases, one direction or the other. They just make it a little bit harder for the person who doesn’t agree with the group to speak up, and it’s a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I think it is a problem. And, it’s funny, as we record these words, Mitt Romney got some attention for a dissenting opinion.

David Marquet
Yeah, but look at the reaction, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

David Marquet
Well, Pete, I didn’t hear anybody. I was flying today so I missed a bunch of the news. But I didn’t hear any responses, “Oh, Mitt, tell us more about that. I’m so curious about your perspective.” I didn’t hear that. What I heard was, “Oh, you’re wrong. You screwed up. You’re blah, blah, blah, blah,” or, “You’re right. We agree with you, blah, blah, blah.” So, this is a good example of these programmed responses and you see it all the time and everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, yes, there seems to be a bias against dissent. So, let’s dig in. So, how do we get better language? Can you give us some core fundamental principles as well as some particular examples of, “Hey, let’s stop saying this, and say that instead”?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, the key way, one way to think about it is, “Are you embracing variability or are you reducing variability?” Now, there are things, there are lots of work following a procedure, manufacturing a part, that benefit from reducing variability. Actually, this is a problem because this is what we’ve inherited from the industrial age.

Imagine making Lego blocks, “I don’t want the holes to be like a little bit fatter or a little bit skinnier because it really won’t stack up very well. I want it always the same,” so variability is an enemy, and we’ve even gotten really good at tuning out variability. But decision-making and thinking benefits from embracing variability. The fact that we have special rules when we go, “Hey, guys, we’re going to do a brainstorming session. We have some special rules so we can invoke creativity.” What that means is the normal way we do work at work kills creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

David Marquet
It’s just an admission of that. So, what we need to do is have the language of work which allows dissenting opinions. So, here’s one thing that a lot of people are doing wrong. If you’re doing a decision meeting, what you want to do is vote first then discuss. But what most people do is they’ll talk about it, all this does is serve to anchor the group, that’s group-think build up, less the people who think different than the group, they start shrinking down in their chair and it becomes very hard to disagree, “Well, I don’t think 737 Max software is safe. I don’t think we should do the launch,” or whatever happened.

Every innovation starts as an outline and dissenting opinion. The water in Flint, Michigan is poisoned, whatever. They always start on the fringes, and sometimes they deserve to stay out there on the fringes, but sometimes they don’t, but you don’t know that if, A, you suppress them so you don’t even hear them, or, B, you don’t listen to them or their voice. So, what you want to do is vote in a probabilistic way. Here’s the trick, start the question with the word how, “How sure are you?” “How strongly do you support this?” “How likely is this assumption to be true?” Not, “Will it be true?” “Is it safe?” “Are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?” Any question about the future is going to be probabilistic, should be probabilistic because we don’t know.

And then, after the vote, you look for the people who voted highest for and highest against. These are the outliers, they’re on the fringes, and you invite them to speak.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, timeout there. So, highest for and highest against, so then it’s not a simple “I’m for this” “I’m against this,” but rather “I’m a zero” “I’m a 100.” Or, how are you thinking about the voting?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, you can use your hand. If it’s just really quick, you’re out on the field, it’s a team, a construction site team, “Hey, we’re ready to start the next phase, we’re ready to pour concrete. How ready are we to do this?” and people put their hands up, five, five, five, four, five, five, four.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Marquet
It’s a lot easier because it’s easy for someone to say four instead of five but it’s very difficult for someone to actually put their hand up than do a thumbs down.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it.

David Marquet
There’s a big cultural stigma to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s awesome.

David Marquet
Yeah, yeah. and in the office, we have a set of cards that go 1 to 99; 1, 5, 20, 50, 80, 95, 99, 1 to 99, because you don’t want to do 0 and 100 because what you’re trying to do is reprogram people’s brains to think probabilistically so that nothing is a 100 or 1. It’s like there’s never a zero chance and there’s never a hundred chance of something happening, “Will this product work?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, David, I am loving this so much. And I just, recently, with my team, as we’re assessing, this is pretty meta, a podcast guest. I said, “Okay, this numbering system might not make sense to you but it’d be really easy for me if in our system you were to give me a number between 0 and 100 based upon the probability, your best guess that this guest will be in the top 10% of engagement amongst all of our guests.”

David Marquet
Yeah, beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then it makes it easy for me. I just sort, like, “All right. These are the people my team loves. Let’s start at the top and move on down.”

David Marquet
Yeah, that’s so much better than saying, “Will this be in the top 10%?” which is impossible.

Pete Mockaitis
“Yes or no to David,” you know, it’s much broader.

David Marquet
Right, “What’s your sense?” Yeah. So, yeah, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so all right, I’m jiving here. So, we’re thinking probabilistically, we’re voting in advance. What are some of the other best practices?

David Marquet
So, when it comes to asking questions, there’s a whole bunch of things. The key is when you’re asking questions, most people ask questions, they’re either actively inserting their own viewpoint in the question, like, “Why would you want to do that?” “Hey, I think we should delay launch, product launch?” “Why would you want…?” So, you’re sending the signal, “Hey, you’re wrong. This is unwelcome news. You need to defend it.” Versus, “Oh, what do you see that’s behind that thinking?” in a very sort of neutral way.

So, the idea is you want to be curious before compelling. You want to ask questions. You want to wipe your mind clean and not inject your point of view. Even when you’re not deliberately trying to inject your point of view, we sometimes inject our point of view. There’s this sub-school of asking questions called Clean Language, which I pulled some inspirations from, really interesting. So, for example, if your friend comes up to you and says, “I’m having trouble with this coworker,” you might say, “Well, do you have the guts to stand up to them?”

Well, this implies a whole bunch of things, like, A, “You should…” like standing up to them is the right thing to do, it’s the right metaphor, not punch them in the face, or not let them alone, and, “Do you have the guts?” suggest that the limiting resource is courage not maybe it’s time. So, you’re injecting all these…all your basic experience of what you think they’re saying into the question. So, what you want to try and do is just say, “Oh, tell me more,” or, “What kind of a problem is that?” and just be as neutral as possible about it.

The way I think about it is I wipe my mind clean, which is easier some days. I just try and make a big white tableau in my head and say, “I don’t know anything, and my job is to learn as much as possible in the next couple of minutes.” Now, I’m not saying you have to agree. They can often say, “Hey, I think we should delay product launch.” I’m not saying automatically delay product launch. Not at all. What I’m saying is make the decision after you’ve listened to them. If you find yourself saying the words, “I hear you but…” that’s code for “I’m not listening to you,” because the only reason you feel compelled to say “I heard you” is because you have a sense that they think you’re not hearing them so you feel compelled to say “I hear you.” No one ever felt more heard because someone said, “Oh, I hear you,” so just listen to them and you’ll never feel that compulsion to say “I hear you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is awesome.

David Marquet
“Trust me” is another one. If you find yourself saying “Trust me,” then you’re on the wrong track. You should never have to say that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, these are…keep it going. So, you’re sharing some phrases that are indicative of something beneath the surface that’s not working and it’s hitting home. I think I’ve said “I hear you.”

David Marquet
Me too. All the time. So, it goes back to the industrial age, and what I’m calling this playbook. So, the key thing in the industrial age, the key play, so to speak, is I label “obey the clock.” That’s why we have words like clockwork, that’s why we pay people by the hour, especially the people, the workers. You can pay the thinkers by a salary, but the workers get paid by the hour because of so obey the clock. So, there’s all these cultural statements, again, saying, “Time out. I think we got to delay product launch because it runs against the ‘obey the clock’ play.”

Now the problem to obey the clock is, of course, it’s very hard to think when you have the pressure of the clock, tick, tick, tick, and you got to make so many wishes per hour. So, what leaders wanted to do is what I call control the clock. Leaders need to say, “Hey, time out. You guys are doing a great job chopping down this fort. Now I want to talk about is this the right fort and should we be chopping at that?” And let’s give the team the ability to say, “Time out.”

Now, it’s not enough to just say, “Oh, team, everyone can say time out.” I’ve seen this in, say, for example, in a hospital situation or…

Pete Mockaitis
Or some manufacturing plants that’s a rule.

David Marquet
Yeah, a manufacturing plant, with the power plant. Then there’s this lip service, “Oh, anyone can stop.” But if you don’t actually give them a mechanism, “Okay, here’s a yellow card. If you think we need to take a pause, raise it, or say the following code word.” And practice. If it’s never practiced, the same stigmas will build up. But if we practice it, and then it’s like, “Oh, it’s not a big deal. Time out. Quit.” It doesn’t need to be a long time, you have to make it easy to exit production and go into thinking, but you also have to make it easy to say, “Okay, we’re done thinking. Now we’re going to go back to work,” otherwise we end up biased in one direction or the other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. And so, you encourage it, you practice it, you give a mechanism, and I think you appreciate it I guess when they use the mechanism, as oppose to, “Oh, dang it, David. What is it now?”

David Marquet
Yeah. So, a perfect example of this is the Andon cord in the Toyota Production System. This is Andon, it’s the Japanese word for lantern. And so, they’ve equipped the stations with what used to be a cord, now a button, for the workers. They’re in the production line, parts are moving past them, they have a problem. So, they can’t solve the problem while the parts are moving, there’s too much time pressure, so they have to push the button which signals, “Hey, I’ve got a problem. I need to shift into problem-solving mode. I need to pause. I need to call a pause and shift to problem-solving mode.” And so, that’s what that serves. That serves as a way for them.

So, you go to a construction site and say, “Well, how do the guys signal that they have a problem?” The guys on the third floor installing windows and they’ve got a problem, there’s no way, we haven’t instituted a mechanism like Toyota Production System so there’s no way for the workers.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re still yelling, “Hey!”

David Marquet
Yeah, they just yell at each other, right. Or we come down at the end of shift to say, “Yeah, I had to bang a few windows in because they really didn’t fit quite right. Oh, it would’ve been nice to actually solve the root problem.” No. So, that’s obey the clock.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so that’s about the clock.

David Marquet
So, yeah, that’s the core play. So, everything kind of stems out of that. And the second thing about the industrial age organization is we separate thinkers from doers, that’s why we have these phrases like white collar, blue collars, leaders, followers, thinkers, doers, salary.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some terms in Hebrew like rosh gadol and the other one. Anyway, so, we’ve got these dichotomies, yeah.

David Marquet
Yeah, exactly. They’re binary dichotomies and we bend people into one of two tribes. And so, when I think about, “Well, what’s it like to be a doer?” Well, all you do is do. Do what you’re told. So, all leadership is coercive because it’s one group of people choosing what the other group of people how to do it. And then their role is to then comply and continue the production line as long as possible. And so, again, these are unhelpful patterns because coercion isn’t a good way to treat people. It’s much better to have collaboration and commitment.

Now, here’s the trick. We talked about the meeting thing. So, I had 10 executives from a big company, two tables of five, and I gave them a problem. It was like, “How many countries are in Africa? You can’t look it up.” And someone at the end of one table blurts a number, let’s say they say 50, and pretty soon that table comes at 50. And here’s the other thing, your table has to agree, so it’s a decision-making exercise for a group. Your table has to agree so they have to decide their number. Pretty soon 50. And guess what? Thirty seconds later the other table said 50. And who’s the person who said 50? It was the CEO and the co-founder.

So, that person is paying a lot of people a lot of money simply to echo back what that person is thinking. Now, here’s the key. When I said, “Oh, did you guys collaborate on this?” “Oh, yeah, sure. Everyone’s voice was heard.” No, it wasn’t. This is called coercion. And so, people use the word influence, inspire, but it’s really coercion. Like, let’s not pretend it’s not coercion. I’m getting you to do what I want you to do, and that’s coercion.

So, what you want is true collaboration and that happens first, say, “Everybody write down what you think the number is before we contaminate you with any group-think. Then everyone flips their cards up and, just like before, let’s look at the high and the low. Okay, how did you come up with your number? How did you come up with your number? And now we can call us on a number.” The maximum amount of variability in the group, the maximum amount of cognitive diversity will occur before any conversation, and you want to capture that moment in time.

David Marquet
Yes. I should know the answer to that. I think it’s 89. No, that’s 54. Sorry, my bad. Yeah, 54.
Now, here’s another thing that’s interesting. If you ask people, say, “Okay, write down the last two digits of your phone number. Now, write down how many countries there are you think in Africa. Do those number correlate?” Answer? Yes. “Should they?” No. And this is anchoring. Even when you explain to people that anchoring is a phenomenon, it will still happen. So, these are the perils of throwing out your answer first but we do it because we want to move so quickly away from that uncertainty and variability. We want to collapse variability prematurely without giving it the cognitive respect that it’s owed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, David, this is so good. This is just really getting my wheels turning here.

David Marquet
I’m so glad. That’s the highest praise.

Pete Mockaitis
And anchoring, well, I heard another study about anchoring, like, that even judges, right, like perhaps the most impartial of all would be anchored by the address on a piece of stationery or in like a mock case that they presented to them, in terms of like, “What should the settlement amount or judgment arbitration amount be in a case?” Like, it has nothing to do with that. These are supposed to be our most impartial and brilliant arbiters of decision-making that we have in our society, and they succumb to it, so nobody is immune.

David Marquet
Yeah. So, we all have these biases and they’re wired into us, and you want to inoculate yourself and your team as much as possible, but it’s very difficult. Here’s another thing. The bias is called escalation of commitment, which means that if you made a decision, you’ve basically tainted yourself from evaluating that decision. And in the face of evidence that the decision was not a good one, basically you double-down. Now, we have phrases like “in for a penny, in for a pound” “sunk cost fallacy” but the way this plays out in organizations is let’s say the captain of a crew ship makes a decision to do something and someone low on the team starts to…or there’s evidence that this is not a good idea. It’s going to be very difficult for that person to reverse their decision.

On the other hand, if you separate decision-maker from the decision-evaluator, so the senior person should reserve their cognitive efforts to simply evaluate, but that means the team has got to be making decisions. Another way to think about it is the senior person should only ever break pedal. The next tier below needs to have a gas pedal and a break pedal. But as soon as the senior person starts stepping on the gas, they then tainted themselves, “Hey, we all should keep selling print film,” “Hey, we should all rent DVDs,” whatever it is, we taint ourselves, and it’s very, very difficult to then reverse. So, think about that, “Am I decision-maker or a decision-evaluator?” And if you want to be the decision-evaluator, you really got to work hard not to be the maker of the decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. I’m thinking back to consulting at Bain where we would have a decision-making tool for teams called RAPID in terms of different roles and decision, who recommends something, who approves something, who performs inputs, decides, it’s an acronym RAPID. And then I thought that was great. It’s like the approve is like you have veto power and that, indeed, makes great sense to put in sort of senior leadership level, and you just add another layer there in terms of if they’re also the one sort of putting forward, “Hey, this would be really cool, don’t you think?” it’s going to taint things.

David Marquet
Yeah, and obviously they don’t do it that obviously but everybody knows the CEO wants the product to launch, or everybody knows the situation when we have the meeting, “The purpose of the meeting…” Really? It’s so the CEO can later say, “Oh, you all were there. You had a chance to say no but you didn’t,” that’s the real purpose mainly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, David, you’ve laid out a couple of what you’re calling the six plays for all leaders about the clock and collaborating instead of coercing. Let’s go ahead just rock out the others since we’re on a hot streak?

David Marquet
Okay. So, on the industrial-age side, we have “obey the clock,” which leads to coercing and the team complying with the purpose of continuing the production line as long as possible. When Henry Ford started making Model Ts in 1904, he made the same car for almost 20 years. If you worked on that line, you basically didn’t have to learn any new tools, any new skills, you’d work there almost 20 years making the same car.

What you want to do now is control the clock, collaborate, then commit, because commitment comes from within. True collaboration will result in the team making a commitment with the idea of completing, so doing the work in chunks, “Hey, we’re going to do a segment.” So, I like to think of it in terms of an expiration date or running experiments, “Hey, we’re going to do…we’re going to change the process. We’re going to run an ad campaign but not we just want to run an ad campaign. It almost feels like we’re going to stop running it. We’re going to run this ad campaign for three months and then we’ll see not only what we’ve achieved but what we learned.”

And that gets us to the fifth play which is improve versus just prove. We have this approach during the industrial age, “I got to get it done. I got to show. I got to demonstrate competence. I got to feel good. I got to justify my salary,” but that moves us away from this idea of, “How can I learn? How can I be curious? How can I get better?” And a lot of cold companies have these quarterly goals, and when you look at them, they’re goals, like, “What are we going to do? We’re going to sell 8% more of this and we’re going to ship this,” but they’re lacking when I ask them, “Well, show me what you’re going to learn this quarter.”

Even university, I worked with a university, like, even they didn’t have learning goals. So, I’m not saying don’t have doing goals. Do, but balance them, “Here’s what we’re going to do and here’s what we’re going to learn, and then we’re going to pause, complete.” Complete allows two things. It allows you to pause and reflect and improve the work, but it also allows you to celebrate. No completion, no celebration. No celebration, no sense of progress. No sense of progress, no fun at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. And what’s interesting, when it comes to doing versus learning, I guess in my brain I see maybe an overlap in a Venn diagram stuff, like, if I’m saying, “Hey, want to learn about audio, and what I want to do is make our podcast sound as amazing as possible,” sort of both are happening, learning and doing.

David Marquet
Yeah. So, here’s what I think the formula is. Learning results from thinking about something. So, you had the thought, “I want the podcast to be amazing.” Then you say, “You know what, if we tried a different kind of microphone, or if we tried SquadCast as opposed to Skype,” so you have a hypothesis. But then you actually have to do it. Just thinking about it doesn’t result in learning. Then you do it. You can’t just do one because it might’ve been a one-off, like maybe the internet connection to Pittsburgh was bad that day, who knows.

So, you say, “Let’s do 10. Now, we’re going to pause with complete. First of all, we’re going to celebrate what we achieved.” Then we’re going to say, “Hey, what did we learn?” “Well, nine out of ten of them were significantly better. One was worse. It was some special case.” So, that’s it. So, I think this is the cycle of learning: thinking, doing, reflecting. It’s like this, I draw an H because thinking is broad perspective, doing is focused, because once you made the commitment, you don’t want to say, “We’re going to use SquadCast most of the time. Well, a couple of them we did Skype but I wasn’t really sure.” No, you want to be precise, you want to do SquadCast 10 out of 10.

Then we’re going to pause, not while in the middle of podcast but, “Okay, we’ve done ten, now let’s pause. What does everybody think?” Best to do that, and that, that, that.

Pete Mockaitis
I see what you’re saying.

David Marquet
So, it’s this flip between reducing focus which means reducing variability, reducing perspective, of being focused, and embracing variability, and it’s this flip that we have to do. If we don’t recognize that we’re using our brains in two different ways, what I see is people are sort of crappily-focused and then sort of broadly expansive but their expansiveness is like this, it’s like looking through a periscope on a submarine, there’s a whole world out there, “Oh, yeah, we’re embracing new ideas,” but they’re four to six when I could be one to nine. How do you know there’s a world beyond my tennis line?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, David, so many of your ideas are really resonating for me here. I guess I’d love to hear if it’s a client or someone who just took and ran with these easy ideas and saw cool results as a result of doing so, can you give us a transformation tip?
David Marquet
Yeah, I’ll tell you another story. So, one that might resonate with readers is McDonald’s. We’re working with their franchise out in Oregon and they have 15 stores, and the ops manager was stressed, and she would, every morning, “Oh, do this, check on that, do that,” and she drives from store to store frantically, telling what to do, and checking in on them. We flipped the whole thing around, so she now would get these texts every morning and the store managers would be checking in with her, “Hey, here’s what I got, here’s what I see, here’s what I intend to do about it. Come on by if you want. We’d love to see you. Invite your feedback, but we don’t need you. We’ll do it anyway.”

And she had so much less stress over the next 12 months she lost 50 pounds, a pound a week. And she had some bad health markers and were sort of prediabetic, and all that stuff went away because we simply flipped it, we got rid of that old industrial-age playbook.

Pete Mockaitis
And she may be eating at places other than McDonald’s because she didn’t have to go there often. You can smell those fries.

David Marquet
Yeah, it’s so hard. They’re so good.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if I can follow up, so that sounds like a tidy little framework there. So, each person said, “Here’s what I got, here’s what I see, here’s what I’m going to do.” Can you lay that out for us?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, we have a framework that we applied to empowerment, which we call the ladder of leadership, and it’s simply the words that you say. We cast away the word empowerment, and it sounds like this, “At the bottom, they tell me what to do.” That’s obviously very low. And then there’s, “Here’s what I see, here’s what I think, here’s what I would like to do.” Now, the key there is unless you get approval, you don’t do it, so you wait.

And then level five is, “Here’s what I intend to do. Tomorrow at noontime, I intend to launch a new ad campaign. Next week on Wednesday, I intend to launch a product as scheduled.” Now, the key about intent is unless you say no, it’s going to happen. So, if you don’t get your email that day, you’re not holding the team up. And here’s the key, the team, knowing that there is going to happen, it’s on them. They can never…they own it. They can’t say, “Oh, well, the boss told me. I knew it was a bad idea but blah, blah, blah.”

So, it’s a trick, so to speak, mechanism better. It’s a mechanism to get thinking, because when you know, if you say something, and your boss gets a little in email, it’s going to happen, you become…you check with the person, “Hey, does everyone this is a good idea? I want to make sure it’s good because it’s going to be on me if we do this.” So, the way we would make reports is, so imagine in a submarine, or oil refinery, nuclear power plant, operating room, we always report in that sequence, “Here’s what we see,” so it’s description, “And then here’s what I think,” which is analysis, “And then here’s what I think we should do,” action.

So, the first step is detect, “I have to notice something,” so it’s D2A2, detect, describe, assess, act. And we always go in that order because we’re moving from safe to less safe because description is pretty safe, “Hey, I notice the patient is turning yellow.”

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t argue with that.

David Marquet
You may not know what you need to do. That’s okay. If you couple, if you say, “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” guess what you’re going to get?

Pete Mockaitis
Crickets.

David Marquet
Fewer people telling you problems. That’s what you’re going to get because every time you make a speedbump to a behavior you want. You’re going to get less of a behavior that you want. So, you just put a speedbump on the behavior of reporting problems. So, you say, “Bring me problems. You don’t have to have a solution. If you have a solution, bonus points for you.” So, anyway. And studies have showed that’s exactly the impact. Because we have these well-meaning words but they often counterfire.
Pete Mockaitis
And what’s the final play?

David Marquet
So, the final play is in the industrial age, because leaders were coercing workers what to do, the final play in the industrial age is conform. We don’t want to appear approachable because that just makes it harder for us to get them to do what we want them to do, so we conform to our role in hierarchy. The new play is connect, connect as humans. If you’re going to ask people to make decisions, decisions passed through the emotional wiring in our brain, we want to think that we’re all rational but we’re not. I mean, “Who am I going to marry? Where am I going to school? What’s my…?” At the end of the day, always an emotional complement to that decision.

Healthy decisions come from healthy emotions. Healthy emotions come from feeling human at work, which means we have to connect as human beings. And so, there’s a lot of legacy behavior at work, posturing. And I was in a big global corporation. You could tell you’re getting closer to the more important people because the carpet was getting thicker. And there’s all these trappings of hierarchy. We don’t need to reinforce hierarchy. What you want to do is actually reduce hierarchy, not to zero, A, you can’t, B, I don’t think you want to. But we’ve got to get the humanity, the connection of humanity back into work if you want your people to be involved in decision-making. If you’re going to ask them what they think, then that’s decision-making. So, that’s what the final play is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Marquet
Yeah, I really like, I sound maybe like I’m a geek, but I really love Churchill’s use of a language, and so when you take your quote like this, “We shall fight on the beaches,” and you look at the words he used. Now, I had an opportunity to see a museum exhibit where he had some drafts of his speeches, and he had different words. And the pattern was he was always going back to the Anglo-Saxon variance. So, he could’ve said, “We shall travois on the shoreline,” but those are French.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

David Marquet
What’s popping in my head right now “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. She talks about having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Kahneman. Tversky is so good. I just read also Michael Lewis’ book “The Undoing Project” which is about the work that Kahneman and Tversky did where they came up with a lot of these biases. There’s a guy, here’s one of most of your listeners might not have heard of, a guy named Panksepp, a psychologist who tickles rats to hear them laugh.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds like fun.

David Marquet
Anyone who does that has got to be interesting. And he’s got a number of books. I don’t understand half of what he says, but one of the things he talks about is we’re wired with…one of the systems that we’re wired with is called the seeking system, this is the curious system. This is the one that says, “I wonder what’s behind that corner? I wonder what’s over that mountain range?” And a lot of our social ills can be traced to some sort of dysfunction in our seeking system. And I just think this stuff is really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Hmm, intriguing. And, tell me is there a particular nugget you share that people quote back to you and you’re known for?

David Marquet
Well, we say build leaders at every level. One of the things I’ve been saying, recently I’ve been hearing all that back, is “Push authority to information not information to authority.” And what we’re referring to is in a hierarchy, oh, hierarchy is the same characteristic, which is the information rest that’s peripheral of the hierarchy at the people at the periphery of the hierarchy, the ones in the coat, talking to the client face to face, in the operating room, flying the airplane, whatever. But the authority for making decisions rest typically in the middle.

So, the 20th century approach was to create systems and scorecards and software where we aggregated the information from the periphery and channeled it into the middle for a decision, and what we say is what you’d want to do is take the authority for making decisions and push it out to the periphery as close to the person, people, who natively have that information and you’d get much faster feedback loops, you get much more resilience, agility, adaptability, and you get more responsible behavior by those people, and it’s more fun and they feel like their jobs matter.

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

David Marquet
So, our program is called intent-based leadership, so go to the website Intent Based Leadership. And I am on social media. I give myself a grade of like D+ for social media but I’m on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn at L. David Marquet. And the other thing we have is a thing called leadership nudges, we have almost 300 now, come out once a week, a one-minute…a lot of these things we talked about are in these little leadership nudges, so one-minute video, low-production quality, me just talking into the camera, saying, “Hey, when you got to ask the question, start the question with how. It’ll be impossible to ask a binary question and it’ll be a better question.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, David, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and keep up the good stuff you’re doing.

David Marquet
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

545: What High-Performers Do Differently with Alan Stein Jr.

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Alan Stein Jr. says: "Fall in love with the fundamentals."

Alan Stein Jr. discusses the fundamental habits and mindsets that separate the best from the rest.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The universal skill every professional needs
  2. The secret to making remarkable change last
  3. A powerful mantra to keep you grounded and present

About Alan:

Alan Stein, Jr. is a keynote speaker and author who spent 15+ years as a performance coach working with famous, high-performing basketball players. He now teaches audiences how to utilize the same strategies in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level.

Alan specializes in improving individual and organizational leadership, performance and accountability.  He inspires and empowers everyone he works with to take immediate action and improve mindset, habits and productivity which is what makes him one of the top motivational speakers around.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Alan Stein Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, let’s hear just a smidge about your background. So, you used to work as a performance coach for professional basketball players including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. May he rest in peace. What exactly does that mean, a performance coach? What do you do and how does that translate into better results?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the original moniker was strength and conditioning coach. So, I was always responsible for kind of the fitness and athleticism side of training. But, as that industry progressed, we, I say we as in I’m uniting all coaches, decided that strength and conditioning were just two of the pillars of performance that we actually worked on. So, most coaches today that are in that field go by performance coach.

And, yeah, I was responsible for every facet of performance except for the actual skill work. So, things like improving hand-eye coordination, and explosiveness, and acceleration and deceleration, everything that goes under the umbrella of athleticism. And I was able to work with some really good players and really good coaches who taught me every bit as much as I’d like to believe I taught them, and then decided I was going to take all of those lessons and pivot those to a new audience, which is what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so can you tell us an example maybe of, hey, here’s something that you did in that realm, beyond just strength, and then what result that emerged there?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, I think the foundation of it all, and I know you had mentioned with the rest in peace with the very sudden and untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, but one of the biggest lessons I ever learned was from Kobe at a camp that I worked for him back in 2007, and it’s actually how I open every single keynote with that story of meeting him. And the lesson that he taught me was that if you want to be great at something, you never get bored with the basics, that you fall in love with the fundamentals and you fall in love with the process of doing the basics over and over during the unseen hours until you come as close to mastery as possible.

That is incredibly applicable to every walk of life. I mean, that’s something that is very true on the basketball court. With a basketball player, you have to work on your footwork because your footwork is involved in everything you do on the court. And then I translate that same message to folks in the corporate world, about figuring out, “What are your basics and your fundamentals that you need to master to be awesome at your job?” And once folks have an understanding of those, then they just need to have the humility and the consistency to do them every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love it if you could highlight what are some of those basics that show up a lot for folks who want to be awesome at their jobs?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Almost unilaterally in any industry, I can’t think of anything where being a better listener wouldn’t serve you very well. If you’re in any type of leadership position, you’re a manager, or a director, or a supervisor, an executive, whether you’re in sales, whether you’re in customer service or customer experience, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be drastically heightened if you improved your ability to actively listen, to ask insightful questions, then listen to the response, and then make sure that either your response or your behavior pivots accordingly based on what they said.

And not only does this help you take in more accurate information and make better decisions, but anytime we listen to someone, it unconsciously shows them that we care about them. Because, in today’s day and age, our attention in the present moment is our most valuable currency. And when you show someone by listening with good eye contact and warm body language and nodding your head, you’re showing them that you’re willing to invest your most precious resource and your most precious currency into them. And that is a glue that strengthens human connection. And, regardless of what vocation you’re in, we’re all in the relationship and people business, and anytime we can strengthen those connections, it’s a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, yes, I’m on board. Listening sounds great and more of it would be good. We’ve had a couple episodes about listening and, boy, I think we’d have a whole lot more. So, let’s dig in a little bit here.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’ve put a lot of these insights into your book Raise Your Game: High Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best. What are some of the top high-performance secrets from the best of the best? One of them we talked about was basics. And I think we’re going to revisit that one some more. But what do you say is the big idea and some of those top secrets we should all know?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what’s kind of funny is my publisher always gets irritated with me when they think I’m disparaging the subtitle, but I told them, in jest, “We’re going to use the word secrets because it’s something that attracts people, and we want to get as many eyes on this book as possible, but there really are no secrets to high performance.”

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve lied to us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
I have. What it takes to be awesome at your job, those pillars are readily available to anyone. In fact, there are things that most people already know intuitively and intellectually, but it doesn’t mean they’re doing them. That’s really the big idea of the book is what’s called a performance gap. And that’s the gap between what we know we’re supposed to do and what we actually do. And if you want to be awesome at your job, you have to learn how to close that gap.

A perfect example would be I bet everyone of your listeners right now knows what healthy foods are, knows that they’re supposed to get adequate sleep every night, and knows that they’re supposed to do some type of physical fitness workout throughout the week, a couple of times a week. I mean, I don’t think there’s a functioning adult on the planet that doesn’t know those three things to improve health, vitality, longevity, so everybody knows that but we can even look at the statistics, not very many people are doing that. Not many people eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and workout consistently.

And that’s a perfect example of, in health and fitness, performance gap. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but very few people do it. And when I bring that up, it’s never to disparage or diminish someone, it’s never to call them out or to make them feel bad, it’s simply to shine the light on the fact that you know what you’re supposed to do but you’re not doing it. And that’s where we have to start making progress.

I just use health and fitness as an example because it’s an easy one. We could easily say the same thing for our financial lives or for relationships. There’s not a person alive that doesn’t know what things they should do to continue to have a thriving marriage, yet many people, after 10 to 20 years of being married, they no longer do those things, and then they wonder why their relationship is on the rocks. Or financially. Does anyone know you’re not supposed to save some money and put some money away for the future? Everybody knows that but not very many people do it.

And, to me, I’ve always been fascinated why groups of really intelligent people, which is what we all are walking around as human beings, why would we not do the things that we know we’re supposed to do. And the answer comes down to these things aren’t always easy to do. And we all, as human beings, usually default to what’s easiest and most comfortable, yet that’s not very often the path to growth, is ease and comfort.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, there’s lots there. I like it. So, there’s quite the distinction there between it’s basic, in other words it’s not complicated, but it’s not easy. It takes some effort from you. So, they call it entropy or whatever the concept is. We like our comfort and kind of doing what feels good in a given moment and not maybe what seems super boring because it’s basic and you’ve done it a lot of times. So, yeah, I think you did a fine job of teeing up the challenge, there’s a performance gap, that we’re not doing the things that we know we should or could do to get the results that would be helpful.

So, let’s talk about some ways to push through that then if you want to do more of the basics. And I’m just going to say for being awesome at your job, boy, we could talk about a lot. I think sleep is a big one. Listening is a big one. I think maybe one would be not checking your email constantly but rather just take, I don’t know, a couple batch times a day. Email is easier and maybe interesting, like, “What I have to do now is kind of boring and hard, but my email might be cool and easy, so let me go over there.” Maybe making a list of things that are the most critical to do during this day or week or month, and then making sure that you attack them.

So, those are some of the basics. We’ve heard it from many guests many times. So, if you’re not doing it, you’re not feeling it, how do you start doing it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, absolutely. I’ve got a basic process to follow but not necessarily an easy one. I’m so glad that you brought up the difference between those two because many people do use basic and easy as if they’re interchangeable, as if they’re synonymous, and they’re not. I tell folks all the time during my keynotes, “Everything I’m going to share with you today is going to be very basic. Nothing I’m going to share with you today is going to be easy to implement because if it was, you’d already be doing it.”

So, first and foremost, and this is just kind of the ground level, you have to have the self-awareness enough to know that you have a performance gap. Like, you have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I know I’m supposed to get enough sleep but I don’t. I know I’m supposed to save money but I’m not.” So, without awareness, then you just continue to go through life a loop. So, once you have the awareness then there’s a very distinct three-step process.

The first process is once you’ve narrowed it down to the performance gap that you’re talking about, and let’s just say it’s getting more sleep, then you just have to pick one habit or one behavior that you want to change. You see, especially with a lot of high performers and high drivers, they’re enticed into wanting to change several things at once, “I’m going to get blackout curtains for my room. I’m going to get an easy Nest Thermostat for my room. I’m going to buy a sleep mask. I’m going to take this cocktail of melatonin supplements at night.” And they come up with this long list of things they’re going to do, and then they up getting so stifled by it that they end up doing none of it. The key is just picking one thing to have hyper focus on.

So, if you realize that you’re not getting adequate sleep, pick one thing, and let’s just say that one thing is going to be, “I’m going to set a consistent bedtime.” So, that’s the only thing you’re going to focus on. You’re not going to worry about anything else right now, just the one thing. Then the next thing you need to do, so once you’ve established that one thing, is you want to aim to do that for 66 straight days. You want to start to build some momentum and some continuity.

Now, there’s nothing really magical about 66 except there is some research out there that says that when you do something daily for 66 days in a row, it starts to reduce the friction. So, I just like that because it’s an easy number to remember and it could be something very visual. I’m a visual guy so, for me, I’ll go get an old-school calendar from Office Depot and a big red Sharpie, and every night that I go to bed, at this bedtime that I set, I’m going to put a big red X on my calendar, and I’m going to be committed to doing this until there’s 66 red X’s in a row.

Now, anyone that’s into habits, I highly recommend you read James Clear’s book called Atomic Habits. Most of everything I teach on habits has come from James, and he’s got a lot deeper insight into that concept. But let’s just try to build some momentum, so that’s the second step. So, we pick one thing, we’re committed to doing it for 66 days. And then the third piece is you need to keep the spotlight of accountability on, and you do this by insulating yourself with an accountability partner or an accountability group of people that is going to hold you to that.

So, in this example, I might say, “Hey, Pete, I’m really trying to get better sleep at night. I promised myself I’m going to go to bed every night at 9:30. I’m going to make a commitment to doing this for the next 66 days, but would you mind checking in with me? Since you’re my buddy, would you mind texting me every morning and asking me if I did go to bed at 9:30 so that way I’ve got someone else keeping that light on me?”

And, statistically, if you’re willing to focus on one thing at a time, you’re committed to doing it for 66 days and you have some self-accountability, and you get people that you know want to see you successful hold you accountable, if you do those three things, you have a really good chance of changing that behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, then I suppose that you lock one in over the course of 66 days, and then start another, as opposed to doing multiples at once. You focus on one at a time, and then you give it that amount of time before you take on another.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You nailed it. And, to me, that’s the main reason that most New Year’s resolutions don’t work it’s because of the plural part, because most people wake up on January 1st and say, “I’m going to eat better. I’m going to get more sleep. I’m going to start working out. I’m going to start saving money. I’m going to start doing this. I’m going to call on my…” and they want to do all of these things. While I certainly applaud how noble their intentions are, and I love that they’re trying to better themselves, statistically, by the third or fourth week of January, most of those people aren’t doing most of those things. And it’s because, as human beings, we’re wired to have that hyper focus. So, set yourself up for success by only picking that one thing and having hyper focus.

And that, in and of itself, is hard to do because most people think, “Oh, I can handle two or three changes at once. Oh, those statistics are for normal people. I can do it.” Well, you might be the exception, but let’s play the odds in our favor, let’s use the statistics and the research to say, “I’m going to do my very best to stay focused on this one thing.” Very basic in premise, very hard to do.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve fallen for that myself, “Oh, I can handle doing that more and more.” The compromise I try to reach myself when I’m having this argument is like, “Okay. Well, only one of them counts.” It’s like for the X, if you will, on the calendar, the points, or to report to the accountability partner, it’s like, “The rest are like extra credit. If you really feel like it or you’re in the mood, go for it, but I’m not bending over backwards to pull those off.” It’s like it’s the one thing that gets the point scored and gets supported out.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Exactly. And I think we can all fall victim to that. And, once again, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to change more than one thing at a time, and I’m not saying people can’t do it. I’m just saying we should all have the humility to go into it not thinking that we’re the exception and let’s do our best with this. And, of course, these, I’m throwing out a very general prescription.

I don’t think anything is one size fits all, but I think if you’re going to start, you’re better off starting conservative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. So, then let’s talk about some of the basics that make a world of difference. Sleep, I think, is huge, and so we’ve given that as an example. What have you found, I’d say particularly for professionals, are some basics, some habits, that are often real top contenders for being things that unlock a whole lot of power for you?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’ll do is I’m going to give you a framework so that your listeners can actually figure out what those things are for themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’d say is, for your listeners, to take five or ten minutes, and I just want you to reflect on the four or five activities that really fill your own bucket, that charge you up physically, mentally, emotionally. Sit with pen to paper and think, “What things get me going?” Maybe it’s taking a yoga class or a spin class. Maybe it’s prayer or meditation. Maybe it’s quietly reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, or taking a hot bath, or taking your dog for a walk. Whatever activities fill your bucket, I want you to come up with a list of those four or five things.

And then take another few minutes, and I want you to reflect on what your morning and evening routine looks like. Jot down what you do most mornings and what you do most evenings. Now, I’m aware that most people listening, if you work a conventional job, your Wednesday morning is not going to be the same as your Sunday morning, or your Saturday evening is not the same as your Tuesday evening. That’s okay. But I’m willing to bet that what you do most Wednesday mornings and what you do most Sunday evenings is probably fairly similar because, as human beings, we’re creatures of habit.

So, just start to etch out what you do on the bookends of your day, and then you’ve got these two sets of notes. And what I want you to do is compare those two sets. I want you to see if you’re actually making time in the beginning and end of your day to do the things that you know fill your bucket. And for most people, this is when they start to find some glaring performance gaps. They know that taking a yoga class or meditating or taking their dog for a walk are the things that jive them up, and yet they don’t make the time to do those things near as often as they should. And that’s why I want folks to start making the first little tweaks is using the bookends of your day, the first 60 minutes when you wake up and the last 60 minutes before you go to bed, to do things that refill your bucket, because that’s the only way for you to be awesome at your job, is if your bucket is full. It’s the only way you can serve others.

There’s an old adage that’s been around a lot longer than I’ve been breathing that says, “You can’t pour anything out of an empty cup,” which means if your cup is empty, you have nothing to give other people. So, in order for you to be the most awesome you can be at your job, you have to make sure your battery is always charged and your bucket is always full. And the last way I’ll illustrate that, since I’m a basketball guy, I don’t know if the Lakers are playing tonight or not, but I know if they had a game tonight and LeBron showed up, and he didn’t get good sleep, he wasn’t well-hydrated, he didn’t eat anything, he didn’t do his stretches or his corrective exercises, if he didn’t do all of those things, and he showed up tonight, he would give the Lakers less of a chance to win because he chose not to fill his bucket before he showed up.

And we all have to view ourselves as kind of the LeBron of our jobs in that, “When I show up, I need to show up as my best self. And in order to be my best self, I have to make the time to take care of myself.” And when we’re all willing to do that, that’s the most basic principle we should all be living by to become the best versions of ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so much good stuff there. Thank you. Thank you, Alan. So, let’s talk about the game day, if you will. You talk about playing present, and so, I guess, part of the game was, hey, prepping in advance, and then another part of the game is really being present while you’re there. First of all, what do you mean by this term?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’ve heard both Nick Saban, the head football coach at Alabama, and I’ve heard Oprah Winfrey, who I probably need to say her last name because she’s that famous. They’ve both used the term “Be where your feet are.” And I love that because, to me, it has such a strong connotation of being in the present moment. Be where your feet are.

Now, if anyone listening is going, “Well, how could you be anywhere other than your feet?” Now, I’m talking about the connection between mind and body, because in today’s day and age of digital distractions, there’s plenty of times where we’re somewhere, well, we’re not really somewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
He was using his fingers on the phone since we’re not recording the video.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, and that’s ultimately the problem. And I think a lot of us do that. You’re out to lunch with someone, and you’re so preoccupied with your phone that you’re not really with that person. And the key to high performance is making sure mind, body, and soul are all aligned right where you are. And, once again, very basic premise, very, very difficult to do, especially with all of these digital distractions that we have. So, learning how to be in the moment, not distracted by the past, not worried about the future, not worried about the play that just happened, but completely focused on the next play is vital to being awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I buy it. And so then, how do we get there? In terms of if we’re naturally distracted by our devices or other thoughts, worries, what else we need to be doing, how do we develop the capacity to be present?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Like anything else, it’ll take some practice. And, as I said before, it starts with awareness. So, first, you have to be aware of when you’re not present. You have to be able to catch yourself saying, “Man, there I go thinking about yesterday,” or, “Here I am worried about tomorrow,” or, “Here I’m constantly letting my phone own me instead of me owning it.” So, you have to have the awareness. And once you have the awareness, then you’ll start to catch yourself more quickly. And once you do that, the other part is really important, is giving yourself some grace and some compassion. Just know that even a Tibetan monk of 80 years isn’t present every moment of every day.

Now, they’re present more consistently than probably guys like you and I are, but nobody is perfect, and I don’t ever want someone to get stifled by perfection. I want you to be motivated and inspired by progress not stifled by perfection. So, just know that you’re never going to have a day where you’re 100% present every moment of every day. But can you be more present today than you’ve been in the past? Can you have a self-talk or a triggering mechanism that you catch yourself when you’re not present to snap yourself back into the moment?

I, literally, say to myself, not out loud, they’d have me committed, I’d say to myself, “Be where your feet are. Be where your feet are. Don’t worry about that, that one is over, Alan. Get back to the present.” And I really believe that the definition of mental toughness is the ability to refocus the lens on the next most important thing regardless of the environment. It’s the acronym WIN, W-I-N, what’s important now. And as long as you can always stay focused on what’s important now, you’ll be in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that a lot, be where your feet are. I’ve heard some variations. I think it’s from Joseph Goldstein, a mindfulness teacher, talking about, “Sit and know that you are sitting.” I don’t know if he made it up but I think it’s really good, or just sort of breathe and know that you’re breathing. Because, in a way, it’s like, “Well, of course, I know I’m sitting. Of course.” It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re not really sort of there-there in terms of what’s going on.” So, be where your feet are, another way to convey that. I dig it.

And so then, I’d also want to get your view, if we’re kind of focused in the present moment, is it possible to lose sight of the bigger picture, the overall goal because we’re just, maybe, I don’t know, reacting, responding, we’re so in the now moment of what’s happening, we’re not sort of charting a course and driving to wherever we’re trying to go? Is that a risk?

Alan Stein, Jr.
That’s an excellent perspective, and it’s one that I’ve wrestled with numerous times, because we can look both ways on that. I mean, for one, even though I want to be focused on the present, I still want to make sure I’m learning from the past. If I step on a landmine today, I want to make sure tomorrow I don’t step on the same ones. So, part of us does need to have a system in place where we’re constantly looking at previous performances and finding ways to tweak those and move it forward so that we continue to get better.

And then, along the same lines, what you just brought up so insightfully is we also want to make sure we’re prepared for the future. I mean, right now I’m focused on the present moment, but I’m hoping tomorrow does come around and I want to make sure I’m ready for tomorrow. So, I think we want to make sure that we pay homage to both, that learning from the past and being prepared for the future, but we don’t live in either one of those spaces. We’re aware of them, we’re doing our due diligence on both sides, but we’re still in the present moment.

A perfect example would be somebody in sales. They’ve got a yearly quota, or a quarterly quota, of things they’re suppose to sell, and it’s okay to have that number off into the distance, “I’m suppose to sell a hundred whatever by the end of February,” and that’s great to know that but I don’t want to live there. What I want to constantly ask myself is, “What do I need to do today to get me closer to that 100 goal? What do I need to do this hour that will take me closer to that goal? What do I need to do right now, in this very moment, that will take me closer to that goal? And if I can stay in the moment and in the process, there is a very good chance that outcome of 100 will simply take care of itself.” Especially, if you have some analytics behind it.

If you know that every 10 prospects you reach out to, one of them buys, well, now it’s simple math. If every 10, one of them buys and you have to sell a hundred, well, it sounds like you need to reach out to a thousand people over the course of a month. Well, if we divide that thousand by a five-day workweek, four weeks by 20, that tells me how many calls I need to make every single day to be in the process of being able to reach that actual goal. Some days you’ll go higher, some days you’ll go lower, but then if I know that I have to make X number of calls today, I don’t want to worry about any of the calls except for the one I’m about to make right now. That is the only call that matters because it’s the only one that’s directly in front of me.

And then no matter whether this call goes well or not, it’s in the rearview mirror and now I focus on the next call. And this is very similar to building a brick wall. If you’re tasked with building a brick wall, the best advice I have for you is lay each and every brick with care and precision. And if you put your focus on laying each brick perfectly, there’s a very good chance that wall will just take care of itself.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you are an excellent mason in the Chicago area, get in touch with me because I need to hire one. Thank you.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, perfect. And whoever that person is, you make sure you lay Pete’s bricks brick by brick.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, right. Well, that’s a whole another talk, that’s a whole another conversation, in terms of people being awesome at their job in the home renovation world. That could be hard to find at times. So, anyway, refocusing on here and now, huh? How’s that for presence and tie-in.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Oh, that was perfect. Look at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. So, I want to get your take on is there anything else you really want to make sure we mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alan Stein, Jr.
No, those are really the big ones. And I readily acknowledge that there’s really nothing sexy about anything I’ve just shared. There’s nothing flashy, there’s nothing new, there’s nothing trendy. Master the basics and the fundamentals during the unseen hours. Do your best to stay present. Those things aren’t sexy, that’s why they’re not tons of Facebook memes or Nike slogans with those in them, but those are what’s required at being awesome at your job. And once you’ve found something that you love to do, if you can fall in love with that process and doing that work on a daily basis, you will be awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I love it. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alan Stein, Jr.
“If you do the things others won’t do, you’ll have the things others won’t have.” And that really is something that piggybacks on everything that I just shared. If you’re willing to commit to the basics, which most people aren’t, you’ll have plenty of things that other people don’t have. If you’re willing to be an active listener to the people you care about, you’ll have deeper relationships than most other people have. If you’re willing to lay each brick with care and precision, you’ll probably build sounder and nicer walls than anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ll get a lot of referrals.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yes, absolutely. Without question.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, there was an interesting on that goes back on that why I told your listeners to pick one thing. There’s a gentleman named John Berardi, who was the Founder and CEO of a company called Precision Nutrition, and he did a study and he found that when you try to focus on one behavior change, you have an 85% chance of being successful, that as soon as you try to split that in half and change two behaviors at the same time, rate of success drops to 40% to 45%, so almost cut in half.

And then if you try to focus on three things at once, it drops down to 4% or 5%. So, once again, the statistics will show and the research will show that if you want to change a behavior, just focus and get hyper clear on that one thing to change. I remember when I read that for the first time, that was eye-opening to me because at the time, I was trying to juggle many changes at once all of the time and was getting frustrated with myself that none of it was working.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Leading with the Heart by Coach K. That was one of the first, like epiphanic books that I read from cover to cover in one sitting that just completely jolted the way that I look at building teams, and leading, and creating cohesion with an organization. It’s an old book but it’s still just as good as the day it came out.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I use the Headspace, the meditation app, the guided meditation, and I use it daily. It’s a 10-minute guided meditation which allows me to start my day in a much more present way, it allows me start my day in a grounded and mindful way, and it just kind of, in a very soothing way, talks you through 10 minutes of keeping you present. And I really love it because I’m a pretty competitive guy, and there’s kind of a daily run clock on it which will say how many days in a row is your Headspace streak. And as of this morning, at the time of this recording, I have done this for 929 straight days without missing a Headspace daily meditation. And, for me, I just love that.

Back to the brick-by-brick analogy, most people will think, “Well, 10 minutes of meditation, what’s that going to do?” Well, I agree, a one-time 10 minutes slice of meditation will do nothing for you, but I’m living proof that 10 minutes a day, for 929 straight days, can have a seismic effect on your presence, and awareness, and mindfulness, and mood, and the way you start your day. So, it goes back to the brick-by-brick. One brick doesn’t make a wall. Several bricks laid perfectly, now you’ve got yourself a sound, sturdy wall.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing because here you are, a case study, 900 plus days, so not a lifetime, under three years, but an awesome habit that’s locked in. So, you say it’s made quite a difference. Can you sort of lay that out for us? Because I think there’s a lot like borderline, fence-riding, half-meditators listening to this show, and I’m one of them in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, hey, I did that. That felt kind of good. okay, I’m glad I did that.” And then I got busy, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” So, it’s up and down, and I’m generally on board that the data is clear, the research that the benefits exceed the costs, and then sometimes I just get wrapped up, and it’s like, “That sounds boring. I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to do it.” I’m a little sassy or self-indulgent, and at other times I do it and I’m so glad I did. Other times I do it, I was like, “Okay, well, that happened.” So, let’s get your take so that myself and listeners may be convinced. What is different for you now as compared to 900 plus days ago?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I mean, the biggest difference I would say is kind of my mood and outlook in how I start the day. Like many people, I used to wake up and the first thing I would do would be check my phone, check text messages, email, social increase, and I started to find, like most people, that I was giving my power away, that. I was putting my mood and rolling the dice into the hands of anyone that text me, emailed me, or sent me something on social, and many times I was losing that battle. I would get something that would frustrate me, or irritate me, or upset me, and it’s the very first thing I’m putting on my hard drive in the morning, and I just decided that enough was enough.

And I wanted to make sure that that was not what I was doing to start my day, and I needed something else to replace it. And around this time, somebody that was a mentor and very influential to me, was talking about his own Headspace meditation journey and how much it had helped him, and I think it was just perfect timing.

Everything that you just said, I found true especially in those first few months. There were times I didn’t feel like doing it, there were times where, even in that 10 minutes, I couldn’t stay present for more than 10 seconds. My mind would start racing about all of the things I had to do that day. But over time, it just started to chip away, and, over time, I just found that I was becoming more mindful. I was becoming better with just sitting in silence for 10 minutes, that I was starting my day with a little more pep in my step, with a little wider smile because I was in this rounded fashion.

I also like the consistency of it. I travel a ton as a professional speaker and this is something that I can do whether I’m home or whether I’m traveling. It’s something I can do whether my kids are with me or they’re not with me, so I had some control over it. And then, as I mentioned, I’m rather competitive, so once I had done it for 10 straight days, I was like, “Well, let’s not stop here. Let’s keep it going.” And, yes, there were definitely a few times where I did not feel like doing it but I was like, “You know what, I can’t let my streak break.”

I started putting it out on social because that’s a form of accountability. I had people come up to me at my talks all the time and say, “Hey, Alan, what’s your Headspace streak up to?” because they remember a few months ago I posted how many days I had in a row. So, it’s kind of a self-accountability, like I mentioned earlier with that spotlight, but it’s definitely allowed me to start my day in a much more mindful and controlled manner. And I know that’s very hard to measure, once again it’s not super sexy, but I’ve found that it’s a great tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think the most compelling there was you’re not putting your mood in other’s hands, so, I mean, it’s powerful right there. So, then, some meditation, Headspace is the tool. I was going to ask about a favorite habit. That might be it, but if you have another one, lay it on us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You know, the longest running habit that I’m aware of that I have is probably going on 26, 27 years now, and it’s similar to the meditation. I make my bed first thing every single morning. I do that because I’m a firm believer that it takes discipline to make your bed. I mean, it might only take 8 to 10 seconds but it takes a little discipline, and that discipline is the key to freedom. Discipline is the key to everything that we want in life. If your goal is to be happy and fulfilled, well, self-discipline is what’s going to allow you to achieve that.

If you’re a hard-driver and your goal is success and significance in the board room, discipline is what’s going to allow you to do that. So, I love knowing that I start every single day with a very small simple act of discipline, and then I’d parlay that right into my meditation, and the first 11 minutes of my day, I’ve kind of set the groundwork for the rest of the day. And if the rest of the day is going to be filled with adversity and challenge and chaos, and I’m expected to respond and put out fires, I’m able to handle those things much better just by laying that foundation first thing in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And, tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really resonates with folks and they quote it back to you, you’re known for it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
The number one, and this is not an Alan Stein, Jr. original, I think Coach K was the first to do it, but where I really learned it was from Mike Jones, who was the head basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. I worked for him for six years, and was just phenomenal. And he always talks about this concept of next play, and it’s part of being present. And, basically, what he says, anytime during a basketball game when things don’t go well, Coach Jones says, “Next play.”

So, a player turns the ball over. No worries. Next play. You missed a wide-open layup. It’s all right. Next play. I know, the referee missed that call. Next play. And that mindset is what allows you to be in the present moment. You don’t worry about what just happened, you’re focused on now and what’s about to happen next. And I’ve had many people in my keynotes, you know, I’ll give a 90-minute keynote and they’ll say that was the stickiest most helpful thing I shared was the ability to move to the next play. And many people have told me, I mean, they use it with their children, they use it with their families, I know I use it with my kids all the time.

My kids would get into arguing about something, and I’ll say, “All right, let’s resolve this,” and then we’re moving to the next play. My kids will say they want a dessert after dinner, and I’ll say, “Well, not tonight,” and they whine about it. I say, “Hey, we’re moving onto the next play.” And that terminology, I found to be really sticky and something that’s been very helpful for not only myself but lots of people that I’ve worked with.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to RaiseYourGameBook.com if they want to learn more about the book. And if they want to hear more about my speaking services and what I do on social, they can go to AlanSteinJr.com.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I would say, actually, what you just said, is to put something that we talked about today into action, that knowledge without action is useless. I mean, it’s no different than the book on your shelf that you haven’t read. It’s doing nothing to help you. So, while you may have been sitting here listening to this episode and nodding your head, maybe even taking some notes and thinking, “Wow, this is great stuff they’re talking about,” if you don’t actually put it into motion, it’s not going to change anything. So, just remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Thank you so much, Pete. I appreciate you.

544: How to Build Exceptional Influence in a Noisy Digital Age with Richard Medcalf

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Richard Medcalf says: "Transaction is the opposite of influence."

Richard Medcalf shares strategies to grow your influence despite the noise and overwhelm of the digital world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The language that gets people to listen to you
  2. The two ways of effectively relating with anyone
  3. A quick trick to exude charisma and confidence

About Richard:

Richard Medcalf has advised exceptional founders and senior executives in complex, fast-moving industries for over 20 years. After earning a first-class degree at Oxford University, Richard became the youngest-ever partner at tech-sector strategy consultancy Analysys Mason. He then moved to tech giant Cisco, where he held various senior positions over 11 years, most notably being hand-picked for an elite team set up by Cisco’s CEO to lead new board-level business initiatives. Believing that there’s no business transformation without personal transformation, he founded Xquadrant to work at the intersection of leadership, strategy and purpose and help digital-age leaders create extraordinary positive impact.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Medcalf Interview Transcript

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

Richard Medcalf
Hi, Pete. Fantastic to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to have you and I really appreciate you staying up extra late in France to have this conversation with us.

Richard Medcalf    
No, that’s great. It’s 11:00 p.m. here but I’m energized and ready to go, so let’s do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I see it and I’m excited. Well, I want to kick it off, you have a very impressive bio but at the same time you also discuss vulnerability in some of your work. So, I want to put you on the spot and ask for you to publicly admit something that you’re terrible at. I’ll start just to break the ice. And that is I’m not good at drawing three-dimensional shapes. I had a new product design class and that was actually a reasonable part of it and I didn’t do so well and it was so embarrassing, they’re like, “What is wrong with you?” So, now, the world knows that. But, meanwhile, I’m looking at your bio, I was like, “Man, this guy looks like he’s amazing at everything he touches.” But that’s never quite true, and it’s always comforting, so lay it on us.

Richard Medcalf
No, yeah, I can give you that. Well, I think my kids would say that I’m just bad at animals, like any animal comes near me, I’m jumping around, freaking out. Really bad. Like, when my daughter was one, we went to Australia to see some family there, and she stroke a baby kangaroo or something, and I was like, “Okay, Richard, come on. You’re 40, whatever it is, years old. Go and stroke that damn kangaroo.” So, that’s probably the funny one. And then probably I think I come from a long line of people in my family who are just not particularly good at sports, and that’s all we’ve been like. I was always the last to be chosen in school teams and all that kind of stuff. So, I think I had a school report that said, “Richard tries hard at a subject to which he’s not naturally gifted.” So, I said, “All right.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the kindest possible way that they could articulate that. I, likewise, didn’t do well in most sports. I was good at swimming. Weightlifting, depending on the lift. But, anyway, now we know. Thank you. You’re on the record. But I want to mostly talk about influence today, that’s one of your areas of expertise and so let’s dig in. And maybe if you could tee this up for us with maybe a compelling story that captures just what’s at stake when it comes to professionals being influential or just what is possible when a typical professional upgrades their influence game.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, going to my story a little bit, and, again, be a bit vulnerable about times when I actually didn’t sure I have the influence I needed. So, my story in a nutshell is I studied in Oxford University, I got like a top grade there, ran into consulting, strategy consulting, became a partner very fast in that. I think it was just a lucky fit having to be good at that as a bit of random choice but it worked well. And then I moved into Cisco, it’s obviously a massive global company, a smaller fish in a bigger pond. And I think I didn’t manage that transition actually particularly well. It took me a while because I had a lot of expertise to bring but I hadn’t quite understood quite how much you needed to work that broader organization to really have an impact.

And so, I think if I look back and I’m honest, I think I kind of got a bit pigeonholed into the next big role for a while, and they’re quite high-profile projects, they’re quite having a certain impact but I kind of knew that there was more that I should’ve been doing and there was more of me that I wasn’t bringing to the table. And so, I think there was this gap where I was kind of trying to struggle with, “How do I actually do this?” And nothing was bad but I just knew that there were others perhaps who’d made a much better transition in, and I was seeing I was a bit envious.

So, I started to kind of dig into this and think about it and a bit of self-reflection and I started to realize, actually, as often the case, that all of these answers are actually under our nose, and we have to kind of do the thinking and do the searching and come back to it, and say, “Well, what have I really got to offer and to whom?” a number of other things. And the net of that was my last role in Cisco, before I then left and setup my own company Xquadrant, was actually part of a small group setup by the CEO and global head of sales of Cisco to really have influence, to really capitalize strategic partnerships between Cisco and some of its large customers and partners.

And so, that was a role where it wasn’t a hierarchical power role. It was very much about, “How do we actually get people who are not under my direct control, not even in my own company, to perhaps collaborate in ways that they weren’t used to?” And so, that for me was really where that whole journey was where I got passionate about this idea of, “How do we all take our impact up a game, up a notch, play a bigger game and channel our natural skills in the best possible way to have the impact that we want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so that is pretty cool transformation from, okay, you’re kind of hanging out and treading water for a little while in the career because of not having those influence skills, and then you’re selected for a role that is just chock-full of this influencing-type activities and requirements, so that’s pretty cool. So, it seems like you learned a thing or two to get that role and to flourish within that role. So, can you lay it on us, what are some of the foundational principles that can make a professional influential?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, let me give you a few of the models that I’ve been using and I found really helpful. But, perhaps just to go back a second and just to realize that the context that we’re in, whether we lead or whether we’re an individual contributor, the whole world has shifted, as we know, with digital technology and everything else, and so there are these very unique contexts for making things happen. As I said before, most of this is actually in the roles where we can’t just tell our subordinates what to do and get everything done, right? Almost every role, even if you have a big team, is going to involve influencing across those boundaries. But there are some traps that I see.

So, the first one is this always on culture, right? Everyone is always connected, there’s always things going on. I call it managing infinity because it’s an infinity of people to speak to, movies to watch, books to read, emails to address, tasks to write. It’s never finished. It’s always on. But we often find ourselves neither really productive, or neither really present, and more to the point, we often do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So, we’re trying to be productive when we should be present with people, and we’re perhaps getting distracted when we should be being productive.

So, we’ve all been in that situation where it’s a social event and somebody’s on their phone doing emails, it’s just not the right time, an undermine of influence. Or if you’re in a meeting, and the boss is like on his phone and not listening to your presentation, he actually undermines his or her influence at that point with you, you think, “What’s going on? Is something wrong with this work? What’s going on?” And so, the first thing is to realize that always on actually has a bit of a trap because if we’re not in the right mode at the right time, we don’t see it, we see it in others.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
And that undermines it. And I think the other one that I’d speak to is the virtual world. In other words, we have distributed teams, and a lot of times we get onto conference calls for a lot of our work, and the issue is it can become very transactional at that point. We all know that example, anyone who’s been in a distributed team where there’s a conference call, people get on, people are in awkward silence, perhaps the odd comment here and there, the odd bit of banter but it’s pretty quiet, people are doing their emails, typing away, people are joining, it’s a bit awkward, and then suddenly, “Okay, let’s go. Right.” And we start.

And so, if you imagine in the real world, if you’re all in the same office, those five minutes would be spent finding out about each other’s weekend, the family, “What’s going on? You look a bit tired, stressed,” and so forth. And so, relationships can get very transactional because of the digital culture. And I think that is actually something, if you are working in a distributed team, you need to be careful about, because transaction is the opposite of influence, really, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued then, I think some people worry they might lose influence if they are not responsive and fast enough in replying to whether it’s Slack or email or whatnot. So, how do you think about the, if it’s tradeoff or it’s just a matter of, “Hey, you schedule time to do both, and then you do both, then you engage appropriately based on what you’re doing”? I guess this is all vary organization by organization, and request by request, but how fast do you got to respond to maintain influence?

Richard Medcalf
I think there’s a lot of fear around this topic, fear of missing out, fear of not being seen, and as ever, it’s always the other side of the fear, that you actually get into a safer place, and probably few, a more secure place. And so, think of people that you really admire and respect, they’re not always easy to get in touch with. The people who are available at the drop of a hat, your esteem of them doesn’t necessarily go zooming up just because they’re super responsive. They’re super responsive, it’s useful, it’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an excellent distinction. “Yes, I appreciate it, that’s cool of them, it’s convenient, but my esteem doesn’t go up. It’s like, “That is a true professional, rock star, person of influence I respect.” It’s like, “Oh, I appreciate that. Thanks.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. And so, I think there’s a time in my consulting career where I think I pretty got a promotion delayed by that six months because I took on too many projects because they’re all really high-profile projects and I thought, “This is fantastic opportunity,” but I took on like all three of them. Frankly, if I’d done one of them really, really well, I would’ve been promoted. As it was, I did three of them okay but I did not knock the ball out the park. It was fine. It was okay. The client was happy. We got signed up. But I think less can be more, and we forget that, and we think more is more, and it’s not. They don’t actually notice the quantity so much as the quality, right?

So, even if we’re in a job like sales where you got to get through, it’s actually, “Who are those 20% of clients that are really going to make the 80% of your revenues, right?” Yes, so I kind of try to force myself, as there’s barriers in place, and to realize that we’re often playing this game with ourselves and our mind about having to jump in. But when you’re always trying to be super responsive, you don’t create the space for the deep work that actually sets you apart.

In Cisco, one of the things I did do to increase my influence was I remember I actually carved out once, literally it’s just one day, where I took on some work I had done and turned it into a piece of thought leadership, like really said, “Okay, what have I learned? What is cutting edge here?” And I developed this little model and some material with it, and I remembered about 3:00 p.m. on that day, I was like, “What am I doing wasting my day writing this stuff?” I was like writer’s block and all that trying to do this stuff. And that day, I spent the time, I was like, “Well, was that just a waste of time?”

But, no, because suddenly I’ve created something that was valuable, that was unique, and the people had not seen it before. And, suddenly, it was in demand, the customers wanted to see it, I was flown here and there to deliver it. So, this investment of one day where I was not being responsive and much more impact than if I was just doing my emails all day. You know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, yeah. That’s very tactical, practical, tangible, and real, I love it, in terms of if we really look back, we can probably think there were a couple deliverables that changed everything, and they weren’t made with the email box open on the side with being interrupted every 10 minutes.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I say, often when I’m working with executives, I work a lot with senior executives in a kind of coaching capacity, and one thing I’ll say is there’s a slowdown because often we advance in the first part of our career by sheer churning things out, but we get to a stage where it’s like, “Okay, just stop a second. What’s the one phone call that’s going to make all the difference right now? What’s the one partnership to form? What’s the one thing you need to shift, the one conversation you need to have, whatever it is, that’s really slowing it down? What is that number one lever that’s going to have the most impact?” And I think when you do that, then you differentiate yourself, and people’s estimation of you rises.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s excellent. Okay, cool. Well, then you mentioned there’s some traps, and we covered a couple. Are there more?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I’d say there’s a number of traps. I think the other one is around noise, I suppose. We could use that one. So, just the sheer volume of content and information coming our way. So, when we want to create influence, this does matter because what we say can easily get lost in the mass of everything going on, that infinity I talked about.

So, one of the things that I do, I actually have a saying, my saying is, “Do you have a saying?” You see what I just did there? So, what I did is, the point is when you actually say, “I have a saying,” you actually put a context around what you’re about to say next and it becomes a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Richard Medcalf
Right? So, if I say to you, “I’ve got sayings. Slow down to speed up,” it’s a good saying, right? But it has more impact than if I just say “Slow down, to speed  up,” in the middle of a sentence that I’m rattling through.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. The receiver of that message naturally thinks, as I do, it’s like, “Well, what is it, Richard?” It’s like, “I’m listening. Bring it on.”

Richard Medcalf
And having a saying is important because language, we adopt language really powerfully. It’s a natural human instinct, right? I say language creates culture. So, if you want to change a culture, or a team, or your family, then think of the words that you use, because it’s how we celebrate. It’s how we relate. And so, as you kind of introduce words, and you use phrases, that does have a big impact.

The idea of a thing as a phrase, as a saying, is about context. So, I always say this, “You should never really have content without context.” So, the context is a frame around the content. So, if I’m going to say, “Hey, Pete, I’ve got something that’s really important for you to hear right now, and it’s going to change your life,” then you’re suddenly ready for it, you know what I mean? Whereas, if I just said it, you wouldn’t perhaps appreciate it, the fact that I really believe this was something important for you.

And so, say, if you’re talking to your boss, it might be one important issue you really want to raise and a load of tactical issues you do every with him. So, you might want to say, “Hey, today, there’s three or four things that we need to rattle through as normal, but there’s also one big topic that I think is really going to be important for how we work together in the coming year.” So, suddenly, they’re kind of mentally getting ready for that, and they’re kind of more ready to receive it. Whereas, if you suddenly launched in with whatever it is you want to say, they’re not mentally prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is so powerful. And you said a couple of things that both reminded me of Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion, which is outstanding. And in terms of language, how that shapes things, he told a story about how he did a presentation for a health, was it hospital or…it was health-oriented, and the presentations, they’re not allowed to call them bullet points, it’s like, “Bullets are weapons that harm people, so we don’t use those words here.” And at first he thought, “That’s kind of ridiculous,” but they’re saying, “Oh, this really does shape things in terms of the culture.” And then the context creating content, or shaping, making more impact, how do you say it? You don’t want content without context.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I say it frames. The context frames the content.

Pete Mockaitis
It frames. And I guess I’m thinking it amplifies in terms of it makes all the difference in terms of like, “What should I be paying attention to?” And I think this is all connecting in terms of, yes, in this digital noisy always-on and managing-infinity world, that becomes extra important to know. It’s like, “I’m looking at this here in a matter.” So, maybe, I would love it if you could just give us some more of your favorite content phrases. So, one is “I have a saying,” the other one is, “Hey, the really important thing is this.” What are some other just tried and true winners?

Richard Medcalf
I think a lot of them, to be honest, are kind of quite natural and would depend on the people, right? So, what I mean by that, you create context whenever you just create that sense of anticipation. And so, it’s as simple as, “Hey, I’ve something important to tell you.” That’s what we’re saying all the time to people. That already sets up a context.

So, as a leader, one of the things you’re trying to do actually is instill the way you think in other people, not to make everyone robots but to help them kind of make the decisions that you would need them to make rather than making all those decisions yourself. And so, for example, I was working with a leader at a global kind of industrial process engineering company, so it might’ve been chemical products and various things, and so safety is very important. And he was complaining that his team were not autonomous and coming to him for all sorts of decisions.

So, I said, “Well, how do you make decisions?” So, he talked about it, and it came down to he looks at the business impact of the decision and he looks at the safety impact, and those two things are so important because this stuff is so dangerous that they’ve got to be both up there equally. So, those were the basic questions. So, I said, “Well, when somebody comes to you with a question, would you say to them, ‘Hey…’”

“Well, first of all, you will tell them, ‘Well, you know, these are my criteria.’ But when they come to you with a question, you say, ‘You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you?’” Once again, it’s a bit of context. “Oh, yeah, you’re going to say, ‘What’s the business impact and what’s the safety impact?’” “You got it. So, please answer the question for me.”

And so, that’s another one. Slightly different framing the content because, first of all, you would have to deliver the content to say, “Hey, this is the way I would think about it, safety and…” Again, he’d probably say, “I have a rule of thumb.” Again, you’re kind of phrasing it, “I have a rule of thumb,” or, “I have a…” how could you put it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mantra, dogma, guideline.

Richard Medcalf
Exactly, yeah. Mantra or guideline, yeah. I always look at the two big factors, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Command.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. Anything like that. Yeah, exactly. So, “I have a manta.” It has to be positive on the business and positive for safety. So, you say that to them. And then, afterwards, when they come to you, you can then refer to that and they start to embed that way of thinking about the world. So, I think that’s just another way of doing it.

But it can just be as simple as starting a meeting by saying, or starting a conversation by really just explaining the relevance of what you’re going to say to somebody. If you want to have influence, you need them to put their ears up, right? So, you want to say, “Look, we’ve come up with a project proposal that we think is probably one of the most significant things that we can do this year. And, as well, we think we’ve really mitigated the risks, breaking it up.” But, suddenly, your boss is going to be interested in that, right? Whereas, if you just launched straight it, they might be checking their email still.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, my next question will forever transform the way every listener thinks about influence forever. See, I’m practicing.

Richard Medcalf
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if I can deliver. I was just practicing setting up some contexts. But I guess I am curious, so these are really great tools. And so, we’re talking in this context of technology. Can you share, are there some rules or guidelines or principles about influence that used to be true but now are not so much true? Like, “Hey, stop doing this,” given how we’re living today.

Richard Medcalf
It’s a great question. My instinctive reply to that is I think that it’s back to less is more, right? It’s back to everyone has lower attention spans, more solicitations, and so we need to make our interactions count I think even more. So, it’s not that it’s totally changed but I do think mistakes are risen on that because people don’t have time to listen to all of that stuff that you might want to tell them often. So, I’d say it’s more there’s dialed up, those things. It’s always been a good idea to be succinct and to say things and to have high quality when you open your mouth. But I think it’s probably gone up.

I have a little model which, I think, worked in the past but definitely works now, and I think could be helpful for people and certainly it worked with me and I can give you an example of this in a second, of this working out in practice. But it’s really this idea that, I’d say there’s two levels of relationship and influence. There’s the kind of transactional level, which is kind of about basic transactional trust which is important to establish. And then the second level is a deeper level of relational influence where you’re really seen as a trusted mentor or ally or somebody who’s really able to speak into your life.

So, on the transactional level, you might’ve heard of something similar to this, there’s various models around. It’s really these four Cs that’s very simple. So, there’s competency, chemistry, character, and criticality. So, first of all, character. So, character literally is like, “Do I believe the assembly with integrity? They’re not going to stab me in the back.” Who’s basically a good person, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
“In fact, are we going to work together with some degree of trust?” Chemistry is, “Well, are we going to basically enjoy working together enough, for that to be not a horrible experience?” Competency is, “Yeah, are you somebody that can actually do this job? Are you actually going to do the work and get it done?” And around that one, there’s often this question of confidence, so, “Are you confident in your own competency?” Often, there’s a whole load of people who are extremely competent but they actually kind of the traffic light goes red, one of the people think of them because they’re just not confident enough in their skills. So, that can be a real…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. There are some who are over-confident in their skills and they say things so assertively, like, “Oh, okay.” And then they’re like, “Wow, you were so wrong. I’m surprised based on how empathically you said that.” And then I think that diminishes influence in a hurry, it’s like, “Hmm, just because that guy seems really forceful and convinced doesn’t mean it’s true as experience has taught me.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so these traffic lights, I kind of imagine these four Cs with the traffic lights, and sometimes they all go green at the start for some people, a rare number, like when you meet them, they all go green. The question is, “Can these people deliver?” Often, those people are great at winning you over but then the delivery doesn’t quite match the elevated expectations.

And the fourth one is criticality. And the criticality, for me, is really essential. It’s about relevance. It’s, “Can you combine all these skills and character and everything else you’ve got and solve one of my top problems, actually do something meaningful? So, you’ve got the skill, but is it what I really need right now or is this a conversation for another day?” And so, here’s the thing, so in order to really get that good level of working together, you need green on all of those, okay? Character, chemistry, competency, and criticality.

The funny thing though is that we all naturally focus on two to start with. We want to unlock all four but we often look for two to start with, and once they’re validated, we move onto the other two. But we also project the thing to ourselves, to other people. So, for example, I know that, for me, whether it’s by birth or by training in consulting through my career, competency and criticality are really important. I’m always like, “Okay, how am I going to show to add my value, show that I know my stuff, show that I can speak into the situation right now?”

So, I tend to probably project that to other people as the first things, and also looking for, “Are these the people? Are they relevant to my strategic plans? Are they competent? Are they the people I’ll be working with?” Once I have that, I’ll then switch into, “Okay, as a person, are they the right fit, the right feel?”

Other people will start the other way. First of all, they want to build that relationship, that feeling, “Oh, yeah, this person, I get that they’re trustworthy, they’re really nice. Oh, yeah, they’re great people. Now, actually, can they do this job or this task that I have in mind?” And they’ll kind of work the other way around. So, they’ll start more in the relational side. And so, of course, what happens is that when somebody is more task-focused and somebody is more relational-focused meet up, they’re kind of projecting the wrong signals for each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. And it’s so funny, I’m often task-focused when I’m evaluating or early stages of evaluating like, “Am I going to buy something, like sign up for service or whatnot?” And so, I think it’s funny because a lot of salespeople have been trained, “Hey, you got to build that rapport and that relationship.” And so, I’m just thinking, “I already have my criteria. You have to check five boxes for us to continue this conversation,” and they’re like, “Yes, so where did you grow up?” It’s like, “I don’t want to talk about that now. Maybe we’ll discuss that if we end up having a longstanding business relationship. What I need to know from you is A, B, C, D, E, F.” So, yeah, that mismatch is annoying.

Richard Medcalf
So, they’re losing influence in that moment because what’s happening is they’re not picking up. You’re actually very task-focused in that moment and some people are probably, “I need a sales advisor. And is this person trustworthy? Do I want to talk to this person?” And so, it’s their reading. So, actually, when I work with sales teams, I talk so much about finding your own personality or be aware of your tendencies. Essentially, it’s about, “Can you read the person opposite and what are they looking for? What mode are they in? Are they trying to relate at this moment? Or are they trying to get down to business?” And you do need both.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to identify. Just having that frame of mind, “Hey, is it more A, more B?” as you’re kind of assessing things. This is great. And then what are some of the telltale signs and indicators, “Ooh, this person is in business mode. Okay,” or, “Oh, this person is in relate mode.” What are some of your key…?

Richard Medcalf
I think you can pretty much detect, right? I think it’s kind of leaning forward versus leaning back effectively. Are we leaning forward, getting down, is it, “Okay, are we starting to talk about that always”? Or is it the opposite, actually not so pressed for time? They’re kind of more just interested in you, they haven’t got quite to the topic yet. Even just on their face, right? If they’re kind of smiley, they’d probably be more in relational mode. And if they’re kind of a bit more serious, they’re more in the processing stuff and they want to proceed on their role.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I relate to my nanny right now. I’m often in task mode because it’s like, “I’ve got to get this day started. I’ve been with the kids this morning and it’s been fun, but now the time is coming, there’s things to do.” And so, it’s like, “You know, I just changed the diaper and they woke up at this time, and welcome.”

Richard Medcalf
And actually you get from home.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But then every once in a while, it’s sort of like the exception, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, how is it going? How’s your weekend?” I think that can be your indicator right there in terms of, “How was your weekend?” and they say, “Oh, it’s fine. We fixed our furnace.” Like, “Okay, that’s a quick fact.” As opposed to, “Oh, we just had the loveliest time. My mom came into town and she brought this delicious chili.” And I guess at the same time, and then sometimes I guess there’s a whole continuum as well. Like, some people maybe kind of overshare, it’s like, “Oh, I was just kind of being polite. I didn’t expect this level of detail about what you ate for each meal over the course of your weekend.”

Richard Medcalf
So, the match and lead, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yes, so match and lead in those situations. So, matching is if they’re being relational, be relational. But then if you don’t want to stay there, then you can move the subject on.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I’ve heard that before, I was like, “Well, boy, I could talk about chili for a couple hours.” But, Richard, I want to make sure that we figure out the key principles of influence, so that’s good.

Richard Medcalf
Yes. So, you’re talking here about environment as well, about presence and productivity. It’s really about, “What environment are we going into and what’s appropriate?” So, for example, if you’re going into basically some social setting, it might be a business social setting, it might be lunch break or whatever, and everyone is kind of chatting about social stuff, or they’re networking, or whatever they’re doing. And, suddenly, you walk up to your colleague and you start giving them all, “Oh, I got to catch up on the project, A, B, and C,” right? It’s just like, “What are you doing that for? Look around you, it’s not the right moment,” and that can create awkward stuff.

But we do it all the time. We get off the phone, we walk into the house, we’re on the phone, our family is happy to see us, and we’re still in task mode and we’re not present. Or the boss who has an open-door policy. I tend to say to a leader, “Don’t have an open-door policy. Be very intentional about when do you need to do your focused-work, when you need to do your task-level work, and actually when do you actually, when are you going to look up and actually be totally present for people?” So, actually have a smaller window but where you’re not secretly a bit annoyed if somebody walked in because you really are halfway through an email you need to finish. Because I think we can have an open-door policy, often you don’t quite focus on your work you’re meant to be doing, you’re not quite focused on the person who wants your attention unless you’re very, very disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, I’m really liking this. Do you have some slides, diagrams, charts, tables? Because it really seems like I’m seeing two columns and, like, side by side to make this contrast come alive. Do you have that? Can you make that? Can we link to that? I’m putting you on the spot.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Yes, so I’ve actually already got a little thing on influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Richard Medcalf
Which is basically a three-step very simple process based on this kind of framework I’ve been explaining, very simple process to figure out. Who, right now, do you need most to exert your influence with? And where are you and where do you need to get to? What is the lever that you really need to focus on to do that? And so, I’ve set it up already. I can add in a couple of extra slides based on this conversation. But if you go to my, for the show notes, my company, Xquadrant.com/awesome and that’ll be there for you and for everybody there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I appreciate that. And, boy, we had some fun getting deep into it. Tell me, Richard, anything you wanted to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Richard Medcalf
I think we’ve covered a lot. I think perhaps there’s one little extra thing which is almost another topic in itself, but I think it could really help, which is that sometimes we know there is a moment of truth, as I call it, when we need to step up and have influence. It’s a meeting, it’s a presentation, it’s one of those keys, perhaps it’s a high-stakes situation. And sometimes we can do the four Cs and we can map it out and everything, but, it’s like, “How am I going to show up more powerfully in that moment?”

And what I find is really powerful and is probably along the conversation, but it’s about deciding who do you want to be rather than the techniques. And so, I’ll give you a personal example. I’m a big Queen fan, the rock band Queen, ever since I was a teenager. I got into the band, I played electric guitar because I got inspired by them, everything else. And at one stage, it occurred to me that I really respected Freddie Mercury’s ability to be bold and be flamboyant and really communicate with the back of mass of stadium in an epoch where a lot of rock bands were very kind of like trying to be cool and not really moving around and so forth, and he just went for it and he totally embodied his message.

And so, somebody once said to me, “Hey, Richard, actually, you should be like Freddie Mercury of consulting,” or whatever they said, and I kind of took that away. And, actually, for me, that’s a really powerful kind of alter ego that I can use, which is when I’m about to go into a meeting, a presentation, I kind of think, “Okay, can I release a bit of my inner Freddie Mercury in this moment and be a bit less in my head? I can get very intellectual and a bit kind of in my head. How can I embody this, be totally, powerfully demonstrating the message that I bring, not being afraid, not like doing a half-baked thing, but totally all in in this moment?”

And so, for me, it’s just a really simple shift but it helps me kind of get into that zone. And so, I think sometimes it can be helpful. And it’s not being inauthentic. It’s just another part of my personality. I already have a bit of that slightly extravagant side to me. I don’t mind prancing around. I mean, I don’t prance in front my clients. You know what I mean? I won’t play any guitar in front of another party or whatever. I don’t mind that kind of stuff. So, it’s a bit a part of me but it’s a reminder to bring out this part of me that’s kind of latent or perhaps that I’ve been trained not to use in certain circumstances.

And it has an impact because, actually, I’m fully living my message in that moment where I’m freely delivering what I’m there to say. And so, I think that my influence goes up in that moment because it’s like, “Wow, this guy is really on. He really believes what he’s saying. He’s there.” And I think we all have perhaps those moments where we know, oh, perhaps we’re too hesitant, or perhaps we’re too bold, perhaps we need to be the more smoother relational individual rather than the abrupt decision-making machine, or whatever it is. But if we just identify that a bit of a name to it, again, it kind of creates that context again for that next interaction.

So, perhaps that’s just another thing that we didn’t talk, which I think could be helpful for people because it’s a powerful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I totally agree. So, “Who do I need to be or who do I need to be like in this moment?” And we’ve had some guests use some phrases like enclothed cognition, alter egos, psychological Halloweenism, that kind of get after this notion, it’s like, “I am stepping into this role,” whether it’s someone that you admire or fiction or non-fiction. Was someone I want to step into a number of times in high school and college. I’m excited that there will be a TV Series in which he comes back to that role.

Well, thank you. That’s a great extra point in terms of to show up and embody and deliver that. That can be a much more direct path to getting it done. So, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, apart from “Make it so.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there you go.

Richard Medcalf
One of my favorite quotes is by an author called Kary Oberbrunner, he said, “We don’t get what we want. We get who we are.”

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I recently read this book by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, and he interviewed 80,000 professionals.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that took a long time.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, over his career, he’s been going for many decades, to rate their performance. And he had 98.5% placed themselves in the top half of their peer group, and 70% believe they’re in the top 10%.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Richard Medcalf
I call it the 70/10 fallacy. The point is it’s like I’m thinking, “Oh, my God, yeah, so do I.” He said that just using that to really realize, “Okay, what is it that I need to see in myself that makes part of growth?” And with the CEO, asked them to rate his team from one to ten just how they’re doing, and then we actually looked at their level of self-awareness basically. So, the people actually who were scoring the highest in terms of his evaluation were also the ones who really felt they had to work a lot of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
So, it’s actually the ones who felt they had the biggest problems were actually the least problems. The one who felt they’re pretty much sorted were the ones that he was the most concerned about. So, I just love that, so I call it the 70/10 deception, you know, 70% of people think they’re in the top 10%, which I think we need to be aware of that because that’s actually where we live in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. So, thank you for that context. And how about a favorite book?

Richard Medcalf
I think probably 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a gamechanger for me. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we just had John C. Maxwell, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I think it’s helpful because it kind of just made me realize how much of our impact starts with us. He has those great phrases, “The leader is the lid,” the leader sets the lid on the whole organization, these kinds of things. It’s just powerful stuff. So, yes, those are probably two. Let’s keep it there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Richard Medcalf
I probably live my life with a mixture of Evernote and Todoist. Those are probably my two kind of structuring apps I guess of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Richard Medcalf
My favorite habit, which I’ve learned recently, well, not recently, but I’ve been doing more and more, is breathing out. I’ve just done it and it’s changed already. Breathing out, it just takes you down and it’s also probably a good influence tip, thinking about it. Just by breathing out, you just slow down that a notch, and the gravitas comes a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a particular nugget you share, I guess a saying, if you will, that you have, and maybe it’s just, “I have a saying”?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, there’s lots of nuggets. I like the one which is “What kind of person has already achieved his goal?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Richard Medcalf
“And then be that person.”

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

Richard Medcalf
So, I guess my website Xquadrant.com. LinkedIn is where I’m happy to connect with people, on LinkedIn. That’s probably where I publish the most, kind of most of my fresh content and videos and things because most of my clients are kind of there in the business world. Of course, you’ll find me on Twitter, too, a little bit there.

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I’d simply say let’s focus on the behaviors. Pick one behavior that you would like to change and don’t actually even worry about changing it but just start to ask yourself every day, “Did I do my best to do that behavior?” and just score it from one to ten, it just raises your awareness, and then just keep scoring it at the end of every day, “Did you do your best?” because that kind of connects to that emotional component. And I think what you’ll find is if you actually stick with it, and if you write down on a piece of paper those numbers from one to ten over a period of time, you’ll find that you just start doing that behavior naturally. It will just start to emerge because you’ve got that little feedback loop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you tons of luck in all the ways you’re influencing.

Richard Medcalf
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks again for all the great stuff you put out. It’s pretty impressive the amount of material you’ve been able to build up over the years, and it’s such high quality. So, thank you.