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552: The Foundational Principle that Separates Good Leaders from Bad Ones with Pat Lencioni

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Patrick Lencioni explores why so many leaders fall short–and how to resolve it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mentality that separates great leaders from the rest
  2. Why you shouldn’t be afraid of micromanaging
  3. How leaders can have more joyful difficult conversations

About Patrick:

Pat is the founder of The Table Group and the author of 11 books which have sold over 5 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. The Wall Street Journal called him “one of the most in demand speakers in America.” He has addressed millions of people at conferences and events around the world over the past 15 years. Pat has written for or been featured in numerous publications including Harvard Business ReviewInc.FortuneFast CompanyUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek.

As CEO, Pat spends his time writing books and articles related to leadership and organizational health, speaking to audiences interested in those topics and consulting to CEOs and their teams.

Prior to founding The Table Group, Pat worked at Bain & Company, Oracle Corporation and Sybase. Pat lives in the Bay Area with his wife and four boys.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Patrick Lencioni Interview Transcript

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

Patrick Lencioni
It’s great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve been so excited to chat with you here, and I’ve read several of your books over many years, so I think we’re going to have a good one. I’d love to start by hearing, so you spent a lot of years working with leaders and teams. If there’s a particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discovery you’ve made across your career in terms of what makes teams successful or unsuccessful, what is that thing?

Patrick Lencioni
Wow, there’s a lot there.

Pete Mockaitis
Just breaking the ice.

Patrick Lencioni
I think the thing I would say is it’s messier than people realize, and the very best teams, the very best organizations, the very best marriages, the very best things in the world are far messier than people like to think they are, and that you have to kind of accept that and be good with that, and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s never neat and tidy and perfect. So, I would say that might be one of the meta things I’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, and I think that kind of goes right into what I was going to ask about next. So, within that, what do you think is the core fundamental root of leaders when they fail to achieve organizational health? What’s behind that?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, there’s a lot of different things, but, as an individual, I would say a lack of humility and vulnerability is probably the single greatest thing. It really takes a leader to be vulnerable enough to admit what they’re not good at and what they don’t know, and humble enough to realize they’re not more important than the people they lead, and that it’s good to be vulnerable and transparent. And so many leaders, if they’re either insecure or self-protective, they really limit their ability to be successful and the organization’s as well. So, I would say it’s humility and vulnerability is at the core.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, yeah, that really tees up and something I’ve been so curious about. The humility, the vulnerability, when you open the book The Advantage, with a really great story in which, I can just visualize the scene, you’re sitting with the CEO and watching the different programs that their workers have initiated across the year.

Patrick Lencioni
This is about Southwest Airlines.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. So, it’s Southwest Airlines, there we go.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re hearing some really cool story after really cool story, there’s clearly a lot of good organizational health and vibes going on there, and you asked the CEO, “Hey, so how come your competitors aren’t doing this?” And he says, “Honestly, I think they believe it’s beneath them.” And those words just really stuck with me. And so, what are some examples of things that people don’t do that they think maybe are beneath them that, really, we should start doing?

Patrick Lencioni
That’s a great question. In fact, my last book, my most recent book, which is just out now, is called The Motive. And what it talks about is if you’re not a humble leader, if you’re not doing it for service and for responsibility, but for yourself, you’re probably not going to do many of these things. And the things that leaders who are motivated by the wrong things, they don’t like to repeat themselves. That sounds crazy but the leader at Southwest Airlines, I’ve seen him over the course of almost 20 years in various settings, and he has no problem standing up and reiterating the same messages to his people again and again and again, because he realizes it’s not about looking cool and it’s not about entertaining him. It’s about helping his people stay on topic and reinforcing what matters.

And so, here is probably one of the most successful CEOs in the last 50 years, a guy who, by the way, if he walked into your office right now, you wouldn’t knew who he was, and you might not even know his name if I asked you right now, and yet he’s ran the most successful company in America over the last, you know, he’s been doing this for 25 years. It’s not about him, he constantly repeats himself. He is the CRO of Southwest Airlines, which I call the Chief Reminding Officer, and he’s good with that. So, that’s one of the things that people don’t do, and that’s not beneath him. It’s not beneath him to get up and constantly tell the stories and reinforce the messages in different ways.

One of the other things that’s not beneath him is to actually manage his people. It sounds crazy but a lot of CEOs are like, “You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time, I shouldn’t have to manage people anymore. So, I’m going to hire people, I’m going to trust them to do their jobs, and I’m going to just go focus on the stuff I want to do.” That’s not what a great leader does. A great leader realizes, “Whether I’m running a billion-dollar company and I’m a senior executive, or whether I’m running a startup and I have 12 people sitting around me, I have to manage my people. It might sound tedious but I have to do it.”

Another thing that great leaders have to do is run great meetings. So many leaders say, “I hate meetings,” and as a result, they just kind of mail it in, or they avoid them, or try to go to as few as possible. But a great leader has to make meetings great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s a good list there. And I want to talk about the management bit for a moment. So, we had Bruce Tulgan on the show, back in episode 302, who discussed what he called the crisis of undermanagement.

Patrick Lencioni
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I thought that was very resonant. We kind of covered some similar themes here. And you’ve got a quote, I think it’s from The Motive, when you say, “Hey, it’s not babysitting. It’s management and it’s your job.” Can you sort of dig into this, this misconception between babysitting, micromanagement, management sort of? Where is the line? What should be done? And what’s not being done enough?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, I want to connect with that guy. I’ve never heard of that. Did he say that, because I feel the same way of crisis of undermanagement? You know, we live in a world where I think people don’t like be held accountable. I think that’s a social phenomenon as well. And so, what they do is they throw out the idea of, “You’re micromanaging me.” And managers, that’s like, I don’t know, that’s like one of those unanswerable things that people go on.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Patrick Lencioni
And managers back off. And the problem is, no, we’re undermanaging people. And if micromanaging means, “I know what my people are working on, I know how they’re doing, I’m available to give them coaching. I’m checking in with them to see how they’re doing,” then let’s all micromanage more. And I think that we’ve come to that place where too many people get away with trying to justify not being held accountable by accusing people of being a micromanager. No good leader is afraid of that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patrick Lencioni
And so, I just, I agree completely with what Bruce said. And I think that it’s our job. And if we don’t really want to know what people are working on and coach them and be responsible for making sure they’re successful, then we don’t want to be a manager or a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And so then, so you laid out a couple of things. You understand what they’re working on, and the status of those things, and you are available to chime in and do some coaching as necessary. And so then, what is too much in terms of managing? What is true micromanagement look, sound, feel like?

Patrick Lencioni
You know, that’s a great question. And it’s one of those things like we promote conflict, and people say, “Well, what’s too much conflict?” And I would like to say, well, here’s the deal, 95% of people engage in too little conflict. So, rather than worrying about what’s too much, let’s realize that’s a high-class problem.

Now, I’ll answer the question though, but I would say that most managers undermanage. What’s too much? I suppose too much is asking somebody to give you a daily accounting of how they’re spending their time, and asking them to prove every day what they’ve accomplished, and questioning every decision they make, and not giving them any freedom and autonomy. The truth though is I think in all the jobs I’ve ever had, and most of the people I talk to, there’s actually very little of that that goes on in the world. Most people are undermanaged.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, I actually do ask for a daily accounting of my people’s time, but it’s because they’re in another country and we don’t have much face to face.

Patrick Lencioni
That’s different.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s like six lines long most of the time, “I did this and then this and then this, and tomorrow I plan to do that.” It’s like, “Perfect. Thank you.”

Patrick Lencioni
Hey, you’re not micromanaging. You’re saying, “I just want to know what you’re doing so we can make sure that we’re all rowing in the same direction.” You’re not doing it because you’re questioning whether they’re golfing or watching too much TV.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, not at all.

Patrick Lencioni
Right. And, by the way, you doing that at the risk of saying you’re overmanaging is far better than say, “Well, once a month or so, we check in and I see how they’re doing.” Successful businesses don’t undermanage. They know what everybody is doing and they help each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so we’re situated there. Let’s dig into more about your latest book here. So, we’re talking about The Motive and so your core message there is that there are different motives that drive leaders. And can you break this down for us a little more?

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, this is the 12th book I’ve written, and if somebody were to say, “Which book should I start with?” I would say this one because this is the first book where, instead of talking about how to lead or how to manage an organization, I address the first question, which is “Why?” Why do you want to be a leader in the first place? And some people have the wrong motivation for that. And I realize that because years ago, Pete, I was talking to a bunch of CEOs and giving them advice, like it was at a conference.

And I was giving them just straightforward advice about how to deal with things, and there were a handful of them that weren’t writing anything down, they were just dismissing everything, and some of the advice seemed really straightforward and other people were getting it. And I thought, I was starting to figure out what was going on with them, and I realized, “You know, if they’re doing this for the wrong reason, none of my advice makes sense to them.”

And the wrong reason is this, “I want to be a leader because it’s a reward for a lifetime of hard work. I’ve arrived, it’s a title, it allows me to focus on the things I like to do, and it’s kind of cool that I get to be the leader.” And there are a lot of people that go into leadership, young and old, for that reason, and that’s a terrible reason to be a leader.

You know, when I go to college graduations, people say to these people, “Go out and be a leader.” I want to yell, “No, please don’t be a leader unless you’re doing it for the right reasons.” You see, the right reason to be a leader is to say, “I’m taking on a burden and a responsibility. It’s a responsibility. And the economics of it are going to be very bad. I’m going to pour far more of my energy into being a leader so I can serve these people than I’m going to get back from it. And I have my eyes wide open. I realize it’s a responsibility and a duty, and it’s going to be hard.” If you do that, then you’re going to do the right things as a leader.

You’re going to say, “Yeah, I don’t want to have to have a difficult conversation.” That’s one of the other things leaders don’t do. “I have to have hard conversations with people. It is my job.” You know how many CEOs I worked with, Pete, who do it for the wrong reasons, who will do anything to avoid having a hard conversation with somebody? They’ll even fire somebody without that conversation just so they never have to have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I wanted you to actually go deeper into this, so I think it was in The Motive in which there was a tale of someone replaced a chief information officer, so one of the CEO’s direct reports, you called him Fred. Give us the whole story. It’s a winner.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, and that’s not fiction. All my books are fiction but that’s not fiction. That’s in the back of the book where I talk. So, a true story, a famous CEO of a big company, who I don’t think was a great leader, for obvious reasons when I tell the story, he had a chief technology officer, actually. I think I changed it too, and I knew the guy because we were doing some consulting in the organization, and the CEO wanted to bring in a different CTO, chief technology officer. And, instead of sitting down with the old one and explaining that, “I’m going to hire somebody to replace you,” he just hired a new one.

And one day, the old CTO comes to work and sees an email that goes out to the company saying, “Hey, John Jackson is our new CTO. Let’s all welcome him.” And this guy is like, “I thought I was the CTO.” And so, he calls the administrative assistant. I can’t make this up, right? In fact, this happened about 20 years ago, and I just wonder if I’m making it up because this seems too crazy. Somebody sitting here in the room listening to this is going, “Nope, you didn’t make it up. It was true.”

So, this guy calls the executive assistant to the CEO and says, “I’d like to meet with the CEO,” and they just can’t find any time to meet with him, “Oh, he’s busy.” Weeks, literally, like weeks go by. This guy is coming to work knowing that there’s another guy in the company with his title. Finally, he’s about to get on a private plane with the CEO, small private plane, he says, “I’ll finally have a chance to talk to him.” They get on the plane, the CEO closes his eyes, pretends to sleep the entire time, never speaks to him. Finally, the CTO just quits.

And that’s not just an interesting, wacky story. It goes to show you there are certain people that are leaders but they don’t have the courage or the character to sit down with somebody and say, “I need to give you some tough feedback,” or, “I need to let you know what’s going on.” Now, I get it, all of us are tempted to do that, and I’m not saying we should go around, like, “Hey, all I want to do is have difficult conversations with people.” But that’s our job.

And if a leader isn’t willing to do that, it’s probably because they’re doing it for the wrong reason, they’re like, “Hey, I’m supposed to have fun. Hey, I’m the leader of this department or this organization.” “I’m the principal of this school, the pastor of this church, the CEO of this company, I should get to pick and choose what I spend my time on, and that doesn’t sound interesting to me.” That’s a fundamental problem in organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ll tell you, even though my team is small, those words really resonated and echoed back to me in terms of, “Wait, am I just doing this because it’s fun? Am I just not doing that because it’s not fun?” And it’s really quite a look in the mirror in terms of like, “Yeah, oops.”

Patrick Lencioni
One of the people that endorsed the book, we sent the book to a CEO of a company, and he sent it back and he said, “Yeah, I’ll endorse it.” And his quote was, “This book rocked me to my core. I wish I had read it 20 years ago.” Hey, we all are tempted to do things for the wrong reasons. I look back at my tenure here at my own consulting firm and realized there were times when I was largely doing it for myself, and I wasn’t good.

And so, we can read this and go, “Okay, I don’t want to do that anymore. I have to do it for the right reasons.” So, life isn’t black and white, we’re not binary. We’re capable of changing, but sometimes we have to be asked that question or ask ourselves that question, “Is my motive really the right one?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, thank you for that. That’s good. And then, at the same time, you talk about there’s suffering, there’s sacrifice associated with leadership, and yet you’ve also got a concept called joyful accountability. How does that fall into things?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, that question is a great one, and the answer to both of those comes back to a very famous CEO, who’s become a friend of mine, named Alan Mulally. Now, Alan Mulally was the guy who turned the Ford Motor Company about, I don’t know, 10 years ago. He took over the company when they were hemorrhaging money and they were about to go out of business, and he took it over and didn’t take any money from the government. He’s an amazing leader.

I mention him because both of the questions you just asked me relate to him. First of all, he came to visit us after he retired, and he said, “I don’t like that part in your book, Pat, The Advantage, when you talked about management being a sacrifice, that there’s suffering involved. It’s a privilege.” And I was like, “Alan, that’s not how the world works anymore.” He was like a Boy Scout from Kansas. I think I even said, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Alan.” And he thought, “Well, why would anybody not see that job as a privilege?” And I said, “You know how many people want to be the CEO because they think it’s cool and because they have the right to do whatever they want?”

And if we don’t help people understand the hard part, we’re inviting them to take a job that they don’t want. So, he got that. But the thing about Alan was he had this way of holding people accountable. I mean, here, he turned the Ford Motor Company around. I think he said he only fired one or two people. So, you’re thinking, “Wait a second. How do you turn a company…?” This was the DMV, basically, that he was taking over.

And he said, you know what he would do, he’d see somebody behave in a way that was contrary to what he wanted, he would go to them and he’d say, “Hey, I noticed that you were doing that,” and they’d say, “Yeah, I don’t really want to do this thing you asked me.” And he’d go, “That’s okay.” And they go, “Really?” And he goes, “Oh, yeah, we could still be friends but you can’t work here if you’re not going to behave that way, so it’s up to you. Let me know. You can either opt in and act this way, or you don’t have to, and honestly we can still be friends.” He wasn’t being snarky. And people opted out or they opted in, and very times did he actually have to manage them out of the organization because the point of the matter is, if you hold people accountable and tell them there’s no breathing room there, they’re going to choose the right path.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Patrick Lencioni
In or out. And so, he had this way of joyfully, he wasn’t afraid to do it. And I think that’s why he was able to turn that company around. He would have hard conversations that other people would just agonize over, and he’d go, “What’s the big deal? They can work someplace else.” And I think it’s a great lesson.

Pete Mockaitis
No, and I think that is great and I think there’s, I don’t know, just fear in the mix or maybe litigation, lawyers, lawsuits, wrongful termination. It seems like, I guess, those things do happen, but I have a feeling that these are kind of hobgoblins of the mind that are just sort of just trying to feed the justification to avoid doing the hard thing. So, yeah. So, I’d love to maybe zoom in there. So, let’s say, hey, you know you got to have a conversation, you don’t want to have the conversation, but here you are, you’re tempted to pretend you’re asleep on a plane or duck it by any means necessary, how do you summon the stuff from inside to do what needs to be done?

Patrick Lencioni
You mentioned the word justification. I think the false justification we use, and I’ve certainly done this in the past, because I’m a wus, I’m going to tell you I’m a wus. I don’t like doing this either. If we justify it by saying, “Man, I really care about the people that work for me, and I just don’t want them to feel bad so I’m going to avoid telling them this thing because it can make them really sad.” That’s a lie. And I used to do that. And then, one day, I realized, “Oh, wait a second. You know who I’m really wanting to avoid feeling bad? Me, because I’m going to be uncomfortable. They’re not going to feel better when I don’t tell them because it’s going to come back to bite them later.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Either they’re fired, or their career doesn’t progress, or they get less cool, fun, interesting responsibilities. One way or the other it hurts.

Patrick Lencioni
Exactly. And so, I was like, “If I love these people,” and I used the word L, “I should love the people that work for me. Even if I don’t like them all the time, I should love them. And if I love them, I have to tell them the truth.” I mean, I have four sons, right? Do I think that I’m doing them any favor by not telling them the truth about things they need to get better at? No, I love my children. To deprive them of that is crazy. If I’m a manager, I should feel the same way. So, once I kind of debunked that myth that I was actually a nice manager by not saying things to people, it gave me the courage to do it. And I still have to do that and I struggle with it all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. And so, when you say that you need to love your people but not necessarily to like your people, how are you defining love in this context?

Patrick Lencioni
Love means I’m willing to do something that benefits them even at my own expense. I think love is a verb. I’m committed to them. I’m not even enjoying their company right now, and maybe that’s my own fault or whatever else, but I am willing to do what’s in their best interest ahead of mine. You and I are both Catholic, it’s a biblical definition, right, to…

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Patrick Lencioni
I was just reading in the Bible today about loving your enemies, right? Well, first of all, so love our enemies, and the person who works for me, who actually, they’re on my team, and I have to tell them something that’s going to be hard for them to hear, I think I should be able to love them for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And as we talk about your sons, I’m thinking about my son right now. He’s two years old.

Patrick Lencioni
Oh, wow.

Pete Mockaitis
And he’s in a habit of doing some screaming when he can’t get what he wants, and so we keep…

Patrick Lencioni
So, my advice to you is never discipline him, always let him do whatever he wants, and then when he’s 20, he’s going to be great. We would never do that.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Patrick Lencioni
But so many leaders are like, “Oh, I don’t want to tell this person.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “I would have to remove this from you and it’s for your own good, and it’s going to cause you to scream, which is going to cause me to feel stressed and unhappy, but here I am making that sacrifice on your behalf. Much like I‘m going to share some feedback with a person and that’s going to make me uncomfortable. And if I make them uncomfortable, maybe yes, maybe no, in the moment, but ultimately has positive consequences downstream.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, I absolutely agree. You know, Pete, I’m going to tell you. So, my kids are 21, 21, 17, and 13. I have four boys. I know I’ve learned more about being a leader by being a parent, I think half of these books come about because of the crossover between being a parent and a leader at work and team work and all the things. There’s so much in family life that crosses over the business, and around humility, and around accountability, and around all these different things. So, it’s fascinating. My poor wife, because we have to apply this together, luckily, she’s interested in it too. And my kids are now, even my 13-year old, the other day said, “Yeah, this stuff is really interesting.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Patrick Lencioni
So, it’s going to be fun watching. What’s your two-year old’s name?

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan.

Patrick Lencioni
Jonathan. It’s going to be fun talking to you in five years when he’s seven.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Yes, I think so too.

Patrick Lencioni
That’s an exciting thing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, here’s a scenario I thought I might run by you just because I was thinking about our upcoming interview and prepping some stuff, and I was also doing some training for an organization, we’ll keep it broad, in the health space. And so, right before the training started, we’re sort of chatting a little bit, and then I heard someone ask an assistant who’s helping us out, “Oh, hey, what’s up with all the contractors and stuff next door?” They said, “Oh, there’s this executive and they’re building out a suite on this floor for his office.” And then they said, “Really? So, we’re cramped on space, we always have to do this and this and this, and this guy needs a suite and so we’re going to have even less space.” And then the assistant said, “Oh, yeah, and they might actually take over this conference room that we’re in too. They still have to decide that.” And they just sort of shook their heads.

And so then, I got you in my ear, thinking about organizational health and conflict and all these things, and I just thought, I said this out loud, it was like, “Wow! So, it seems like you perceive some sort of wrong or injustice is occurring here, and yet I have a feeling that they’re probably never going to know about it and you’re just going to feel a little bit miffed, a little bit resentful over it over time.” And it’s like, “Is that accurate or am I right way off based here? It’s like I’m pontificating.” And they said, and a couple more people chimed in, it’s like, “Well, yeah, I’m not going to say anything about it but it’s because they didn’t ask and they don’t care.” And I thought, “Man, this is the stuff. I think this is kind of like where the rubber meets the road in organizational health.”

It’s like on the one hand you could say, “Hey, this executive, it was hard to recruit him. He needs some things to be one over.” And then it’s like, “Is it really their job, or duty, or responsibility to explain every decision they make to the people who also dwell in the office?” But, at the same time, if you don’t get into that messy stuff, you’re just going to have this resentment and bitterness and stuff unspoken in the mix, and it’s harmful. So, Pat, putting you on the spot, how should healthy organizations deal with just these everyday kinds of things that need to be addressed?

Patrick Lencioni
Oh, yeah. Well, first of all, those people are right to wonder what’s going on. Secondly, it’s not their job to go ask why this is going on. Somebody else knows this and they’re not doing it. And so, I would say either somebody is letting that CEO or that executive down by not questioning it and preventing him or her from doing something that looks really bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and that person’s going to have poor relationships with all the people that are kind of miffed because he’s taking all the space.

Patrick Lencioni
Or he knows and he doesn’t care.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, possible.

Patrick Lencioni
Okay, this happened to me once. In fact, the first book I wrote, and the first part of that first book, came from this too. So, I worked with a CEO of a company, and he took over when the company was kind of in trouble, and they were laying people off literally, and so offices were coming open. And an office would come open and people go, “Ooh, can I have Fred’s office now that he’s gone?” And so, the facilities people, their numbers were actually going up because they were doing all these moves at a time when the company was hurting. So, the CEO rightly said, “Okay, it’s time for a little adult supervision,” and he announced that there would be a freeze on all office moves and facilities. Okay, that made sense.

The very next week there were contractors in the main headquarters, in the lobby where people came, building out the conference room that they use for customers and for meetings and turning it into his office. And the reason why they had to make it bigger was because he was having office furniture flown in from the East Coast and they needed to make it fit so they had to change the shape of the conference room. And I didn’t know at the time but we look at it now, his motivation was not to serve others. His motivation was about himself and it was completely consistent with who he was, and that is the problem.

Now, if he’s doing that and he’s just clueless, boy, somebody could be his hero and say, “Hey, do you realize what kind of a message you’re sending?” And that’s why a leader’s job is to surround themselves with people that are going to tell them the truth and push on them. And so, I think that’s a fantastic example that you gave, one that I’ve seen too, and I think it’s probably is an issue of motive.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s quite likely. And so, I’m wondering, in this kind of a situation, what would be the ideal healthy way for leadership and teams to address this issue? It’s like, “Hey, we’ve got some competing demands on our limited space,” how do we hash that out optimally?

Patrick Lencioni
Right. What I would say is this, so that executive, his team, it’s a he it sounds like, his team, the question is, “Do they have the kind of trust, vulnerability, and conflict on their team to put these things on the table?” because that’s where it belongs. And he has to be the one to be vulnerable enough to say, “Hey, you guys could ask me any question and challenge me. Even if I disagree with you, I’m going to be honest with you about how I feel. I’m not going to punish you for that.” So, the question is, “Why isn’t that team having those honest conversations?” And the leader has to take it upon himself to create that kind of trust.

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

Patrick Lencioni
Oh, no, but I’m going to go back to the question you asked at the beginning, and you said, “What’s one of the big insights?” The big insight, and I touched on it before, is this, what I’ve come to realize is that if you’re a leader and you constantly remind people about what they need to do to improve, 95% of the time, more, they’re going to either improve or they’re going to go someplace else where they fit better. And I think if I could give any leader advice, it would be become completely immune to your fear of saying to somebody, “Hey, you did that thing.” You talk too much during meetings, “Hey, you did it again. Hey, you did it again.” Most human beings, if they’re constantly reminded about how they need to improve, are going to do it because they’re tired of being reminded or they’re going to leave because they don’t want to change.

And if every company did that, there’d be far less firings, which are very painful, and far less lawsuits, and companies would actually start attracting the right people and repelling the others. And it usually comes down to a lack of courage on the part of leaders. So, that’s one of the things I’ve learned. So, I think that’s it.

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

Patrick Lencioni
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That’s a fantastic quote. And then my favorite Bible verse, it’s “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Sometimes I think we make things harder than they need to be because of our pride and because it’s self-oriented and things like that. So, those would be my favorite two.

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

Patrick Lencioni
I like the one I learned in social psychology where the person, like if you go on the street, and you ask somebody, “Hey, will you help me do this?” A high percentage of people will say yes. And then if you introduce a financial element to that, fewer people would actually say yes because now they feel like it’s an economic decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so you pay people and then fewer of them want to do it because they’re getting paid.

Patrick Lencioni
Yeah, like, you’re unloading things out of your car, and you say, “Hey, can you help me carry this across the street? I need to unload my car,” and like X percentage would say, “Yeah, I’ll help you.” And then you said, “Now, I’ll offer them $5 to do it,” and fewer of them would actually say yes. And I think sometimes we think that people are coin-operated and it’s actually a disincentive to do that. And people’s inclination toward helping others and doing the right thing is much higher because it’s the right thing to do. And I think companies do that too, like, “We need to pay people more.”

It’s like, no, how about treat them well, get to know them, thank them, help them understand why their job matters. People really want to work hard. Great volunteers at a church or a nonprofit work harder than people being paid in a for-profit because they’re doing it for the right reasons. That’s not to say, “Hey, go cut your people’s pay,” or, “Don’t offer people money.” But I think sometimes we overemphasize the financial incentive of behavior and don’t appeal to people’s better nature.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Patrick Lencioni
You know, Dean Koontz is my favorite author, and he wrote a book called Brother Odd. He has a series called Odd Thomas, but there’s a book called Brother Odd which I think is fantastic. It’s funny. It’s mostly really deep and funny and clever.

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

Patrick Lencioni
The whiteboard. You know, in my office here, we just add it onto our office and have a new cottage, and we’re like, “What artwork should we put on the wall?” And we just painted it with that. There’s a new paint that’s like it turns a wall into a whiteboard and, boy, do we use it, and good stuff comes out. I’m looking at stuff right now where we solve problems and then we leave it up there. So, the whiteboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Patrick Lencioni
In my house, at home, I should have whiteboards in every wall.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you become more awesome at your job?

Patrick Lencioni
Well, it helps me in my job and it helps me in life, and that’s praying the Rosary.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good.

Patrick Lencioni
Fifteen minutes a day, usually do it in the shower.

Pete Mockaitis
You do the whole Rosary in 15 minutes?

Patrick Lencioni
I could do it for 15 minutes.
usually that’s when I’m flooded with peace and it helps me think through my day and be more charitable and kind.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a particularly resonant nugget, something you share that really seems to connect with folks and they quote it back to you again and again?

Patrick Lencioni
I always like to say, “The truth is don’t make the truth.” I mean, the perfect enemy of the good. And people repeat that back. Because I’m a believer in the 80/20 principle, “Get the first part done and we’ll figure it out from there.” And so, I think that’s one that probably comes back my way.

[36:01]

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

Patrick Lencioni
I would point them to our website, which is TableGroup.com. And we have a podcast also called At The Table with Patrick Lencioni. We just started it this year and we’re having fun. We’re not as professional as you. You said you had a 302, 300 episodes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that was the Bruce Tulgan episode, 302, yeah.

Patrick Lencioni
Wow! Yeah, I think we’re at like 25 but we’re loving it. We’re loving it. We’re enjoying it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, it’s definitely fun. Well, hopefully, you’re getting better and better as you get in there.

Patrick Lencioni
We’re trying.

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

Patrick Lencioni
You know, I think that take the risk of speaking truth to people in kindness, and good things happen. And we tend to think that the cost is going to be too high to do that, but if you speak truth and love and kindness and humility, you’ll be a leader’s hero, because we’re not all CEOs. But if you can go to the leader, nine times out of ten, they’re going to be glad that you told them, and five times out of ten, they’re actually going to listen to it and make you a hero, and four times, they might ignore you, one time they might not like you, but it’s always the best thing to do. I think people are too risk-averse when it comes to pouring into a leader upwards. So, manage up. Manage up.

Pete Mockaitis
Pat, this has been a treat. I wish you lots and lots of luck and blessings as you’re pursuing these adventures.

Patrick Lencioni
Thank you, Pete. And have fun with Jonathan and your family. God bless.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. You, too.

520: How to Start Finishing Projects with Charlie Gilkey

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Charlie Gilkey says: "If it's worth doing well, it's worth doing badly in the beginning."

Charlie Gilkey discusses how to deal with the obstacles that derail your important projects

You’ll Learn:

  1. The magic number for projects
  2. Signs that a project truly matters to you
  3. When and how to say no to your family, friends, and bosses

About Charlie

Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Charlie Gilkey Interview Transcript

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

Charlie Gilkey
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I’m pumped to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to talk about starting and finishing and getting to done. Let’s start with starting, actually. I understand you don’t choose to start your year in January. How does that work and what’s the backstory here?

Charlie Gilkey
Well, there are several things going on. And thanks for that question. That’s a deep cut. Two things going on. One is the business cycle for the business that I’m in or the year cycle starts actually in August for the back-to-school, you know, back-to-work sort of thing. That’s when everyone comes back online, it’s like, “Hey, we got to get after it.” And so, that’s a really important point for my business.

And I’ve also learned that actually doing your yearly planning, if you’re going to do it on the personal side in February, is a way better time to do it because it kind of lets you shake off the high of New Year’s resolutions and all the things that go along there, and I think we’re way too optimistic during that period of the year. And then if you pay too close attention to the goals you set in, it can be a really good way to feel bad about yourself. But if you kind of wait until February, kind of around Groundhog’s Day and give yourself a redo, what I’ve learned is that we end up making way better sort of annual goals and resolutions during that period.

So, I have kind of two periods in which I do annual planning, but that’s kind of par for the course for me, and then I’m always recalibrating plans and working in it

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever. Groundhog Day, redo, and I’m thinking Bill Murray right now. Part of that was shot near me in Woodstock, Illinois. Fun fact. So, yeah, that’s a good way to think about it in terms of like the day and where you’re going to choose to start and why. So, thank you for that. Let’s talk about the book Start Finishing. What’s the big idea here?

Charlie Gilkey
The big idea is that finished projects bridge the gap between your current reality and that life you want to live and that work you want to do. And so, a lot of us have, you know, we have really big dreams and visions for ourselves. We have that idea of our best work or our best life, and a lot of times we could feel stuck and we don’t quite know what to do. And it turns out that, again, it’s those finished projects that bridge the gap.

And I think it provides a bit of a different take on productivity, and getting things done, and sort of personal development, which either can be far too granular and focused on tasks, or it can be far too lofty and focused on sort of vision and sort of the big view of your life. And the mess of life and the beauty of life is in this middle world of projects.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, okay. Indeed, the finished projects bridge the gap. And one thing I think I’m coming to learn is that almost finished projects don’t. And I’m thinking about all these instances in which it’s like the vast majority of the hard work is done but it’s not all the way finished and, thus, it doesn’t turn into something.

So, I remember once, we’ve got a multifamily home here and we were trying to rent out one of the units and things were almost completely renovated, cleaned, whatever but there’s like a bunch of cardboard boxes in the corner. And I think that prospective tenants can know that those won’t be there when they move in but, nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice that every showing we did where the boxes were there did not result in an application, and those that we did with the boxes absent, totally cleaned up, did.

And so, it’s sort of like almost done doesn’t pull it off for you. But it’s kind of encouraging in that it means that there’s very little left to get to finished project status. So, those are my own musings on the finished project piece. Give me your take on that.

Charlie Gilkey
Well, I love that. You know, I talk a lot in the book about displacement which is the idea that anything you do displaces a practical infinity of things you could do, or you can’t do one thing, or you can’t do multiple things at the same time, right? Barring simple things like doing the laundry while listening to a podcast. But when it comes to this significant work that we need to do, what I call best work and what I call those things that really light us up and are part of the matrix of meaning-making that we’re in, we tend to only be able to do one thing at a time.

And the frustrating thing about those half-finished projects is that they suck up all of the time that could’ve been going to something else, but they’re not bridging that gap. They’re not doing the work that they’re supposed to do to power your life. And it would be like investing a hundred bucks a month, for however long you want to do it. Let’s just say it’s 12 months, and you don’t get the return on it until the 13th month, and then you decide on the 12th month to just stop, and then everything disappeared, right? It’s like you’ve already sunk in all of that money, you’ve already sunk in all of that time but you don’t get the reward for it just because you decided to jump to something else. So, absolutely.

And one of the things that I really stress in the book is that we should really be focusing on throughput and not load. And by that, I mean I think we commit too quickly to ideas and end up carrying too many projects around with us and too many things that we’re not going to be able to finish. And so, if you make that commitment to where this week you’re going to, like, “I’m going to do these 17 projects,” and you only do three, well, you’ve carried the additional 14. And I think, unfortunately, what we do is we’ll say, “Well, this week, I overestimated this week so I’m going to do 12,” and then we do three projects.

Well, it turns out that if we just focus on the three that matter most and we get through them faster, not only is it just about efficiency but it’s about that momentum that you can build with these finished projects. And so, depending on where you want to take this, Pete, a lot of times when I tell people I like to focus on three to five projects, the first thing that they’ll do is, like, “I can’t. I got all the things.” But let’s do a reality check here, are you actually finishing those things or is it just a continual state of juggling and a continual state of sort of commenting about the status of a project but not actually moving that project forward? Or is that continual story that you’re going to get to but you don’t?

And I get to say, you know, over the decade I’ve been doing this work with people. There’s momentum, there’s more pride, there’s more joy, and there’s more results just from coming from focusing on fewer things, getting them done, and moving to the next thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, boy, that’s well-said with regard to load because you could feel that, and the word itself, it’s like, “I am shouldering a burden, a load, like a camel or an ox. Like, there’s a lot of things on my plate, on my back here.” And so, you identify these are the things that we’re actually going to sail right through here, we’re good to go.

And it’s intriguing that when you mentioned three to five, you’re getting pushback because, I guess I’m thinking about Jay Papasan who we had on the show with the One Thing, it’s like, “Oh, man, you’re being lenient. You’re giving them three to five instead of just one.” So, let’s talk about that for a moment. Why do you think that’s perhaps the magic number there, three to five projects?

Charlie Gilkey
It’s partially because enough studies both with my own clients and work, and external study showed that that’s about the limit of which we can do. Now, I want to pause here. I love Jay’s work and I find that most people can’t just commit to one thing because when you commit to one thing, I think you often forget. Well, there’s different ways of understanding his book and the message, so that’s one thing to talk about.

I want to make room for projects that are not just economic projects. So, for me, anything that takes time, energy, and attention is a project. And so, finding a place for those cardboard boxes you’ve mentioned, that very well could be a project, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s why it wasn’t done.

Charlie Gilkey
That’s why it wasn’t done.

Pete Mockaitis
It took multiple steps. There’s too many to just shove in the alley so I had to take another…do something else there.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, you got to find out where they are, and you got to sort, and you got to figure out which other closet you’re going to put them in, and then you open that closet and realized, “Oh, crap, there’s something in there. This got to go somewhere else.” It’s kind of like a shell game and stuff sometimes, right? But, also, getting married, getting divorced, having kids, moving across the United States, getting a new job, like all of those things are projects.

And, unfortunately, we tend to prioritize economic projects, or creative projects, or work projects, or however you want to say that, and we try to squeeze the work over our lives and the leftover, the time leftover from the economic projects, and we’re just not getting to it. And so, again, not to go overly critical of the One Thing, but it’s like we are not just work-related people. Like, our thing in life, our thing at work is one of the many things that we might want to attend to. We might also need to attend to our aging parents that we need to help transition into elder care, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that in the conversation, Jay mentioned, “Hey, what’s the one thing within like a context or a domain?” “The one thing in my marriage, the one thing in my business, etc.”

Charlie Gilkey
Etcetera. And so, I think people misunderstand his message in that way, and so I just wanted to say, like, we’re actually super aligned in that way, but that’s where we start saying the five projects, or three to five projects. Yeah, you have to look across the domains of your life and not just pick the one thing, and not just pick like one domain, and say, “I’m going to go all in on that.”

And so, for instance, right now, I’m in the middle of launching this book and doing the PR too for this book, and it’s a major project. I’m also in the middle of reintegrating back into my business after working on the book for so long, so that’s another project. And I’m also getting back into the gym and working with a personal trainer. That’s a project, so that gets me through it.

But, anyway, you asked why three to five. I think that many lets you invest in the buckets of your life that matter without spreading yourself too thin. Two, I think it’s when we look at sort of the cognitive load that we humans can bear, we sort of heard the five plus or minus two, I think, is now four plus or minus two, like, the things we can remember. Well, when you have a fewer number of projects and you can always rattle off what you’re working on, it turns out you don’t need a super complicated productivity system or an app to help you with that. You can always just sort of have those things front of mind.

And the last thing is every one of the projects, another way of thinking through this, every one of the projects that you carry, they need fuel. And I talk in the book about focused blocks which are 90 to 120 blocks of time where you can sit down and make substantial progress on things. So, if it’s a creative project, it might be that time where, let’s say it’s writing, where you actually are able to sit down and get some good words in, lean into the project, get out of the project rut. But it doesn’t have to be creative work, it can be, again, going back to that garage.

A lot of times we don’t end up cleaning the garage because we look at it, it’s like, “Oh, I think I can just move it around,” but you know that it’s going to take you three to four focused blocks because you got to figure out where everything goes and do the organizing. And because we don’t schedule that time, we know we won’t be able to make any meaningful progress, so we don’t actually start.

And so, when we look at the sort of the three to five projects, it’s like, how many of these focused blocks do you have in your life, and in a week, that you can allocate towards these things?” And no focused blocks equals no momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I’m seeing how the pieces are coming together. So, I’ve got my three to five projects, I’ve got focused blocks for 90 to 120-ish minutes, and then I’m allocating particular focused blocks towards particular projects in order to get momentum. So, I understand you’ve got a full-blown nine-step method, so I think we’re already getting into a couple of them. How about we sort of get the full view here?

Charlie Gilkey
Yes. So, the full nine-step method would be, well, there are different ways we can say this. But where people often will fall down is that they go immediately from idea to working on it, and that’s really not a great way to do it because we don’t do ideas, we do projects, and so we have to do some work to convert that idea. But before we can get there, in chapter two, well, one of the steps is really getting clear about the obstacles that are in the way from you doing this life-changing work that we’re talking about. And if you don’t start with looking at that, the first thing that you’ll do is choose an idea, start working with it, and then see, all of a sudden, that you’re upside down with it and you can’t go forward with it and sort working backwards. So, it’s a root-cause approach.

So, the first step is getting in touch with some of those root causes that keep that gap between our current reality and the life we want to live. So, second sort of step is to pick an idea that really matters to you. And that seems like obvious except for what matters to us is oftentimes not the first things that we’ll pick because of fear, because of the seeming difficulty, and we end up choosing low-hanging fruits, or we end up choosing other people’s priorities.

And then when we get into the messy middle, or towards the end of the project, we don’t get anywhere. And that’s largely because, at the end of the day, that idea did not matter enough to us, it didn’t supply the amount of meaning and sort of commitment juice that we needed it to, and so there’s just a certain point in sort of imagine this lever of, like, at past a certain point of difficulty and grit, if you don’t have the amount of internal emotional buy-in and sort of spirit in that project, the difficulty of it is going to win, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, you have to pick an idea that matters enough for you to invest a life force that is going to take to push through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And I think that’s well-said with regard to just because you’re doing it doesn’t mean that it matters to you. You very well could’ve chosen it because you passed up the bigger things out of fear, or, “Ooh, that just sounds hard.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, it just sounds hard. And I want to pause here because, over the last few decades, I think we’ve lost a lot of grit and we just sort of baked into some sort of talent myth, like if it’s hard it’s not for you because if we look at all the prodigies and the people that seemed to do things super easily, it’s like, “Oh, they got that talent. And the people that have the talent, they should go do those things. And if you don’t have that talent, maybe you go find something else that’s easier for you to do.” Right?

And what that ends up doing for a lot of us is that when we start something and it gets difficult, we sort of encode that maybe that’s a sign that we’re doing the wrong thing, maybe it’s a sign that there’s something else that I should be doing because it shouldn’t be this hard. And my whole point is, first off, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning. Bottom line, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly in the beginning.

And, second off, in almost all these cases, these effortless talent displays that we see, it’s a lot of hard work and cultivation of those people behind the scenes, so they have a certain amount of budding seed time that we don’t have. And so, I want people to orient themselves so that when they see something that’s difficult, or when they see…well, let me say it this way.

I talk in the book about thrashing. And thrashing is sort of the meta work and emotional flailing and “research” that you’ll do to push an idea forward but it doesn’t actually push an idea forward, right? It’s just thrashing and flailing. And the thing about it is we don’t thrash about things that don’t matter to us. Like, no one has a mini-existential crisis about doing the laundry or taking the trash out. There’s no “Why am I the right person to do it? Is now the right time? What if I’m not good enough?” It’s like you do it or you don’t do it, right?

But when it comes to time to some of these best-work projects, which is what I call these life-changing projects that really only you can do and that change the world in really phenomenal ways, those are the ones where we’ll have all those sort of mini crises, and those are the ones where we’ll start wondering if we got what it takes, and so on and so forth.

And so, it turns out that the more it matters to you, the more you’ll thrash. And so, it’s a really good sign when you’re feeling that feeling of, like, “Wow, this is…” not just that it’s daunting, because you can take on a project that doesn’t matter and could be daunting, but you’re thinking like, “Wow, I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes. I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” those are actually really good signs that the project matters to you, because if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be feeling that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is one worth sitting with it and remembering because you want it to come to mind when that feeling occurs again. Indeed, wow, yeah, so many implications when you’re experiencing, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if I have what it takes.” It’s indicative of that’s something you care about a lot or that thought would not have occurred to you at all, the, “I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to…” And it’s not just about how challenging it is, because you might say, “But I don’t know if I have what it takes to take out the trash every day.” The take-out-the-trash challenge, you know. It’s, like, that’s probably not go do it. It just sort of says, “That’s dumb. I don’t feel like bothering.” So, yeah.

And I’ve often had this thought. I’ve said to my wife numerous times, like, when I’m feeling frustrated by something, I think, “Well, you know what, it’d be a lot easier if I didn’t care so much.” It’s like, “If I didn’t care, if my clients were getting great results in ROI from our trainings, then I’d just be like whatever.” But I do and, thusly, I get a little bit worked up associated with if folks are doing the exercises and understanding and connecting with the stuff.

Charlie Gilkey
Absolutely. It’s kind of like envy as a compass. And by that, I mean we’re not envious of other people when they don’t have something that we want. We’re only envious when someone has something that we actually care about. And, unfortunately, we try to wash out the envy, we try to wash it out, but, for me, I’m like, “Oh, maybe let’s pause a little bit and say, ‘What is it in this moment, in that sort of feeling that you have that’s telling you that something matters? And what are you going to do about it?’” as opposed to just pretending like you shouldn’t feel it.

Like, you like what you like, and you value what you value, and that’s one of those learning to center those fundamental truths and that it’s perfectly fine to like what you like and to value what you value, and you have permission to do that, then let you say, “You know what, that man with the shoes on over there, those shoes are really kicking, man. I love those shoes. I wish I had them.” So, what is it about that and what do you want to do to address that?

Maybe you decide later on, “No, maybe I was just being materialistic,” or maybe, just maybe, you like the shoes, and that’s enough for you to say, “You know what, I’m going to do something about that, meaning I’m either going to buy it, or if I can’t afford it, it’s worth it to me to do the work that I need to do to exchange my labor for money I need to get those things.” And that is a choice that I don’t think we allow ourselves to really sink into a lot of times unless they are socially-approved values and likes, in which case it’s kind of a given that we get those.

Like, many people, I know this is kind of straying in the personal finance land, but many people don’t question the value of owning a home because it’s one of those given, it’s like that’s just what you do. You go to school, you get a job, you get a partner, you buy a house, right? And so, deciding not to buy a house and deciding to be a renter for the rest of your life because you realize that 3% to 5% of you the cost of your home is going to be spent in maintenance, and those type of things in general. Like, that becomes important but a lot of people don’t give themselves permission to say, “You know what, this whole home-buying thing, not something I care so much about. I care more about freedom. I care more about that.”

And, again, I’m not trying to make a strong case for that particular economic choice. I’m just trying to say there’s a lot of decisions like that, that we default to the socially-approved cues and, unfortunately, end up living our lives doing work that we would rather not do to get stuff that we really don’t want, and then miss out on this one precious life that we have in front of us and that way we could have lived it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s adding up and resonating there in each of those components in terms of this is just what you do versus you’ve given some real thought to it. And when it comes to envy, I think it’s also intriguing to look and see if there are some finer distinctions because you got my wheels turning in terms of I saw this Netflix documentary about Bill Gates and I had some envy, but I don’t at all have envy for Elon Musk, right? And so, here are these two super rich people who are innovating but there’s a distinction and that is sort of rich fodder for potential insight. So, it’s like, where do you have envy and where is there a similar situation where you don’t? And then we’re really homing in on something.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, what does that envy tell you about your values? That would be the question, right? And where is the lack of envy in other places, not do the same things? So, again, these are really good tools. And the thing about it is, especially productivity but I’ll say the broader sort of personal development, we approach it from a headspace in like a thinking space. But when it comes down to actually doing the work that changes lives, changes our lives, changes other people’s lives, and having the courage and being able to set up the boundaries, it’s always going to come back to your heart space. It’s always going to come back to stuff that really matters.

And so, I encourage people to actually steer with that as opposed to getting caught into all the things sort of in that headspace of what you should do. And, just while I’m on that, just about any time you’re telling yourself you should do something, pause. Because, usually, what you’re telling yourself is that there’s some external standard that is a guideline for what you ought to be doing. And where I want you to pause is say, “But is that really true for me? Is it really true that that’s the right thing for me to do?”

And sometimes when you should, in the case of given who I am and what I care about, this is the thing that I need to do, but I’ve learned so oftentimes, so many times we only use the word should when it’s an external rule, an external guide. And when it’s our own sort of compass, we say, “I get to…” or, “This matters to me,” or, “I want to…” or, “This is meaningful.” Like, we use all sorts of words that are different than the should word. Does it make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I have been thinking about should a lot lately in terms of, I guess, when I see or hear should, I get very curious as well in terms of “What do you really mean by that?” And I find, often, that should, all that really means is, “If one were to invest additional time, energy, money, resource in this domain, there would be some kind of a benefit.” But, like you said with regard to opportunity cost, well, is that really worthwhile?

And I’m really intrigued when I hear it with regard to people talking about TV or Netflix, like, “Oh, have you seen the latest season of this?” And I say, “Oh, no, I should really watch that.” And I’m thinking, “Man, really, should you? I think you got the right idea and I’m the one who should watch less Netflix.”

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, stop shooting on yourself is a long way of saying it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Charlie Gilkey
Like, if you wanted to do it, you would have watched the show already. If it really mattered to you, it just turns out that, I talk a lot about cage matches, whether it’s a priority cage match or a project cage match, and that’s just a homage to my upbringing in the ‘80s of professional wrestling, where the basic idea, if you’ve never seen this, it’s like a bunch of competitors get into the ring, and the strongest one, some way or the other, ends up throwing everybody else out or beating them into submission. So, I know, terrible metaphor for this particular context.

But there are certain priorities and certain things that they’re always going to win that cage match. If you are a parent and something comes up about your kids, you’re going to displace almost everything else to make sure that their needs are attended to. And so, what I want more of us to do is to look at all the OPP, the other people’s priorities, not the Naughty by Nature O.P.P. song, but that’s also a great song, right? I want to look at everyone else’s priorities and say, “You know what, why and how are those more important than my own?” Because you could be that person that runs around trying to fill everybody else’s priorities and end up exhausted and depleted and frustrated, and still not be able to appease everyone and fill their buckets.

Or, you can say, “You know what, I can’t be everything for everyone. I’m choosing for the smaller set of priorities to be who I am and to live in the way, live and work and allocate my time in a way that really accentuates those values.” And that does mean that there are a lot of people who might be mad at you, there might be a lot of people who decide not to be friends with you, or there might be a lot of other, like there might be some social fallout for that. But, again, look forward into a decade, would you rather have done the things that really are going to power the type of life you want to live or just continue to maintain other people’s projects and priorities?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And while we’re here, as I’m rolling with it, what are your pro tips on saying no?

Charlie Gilkey
Pro tips on saying no. It depends on where it’s coming from, so I got to start with that. Obviously, if your boss walks into the door, walks into the office, and is like, “Hey, I’ve got a new project and priority for you,” be careful about saying no to that because you may not get to say yes to the job tomorrow, right? And so, there’s a context there. And even with bosses, and I’ve had to do this in the military, back when I was in the Army, where it’s like you get handed this project, or you get handed this mission, you’re like, “Okay. Well, I can do this but it may displace some of these other priorities that you have for me and that we’ve already talked about. So, do you want me to do this instead of that? Or like what’s the priority conversation here?”

And that I think always returning to, especially the work environment, to priorities is a good way to talk about it, because you’re not saying, “Screw you. I don’t care.” You’re saying, “I’m here to do a certain job, or I’m here to make sure that I’m providing the best value to this team that I can. We’ve already discussed these other ways in which I could provide that value. Now, there’s this new thing. Is this better than that?” And that’s a good conversation that a lot of teams can have even that a lot of people can have with their boss.

I think when it’s with your friends and family, first off, my observation is that we spend too little time talking to friends and family about what actually matters to us, and so we end up negotiating a bunch of trivial things. We get invited to go to the club, or you get invited to go to watch the football game on Saturday, or you get invited to all these sorts of things, or you get expected to, like, “Hey, can you watch my kid today?” or, “Can you come over?” and there’s never been that talk of, like, “Actually, Saturday is the day that I spend in community service, and that’s why I’m down to soup kitchen every Saturday because that’s super important to me.” We haven’t established our priorities first and so we’re always negotiating what matters on the backside of things.

So, step one is to have more intentional conversations with your friends and family about things that matter to you, the projects you’re working on and how they fit into this life that you want to live, in that way when you do get asked to do something or requested to do something, there’s a preexisting conversation about some things that matter. It changes it, it changes the conversations because the people around you understand that it’s not like you’re sitting at home on that Saturday evening just looking for something to do, right? You have these other plans for yourself and other things that truly matter, so it does help with that conversation.

The second way that I would look in on this one would be to, where it’s a resonant request, meaning it’s from someone who can legitimately make that request, and it’s something that, in general, like you’re open to doing it but perhaps can’t do it right now, is always provide that alternative. It’s like, “You know, I’m sorry that I can’t do that that day because I have some preexisting commitments. Is there a way that I can do that Wednesday or Friday or this other period of time? Because what you’re requesting from me, I actually do care about and I care about the relationship that we’re in here. That particular time is not the best time.”

And the last thing that I would say is, and this goes back to talking about things that matter and being honest with your friends and family, is if there are certain things that you’re being requested to do and they don’t resonate, and they aren’t something you’re ever going to do, don’t BS people and be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get to it,” or, “Yeah, it sounds great,” or, “We’ll have coffee in three months.” If you know that you don’t want to have coffee in three months, avoid that. Avoid setting that sort of precedent. And I know that seems perhaps obvious, and maybe it seems hard, but I think too many people are not honest with the people around them for fear of rejection, or for fear of becoming a social pariah, or whatever that is, and we end up negotiating a lot of things that, if we were just being forthright with folks, we wouldn’t have to be negotiating.

Pete Mockaitis
Charlie, I have no interest in drinking coffee with you.

Charlie Gilkey
Hey, I got it. Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not true, Charlie. I think it’d be a lot of fun.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how does one say that?

Charlie Gilkey
How does one say, “I’m not interested in having coffee”?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ever.

Charlie Gilkey
Ever.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I think that’s kind of what you’re saying. They’re saying, “Hey, in a few months when things quiet down,” it’s like that’s kind of what you mean is that’s just fundamentally is not worth doing to you.

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, that’s a tricky one, right? Well, here’s what I’ll say. Very rarely do I have someone out of the blue who doesn’t know just ask me to go for coffee, right? So, typically, it’s in the context where they know I got a lot of stuff going on, and so I can say, “Ooh, I’m going to have a hard time.” Or, what I will normally say is, “Hey,” especially if I don’t know them and I really don’t want to have coffee, like, “What’s your thought there? What are you thinking?” And this may just be peculiar to my line of work because I am a coach and things like that.

If it comes up with doing all these things, like, “I’d love to have coffee because I want to pick your brain about something,” then I can say, “Hey, Pete, I’d love to have that conversation. I am a professional coach, and the best way for us to have that conversation would be under this sort of structure. Are you open for that conversation?” And, basically, what that’s saying in some way, without being a butthole about it, is, one…

Pete Mockaitis
It ain’t free.

Charlie Gilkey
It ain’t free. And, two, if it matters to you, like if it matters for you enough to do it, then let’s have that conversation. But, for me to show up and do that for free, like, again, that’s displaced other people who pay me to do this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
And, on that note, I have a certain amount of time that I just think of as service to the world and community service and things like that. And so, there are some people who are like, “You know what, that’d totally be something that I would pay…” like someone would pay me to do. But, in this circumstance, I just feel called that this is a conversation that I want to be in and so I’ll do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Charlie Gilkey
But, again, I don’t get a lot of that. I know women actually get a lot more requests for coffee, and it’s kind of one of those things. Are they requesting you to coffee to pick your brain? Which is basically that conversation we were just having, Pete. Or are they wanting to establish a friendship? And so, I think, largely speaking, the best way to say no sometimes is to say, “Let’s determine what we’re actually trying to do.”

If you want to avoid that tendency to say yes too quickly, and this does seem to contradict what I was saying a little bit earlier, your go-to is always, “Let me check my schedule and see what projects I have, and see how I can make that work.” And then say, “Let me get back to you in a day or so.” And then that at least gives you enough time to not overcommit yourself, but also think about how you’re going to disengage from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. Well, Charlie, we got a lot of good stuff here. I had a big list going in. You’ve distinguished three different ways projects get stuck, and I think that’s worth mentioning. So, can you give us, what are these three categories and how do we deal with those?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah, can I get a three and a half here?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 3.5, yeah.

Charlie Gilkey
Three-point-five because I kind of want to talk about the red zone on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Charlie Gilkey
Because the red zone is a metaphor, I’m appealing to American football, where as you get in that last 20 yards of the drive, a lot of teams will fumble it, or a lot of teams will screw up in that last 20 yards, and then end up in a field goal situation, or a turnover situation. And the reason you end up in a red zone is because they’re such tight space that everything working against you doesn’t have to spread itself so thin.

And so, projects can get stuck in that red zone where you’re in that last sort of 3% that seems to take as long as the full 97% before, and a lot of that is just about, again, that’s when your perfectionism is going to come up, that’s when your procrastination is going to come up, that’s when all of the implications of the scope and goal will creep, start coming up. And so, just understand that that’s a normal part of the process.

And in the book, I do give some ways to work through the red zone, but part of it is doubling down at the end and not thinking that you’re just going to be able to slide it home. I’m being super quick there because I’m conscious of time.

The other three sort of ways projects get stuck, so there are cascades, there are logjams, and there are tar pits. Cascades are when you have a series of projects that you got to do step A before you do step B before you do step C, and step A gets behind, so step B gets behind, so step C gets behind, and you might have a whole cascade of those. And at a certain point, I think we’ve all been in that where you start spending more time trying to keep your projects up to date and communicating with people about those projects than just getting those projects done in the first place, and it just keeps slipping on you.

And so, the trick of solving the cascade is you actually have to clip both ends of the cascade. You have to stop new projects coming in and, in a lot of times, you have to look at those projects that are backed up and start deferring them, start dropping them, and start focusing on getting the ones that you can through so that you get it going again. So, you can’t just focus on the new projects.

So, there are times, Pete, where people will come to me and they’ll tell me what they’re doing, it’s like, “All right. So, first thing is we’re on a new project diet, right? You don’t get to take on any new projects until we get these ones done because we don’t have any space to add anything anyways. It’s just going to be a frustrating conversation for both of us three weeks later because you’re going to tell me, ‘I didn’t make any progress on anything.’ And I’ll ask you why, because you didn’t have time, so on and so forth, so let’s not do that.” New project diet.

So, you got to sort of clip both ends. Once you get enough of those projects going, then maybe start accepting new projects back into the pipeline. And how that might work in a work context is, again, talking to your boss and being like, “Look, here’s what’s happening. I’m not able to get any of these projects done because of the rate this is coming. I need two weeks or I need a week where I can just focus on getting these things caught up. Here’s my plan for that. Is that all right with you?”

And a lot of times, when faced between you not getting something done, and you getting something done, bosses and teammates would much rather you get something done. And so, it’s not as hard of a conversation as people make it. You just have to admit that the amount of inputs that are coming in exceed your ability to put them in the output mode. And that’s a hard conversation for a lot of us to have, but having that conversation after four months of struggling, doesn’t do you any favors. If you see that, you might as well get ahead of it.

You know, a lot of what we’ve been talking about today is about taking the hard parts or maybe the pain parts of getting stuff done and putting them on the frontside of things, because the idea is that at some point, if you’re going to be falling behind and overcommitting and your projects are going to be stacking up on you, there’s a certain amount of pain that that’s going to cause. We know that. And so, it’s not necessarily avoiding the pain. It’s, can you put some of the pain at the beginning of it so that you don’t have to face so much of it later on? So, cascade, that’s how you handle cascades.

Logjams are when you have too many projects competing for the same amount of time. This is the classic case where you have five deadlines on Friday, and you start looking at all the work it would take to do those deadlines. There’s just no way you can do them all at the same time. So, it’s different than the cascade, because cascade, you can kind of think of like projects stacked back to back. A logjam is like projects stacked on top of each other, and there’s just a certain amount that’s kind of like trying to push the golf ball through the garden hose. It doesn’t work, right?

So, with the logjam, some of it is similar in the sense of like a no-new-project diet will help but you really have to get real about, like, “Which of those projects that are trying to compete for the same amount of time have to be done?” Like, if you don’t do them, you’ll get fired, or it will cause a lot of pain, and which ones are nice to do? And those nice to do ones, or would be good to get done, or the ones that get deprioritized so you can focus on getting those ones that will get you in hot water done, and then you can sort of reestablish the flow of your projects again.

And the last one is a tarpit. And I’ve learned this for a lot of creative projects, but a tarpit is when that project is like you sort of touch it a little bit, and then the second you let it go, it starts sinking in a tarpit, in like one of those Jurassic tarpits, it gets stickier and deeper and deeper. And not only do you have to work to pick it up, you have to work to pull it out of it all over again. So, if you’re ever stuck with one of those projects and the mental or spiritual or literal closet, you know what I’m talking about. It’s so hard to resurrect those things. And then once you do, the second you let it go, it starts sinking back in there.

And so, the thing about tarpits is a lot of times it’s some layer of fear that keeps that thing hiding in the background, or there are some deep sort of emotion around it, and you’ve got to get clear about what that is before you get back into that project, because if you don’t address it, the same pattern of it sinking deeper and deeper is going to keep happening.

And then the other thing about tarpits, projects in a tarpit, is you want to make sure to give it enough time, enough of those focused blocks that I’ve talked about, that you can go ahead and clear all of the muck and get some significant progress on it, because, I’ll tell you what, there are a few things better than seeing one of those tarpit projects and figuring out, it actually does still matter to you, you’ve just been daunted or overwhelmed or steered by it, and then it’s knuckling down for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, getting it done. It’d be like, “You know what, it’s done. It’s out of my soul. It’s out my emotions, out of my brain, and I can move onto the next thing, feeling so much more buoyant, and not just weighed down by that project that’s just sort of haunting me from the closet.”

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us some examples of projects that often fall into the tarpit category?

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. So, creative projects and creative, broadly speaking, so if you want to write a book, yeah, that can be a tarpit project. If you’re a musician, you’ve been meaning to write an album, those fall into the tarpit pretty quickly because it can be challenging to bare your soul in the ways that it takes to do that type of creative work.

A common tarpit project that I’ve seen from people, I haven’t had this problem yet because of the age of my parents, but it’s when you end up with heirlooms and sentimental items that you inherit from your parents when they pass. They end up in garages and closets where you just can’t get in there, and you can’t figure out what to do with your mom’s baby shoes that she gifted to you for some reason.

And so, those types of projects, and anything around clearing out the material belongings or material items that exists from relationships, so it could be that you have that box. I know of a few of my female friends that have boxes of letters and cards from boyfriends they had in high school, right? And I’m like, “Well, okay. So, what’s that about?” But just getting in there and figuring out what to do with it and things like that can be a total tarpit.

For a lot folks, financial stuff, getting your taxes in order, figuring out where all your money has gone, is going, might go, anything around money can be one of those tarpit projects which is like, “You know, I want to get in it, I get in there, I poke around a little bit, but I don’t actually make the investment. I don’t actually buy the insurance. I don’t actually do the thing that I need to do.” Those tend to be classic sources of tarpits.

And what else? I think those are three pretty good cases of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s lovely. Thank you. Well, tell me, Charlie, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Charlie Gilkey
I know we’re wrapping things up, but I wanted to talk briefly about success packs because it’s a game-changer for people. And success packs are just a group of people that you put around yourself and your project that really help you figure out how to go. I would normally talk a little bit more about this, but the thing about success packs is they help you convert “how” problems into “who” solutions.

And when you use them, it takes a lot of that overload that we can feel, that overwhelm that we can feel about having to have it all figure out ourselves, and all the work that we might do, and feeling alone, and just realizing that we have a team of people that we can reach out to for different reasons. And so, whenever you’re wanting to do work that matters for you, before you start making heavy plans, before you start jumping headlong in there, think about the group of people that you would want to put around you that will be your advisors, that will be your helpers, that will be the people who benefit from the projects, and that will be your guides so that, again, you’re not stuck doing this type of work alone.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. So, now, tell me about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring.

Charlie Gilkey
This one is from Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching and it goes, I’ll give this version of it, “Because the master is aware of her faults, she is faultless.” And the idea there goes that because she’s honest about her limitations and constraints and who she is, those limitations, constraints and character quirks don’t end up tripping her up and making her life harder than it needs to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Charlie Gilkey
And so, I love that because I think a lot of times we don’t want to talk about those constraints and limitations and challenges. It’s kind of like when people are like, “Well, we don’t want to talk about the hard things because it makes them real.” But if you arm is broken, like you talking about your arm being broken doesn’t break it. It’s already broken. So, what are you going to do about it? And so, I love that one because whenever I’m, one, it allows a lot of room for humility but it also allows a lot of room for hope at the same time.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I’ve been really geeking out on the marshmallow test, and especially that they got it wrong.

It turns out that that was largely, when they did the research on the data and they tried to run it again, what they found out was actually a determination of someone’s social status was actually what was determining their ability to hold out or not. And the reason I’m super pumped about that finding is, one, having grown up as a poor kid, and just seeing how different realities manifest because of just where you grew up on the opportunity divide, gave me a lot of hope there. But it also reminds me that we need to be super careful about the judgments we make on people, and that we need to dig deeper when we’re starting to see some of these types of trends.

And so, again, it’s one of those big things that’s largely grit determined what you would be able to do in life, and it turns out that where you start in life determined how much grit you may have. And that means, in some ways, grit is a muscle that we can all work on, and our future is not necessarily predicated by where we grew up, even though that has a super strong influence on it.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Well, since I got the quote from that, I probably should say the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

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

Charlie Gilkey
The tool that’s popping up to me is the AlphaSmart Neo2 which is a late ‘90s word processor. It’s, basically, a keyboard with an LCD screen on it. And it’s really helpful for writing when you’ve been super distracted, or when you got a lot going on. It’s actually what I wrote about 95% of Start Finishing on. And when it comes to quality words and volume of words, I have yet to find a better solution than the AlphaSmart Neo.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Charlie Gilkey
That would have to be my morning routine. And so, I drink tea and meditate for at least 25 minutes in the morning, and that 25 minutes setup the rest of the day. And there’s a marked difference when I don’t have that 25 minutes than when I do, or when I don’t prioritize it. So, that is the habit that keeps all the other habits going.

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

Charlie Gilkey
I don’t have a really good one but what resonates is a quote but something that a lot of readers have said about this book, is really commenting that the part about them not being uniquely defective really stands out. So, I can say it in a quote form. So, in the book, I talk about, in chapter one, I just remind people that we’re not uniquely defective. We’re not fated to being able to get our stuff together. And we’re not fated to always be in struggles with that. And I think that’s such an important point because a lot of times we approach really important stuff from a frame of like there’s something uniquely defective about us that’s going to keep us from being successful.

And when you let go of that belief, when you let go of that way of orienting yourself to the world, and you see that, to quote Marie Forleo of like everything is figure-outable, and you are fundamentally able to change if you will yourself to do it, it opens up the world of possibilities. And so, yeah, that’s the one I would put down as you’re not uniquely defective.

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

Charlie Gilkey
So, if you’re interested in the book, go to StartFinishingBook.com, that’s all one word. If you’re interested in the broader body of work that I’ve got, you can find it at ProductiveFlourishing.com.

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

Charlie Gilkey
Yeah. In the next full week that you have, reach into that closet of your soul where you put one of those projects that really matter, one of those ideas that really matter, that will make your work better, that will make your colleagues work better, that will make your workplace better, and start thinking about, “How can I spend at least two hours this week bringing that idea to life and turning it into a project?” Start with that two hours and if that’s all you’ve got is two hours a week, better to work on that and make work awesome than to leave it in there waiting for a better time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Charlie, this has been so much. Thank you and good luck in all of your finishing projects.

Charlie Gilkey
Thanks so much for having me, Pete.

491: How to Have Powerful Conversations that Improve Performance with Jonathan Raymond

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Jonathan Raymond says: "We're too nice to each other. We're not having honest conversations."

Refound CEO Jonathan Raymond teaches how to communicate feedback that gets results.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes traditional feedback ineffective
  2. How to have more effective conversations using the 5 stages of the Accountability Dial
  3. How to articulate feedback to your team, your peers, and your seniors

About Jonathan

After twenty years of not being able to decide whether he was a business executive or a personal growth teacher, Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. He’s the author of Good Authority — How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, and the Founder & CEO at Refound, a people training company that teaches people how to have human conversations at work. Refound specializes in working with people leaders at high-growth organizations and is proud to be a trusted learning partner to Fortune 100 organizations like Panasonic and McKesson, cutting edge tech firms like Niantic and Box and small businesses that are going places. He’s madly in love with his wife, tries not to spoil his daughters, and will never give up on the New York Knicks. Jonathan is an experienced CEO and people manager and has thrown his heart, mind, and soul into more than a few culture change projects. He lives in Encinitas, California and is an avid, albeit mediocre, surfer.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Jonathan Raymond Interview Transcript

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

Jonathan Raymond
Thanks, Pete. It’s great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, have you learned anything extraordinarily useful and maybe new that changed the way you were thinking from two years ago?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, I hope the answer to that is yes. We’ve learned a ton, really, as an organization.
I think that one of the ways that we work with organizations and try to advise them is, you know, a lot of people will say, like, “Well, we want more communication.” But if you actually talk to people inside an organization, which we do through our engagements, they say, “Well, you know, it’s not so much that I want more communication. There’s plenty of communication.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Plentiful.

Jonathan Raymond
“What I want is for them to think a little harder.” They meaning the organization or the leaders or whoever. “I want them to think a little more about which ones matter to me and why, and invest a little bit more time in context and why, why this particular piece of communication.” There’s a bunch of stuff that you’re telling me about that, it’s not that I don’t care but I have so many things that I’m trying to digest at the same time, I’d rather you didn’t. If you could just invest a little bit more time in thinking into which pieces of communication need a little bit more context and a little bit more of the why, those organizations are succeeding in terms of having more effective communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to communication effectiveness, I wanted to chat with you in some real depth about feedback. We touched upon it last time, which was, boy, way back, more than about a couple of years there. And so, I wanted to talk about feedback in particular for this chat and maybe to start us off with in what ways does feedback often sort of just not work in teams and organizations? Sort of what’s the problem that you bump into most often?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. Well, let’s start by thinking about for anyone who’s married or in a serious relationship. When you try to give feedback to your partner or spouse, how does it go? Usually not well, right? If you have kids and you try to give your kids feedback, including but not limited to teenagers, how does it go? Generally, not well, right? Why? Like, why does feedback not generally go well?

One is because we’ve got a lot of pent-up emotions, typically. We sometimes have more power than the other person, not always. We are often missing context around why they did what they did when they did it. There are so many possible ways that things could go wrong. We have our own bias, we have our own judgments, we have a lot of our own projection and how we feel about ourselves, so it’s a mess. So, when we enter into a thing called a feedback conversation, the likelihood of success is very low given all of those factors.

And so, we have to start thinking beyond feedback. Because that setup, whether it’s in the workplace or in our families—it doesn’t work. We know that it doesn’t work. People get defensive, it’s awkward, we feel uncomfortable, we talk past one another, so we need another way to think about solving the problem of what is the problem that feedback is intending to solve. There’s a real problem there that we’re sort of taking this tool called feedback and saying, “Oh, that’s going to solve it.” And then we found our position is like, “Hmm, not so much. It’s not going to work for that for a lot of different reasons. There’s another way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose most often, the problem I’m trying to solve with feedback is, “I would like for you to do this thing differently and better as I perceive better.” And so, if feedback is not the mechanism, what is?

Jonathan Raymond
So, for us, the everyday conversations take a different tone. So, exactly as you said, right, “What is the purpose of feedback?” Well, I want someone to behave differently. Now, we could also say we also want to give them feedback around things that they do well. And we’ll get into kind of the different feedback spaces or the different feedback relationships that we all have.

But if we think about approaching that conversation, not by making a statement about something but by asking a question, or making an observation, but doing it from a place of acknowledging our subjectivity, and saying, “Hey, I noticed this,” or, “It seems to me that X,” or, “When I was sitting in the meeting, one of the things that struck me was…”

But we’re approaching those conversations with a spirit of curiosity, with a spirit of dialogue, like, “I don’t have all the information. I don’t know everything about why you did what you did when you did it. I just noticed something and I’m going to bring it up because, as your colleague or as your manager or as your subordinate—whatever the case may be—I see that as part of my role to when I see things that are either problematic or potentially problematic, part of my role as a leader in this organization and in standing for my own values is to say something.”

But the way we go about it changes the whole game. And if we approach it from a place of assumption and conclusion and prescriptive, like, “This is what happened, and this is what you need to do differently.” Well, now we’re doing feedback and we’ll get the results that you would imagine. But if we approach it from a place of, “Hey, I have a question about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It seemed like this but I could be…” And so, it’s having that open hand relative to those everyday conversations.

So, in one way you could say, “Oh, that’s another way to do feedback,” and that’s fine, you could call it that. But for us it’s really different. When we train and teach these tools, people feel like, “Oh, so I don’t really have to give feedback in the way that I understood it. All I have to do is talk with people. All I have to do is show up as a human being, find a way to surface what I’m feeling, thinking, sensing, and then we can have a conversation, and that’s right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued. So, we start with the curiosity and a statement of, “Hey, I noticed this…” And then maybe how’s the rest of the conversation go or maybe could you do a roleplay or an example?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes, so what we did is we created a tool called the Accountability Dial. And what we found—and this came from my own painful experiences as a people leader—is that I found myself having the same conversations over and over again, whether I was in a management role or when I was more junior, and I would flag something or name something, and I would find myself repeating those conversations.

And so, what we did is we created an architecture, we said, “Hey, what if there’s actually five parts to that conversation?” We called them the mention, the invitation, the conversation, the boundary, and the limit. And if we think about locating ourselves, “Well, where am I in this conversation? Is it the first time that I’m bringing this up? Well, I’m at the mention stage.” “Hey, Jennifer, I was in this standup this morning and you seemed frustrated by where the conversation was going. I’d love to hear more about that if I’m reading that right.” So, that’s the mention, right?

So, I don’t know why Jennifer, maybe there’s a really good reason, maybe there might be 27 things that could be happening, maybe I’m misinterpreting the situation. But my mention is just my first attempt to get in dialogue with Jennifer about that. So, that’s the mention.

Now, let’s say a couple of days goes by, maybe a week goes by, and I’m still sensing she’s frustrated in that meeting, I notice that in some email back and forth, something is not clicking. So, if I was Jennifer’s manager or if I was her peer and I cared about her as another human being, I wouldn’t let it go. I would come back to her and I would say, “Hey, I mentioned something in the hall last week. I’ve noticed a couple of other things. It seems to be something bigger and I care. I want to know. Maybe there’s something, maybe there’s some way that I can help.”

So, that’s the invitation stage, the second step of going into a little bit more deeper dialogue. And every single one of these steps, all five of them, are ways to express care in human ways to say, “Look, there’s something going on, or at least I think there is, and if there’s something that I’m doing, I want to be able to change it. And if there’s something that we need to work out together, well, let’s do that.”

And so, we go through those stages. That’s how we move through the Accountability Dial where we don’t try to tackle the whole thing in one bite. It doesn’t work that way. We’re not geared to be able to solve important things as human beings that touch on all these interpersonal and intrapersonal issues. We can’t solve those in a 30-second conversation so we’re going to come back to it a couple of times over a period of days or weeks or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
And for that second bit there, the invitation, what exactly are we inviting them to?

Jonathan Raymond
So, we’re inviting them to reflect, to say, “Hey, look, it looked like it was maybe a one-off thing but now I’m seeing maybe it isn’t a one-off thing. Maybe there’s a pattern that’s emerging. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean you failed, it doesn’t mean I’m judging you. It just means, hey, I’m here. I’m human, you’re human. There are probably things that you see about me that maybe are patterns. But, in this instance, here’s something that I’m seeing. And if I’m your manager,” and, again, this is a philosophical point of view.

In our work, we say, “Hey, if you’re the manager or the people leader, it’s your responsibility to approach that person, if not in real time, in near time to say, ‘Hey, look, there’s something that seems to be happening here. I’m inviting you to take a reflection on this, to think about, hey, is there something that you’re not saying, or is there a conversation you need to have with someone else, or is there a step that you need to do that you haven’t done?’” Whatever it is, but not from a place of judgment or shaming, but just offering somebody from that coaching mindset, a reflection from the outside.

Because what’s really hard for us as humans is we don’t see when we’re doing that often. Most of us, our powers of self-reflection, especially with the pace of work, are limited. So we want, you know, if you’re hungry for growth you need people around you who are going to say, “Hey, look. Hey, Jonathan, here’s something that I’m noticing. Maybe it’s worth thinking about.” That’s the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s an example we’re running with. So, Jennifer, the first time with the mention, she seemed frustrated by something. And then so how does the conversation unfold during the invitation phase? You say, “It appears that this has happened a couple more times. This might be a pattern. So, I invite you to think about it or…”

Jonathan Raymond
Well, so it depends in the context, right? So, if I’m Jennifer’s manager, that’s going to feel a certain way, if I’m a peer I might approach that conversation a little differently. It depends on how you know the person and what the nature of that relationship is. But the invitation stage, it’s not so much, it’s not a directive. The invitation is more sort of describing the stage. Like, imagine you had like a black light that you could put on the floor of an office, and you could see all of the, what we call, feedback conversations.
Mostly what you would see is a lot of like started but never re-engaged conversations. So, people bring up something, they flag something, they name something, they highlight something, but they never come back around to that person and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had the other day? There’s something else that I’m noticing that I think might be connected to it.”

And then the whole point of using the Accountability Dial in everyday conversations is you’re engaging your curiosity, right? “Hey, I don’t know. It’s not my job to know the answer, but here’s what I’m seeing,” and building those relationships of trust with a colleague. So, that’s the invitation. And then we move to the next stage, into the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then some time goes by again, and you notice some other things. And then what happens?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is when we try to help somebody, again, whether it’s a colleague, or a direct report, or somebody more senior, shift their awareness from intentions to impacts. So, most of the time, 99% of the time, when something happens in an office that isn’t great, or a factory floor, you know, we do a lot of work in manufacturing and other contexts like that, it’s not intentional. The person is not intentionally trying to create work for other people, or make life more difficult, or they’re not intentionally doing something to harm others or the team or the customer. And yet, behavior has impact.

And the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is to help somebody shift their awareness, “Hey, so I get that that’s not what you intended. I get that. I understand that. But I’d love to actually have a conversation about what the impact to de-personalize it. It’s not, well, you’re bad a person.” People are likely to get very defensive especially if you’re their manager or any other context like that too. I know many of your listeners are not in a people management role.

But the context of that conversation is, “Let’s step back and let’s talk about, well, if you’re finding yourself frustrated,” if we take Jennifer’s example, “Jennifer, if you’re finding yourself frustrated with the team and maybe the pace of projects, or there’s too many changes, or whatever it is, how might that be impacting your working relationships? How might that be impacting our customers or vendors or stakeholders? How might that be impacting the overall experience that we’re having as a team? How might it be impacting your own development? Like, is there some career goal or something that you’re working on that’s staying in the state of frustration is keeping you from reaching as fast as you may want?”

So, questions like that to help people go like, “Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about it in that way.” That’s how you know you’re in the conversation stage to help people, again, de-escalate. Like, the whole goal here is we’re trying to have human conversations, things happen, it’s not about jumping on somebody when they make a mistake, or creating a culture of fear is the opposite of what we want to create, but to be in conversation with that person, but to help them see.

Just like if you had a financial advisor, or a relationship coach, or in any domain of life, the reason why you hired that person is you’re trying to have a different outcome, right? So, you wouldn’t go to your relationship coach and say, “Well, I didn’t intend that,” and expect that to be the end of the conversation. “Of course, you didn’t intend that but that’s what happened, so let’s talk about why. Let’s talk about what the impact was and then let’s work our way backwards.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’re asking all those questions, “How might that impact…?” So, I’m imagining you have your view of how it’s impacting things. But is your recommendation to keep it more of you are more of a question-asker as opposed to a describer of what’s up or you do both?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. So, your orientation, in our overall philosophy, we say, “More Yoda, less Superman,” or, “More Yoda, less superhero.” So, your job is you’re trying to help somebody grow. You can’t actually force them to grow, right? You can’t make them change their behavior. So, the orientation, the best orientation to take as a coach is to ask questions.

And it doesn’t mean, just as you said, you may have a theory. Your theory may be bang on. You might have a really good theory as to what’s happening for them. But if you give it to them, they’re far less likely to feel ownership of that thing that they’re changing and they’re far less likely to succeed in their goal. But if you ask questions and you encourage them to think about things differently, that’s what a good coach does, right? That’s the difference between a coach and a consultant, right?

A consultant gets in there and does it for you, doesn’t force you to ask those difficult questions, those self-reflective questions. A coach, or the hallmark of a coach, is someone who’s willing, who takes a different tact, and says, “Look, this isn’t my thing to change, it’s your thing to change. And the best way that I know to support you is to let you do it and let you struggle a little bit, and have some, maybe, ‘Oh, wow, I never really thought about how it impacted our customers.’ Okay, that’s fine. Maybe think about that for a little bit and let’s get back together at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to solve everything in the moment. We become so inured to this, like, solutions, solutions, solutions, solutions. We don’t even know that we’re doing it. When we do inventory discovery, the depth to which we have adopted it, actually a really problematic level of firefighting and going through our inbox and knocking off inconsequential activity in place of strategic, in-depth full and creative thinking, a lot of that comes from how we role-model that. Do we role-model taking a moment to reflect? Or do we role-model like, “Okay, conversation solved. Let’s go. Action. Go, go, go”? That’s what leads to burnout and overwhelm and all of those things that take culture sideways.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m wondering here, if you’re asking, “How might that impact these things?” and they’re drawing a blank, and you know very well, “Yeah, I see the impact that that had on some things,” and they’re not picking it up, how do you play that game?

Jonathan Raymond
So, you can be and should be transparent. You can say, “Look, I have some theories about how it might be but I think it’s more helpful if you arrive at that on your own.” So, I would be transparent, that’s how I do it. And if they’re struggling, then you can give a hint, you say, like, “Well, one thing I noticed was in this interaction between David and Suzanne, I noticed this.” So, that would be an example. So, give them an example, a specific example of where you see that behavior having an impact.

And then you will almost always get, like, “Oh, I see what you’re saying. I never thought about it in that way before. Yeah, I could see three other things.” So, you’ve got to prime the pump a little bit oftentimes, especially if it’s really on the nose. If it’s something that somebody, it’s so second nature to them to do, you might have to give them an example, and then they’re much more likely to open up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so then, we engage in that conversation. And what happens next?

Jonathan Raymond
So, here we’re going to go, we’re going to diverge a little bit into different types of conversations. So, if I’m a more junior person relative to somebody that I work for, let’s say, and I’m having an accountability conversation. I’ve used the mention, I brought up something that I think is problematic that I’d like to see change. Nothing happened.

I went to the invitation stage, I said, “Hey, I think this is a pattern and it seems to be problematic to me.” Nothing happened. We had the conversation, maybe in a one-on-one, and hopefully I work in a culture where I can talk with my manager in a more open way. I know that that’s not always the case. It’s changing these days, not fast enough, but let’s assume that there’s some amount of that. But I have the conversation, we talk about the impact, and I get an acknowledgment from my boss, and they say, “Yeah, you’re right. I can see that is having an impact. I’ll get better at that.” Let’s say that’s the generic response.

Now, what do you do? So, it’s really different if you’re the manager and this person is more junior than you. You have more authority. You have more structure. You have the ability to put a boundary around the situation to say, “Hey, look, this is what needs to change by when, and here’s what it looks like.” And so, that’s what the boundary looks like if you’re in the manager position, or in the more senior position, you have more power.

If you’re in the more junior position, you have less power, the boundary might look different. It might be, “Well, okay, here’s where I’m at. I’ve had the conversation with this person. I’m not really sure where to go next. But maybe I’m not going to step up for volunteering on the next project that this person has, or maybe there’s some other step that I need to take.” Perhaps even going to an extreme position, and this is a very real position for many people, which is, “Look, if this keeps going, I don’t think I can keep working for this person, or I don’t think I can keep working on this team.”

And the reality is that’s the nature of how most people are already feeling. So the boundary is about getting in reality of where things actually are. And when we interview people all the time, thousands and thousands of people managers and frontline employees, and we ask them, like, “Well, how would you feel about setting a boundary for yourself of what do you need to take care of yourself here? And when does this need to change by? And what does change look like?”

Most people will say, like, “It’s got to change like this week,” or, “It’s got to change in the next month.” Like, I understand why they’re struggling with this but people are incredibly frustrated. And I think one of the things that we have to do is we have to take the mystery out of this idea of like employee engagement or employee disengagement. That’s what it looks like. If you’re spending your energy and life units worrying about what the organization is doing and, “Why my manager is behaving this way?” you’re already disengaged on some level, reasonably so, from the mission and the values of that organization because it’s not real to you.

And so, that boundary stage, or that fourth stage, mention, invitation, conversation, boundary, looks really different depending upon how much power you have in the conversation. And then the third version of that is if you’re working with a peer, you have the same amount of authority as they do, well, what does that looks like? So, the first three steps are the same, mention, invitation, conversation, and then at the boundary, we’ve had whether it’s a senior exec or a junior manager, actually make new agreements, “Hey, we have to make a change because this is what’s happening in your group over here, and these are our needs. This is what we need from you.”

And so, that boundary stage is critical. And when I talk with CEOs, every single CEO I’ve ever worked with, at some point in our first conversation, they’ll say something to the effect of, “Well, accountability is one of our core values.” They don’t always use the word exactly accountability but they’ll say, “Accountability is one of our core values.” And I say, “Great. That’s wonderful. Talk to me about that. How does that work in your organization?” And they’ll say, “Well, what does that mean? What do you mean how does it work?” “Well, talk to me about a situation where someone wasn’t accountable and what the consequences were.” And they say, “Well, what do you mean consequences?” To which I reply, “Well, what do you mean accountability?”

And then we can have an interesting conversation. And this is what we see over and over again in organizations from Fortune 100 companies that we work with to tiny little startups that you’ve never heard of. This is what organizations are struggling with right now. We’re too nice to each other. We’re not having honest conversations. We’re way too over-indexed on wanting to be liked and wanting to be nice and we’ve forgotten the value of having people who are courageous in positions of leadership, in positions of management, who say, “Look, that’s not the way we do it here. We need to do better.”

And we’ve lost that in large measure. We’ve lost that foundational accountability. We could talk about the historical narrative of why, but that’s a lot of the phase that we’re in right now, is we went from too much command and control, we said, “We don’t like that.” And then we went to not enough command, not enough direction, and now we’re finding our way as a business culture, we need a hierarchy, we need managers, we need leaders, we need people who have more experience to direct activity. How do we do that in the lightest way possible so we don’t undermine autonomy and creativity and we’re as transparent as we can be? And that’s the moment that I think we’re in right now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, if you are the junior person, with regard to the boundary, do you recommend that you sort of share that boundary with the manager, or that’s just sort of internal, it’s like, “Okay, this is what I’ve decided that this behavior will need to change within a month or I’m going to be pursuing new opportunities”? Or, what’s your thought? Is it more something you articulate or more something that’s internal?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the first thing you have to know, you may already know, like, “Is there a fear of retribution?” because that could be very real. It is very real in some cases. But, if possible, I would recommend articulating it. And so, here’s what it sounds like. If I’m setting a boundary with someone more senior, I’m saying, “Look, I really appreciate that we have this conversation. It’s impacting my results and I don’t know what else I can do.” Right? So, that’s my boundary. It’s like, “I’m working within the constraints that I see in front of me and I believe that that’s where I’m at, and I can’t move what I can’t move. I don’t have the authority to change that. I need you to change that. But, in the interim, here’s where I’m at.”

And so, to be able to articulate the impact, again, so we’re pointing the conversation stage forward, so that impact is still there. “And here’s how it’s impacting our results. And I’m doing the best I can. If there’s something that you think that I’m missing, please tell me. I’m happy to hear that. I’m happy to consider that but that’s where I’m at.” That’s the boundary as articulated to somebody more senior.

And, again, you have to know who you’re dealing with. I would say most of the time, and with most of our engagements with most managers, people are willing to hear that conversation as long as it’s not coming in the form of an attack. It’s like, “You’re screwing up and you’re making life bad for me.” And you frame that conversation as, “Look, here’s how it looks to me, is I can’t move this project any faster because these things happen so I’m going to continue to do it based on the constraints that I have.” So, that’s a form of how you would articulate that to somebody more senior.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think sometimes your boundary and the implication is that you’re just not enjoying the experience of work under the circumstances and you would rather be elsewhere.

Jonathan Raymond
Right. And I think that’s, at least in North America, we’re at effectively 0% unemployment, right? So, if you’re talented and you’re resourceful, you can go get another job and employers understand that. So, we do a lot of work in tech. The average tenure in tech is 1.8 years, right? It’s not very long. So, people are moving around a lot. It’s longer in other industries, but people are moving around a lot. People are looking for different experience of work.

And so, from our perspective, it’s like we’re just being reality around that and then make a plan. So, if you know, now there may be opportunities in that organization to move. You may have, hopefully you do have, other outlets for where to go, “Hey, I’ve been trying to have this conversation, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m frustrated. I really love this company, this organization, but this isn’t working for me.” If you’re any at all talented or a skilled person, you’re going to find a receptive ear in that other person. So, don’t feel like, my last piece of advice there is, don’t feel like you’re on an island there.

Oftentimes, people will leave an organization prematurely and then they won’t take that other step of like, “Go talk to somebody. What’s the worst that could happen is your feelings fall on deaf ears. Okay, well, you’re already there so no harm done in having that conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then there’s the final step, the limit.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, the final step is the limit, and a lot of people think, “Well, the limit means I quit,” or the limits means you’re fired. It doesn’t mean that. If people read the book Good Authority they’ll get the nuance there is if you think about good leaders, just take a moment, for anyone who’s listening to this, take a moment to reflect on effective coaches, mentors, parents, teachers, people in your life who were there in a moment in your life where something big changed for you, something important, not a minor thing, a major thing.

And if you think back to those situations, in some of those moments, one of the tools that they used was a limit. They said, “This goes no further. I can’t support you behaving in this way even one more time.” And it was in that moment where we went, “Whoa, I have to change. I have to do something different. This person, who I respect, who I value, who I love, who I know, even though I don’t like the way they said it, I know that they care about me. They’re putting up a stop sign and they’re saying no further with this behavior.”

And that is a key feature of how we grow as human beings. And so, the limit is doing that in the workplace. If we want to say, “Hey, we want to bring humanity to the workplace,” we have to bring all of it, and so that includes having a limit which doesn’t mean, “You’re fired.” It means, “Hey, we’ve been having this conversation — mention, invitation, conversation, boundary — I can’t support this behavior any longer.” Now, does that mean you’re fired? No, it means, “I want you to take some time to think about this, and maybe there’s a gear you haven’t found. Maybe, for whatever reason, it didn’t quite click for you until this moment. That’s all fine but I need you to tell me where we go from here.”

That’s the limit from the perspective of a manager and it’s an incredibly effective cultural tool. I’ve seen this happen over and over again where leaders, especially when someone is on the verge of maybe leaving an organization, and maybe for an okay reason, not because there’s animosity, but it’s just time to move on. And by having a boundary and by having a limit, you give the opportunity for that person to really own their exit. How often does that happen where a company can celebrate, or a team can celebrate when somebody leaves and it feels like a great moment instead of a lousy moment where everyone is like, “What happened?” and it creates all these gossip and politics?

If you use accountability conversations in the right way then that person will go, “You know what, actually this isn’t the right place for me anymore and I’m sort of approaching this from so much frustration, but there’s actually nothing wrong here. I need a role where I can do this other thing that I really love and I can’t do that here.” Okay, that’s all right. That doesn’t require any personal animosity. We can shake hands on that, and both from the individual and from the organizational perspective.

There are so many good things that can happen as a result instead of, you know, one of the things I say to managers all the time is, “Remember, when you’re managing somebody, especially if you’re in the process of thinking that they shouldn’t be on your team anymore, you got to worry about that person. But don’t worry all about that person. Worry about the rest of your team. How are they interpreting what’s happening? How are they perceiving how you’re handling this situation? How are they perceiving how this person is being treated and whatever their opinions may be?” People are watching so it’s your opportunity to live and live your values as a leader in how you treat people that may be exiting for a good reason or otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now this is a great framework and I’d love to hear it just sort of play out maybe one, or two, or three examples, one from the manager, one from a peer, and one from the report to the manager, and so three different scenarios. I’m really putting you on the spot, Jonathan. Let’s kind of rock and roll kind of through the five steps in three different scenarios.

Jonathan Raymond
Which one do you want to do first?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do the peer-to-peer first.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, let’s say I’m on the marketing team. I’m a junior manager on the marketing team, and I work a lot with operations because a lot of the stuff we do touches on operations. And my peer in the operations department basically says no to everything. Everything I want to do he says no to. So, my mention, let’s call him Dave. So, my mention to Dave is the first time that I see that ideally, I’m going to say, “Hey, so I know this request came through from somebody in our team and it got denied. Can you tell me a little bit more about what happened there? I want to understand.” So, there’s a mention. I’m not saying, “You have to change,” I’m not saying, “Push it.” I’m asking a question, right?

And then maybe I agree with his assessment, or I understand it even if I don’t like it, whatever it is, or I let it go. So, that’s my mention, I’m at the first stage where I’m saying, I’m flagging to some degree, “Hey, there’s a something here where we’re trying to accomplish something and your group said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I want to know a little bit more about that.”

So, then maybe that goes by and then I’m getting from my team, they come to me, they say, “Hey, Jonathan, we’ve pushed through like eight requests to do things in the last week, and like six of them were denied. And we don’t know why. We’re really frustrated. All those ops people, they’re a bunch of whatever.” “Slow down, okay? Let me go talk to Dave and see what’s happening.” So, I’m going to go back to Dave and I’m going to say, “Hey, Dave, so something is happening here. My team put through eight requests and six of them got denied, and I’m not sure what happened there, but there’s some frustration that’s emerging on my team.” So, I’m going to the next level. I’m not going to the CEO and saying, “Dave is a jerk.” I’m going to say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation.”

Now, I may or may not get a good answer from Dave, and I’m going to form my follow-ups based on that. I might even go right to the conversation, he might be like, “Oh, well, I didn’t think those were that big a deal so that’s why we denied them.” “Oh, wait a second. Well, do you have five minutes because I want to talk with you a little bit more?” I’m going to go into the conversation, “So, it’s impacting my team in a bunch of different ways. I don’t know if you’ve seen or folks have come to you with that.” So, we’re going to engage in a conversation shifting. I know he’s not trying to make life miserable for my team, but he’s making life miserable for my team! So we’re going to talk about impacts.

Again, we have the same level of authority in the organization so there’s that. Now, when we get to the boundary, Dave, maybe he tells me what I want to hear in that moment or it turns that he did, and that keeps happening and, basically, they keep behaving the same way and nothing ever changes. Now, I’m going to go back to Dave and say, “Dave, hey, look, we’ve got a problem here. So, we had a bunch of conversations about this, and I have to do something else here because, as I said to you, it’s impacting our goals, it’s impacting our speed and our ability to do things. If you and I can’t come to a resolution here, I’m stuck and obviously I’m going to have to go someplace else with that. I don’t want to do that but can we talk about this?” And we’re going to go deeper, right?

And that conversation might be a little uncomfortable but that’s where we’re going to go because, again, Dave doesn’t control whether I can afford my mortgage next month. He’s a peer in the organization and so we should be able to have healthy conflict. In a healthy organization you’re going to have healthy conflict just like in a healthy relationship, right? And so, that’s going to go through and then if nothing changes there, I say, “Hey, here’s what I need. I need you to go back and take a look at those eight requests and really come back to me. And say, hey, do those really need to be denied, and if so, why? And really help me to understand was it something the way we did it or however.”

And then I’m onto my limit stage where I might have to do something else. I might have to say to Dave, rather than me going to, let’s say we have the same manager, or we have a manager in common. I might say, “Look, I don’t want to go to that person by myself. I don’t want to do that but you and I need some help here. Let’s go talk to Jennifer and see if she can help us with a resolution. So, let’s go together rather than I said, you said, and that kind of thing. How’s that sound?” But I’m not going to let that conversation go. So, that’s what the Accountability Dial looks like, an example of what it looks like in a peer-to-peer situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. I understand it and that’s helpful seeing that play out. And it seems like the timeframes here could be short or long, you know.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
This might happen over the course of a year or a week.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s really the art of it is like, how important is it? Is it something that needs to be resolved today? Rarely, right? Sometimes, but rarely. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next week? Hmm, sometimes. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next 30 days? Almost always. And if you look at most cultures, you have a whole bunch of things that really need to get resolved in the next 30 days that never are, and they go on month after month after month, year after year, and we still haven’t dealt with that and we cycle through people, we cycle through systems, and we cycle through documents and culture initiatives because we’ve skipped over the human conversations to change the very nature of work, the things we work on together day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I want to get, let’s do another scenario, and let’s say I am managing somebody remotely and I have a request that I think is simple and that I’d like to see carried on, which is sort of that each day to get sort of a daily email that reveals, “Hey, this is what I worked on, and these are some questions I have for you, and this is what I plan to be working on tomorrow.” So, that’s something that I think is a good practice and I’d sure like to see that but I’m not seeing that. I say, “Day after day after day and maybe I brought it up.” How would you, using this model, kind of roll this out?

Jonathan Raymond
So, I’ll take a step back for a second because you said something that I want to push on a little bit. Is it something that you would like to see or something that you need to see?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s theoretically possible for work to happen without this.

Jonathan Raymond
But you’ve hired this person, right, or you’re managing them. In order to do your job, you need this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. There are certainly numerous negative implications of not having this.

Jonathan Raymond
So, part of it is what is the expectation? So, when this person came on your team, maybe the conversation was then. If not, maybe the conversation is now, and maybe that’s your mention, right? So, your mention is, “Hey, you know what,” there’s two possible mentions, right? “You know what, I don’t think that I was completely clear with you about what one of my expectations. And one of my expectations in the role, for anybody, irrespective of whether it was you or anyone else in the role, was that I would get this daily email. And the reason why it’s important to me is X, Y, and Z,” right?

“So, there might be a piece of context missing because without that I can’t do X, Y, and Z. Does that make sense? Can you understand why I’m asking you for that? Rather than you need to do this because I need it. To some people it might sound really overly process-y…”

Pete Mockaitis
Controlling or dominating. Okay.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, but it’s a really necessary part for people to understand the why. And, again, when we talk with folks, this is over and over again, “I don’t understand the why. I don’t understand.” And from the perspective of the manager it’s often much more clear to us, “Well, of course, I need that,” but not from their perspective because we don’t understand all the other things that they’re trying to deal with. So, if I put myself in that person’s shoes, I’m going to be like, “Oh, my God, an email at the end of every day. That takes me this and I have to do these other things, and I don’t think Pete understands how busy I am,” and all that kind of stuff.

So, it’s an opportunity for you to get into conversation with them about it. So, we’ll put that to the side. But so let’s assume that the context is there, so let’s say it’s day three of their employment. The first two days, they did the email and the third they didn’t, right? So, ideally, I would say to that person, “Hey, I didn’t get the daily email. What’s up?” And not in a mean way, but it’s like, “Hey, I’m right there. Like, I look at that every single day.”

So, I want to let them know the reality which is that, “I look at that every single day so it’s not a process for the sake of process. Every time you send me that email, I open it, I read it, I digest it, and I notice when it isn’t there.” “Oh, I’m really sorry. I got really busy today. Like, can I send it to you when I get home.” “Sure.” “Can I send it to you in the morning?” Now, you might say, “No, I actually need it right now,” or you might say, as you probably would, you’ll say, “That’s fine. Can you send me the wrap-up so I have it for first thing in the morning? That’s fine,” and this, and whatever.

So, let’s say he did that. And then over the next couple of days you’re seeing, “Wait a second. This is like some days I get it, some days I don’t.” So, clearly the mention didn’t have the intended impact which was a full resolution of this thing, right? So, now you’re going to go to invitation. You’re going to bring it back up. Now, again, we said just before, it could be really the timeline or the timescale of the whole five steps could be really short or it could be really long.

So, in this case, if it’s a core business process and it’s not happening, it’s going to happen really fast, “Hey, so we had this conversation and I thought we were on the same page. Something must’ve got crossed there, but two out of the last five days I haven’t gotten it, for example, I’m getting concerned.” So, it’s your opportunity to say, “Look, I am concerned. I’m concerned that we’re not aligned in terms of this particular thing that’s really important to me.”

And leaving space for them to explain or not to make an excuse but you want to understand why is this thing that, from your perspective, seems basic, but it’s clearly not basic from their perspective. You want to understand why. If, for no other reason, then that person, let’s say that person says, “Pete, you’re a jerk. I’m out of here. I never want to work for such a terrible boss ever again,” you want to know what it is about that tool that maybe you can improve for the next person. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in their otherwise victim mentality that you’re like, “Oh, you know what, they didn’t handle that professionally. But for the next person, I’m going to make it six steps instead of eight because that’ll make it a little bit easier for them to do on a daily basis,” whatever the case may be.

So, are we tracking so far?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. So, you say, “I’m concerned,” and then you sort of let them sort of respond without sort of any follow-up questions just to see if they respond?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, if they say, like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. You don’t need that.” “Okay, now I‘m really concerned,” right? Or if they step back and they go, “Whoa!” If there’s an acknowledgment that you have to work with the person in front of you, the human being in front of you. And different people are going to respond really differently in that moment. And that’s how you find out what your people are made of, not that they never make a mistake. It’s what do they do when they make a mistake? How do they recover? What’s their level of resilience? What’s the level of dialogue? Are they willing to be vulnerable with you? That’s the team that you want. You want a group of people that’ll do that with you and that you can do that with them.

So, all of the cycle is happening in leading the high-performance team. So, that’s your invitation. Now, let’s say you have a one-on-one with that person later this week. You might sit down with them and say, “Hey, look, we’ve had this kind of hallway conversations, we’re not in the same building together so we had them via Zoom or via Slack, or whatever it is. I actually want to drill a little deeper here. It’s really important but I know in the hallway we can kind of lose sight of it. This has a really big impact, like when this doesn’t happen, it has a really big impact. And I understand that that might be harder for you to see from your perspective because you’re not the one asking for it. But can you imagine or let’s play this out for a little bit.”

“Like, from your vantage point, how might this have an impact on me or our team or our organization if we don’t have these daily reports?” I promise you they have never thought of that question, they haven’t thought of the answers to that question. So, that’s the conversation stage, you’re helping them shift. They didn’t intend those outcomes, right? They didn’t intend to make you late on the report that you need that information to, that wasn’t their intention. They were just busy. They were overwhelmed. We’re all overwhelmed, or most of us are.

And so, the conversation is your opportunity to help them go deeper, to take ownership and say, “Wait a second. Oh, I didn’t realize how big of an impact that was.” Now, you could say, “Oh, well, they should’ve gotten that from the initial moment.” Yeah, maybe, but that’s not the world we live in. I was working with an IT director recently, and he said, “Well.” We were talking, and one of his colleagues brought up an example, and he said like, “Well, that would be unacceptable to me.” And his colleague called him out, and said, “Come on, man, really? You’re going to fire a person if they didn’t do that?” “Well, no, not really. I can’t really do that,” right?

There’s a whole bunch of reasons why you can’t. Like, you can’t hold that line for really good reasons, we have controls in place in organizations so you can’t just snap off at a person. There has to be an opportunity for, if you went to your HR leader’s office and said, “Hey, they didn’t fill out that report two days in a row. I want to fire them.” They would say, “Get out of my office, Pete. Don’t want your lawsuit. Go have another conversation with them.” So, how are you going to do that? It’s helping them shift from intention over to impact.

And then, you’re seeing the pattern here, so then you have that conversation, and in that conversation, right, you might start foreshadowing what about, “Hey, what’s your plan? How are you going to make sure that you get that report done at the end of the day? Not what’s my plan for how you’re going to get that done. What’s your plan for how you’re going to get that done because I can’t have you do my plan, that won’t work, right?” So, now we’re going to the boundary step, “What is the…”

People will often say, it’s like, “Okay, Pete, I hear you. I get it. I promise it won’t happen again.” “Not good enough. What is the plan? What are the action steps? What do you need to give up in order to make sure that that stays the priority that we need it to be?” Then you’re in the boundary stage of the Accountability Dial. And then if that doesn’t work, so let’s say, I’ll ask you a question that I often ask of managers. So, if I say to you, Pete, “This person is going to be on your team, this remote employee, they’re going to be on your team, and they’re going to be not sending you the daily report 40% to 60% of the time, and they’re going to be doing that for the next 10 years. How’s that sound?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s not going to work. I mean, we can conceivably have an alternative to email, but there must be some sort of a daily communication that occurs, yeah.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, how about if we went on for five years, are you good with that?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about one year?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about 90 days?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if there’s some really extenuating circumstances maybe.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, every single time I run that question, it’s at 90 days where it starts to get a little bit like, “Well, maybe, depends.” But somewhere in there, between zero and 90 days, that’s the boundary, right? The only difference is internally to you, you have that boundary. They don’t know that that’s your boundary.

So, the process, the boundary step is getting in reality with them, and say, “Look, maybe there are some extenuating circumstances that make it so that 75 days is a reasonable time when probably not given the scenario we’re working on. It sounds like something that needs to be cured much sooner than that.” But if you think about the boundary phase as like, “Hey, this is something that we’ve talked about. We both acknowledged that it needs to change. What’s a frame within which it needs to change?”

It’s very, very rare where the right answer is going to be more than 90 days. And almost always it’s going to be in the next 30, and we’re going to need very specific milestones where we know that progress is happening. That’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re having that conversation, we’re establishing and getting to some sort of agreement, like, “Yes, this is what I shall do within this timeframe there.” And so, I guess, that almost sounds like a Performance Improvement Plan. I guess we’re not using that kind of terminology and structure but it’s similar.

Jonathan Raymond
So, there’s an overlap in the way that we approach it. In a lot of the organizations, one of the things that we’ve learned is that what HR wants, which we were hoping would be the case, is that they want the manager to have these types of conversations outside of the Performance Improvement Plan because the Performance Improvement Plan is not a joke, it’s there for a reason but those reasons are legal in compliance. It doesn’t actually improve performance. If you ask any HR leader who’s been around for more than one year, “How many times in your career has a Performance Improvement Plan actually turned somebody around?” And they’ll give you like one example. It never works. Almost never.

So, it is, in this context, when we’re talking about something that needs to change, it definitely is about performance and about improving performance. But the idea is we’re doing that in a humane way, we’re having a conversation, it’s not a writeup, we’re not bringing in HR. Once you bring in HR, once you go outside of that relationship, that bond between you and your employee, mostly only bad things happen. So, it’s, “Hey, this is something that needs to change. Let’s you and I figure this out, right? Like, I know it’s uncomfortable, I don’t like having this conversation, you don’t like having this conversation, but this has got to change. This has got to be our agreement for what needs to change.” So, that’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, the limit?

Jonathan Raymond
And then at the limit, let’s say you make that and the person says, “Look, I’m going to, over the next 10 days, I’m not going to miss one, right? Every single day for the next 10 days, that’s our first milestone, I’m going to hit every single day. And then at the end of that 10 days, we’re going to like shake hands, and then we’re going to do the next 30 in a row, and we’re going to build up my reps, so to speak, where I’m not going to miss a day.”

And let’s say you’re good with that, and you say, “Okay, that’s fine. Okay, well, what are the consequences, what are the implications if you don’t send me that in the next 10 days, not what do I think the consequences should be, what do you think the consequences should be?” “Oh, hmm. Well, Pete, that’s a really good question. I think in the next 10 days if I miss one, then I shouldn’t be able to go to this conference that I was really excited about that you said that I could go to. Or I’m not going to be eligible to take on this other part of the work until this part of my…” whatever the thing is, right?

So, let them author the boundary if that’s possible. And if they can’t come up with a boundary, what I found is that most of the time when you ask people to come up with their own boundaries and consequences, they’re tougher on themselves than you will be on them. Not always but oftentimes. And so, that would be a boundary and then there are some clear agreements, “What needs to change by when? What does change look like? What happens if it doesn’t work?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s the boundary.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, then the limit is, let’s say, it doesn’t happen. They just don’t do it. Let’s say starting on day one they don’t do it, like, “Okay, I’m going to go right to that limit.” Say, like, “Hey, we tried this. I appreciate your earnestness. We made this agreement. You said you were going to do it, there was no constraint that prevented you from being able to do it. I don’t know what else to do now. I feel like I’ve done everything that I can as your manager. I’ve given all of the thoughtfulness and coaching and everything that I could think of but I don’t know what else to do here. So, I feel like I’m out of options.” That’s the spirit of that moment.

Now, in that case, you have to decide, “How important is that task relative to the role? Are there enough other things that that person is doing that outweigh where you would be willing to change that tool for this person? I doubt it but anything is possible in that scenario. But that’s what the limit would be. And what you will find is that here’s the, I don’t know if we will call it ironic, but what will happen if you use the mention, the invitation, the conversation, and the boundary, is that somebody who doesn’t want that level of accountability in their life, they’re going to leave. They’re going to say, “Pete, you know, I’ve been thinking about this and I think you need somebody who’s more detail-oriented than I am or whatever. And I don’t want to let you…” Whatever it is, right?

Okay, fine. That’s good. That’s a good outcome. In a healthy organization people leave and they move on and we shake hands and we say, “Hey, you were right for the role for this period of time. The role has changed, or you want different things, that’s okay. Let’s shake hands.” I love that concept of the tour that I think Netflix pioneered, you know, that tour of duty, “Hey, go on a tour with me. And then when that tour is over, let’s decide should we go on another tour together.” This idea that you’re an employee for life, it’s a fiction. If it was ever true, it’s definitely not true now. It’s a fiction. Let’s be in reality with one another. I’m there for as long as it’s valuable to me as an employee and that my skills are valuable to you as an employer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you, Jonathan. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jonathan Raymond
I will just say that for wherever you are in an organization, whether you’re a first-time employee in the workforce or a senior leader, the thing that you want—to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel valued—get that. Don’t settle for less. You deserve that. As a human being, as a sovereign human being, you deserve to have a world of work that is additive to your life and not subtractive where you go home and you feel dread or feel like you’re being exploited or taken advantage of. And I can tell you because a lot of them are our clients. There are amazing organizations out there that would love to have you so don’t settle for less.

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

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite quote is from Albert Einstein, he says, “I don’t have any special talents but I’m passionately curious.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
I love the Harvard relationship study or I think some people call the Harvard happiness study that they did a couple of years ago. There’s a great TED Talk about it. And, basically, what they found was that your satisfaction in relationships is the best predictor of longevity and long-term health outcomes. So, they said, “If you look at someone when they’re 50, you’re much more likely to know how long they’re going to live based on their level of satisfaction in their relationships than their cholesterol.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonathan Raymond
I’m still working on it, but I read the first couple hundred pages of Sapiens some years ago. So, it’s still my favorite book because I haven’t finished it. I hope that doesn’t change at the end. But I love Yuval Harari, a wonderful philosopher and I love what he has to say.

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

Jonathan Raymond
I have to say I’m happy to be off the guests list for Superhuman which is a very hyped email interface that goes over Gmail and it makes it really easy to go really fast. So, the hype is earned in my view. Superhuman is a really neat tool.

Pete Mockaitis
I use it. I love it. And I’m not ashamed that I pay $29 a month for email that could be free.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, it’s worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite habit is walking often with my dog and listening to an episode of Revisionist History. I’m a big Malcolm Gladwell fan.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you’re known for, something you say that gets re-quoted, re-tweeted?

Jonathan Raymond
A lot of people re-tweet, “You don’t get to grow and look good at the same time.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
You can go to Refound.com and then if you click the Resources tab, there is some quizzes and some downloadable tools. And then, of course, you can pick up the book on Amazon, “Good Authority,” Kindle, print, audio, the whole thing.

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

Jonathan Raymond
Have one conversation, ask one question that you’ve been thinking about asking, you’ve been thinking about approaching this person and asking them a question or making an observation. Commit to doing that in the next 24 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan, this has been a delight. Thank you and good luck with all your great conversations.

Jonathan Raymond
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.

440: Accomplishing More in Less Time by Building Microskills with Stever Robbins

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Stever Robbins says: "The hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability."

Stever Robbins shares how to break down skills into microskills…and shares which ones are worth building.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A productivity power tool to help you accomplish almost everything
  2. Why to break down learning into microskills
  3. Essential microskills that will save you years of time

About Stever

Stever Robbins is a serial entrepreneur, top podcaster, and productivity expert. He co-founded the early internet success story FTP Software, served as COO of Building Blocks Interactive, CEO of JobTacToe.com, and has been an initial team member of ten start-ups, including four IPOs and three acquisitions. He currently runs Get-it-Done Groups™, which help people make extreme progress on important projects and habits.

He was project manager at Intuit. He serves as business plan judge for the Harvard Business School business plan competition, the MIT $100K competition, and several other competitions. His Get-It-Done-Guy podcast has been downloaded more than 36 million times.

He’s been interviewed in numerous publications and is the author of It Takes a Lot More than Attitude…to Build a Stellar Organization and Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.

Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stever Robbins Interview Transcript

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

Stever Robbins
Thank you very much for having me. I’m hoping to learn how to be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking that we’re both going to do some great learning. I’ve learned a lot from you with your Get-It-Done Guy podcast. I remember listening to it in Brent’s car. Shout out to Brent.

Stever Robbins
Hey, Brent.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think it’s going to be a really fun one. And we were already talking about a lot of cool stuff. If we had to push record before we run out of time, but one fun tidbit about you I got to hear about is you grew up in a New Age commune. What’s this about?

Stever Robbins
I did. My parents were hippies, but they came to the scene late, and they didn’t have the hippie movement to join up to. So, my father got involved in some various New Age philosophies and we sold our worldly possessions, bought a 23-foot trailer, and went bouncing around the country starting psychic growth centers.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychic growth centers.

Stever Robbins
Yeah. Don’t get me started. Let me simply say that it turns out that most of America isn’t really very open to having you start psychic growth centers. Remember the kids on the other side of the tracks that your parents warned you not to play with?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right, it’s Stever and company.

Stever Robbins
That was us. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, just real quick. Psychic growth centers, does that help me grow in my psychic abilities, or what happens in a psychic growth center? Okay.

Stever Robbins
Yup. Also, the children of the people who start the psychic growth center become atheists. So, that’s the other thing that happens in a psychic growth center. It makes a real impression on you when you grow up. Actually, we switch religions every couple of years. My father was into lots of different things. And, as a result, by the time I was 18, I had been through four or five different belief systems, and once you’re through a certain number of belief systems you start to say, “You know, all of these are just belief systems.”

The more interesting part of your question, though, isn’t, “What’s it like growing up in a psychic growth center?” It’s, “What’s it like having grown up in a psychic growth center?” Because what it does when you’re the kid on the other side of the tracks is, you don’t take the same things for granted that everyone else does.

So, for me, the most interesting part about having a non-standard background is that I question things that everyone else simply take for granted. And, on one hand, this is very powerful. It means that there’s a lot of problems that I can solve that other people can’t because I ask different questions than they do, and sometimes the questions I ask are the ones that will lead to the solution. On the other hand, there are some real problems with this because there are plenty of places in life where you really need to understand how the standard people think, and you really need to understand what would be societally acceptable and what will not.

Let me give you a hint. You do not want to discover behaviorally that wearing a loincloth to school is a bad idea. Some people know that instinctively. Others of us had to learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s maybe the pulled quote that we’re going to feature from this interview, Stever, is that tidbit right there. Well, yeah, I think we’re two peas in a pod in that way. Not the loincloth specifically, but the asking questions that others don’t seem to ask because I do. And what I find to be the downside is folks are just not prepared or equipped for it, and so it just slows everything down. It’s like, “Wait a minute. What do you want? I don’t even know how to address that for you. Maybe talk to someone else.” Because it’s sort of like customer service systems, or businesses. They’re setup to do a few things well and efficiently and by the millions at scale. So, when you throw these little monkey wrenches in there, it just slows everything down, and it gets inconvenient for everybody it seems.

Stever Robbins
Oh, yeah. And, in fact, one of the things I was thinking about before this call, because I knew you were going to ask me that question, one of the things I was thinking about was, “What are the perspectives that I have despite the fact that I have a fairly mainstream life in many regards?” But I’m always amazed at the fact that we live in the most materially-rich society in all of human history, by wide, wide measure the most productive in terms of labor hours needed to produce a particular result. And, yet, we have such an extraordinarily narrow range of activities and things that we do, and lifestyles that we have.

And it boggles my mind that we have the resources to give ourselves as a race lots of leisure time, lots of ability to pursue meaning, the resources to try out and experiment with different governmental types, with different ways of being, with different work weeks. And, yet, we create very narrow boxes, live inside them, and then forget that we’re the ones who created the boxes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a big question.

Stever Robbins
Yes, they may be bigger than we’re supposed to be talking about today. I think we were talking about getting things done or something similar.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess my first thought in there is, I guess, it has to do with like the fear of the unknown, or risk, or uncertainty, and how maybe relatively few people want to go down that pathway. But, yeah, I’m going to be chewing on that one as well. Thank you, Stever. I want to hear, yes, I do want to hear about getting things done. And maybe, so, you’ve got an interesting sort of start in terms of that New Age commune and travelling. But then you did get some credentials that folks tend to kind of think are more normal and desirable, you know, MIT in Computer Science Bachelors, MBA from Harvard Business School, good stuff. So, how did you become branded and adopt the moniker of the “Get-It-Done Guy”?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that was never supposed to be the case. I started the Get-It-Done Guy in 2007 because I was working doing one-on-one executive coaching and strategy consulting, which is the main thing that I’ve done through most of my career. And I was really yearning for a creative outlet because, frankly, one of the fascinating things about the business world, is the business world is really very anti-creative. It uses the principles of uniformity to grow organizations, and the uniformity exists in terms of people and behavior.

Do you ever notice when someone says that you should dress professionally or act professionally? What they mean is you should restrict your behavior to the narrowest possible window of things, right? Those are not expansive. When someone says, “Act professional,” what they do not mean is “be creative, be wild, be innovative, think outside the box.” What they mean is, “Oh, my gosh, you’re wearing a three-button vest instead of a two-button vest? I can’t be seen in public with you.”

So, I wanted a creative outlet, and I had started a little podcast called Business Explained, and I had produced about 10 episodes for it. And then I experienced Grammar Girl. And Grammar Girl talked grammar, but it was fun and it was interesting to listen to, and she had an attitude. She had character. And, oh, my gosh, Grammar Girl was, and is, awesome.

So, I wrote her a fan letter, and I said, “If you would ever like a business podcaster, I would love to be your business podcaster,” because she had a little network called the Quick and Dirty Tips network. And just out of sheer coincidence, my letter got to her right after she had sold the network to Macmillan Publishing, and they were having a meeting to decide who should the next podcaster be.

And my letter came in at the right time. I auditioned for the part. I got it. And they let me choose the topic. I chose personal productivity mainly because I thought it would be fun. I thought I could do a lot more with that in terms of humor than with corporate strategy. And I was right, as it turns out. Became the Get-It-Done Guy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, actually, not quite. What happened is for years I didn’t do anything with it professionally. And my branding in the marketplace was very much around strategy, and entrepreneurship, and high-growth companies, and how to be a good leader, and all that stuff. And then, about a year ago, I decided I had this podcast and I had a following, and why not start doing things that were more productivity-oriented, and just see if it flies?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, one thing I’m quite intrigued by are the Get-It-Done Groups. I’m a huge fan of accountability, and I’m intrigued as to what exactly is this.

Stever Robbins
Well, so Get-It-Done Groups are they’re accountability groups. And when I looked at the offerings out there, first of all, I’ve been an executive coach for about many, many years by the time I’ve developed this. And one of the things that I had noticed is that at the end of the day, coaches are trained to help people develop their innate capabilities, help people get that strength and motivation, that proactiveness. And, boy, is that a lot of work.

And, one day, I had a CEO client, because I mainly work with executives, I had a CEO client who had had a homework assignment, I don’t even remember what it was at this point. It was something simple, like write a letter firing someone. It was something. It was emotionally difficult but it was technically very easy. And three weeks in a row he hadn’t done it.

And so, this time we started our coaching session, and I said, “How’d the letter go?” And he said, “I haven’t sent it yet.” And instead of trying to get to the root of his blocks, and instead of trying to deeply trigger his motivation by connecting it to his highest values and his purpose and his why, I said, “Dude, I happen to know for a fact that you have one hour currently available on your calendar because that was the hour that we were supposed to be talking. So, guess what? We now have 57 minutes left. We’re going to hang up the phone. I will talk to you in 23 minutes, at half past the hour, and we will review the first draft of the letter. Bye.”

Hung up the phone. When we met at half past, he had the first draft done. And in that moment, I started to realize, “Wait a minute. Human beings are social creatures. We are hardwired to take our commitments to other people more seriously than we take our commitments to ourselves. And, if that’s the case, why are we bothering with all of this deep psychology bull pucky and all of this, “Oh, we must find your deep inner why”? Look, just, you need to get your taxes done. Great. Get them out. I’ll watch. Fabulous. Now, that you have them out, 10 more minutes, you start working and I’ll call back in 10 minutes to check up on how it’s going.

And then, real time, of course, if someone is getting stalled, you can, at that moment, diagnose why they’re getting stalled and work with it as opposed to checking back a week later, and saying, “Oh, why didn’t do your thing?” And having them try to remember what was going through their head at the time and so on.

So, what I recognize is that there are a couple of things. Number one, the hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability. Number two, people get lost in different ways. They get lost sometimes in their moment-to-moment ability to focus, which technology is making far, far worse. They get lost in their ability to concentrate on one project out of a portfolio of projects long enough to make progress.

And so, I said, there are three timeframes we can operate on. Let’s operate on the level of a quarter, 12 weeks, the level of the day, and the level of the hour. And what Get-It-Done Groups do is they provide accountability on all three levels. We have a couple days a week where we meet hourly, and every hour we actually commit to doing things. Those are the days when you do that stuff that otherwise would procrastinate the heck out of and that you just don’t want to do, and we all just get together and do it together. And it works really well.

The daily accountabilibuddies is what we call them. The daily accountabilibuddy is a thing where people divide up into groups of two or three and they meet every day. A very short meeting, like five to 10 minutes, and they go through, and make sure that they’re making progress on all of the things that they need to be accountable for, which will add up to where they want to go in the 12-week period. And then, over the course of 12 weeks, if we’ve designed the daily check-ins right, they will get most of the way, or all of the way, or well past their 12-week goal.

And people have used Get-It-Done Groups to write a book. In fact, she finished the last word of it this last Sunday, and several members of the group were on a Zoom call with her as she was writing those last two sentences. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about it until about 20 minutes later, but I would’ve been there too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just imagining, like, one who has a violin, and it’s like a very orchestral celebratory moment.

Stever Robbins
Oh, goodness, yeah. We had been there with her for almost the whole thing. I mean, it was amazing. There was another person who qualified for professional degrees. He had been trying for many, many years, and just hadn’t sat down to do all the work. Sat down and did all the work. We had somebody else who had multiple businesses that she had developed over the years, and she wanted to merge them all, and create unified branding, and put them all under one website. She did that. We have just a whole variety of things.

So, Get-It-Done Groups are groups where you get it done. And one of the people that are especially good for is people who are self-employed because when you’re self-employed you don’t have any external person who can stop and say, “Now wait a minute. You said that doing your marketing was important to you but for the last four days you haven’t done any. What’s up? Do you want to give up on that? Or do you want to do it but now we have to make some tweaks to how you’re doing your day because empirically you need some sort of tweaks in order to be making the progress you want to be making.” And they work amazingly well.

I’ve actually been quite surprised. I wasn’t thinking that they were going to work. I mean, I thought they would be effective but, in fact, the effect that they’ve had, I think, is almost out of proportion with how simple, well, it’s way out of proportion how simple they are. But it’s way out of proportion with what I thought. I thought they’d be useful and they’ve been life-changing for some people. Like, seriously life-changing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. Now, how big is a group?

Stever Robbins
We do it as a cohort introduced every month or every couple of months, and then everyone who is currently an active member all works together.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it could be dozens.

Stever Robbins
It could be. At the moment, we’ve never had more than 15 people involved in any given moment, which is a whole another story, having to do with customer acquisition versus customer retention. Well, what we found is that, really, I’ve already figured out how to scale it to whatever point is needed. But for like the hourly do-it days, we usually have between four and seven or eight people show up for that. That’s when we check in every single hour. We have a community call once a week, and every week we’ll get anywhere from five to 12 people on that. So, it depends.

All of the elements of it are optional except for the daily check-ins because part of the whole idea is we’re all busy people, and any productivity system that takes enough time that it impacts the way that you work is not a productivity system. You need productivity systems that mesh with what you’re doing so you don’t have to feel like you must do every single thing. You do just enough and just the pieces that will give you the results that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Awesome. Well, I’m a huge fan of accountability. It’s come up before. I wrote a book about accountability groups back in the day, and it had a big impact on me, so that’s huge. Well, specifically for we’d be talking today about microskills for sharpening focus and working smarter, that’s one of your key areas of expertise, and something that we dig here. It sounds like, one, a key skill is just trusting others and sharing and having some accountability. Could you maybe define for us the term microskill, first of all?

Stever Robbins
Yes. Just as people think of different timeframes, as I mentioned a moment ago, people think at different levels when they think of skills. I’ll call it a chunk size. Sometimes someone will say things like, “You need to learn to focus,” as if focus is itself a single skill. Well, it’s not. Focus is comprised of a lot of little skills. Focus is the ability to identify what you’re working on. If you don’t identify what you’re working on, you won’t do it because you don’t know what to be focusing on.

It’s the ability to block out or eliminate, in advance, external distractions. It’s the ability to either eliminate or notice when you have an internal distraction and pull yourself back on task. It’s the ability to know when you’re done, etc. So, there are actually tiny chunks of skills that make up this word that we use as a larger level skill.

And, to me, a microskill is one of the component skills that makes up what we would normally call a skill but, which in fact, is really the accumulation of lots and lots of things. And I will give you a slight spoiler, this is going to relate to our conversation about neuro-linguistic programming later in this because this is my NLP in the form of the brain that has resulted in the paying a lot of attention to microskills.

For example, we have two people in the current Get-It-Done Group who really, really, really aren’t doing enough prospecting, and they were like, “Okay, I keep falling down on my prospecting progress so let’s do a day that’s just prospecting.” And I talked to the two of them individually, and I said, “So, tell me about your prospecting process.” Now, what I’m actually listening for here is, “Are they both getting screwed up the same way? Or is there a difference?” Because if I’m going to be designing a day to work with them, I want to make sure that whatever I do during that day actually hits the causes of where they’re getting stalled.

It turns out they were getting stalled in different places. With one person it was identifying where to find prospects. For the other person it was actually picking up the phone and writing an email to reach out to the prospect, and then there’s a bunch of other skills, too, like follow up, etc. We can get into it a different time.

But, essentially, there are microskills that make up the skill of prospecting, and one of them is identifying prospect sources. The next one is identifying prospects from those sources. It’s not enough to identify the source. You actually have to go to the source and get the prospects. Then you have to craft a message, then you have to get that message out to them, which may involve doing research as to how each prospect likes to receive information, or it may involve sending out an email blast, or it may involve doing a bunch of phone calls, but whatever. You actually have to then take the action to get the prospect deal.

And, generally, when people say, “Oh, you need to do more prospecting,” they largely just mean this big chunk thing. And, to me, a microskill is one of the smaller chunk things that people don’t pay as much attention to but which often are where people get really tripped up.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that because these words, I’m right with you, prospecting, focusing really are huge. Like, I’m just thinking about my wife. We got stuck for a little while because she’s like, “We need to baby-proof this home.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know what all that means. I’m sure there are many steps, and components, and devices, and thingies that are built up when it comes to baby-proofing, and I don’t really quite know where to start.” So, we got stuck for a good while actually until I just Googled and I found a professional baby-proofer who made a lot of things happen for us. So, that was nice because it was a one-time thing as opposed to baby-proofing as a lifestyle.

Stever Robbins
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, installing new stuff every week is a skill I need.

Stever Robbins
And you know there are people who do that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure, yeah, you could find a new way a kid could hurt himself, a day without trouble. But I dig it because often that sort of, I don’t know, deflates the energy or makes it less actionable when it’s big and vague as opposed to, “Now, what I’m talking about is getting on the phone again and again and again,” or, “What I’m talking about is figuring out where the heck I can get a bunch of names.” Those are different problems that have different actions and solutions.

Stever Robbins
Correct. And so, that’s what a microskill is. A microskill is understanding the skills that make up the thing you’re trying to do and then, to some degree, even more importantly, is to identify which skills are missing, and then figure out how to intervene because it’s not the case that all interventions are created equal or that all problems are the same problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, then, when we’re talking about those goals of sharpening focus and working smarter, what are some of the most potent microskills that give you a good return on your investment, a big bang for the buck in investing to develop them?

Stever Robbins
Well, I’ll tell you my favorites because they’re not super popular – speed reading and touch typing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go. Now, touch typing, I’m right with you. I am sold and, okay, go ahead. You can sell a little bit more but I’m already with you. Now, the speed-reading though, yeah, I’ve heard folks who are like, “Oh, speed-reading, it’s a scam. You really can’t blah, blah, blah.” So, lay it on us with some evidence. What’s real and possible speed-reading versus what’s hype and fluff?

Stever Robbins
Okay, do you want me to address the touch typing or the speed-reading first?

Pete Mockaitis
Do speed-reading first.

Stever Robbins
All right, speed-reading. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. All that I know is that I push myself to read faster and faster but I never could go so fast that I don’t have comprehension. I know that some speed-reading systems say push yourself so fast that you can barely comprehend. And then when you slow down, you’ll be able to go much faster. And I’ve actually done that particular exercise a few times.

I’m not a fan of things like photo-reading where you supposedly can digest an entire book by flipping the pages quickly. Apparently, there are people who can do that. I’m not convinced that that is the level of useful skill because the context for most people do reading these days is on a screen. So, what you need to be able to do is scan a screen and really get the meat of the information. The problem is most people skim, and skimming is not the same as reading. With skimming you get a superficial understanding, maybe, if it’s a well-written article or well-written post. Of course, in this day of pay per clicks, not pay for quality content, there’s an awful lot of stuff out there that’s extremely poorly written.

[24:27]

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, don’t get me started on the sloppy junk out there, and the agencies that enable it, which I’ll leave right there.

Stever Robbins
What happens is, for a well-written piece of writing, for example, you can scan the headlines, the headers, and the subheads, you can scan the topic sentences and things, and you really will get an idea of what the article is about, what the argument is, and then you can go back to the pieces you want more information about and read up more deeply.

That just doesn’t apply to an awful lot of things on the web because most people don’t know how to write, or they don’t take the time, or they can’t afford to take the time because they’re being paid so little that they have to grind out 10 articles in the space you would have to do one.

Pete Mockaitis
I signed up for one of those just for funzies to take a look around, and it’s like, “Holy crap, I’d have to be cranking almost as fast as I can type for like a third of that hour to eke out minimum wage here. And you’re hiring US labor? What?” So, okay, that’s a whole rant we could go on.

Stever Robbins
We have an awful lot of rants that we can go on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, we got to get our own, you and me, the Stever and Pete podcast we’re going to rant all day long. Okay, so speed-reading, you push yourself to read faster, and then that yield some results. So, how might we go about learning how to read faster? What’s sort of the practices of developing that microskill?

Stever Robbins
You know, the thing that I would do for that, and I literally just took a speed-reading course, but the exercise that I thought was the most useful with the speed-reading course was the one that I mentioned a minute ago. Take a book or something that you want to read, give yourself, first, read a paragraph, not read a paragraph, read a chapter at normal speed, time how long that takes you.

And then read the next chapter giving yourself half that time. And then the chapter after that, half that time, and just push yourself to get successively faster and faster and faster until you’re going so fast that it’s very clear you’re not absorbing very much. But, then, when you downshift, you will downshift to a much faster rate than you started with.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, now, I’ve heard the term, because I’m dabbling reading about speed-reading before, and I’ve heard the term subvocalize which I understand to mean inside my mind, inside my brain, I’m saying each word to myself. So, if I’m looking at your bio, I might say inside my brain, but not out loud with my lips, I’d say, “Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School, and a BS in Computer Sciences.” So, are you pushing past the subvocalization speed or not?

Stever Robbins
I don’t think that I am personally. What I’ve heard is the maximum speed you could get to, while you still subvocalize, is about, I think, 1500 words a minute or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s still lovely. That’s 55X normal, right?

Stever Robbins
Right. And I can get up to that, I think, when I’m really going. I can get up, assuming that it’s not something that requires lots and lots that I have to stop every sentence to digest it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a ton. That’s reassuring.

Stever Robbins
But I don’t think I ever really quite break the subvocalization barrier. I think that for the most part, well, you know what, now that I’m saying that, that isn’t true. When I took the speed-reading course, I always subvocalized. Now that I think about it, this is a conversation I’ve had with friends before, I’m at the point where I see a sentence and I know what the sentence means. And there’s a sense that somewhere I might be subvocalizing a little bit, but it happens faster than I could possible talk it. So, if it’s subvocalizing, it’s subvocalizing it two or three or four times what my external talking speed is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, that’s reassuring then that I always thought of that as some kind of crazy transcendental, the Matrix, Neo-type experience. It’s like, “Whoa, I’ve entered a new plane of information processing which is unfelt ever before.” So, okay, cool. So, that’s just all you got to do is push yourself to read about twice as fast as before, and then twice as fast as that, and then maybe twice as fast again, and then once you’ve reached the “clearly I’m not absorbing anything” level, you back it off a little bit. And then, holy smokes, you find that you are able to maybe read two, three, four, five times as quickly with just as much retention. Is that accurate?

Stever Robbins
Yeah. I tell you, it works in both directions too. It also works in the direction of output. When you’re doing public speaking. I was just helping a friend of mine prepare for an important presentation he has to give. And I would love to say that invented this exercise, I did not. This was taught to me by my very first business mentor years and years ago, back right after I had graduated, you know, at least six or seven years ago.

And he had me give a presentation at my normal speed. The presentation took about 40 minutes, and said, “Great. Now you can do 20 minutes. Give me the presentation again. You’ll have to decide what to leave out. And then do it in 10 minutes. And then do it in 5 minutes. And then do it in 2 minutes. And then do it in one minute.”

And when you push it down to one minute, and especially when you do it in that order, because each time has to learn how to filter through and decide what’s important and what isn’t. When you get it down to one minute or 30 seconds, the only thing you can say is the main points. You can’t give examples. You can’t give supporting evidence. You can say…

Pete Mockaitis
Prop down. We’re scared.

Stever Robbins
Right. And that’s it. But then what happens is when you then expand that back out to 40 minutes, your brain has gone through the process of compacting everything down and putting into the chunks that makes sense with you. So, on the fly, you can dynamically expand and contract portions of it to be able to adjust to any length.

And if you make it too short then you say, “Now, we have room for Q&A.” And if anyone asks about the pieces that you left out because you misjudged the time, well, they’re in your brain because you’ve already been through this presentation this many times and packaged all the information up nicely for yourself. So, then, all of that preparation simply serves to make you look like a genius and uber-prepared during the Q&A portions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. We had a guest who wrote the book Brief and that was good stuff and he recommended a similar exercise which is so handy. So, okay, that’s how speed-reading can go down, also applies to presentations. His name is Joe McCormack, for the record, the author of “Brief.”

So, now, let’s talk a little bit about the touch typing. I understand that the average typing speed in the United States is 41 words per minute. I just research these dorky things of my own volition. So, you’re saying that we got a lot more room to grow in that front.

Stever Robbins
When I was in 7th grade, I took a touch-typing course, and I took it on a manual typewriter, not an electric, a manual. And at the age of – what’s 7th grade, 12 years old? At the age of 12 years old on a manual typewriter, I could consistently test out at 70 words per minute.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stever Robbins
If I can do 70 words per minute as a 12-year old on a manual typewriter, anyone can get at least that fast if not faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. How do we get those skills?

Stever Robbins
You take a touch-typing course or you go online and I’m sure there are websites because I learned to type the DVORAK layout I learned from a website and from some apps. And you know what? It’s not sexy. It really isn’t. If what you want is some magical thing that will teach you to, suddenly, boom, get the touch-typing skill overnight, that doesn’t happen.

What you have to do is you have to train all of the common letter combinations. You have to get your fingers used to moving in those combinations. You have to practice it over and over and over, punctuated with appropriate sleep periods so that your brain can consolidate the information. And it may take weeks or months. Actually, I don’t know if I’m as fast on DVORAK even now after I’ve been doing it for about 10 years as I was on QWERTY at the time.

I find the big advantage to DVORAK is far less finger strain and finger movement which is, and I’m still pretty darn fast typing DVORAK. But I practiced DVORAK for months before I got up to a reasonable typing speed but it was completely worth it because, in the 10 years, or actually it was more because I was already typing DVORAK when I started the Get-It-Done Guy. I have written roughly 750,000 words of paid content, which I guess makes me a professional writer now that I think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Bling. Bling.

Stever Robbins
But part of why I was able to do that is I could type fast enough because it doesn’t matter how great your ideas are, it doesn’t matter how great you are at composing sentences, if you can only type 20 words a minute, you’re not going to be able to write 700,000 words of text because you just don’t have the time to move your fingers that much.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s true and I played around with all kinds of speech-to-text and dictation tools and software, and it’s not there yet. Maybe in five years, maybe 10 years, but we’re not there yet. And so, when it comes to keyboarding and typing faster, one of my favorite resources, I’m going to drop this in the show notes, is keybr.com. They’ve got some cool case studies of folks doubling their typing speed in like five hours of practice over the course of a couple weeks. And part of their brilliance, I think, is that it starts you, it kind of drills each key in order based upon its frequency versus difficulty to type so that they’ve really kind of leveraged it for you as much as possible, and it’s free. So, keybr.com is a handy one, and I’m digging it.

So, okay. Well, let’s move. Time is flying here.

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Stever, I want to make sure we get a chance to touch base on, so you are a smart dude and you’ve got impressive credentials from impressive places, and you think clearly about stuff. And I’m so intrigued that you are also a certified master trainer elite of NLP, neuro-linguistic programming. Now, NLP has got an interesting reputation. Maybe, could you give us a feel for, first of all, what is it, for those who are less familiar? And then, can you kind of like with the speed-reading, tell us what’s real, what’s exaggerated, and what benefits can we really expect to glean from NLP?

Stever Robbins
Sure. So, NLP is a set of models for understanding how humans think and how the way they think can be inferred from their language, and ways to change the way you think, or someone else thinks once you know what that is. I learned about it first because I wanted to learn things, and NLP was originally introduced to me as a technology for being able to sit down and talk with someone who had expertise and understand at a cognitive level, which basically means, “How are they thinking about the task involved to be able to produce whatever results they produce that constitutes expertise? And how can that be expressed in such a way that I can learn it or you can learn or someone else can learn it?”

Because, for example, if you’re talking to Mozart, and you say to Mozart, “Gee, how do you compose that passage?” And Mozart says, “Well, the way you compose it is you just play it over and over, and you listen really carefully until it sounds right.” That’s not a useful description. If you don’t happen to be Mozart and have Mozart’s definition of “sounding right” then you’re not going to produce the kind of music that Mozart can produce.

However, if what Mozart says to you is, “Well, what I do is I make colored pictures in my mind, and every color corresponds to a note. And I notice that when the pictures have a particular type of symmetry when played as notes they sound good.” Every step of that is something you could teach someone. Again, maybe not easily. This phenomenon of matching visual things with sounds is called synesthesia. If you want to create a synesthesia such that your colored pictures can be translated into notes, I’m guessing that doing that itself is a skill, and if you don’t happen to develop it as a child, or you’re not born with it, that itself is going to take you a while.

But assuming that that really is the way Mozart creates music, then if you have those skills, and this is where the microskills come in. And, in this case, the microskills are being able to make these colored pictures, being able to judge if they’re symmetric, being able to make them symmetric if they’re not, and being able to translate it back and forth into sound. If you have those skills, then you can produce probably not the identical results to Mozart because he has his own personal history that he’s filtering all of this through, but you’ll be able to produce things that are in the realm of musical expertise.

Now, I made that example up, by the way. But the idea there is NLP helps you listen to how somebody does what they are talking about that they do, and figure out what are the mental steps they’re doing to get there. And, as I mentioned before, that’s really at the heart of so much of what I do, because NLP says, “Given a big chunk skill, like composing musical piece, what are the tiny chunks that make it up?” And the tiny chunks may well be different for different composes, in which case, there are many different ways you can learn to compose music.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, I like when you said that because I think sometimes as I’ve seen NLP, neuro-linguistic programming presented, it’s talking about, “This is some mind control hypnosis stunt that’s going to make you crazy persuasive if you anchor touching your tie when you say something really compelling.” You know, I was like, “I don’t know about that.” Or, “You can tell if anyone is lying based upon where their eyeballs move.” It’s like, “I don’t know if that is accurate or being validated by any of peer-reviewed research.” What do you think about these kinds of claims?

Stever Robbins
Depends on a specific claim. The NLP will make you an amazingly unbelievably persuasive. NLP does make a set of distinctions which teach you how to understand how someone is thinking and how to package information in such a way that it fits with the way they think about something.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a persuasive booster.

Stever Robbins
Right, it could be a persuasive boost. But the information, even if you packaged the information so somebody will use it the way that they want to receive it. So, let me give you an example. Let’s say that I’m someone who is a visual thinker, and I understand long-term trends by visualizing a graph and noting if the graph goes up or down. So, if someone says to me, “Oh, unemployment is falling,” I actually picture a graph that has a line that goes from the upper left down to the lower right, and that’s my mental representation of what the sentence means “unemployment is falling.”

If you know that that is how I represent things, and you want to communicate the information that consumer happiness is rising, or maybe that consumer happiness is all over the map, then if you simply show me a picture that has this line going up and down, and left and right, and all over the place, and say, “This is consumer confidence,” I don’t have to do any work to understand that because that matches with the way that I understand things.

However, if you show that exact same map to somebody who understands things by visualizing a column of numbers, not a graph, they’re going to look at that graph, and go, “I don’t know what the heck that is. I can’t make any sense out of it,” because their mental representation is not making graphs with lines in it.

So, what that means is for a given person, if you understand how they take in and process and understand information, you can package whatever case you’re trying to make so that it fits their type of information so they don’t have to work to understand it. However, just because they don’t have to work to understand it, it doesn’t mean they’ll immediately take it in. It just means that they won’t reject it because it doesn’t make sense to them. If they make sense to them, but then they may reject it because it doesn’t make good sense.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Fair enough. And how about these eyeball directions indicating if someone is lying?

Stever Robbins
So, that’s interesting. The actual NLP model does not say that eyeball directions indicate if someone is lying. In fact, if you read the book, they explicitly say that’s not what they do because that’s one of the common ways people misinterpret them.

What the eyeball directions are claimed to do, and this is something that drives me nuts because of the way this is phrased, it’s one of the easiest things to “test.” And I put that in quotes because, so far, I have yet to see any test that actually does a good job of genuinely testing the claim.

The observation is that people systematically move their eyes while they’re talking. Sometimes they move them up, sometimes they move them to the sides, sometimes they move them down. And in the NLP model, we pretend that what goes on inside people’s brains is they make pictures, they talk to themselves, they hear sounds, they basically have an inner sensory life in the five senses that corresponds to the same five senses that you use on the outside.

And, in fact, since NLP was developed in the 1970s, there’s been a lot of research that shows that’s probably even accurate in terms of what’s really going on because they found that if you have somebody visualize moving a muscle, all of the same neurons fire in their brain except for the very final neurons that actually activate your limb moving or whatever.

So, what the eye movement model in NLP says, it says when you’re constructing visual images, your eyes move one direction. When you’re remembering visual images, your eyes move another direction. When you are imagining sounds you’ve never heard before, your eyes move in a third direction. When you are remembering sounds you’ve heard before, your eyes move in a fourth direction. When you are talking to yourself and engaging in internal dialogue, your eyes move in a fifth direction. And when you are experiencing your feelings very strongly, your eyes move in a sixth direction. So, there’s three directions on each side, there’s three to your left, and three to the right.

And they may be different for different people. On some people, especially left-handed people, one or more of them might be swapped left to right. But the NLP model says that when somebody is retrieving information, when they’re really involved in information processing, their eyes will move in a particular direction that corresponds to the type of processing they’re doing.

You can then use that to help choose an intervention to decide what to do with them to help them change their thinking if what you’re doing is trying to help someone change their thinking, because NLP, the first place it was really used extensively, and the fact where it was developed, was in the realm of therapy. So, people would come in and they would say, “I have this horrible phobia.” And by watching their eyes, one of the things that you could find out is every time they talk about the thing that was a phobic trigger, they would always move their eyes to visual memory, or to the direction that corresponded to visual memory.

If that’s what happened, there is a particular technique that was developed in NLP that says, “When somebody is having a phobic reaction, and it is instantaneous, and it involves a remembered visual image, use this technique and it will help get rid of the phobia.” And you then could use that technique and it would help you rid of the phobia.

And, like all things, there’s plenty of margin for errors. Some things don’t work all the time. Some things sometimes you misdiagnose, etc. That’s the NLP eye movement I’m on. The way that people have misinterpreted this is to mean, “Gee, if you ask someone a question, and their eyes move to the creating a visual image area, that means they’re lying.” Well, maybe. It may mean that they’re remembering something and they’re creating an image that they’ve never made before that’s based upon the thing they’re remembering. It may mean they’re not paying any attention to your question. Instead, they’re making an image of…

Pete Mockaitis
Daydreaming. That sounds more interesting.

Stever Robbins
They’re making an image of the delicious casserole they plan on making just as soon as they can get out of the job interview or whatever. And this is the problem with a lot of NLP. Number one, the term is not copyrighted or trademarked so anyone can claim they’re teaching it, and anyone can claim they’re good at it. And, number two, an awful lot of people do, and they have no idea what it really is or how it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, if we want to read a book or two or three to get some useful understanding that is applicable, what would be your top recommendations on that?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that’s so difficult because I don’t think there are very many good NLP books out there. My favorite one is called Using Your Brain for a Change by a man named Richard Bandler who is one of the co-developers of NLP. The impression I get is he was really, really the principle key to the whole thing. And it is a book about how different changes in your mental imagery affect the reactions that you have to those mental images. And the reason this matter is that a lot of our behavior is driven off from mental imagery.

So, let’s say that somebody says, “Hey, we’re going to raise your tax rates,” and you’ll get super upset at that. Well, you’re not actually getting upset at the words, “We will raise your tax rates.” You’re getting upset of what that means to you. And it may be that what happens is you make a mental image of yourself lying in a gutter surrounded by really bad liquor with people stepping over your body because you think that if your tax rates get raised, that’s what’s going to end up happening to you. And what you’re going to reacting to is that image that you’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s helpful.

Stever Robbins
So, Using Your Brain for a Change teaches you to identify the images that are actually driving your behavior and gives some specific techniques for how to manipulate those images and change them so that they drive your behavior differently. Because if you took that exact same image of yourself lying in the gutter with the cheap liquor, and you put circus music behind it, “toot, toot, root, toot, pop, para, pop” it wouldn’t produce the same emotional reaction. It may not make you want to be there, but it’s not going to be this horrible tragedy.

But, on the other hand, if you put these strings and violins, just doing the slow mournful thing, well, that makes it worse, you know, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Stever Robbins
Now, people go, “Ugh, that’s just a funny little mental trick.” And I’m like, “Yes, it’s a funny little mental trick that completely changes the way that you feel about something. Isn’t that useful? Like, if you can just do a funny little mental trick and, suddenly, this thing that has been causing you incredible stress and high blood pressure and anger, suddenly becomes funny, that sounds like a mental trick worth learning and doing more of.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said.

Stever Robbins
So, the thing about NLP, to me, number one, very few people who claim to understand it really understand it very well. Number two, they often misrepresent it as a thing that accomplishes a certain result, like being a lie detector, or persuading people of things. And it’s less about getting a specific result, and it’s more about when you’re dealing with people, how do you understand the way they communicate? How do you understand the way they think? And how can you communicate to them so that you could be most understood by them?

And if they want to change, and if they want you to tell them how to change their behavior so they get better results in their life, how can you package the communication about how they can change such that, number one, they can hear and understand it; number two, they can then turn that understanding into different behavior; and then, number three, how can you make sure that the behavior you’re telling them to do, like in this case the circus music, is actually the thing that will make a difference for them? Because, for some people, circus music may not make something silly. For some people, circus music may make it ominous because maybe they saw too many clown films as a kid or whatever.

But once you know for a given person how they think, which things are meaningful for them, what their language is, you can help them reach the results that they want by using NLP to understand all of those things. Has this been clear?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you.

Stever Robbins
Sure.

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

Stever Robbins
With me you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Stever Robbins
With me, I’m at SteverRobbins.com, GetItDoneGroups.com, and if you are interested in the podcast, which is the Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More, which is way too long. It should just be called the Get-It-Done Guy, or it should be called Work Less and Do More, go to itunes.com/getitdoneguy. Or, essentially, Get-It-Done Guy on any place that you listen to podcasts.

368: Upgrading Your Productivity through Accountability with Focusmate’s Taylor Jacobson

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Taylor Jacobson says: "In order to upgrade your life, upgrade your accountability."

Focusmate founder and CEO Taylor Jacobson breaks down how tribal psychology and accountability partners can do wonders for your work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1.  The biggest distraction drivers in the workplace
  2. Four streamlined to-do list hacks
  3. Why NOT to rely on willpower

About Taylor

Taylor Jacobson is the founder and CEO of Focusmate, building productivity software that works when nothing else will. He’s a trained executive coach with clients like Yale, Cornell, and Wharton, a wannabe adventurer, and a recovering pizza addict turned holistic health aspirant. His work has been featured in CNN, GQ, The Huffington Post, Men’s Health, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Taylor Jacobson Interview Transcript

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

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks for having me Pete, excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Me too. I want to get your take first of all about your 3,000-mile bicycle ride.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. Fun story. I just moved back from India and I was getting ready to do an MBA, although truth be told, I was kind of waffling on whether I wanted to do it. I always sort of wanted to do my own thing. I was debating.

I reconnected with a high school friend, who just wrapped up his stint in the Marine Corps, was taking some time off and I think we did a workout, we grabbed coffee and he said, “By the way, I’m going to do this thing we’ve been talking about since high school. I’m going to ride my bike from Boston to Seattle. You should do it with me.”

This goes all the way back to middle school. We can tell some fun stories about middle school because middle school stories are always fun if painful. But going back forever, I sort of knew that doing cool, hard stuff especially with somebody else was like this silver bullet for me.

I’d always wanted to do this particular challenge of riding my bike cross country and just was like, “Oh my God, this amazing person, a Marine, good friend of mine, is going to do this thing. This is my chance to do this really hard adventure.” That kind of flipped the switch for me of saying, “I really didn’t want to do this MBA anyway. I’m going to say yes.”

The next day we went to REI, we bought a tent, bought a sleeping bag, some stuffed sacks, whatever we needed. I think we had maybe a week before we were going to head out, so we did a couple you know – we loaded all the stuff on our bikes and tried to figure out how to ride with all this stuff strapped on there. I’d say we mostly figured it out. And then we just took off.

There’s a lot I can say about the ride, but one of the things we’ll get into in this conversation a lot is the power of your peers and the power of accountability and the power of just doing things together. I’ve never done that ride by myself, but I don’t know that I ever would or could.

Doing it with this friend, Brendan, every day you multiple moments, where you’re not having fun at all. But there’s just something about – your mind just kind of shifts when you are doing it together and it makes it a little less painful and it also – it sort of cements the reality that you just are doing it and you’re not going to give up.

For me the mental narrative when I’m doing virtually any kind of exercise, certainly cycling like this, certainly if it’s raining or there’s head winds or anything like that or it’s cold, which happened plenty, the debate raging in my head is like, “Should I quit or not?” That’s a little shameful to admit, but that’s the truth.

If I have somebody else there with me, it’s a whole different conversation. I’m just committed. I might be complaining in my head, but quitting is kind of off the table.

I won’t nerd out too hard on why that shift happens just yet while I’m telling this story, but needless to say, we made it. It took us 52 days, took some days off in the middle, went out for drinks in Bismarck, North Dakota because of course, you’ve got to do that. Yeah, incredible trip.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, so every night you were just outdoors in the tent?

Taylor Jacobson
Most nights. Probably if I had had my way, we would have done more camping, but Brendan was a good voice of reason and when we’d pull into bigger towns, maybe once a week or so, he’d say, “We are getting a motel and we’re sleeping in a bed.”

We slept outdoors a lot, which I grew to really love. I miss it sometimes. But yeah, we tried to give ourselves a chance at a little bit more of a restful time to – especially if it was really cold or rainy or what have you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. It’s one of those things, you’ll remember it forever. It seems like some real seeds got planted there associated with the power of partnering up and accountability. Could you also tell us the tale behind your company and concept Focusmate and how you saw personally that this is some powerful stuff?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to go back to 2011 for the start of this story, which predates my company by a bit. I was living and working in Mumbai, India. I had been a top performer my whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
At work.

Taylor Jacobson
Went to Duke.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Duke.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, went to Duke, management consulting out of college. I was employee 6 at Teach For India. I was cruising. Then our office location changed in Mumbai and a kind of reasonable commute became much, much more arduous. This is a very long, very sweaty, just miserable commute, where I’d be like changing clothes when I got to the office. I just wasn’t digging it.

I basically begged my boss to let me work remotely. She sort of conceded. She was really reluctant, but I was just like, “I have to do this.” I started working remotely and I was excited about it, but her apprehensions turned out to be kind of – I don’t know what the right word is, but –

Pete Mockaitis
Justified, dead on.

Taylor Jacobson
Justified, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Prophetic.

Taylor Jacobson
Yes, thank you. In short, I could not figure out how to be productive while I was working remotely. It was really bad.

I would say I’m sort of a busy or productive procrastinator. I’d be like doing stuff constantly. I’d put in a good eight hours of something would be happening. I’d have my computer there on my lap, but I just wasn’t getting my job done. I wasn’t working on the really important stuff.

The next conversation I had with my boss was about a different topic, about my performance. We had a couple of those over a course of a few months. Eventually she didn’t fire me, but she basically said, “You can work here, you just can’t work for me.”

I drew a lot of ego strength from being a top performer, it just hit me really hard. I didn’t have the kind of resilience toolkit yet or sort of the mental pick-yourself-back-up toolkit yet. I kind of took this segue to start working for myself. I started my first startup at that time, but of course I was still working from home.

Kind of simultaneously because of this really conspicuous big failure, the first real big failure that I couldn’t kind of explain away, I went into this spiral of shame and depression. I really didn’t know how to get out of it. Of course, I was working alone, accountable only to myself, dealing with all the same things that had previously caused me to procrastinate. It was pretty nasty.

I won’t say that I figured out a lot in that phase. Kind of the first thing I figured out was just how to stop shaming myself and that was a good first step. But what happened was I started reading about self-improvement.

I started reading about behavioral science, and productivity, and all the productivity hacks, and blogs, and spirituality and just being in that really bad place actually and being motivated like that really cemented my passion for self-improvement and set me on this path.

Prior to starting this company, I was an executive coach for a number of years. That was a great opportunity to kind of take all this philosophy or research and be accountable to work with people on their real problems and see what works and what doesn’t work. Focusmate grew out of that.

I was working with a client, someone I had known for a really long time, sort of self-proclaimed procrastinator, also really high performer at the same time. He had an investor presentation coming up, really, really big and really important presentation, career-making type of meeting.

He called me up and he said, “Man, I have this meeting in two weeks. I need my investor deck and I haven’t started on it.” An investor deck for a meeting like this is something that could easily take you couple months to get into good shape. So he was really freaking out.

I had known him for long enough that I had kind of given him every bit of coaching that I knew. He didn’t need more coaching; he just needed to have his feet held to the fire. He just needed to sit down and do it somehow.

And so, I had meanwhile been procrastinating on writing a blog post at that time, something that I procrastinate easily for months. And I just said, “Listen, why don’t we just get on Skype tomorrow and I’ll sit there with you. And I will write my blog post and you will work on your investor presentation. I won’t even charge you because I need this too.”

And so we did that. It was crazy. We sat down. We both shared exactly what we’re going to do. Within a couple minutes, we’re just working. Two hours flies by. Both of us were kind of giddy at the end of this because we had just tapped into something that neither of us had ever experienced before.

He and I did that very day that week. He finished his presentation. That went great. But that was sort of the seed of realizing, “Oh, there’s something really powerful here.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. It’s intriguing I imagine, boy, you really get into a dark place with regards to, “Hey, I’m a top performer. I kick butt all the time. Win, win, win is what I do. And yet I can’t pull myself away from-“ I don’t know if it’s Facebook or Netflix or cat videos or memes or gifs, whatever might be distracting you. What do you think that’s about in terms of our sort of individual capacity to resist distraction? What’s the deal there?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, that’s a really good, important question. I think the answer is actually – you can go read epic blog posts about this. You can read the Wait but Why has a really classic blog post on procrastination.

But I think it’s kind of simple, which is we spent 99% of evolution living in tribes, basically just trying to survive. We’re wired to function in that environment. What we’re not wired for is to have everything on demand and constant barrage of stimulation and opportunities for pleasure.

Pleasure could be Netflix or Seamless or – Seamless is food delivery here in New York or just email. That instant dopamine hit of getting a new email. I think it’s just we’re not wired to deal with the environment that we have today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. You mentioned that there’s some data suggesting that distractions are getting worse and worse. Can you sort of unpack some of that to lay out just what’s at stake here?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so some crazy data. I didn’t really fully grasp even until I started really building Focusmate and trying to understand what’s going on. Just like a few interesting things to look at.

Chronic procrastination is the most severe kind of procrastination. It’s a diagnosable condition. The study that I looked at for this starts tracking chronic procrastination right around the time that computers come into existence, like 70s, 80s.

The first data point they have on chronic procrastination is that it affects about 5% of the adult population. That number has gone up steadily until the most recent data point for this particular research on chronic procrastination is 2007, where it effects 20%, 1 in 5 adults.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s 2007.

Taylor Jacobson
2007.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got 11 years to catch up to see how big it is now.

Taylor Jacobson
Totally. By the way, 2007 is when the first smartphone, when the iPhone came out. You can extrapolate a little from that. We’re in a pretty bad place with – this is hardcore, severe procrastination affecting a lot of people, somebody you know.

Another one is adult ADHD scripts. So from about let’s see, 2003 to 2015, adult ADHD scripts went up by over 3 times. And then the other just terrifying statistic is about a third of the workday now is wasted on distractions. Just a couple hours a day every day wasted on distractions.

Pete Mockaitis
Do we have a breakdown of what are the big distraction drivers there in the workplace? Is it more so folks dropping by or is it more kind of self-inflicted, like, “Oh, I keep looking at the news or my phone?”

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, that’s a good question. I haven’t looked at that data for a little while, but I know that noise is a big one, especially now we have open offices are unfortunately still really trendy even through there’s really no evidence to support that they’re good and there’s a lot of reasons why they’re bad. But, yeah, noise is hard for people.

If you’re introverted – I’m introverted – or if you’re sensitive to noise – I’m hyper-sensitive to noise – we know that introverts are a lot of people and a lot of people are sensitive to noise, so for certain types of people especially, working in an office environment can just be totally crippling.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. There it is. It’s big in terms of distraction affecting us more and more at a bigger scale. You stumbled upon a powerful anecdote with that Skype chat and then you went ahead and built a whole company around this. If I want to get me a Focusmate, how do I make that happen and how does it work?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. The premise behind Focusmate is basically just using this technique, this kind of tribal psychology of accountability to unlock productivity. A kind of simple way to think about it is it’s like an accountability buddy or a study buddy on demand.

We have a standard session format. This is a 50-minute video working session, where we make it possible for you and your partner, your virtual co-worker, to sit side-by-side over video while you both get work done for 50 minutes. At the beginning of each session, you each commit to what you’re going to work on. You write it down and you get to work. At the end you check in with each other and talk about how it went.

It sounds pretty simple and it actually is, but there’s also a lot of behavioral triggers packed into that interaction. Part of it is when we schedule things in advance, our intentions further ahead are actually better often than our intentions right in the moment.

Then reflection, stopping and reflecting is – a lot of research shows that that improves productivity even though it doesn’t feel as good as just doing stuff. This forces you to stop and reflect on what you’re about to do.

Writing down what you’re about to do increases productivity. Telling somebody what you’re going to do increases productivity. The immediacy of doing it right after you write it down and tell somebody, also increases productivity. There’s a whole bunch of layers that go into why it’s so effective.

And part of what we’re building also is really enabling you to have a really customized experience so that the virtual co-workers that you have are exactly the right people for you, the people that you want to be working for, whether that’s because they’re actually your favorites, so to speak, that you’ve added to your tribe or that that’s based on your preferences of how you like to work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Is this free or how do I get me some of that?

Taylor Jacobson
It is free. All you’ve got to do is go to our website, Focusmate.com, and sign up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Are there any kind of corporate firewall IT blah to contend with when using this software?

Taylor Jacobson
It’s a totally browser-based experience, so you shouldn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Taylor Jacobson
You shouldn’t have any. Yeah, but let me know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I like the way you sort of unpacked that in terms of it’s really just a few simple practices, but they have a compounding effect and they all kind of come together. Then that’s cool.

I’m a huge believer in accountability. I was sort of already sold. I read a book about accountability groups in college and I had a powerful experience as well in terms of, “Hey, we’re making commitments to one another and we’re sharing this is what I’m going to do and we’re checking in with each other regularly.”

You’ve added the real time dimension of “We are sitting down now looking at each other doing the thing,” which is a whole other level, so that’s awesome.

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
Then tell me, do you have any sort of stats on the effectiveness or the measurement of just the extent to which it gets the job done? You and your buddies think it’s really cool and a good experience, but how do we measure it in terms of sort of like a yes or no I got the job done or how do you put numbers to prove that this is doing the trick?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so we’ve done some internal surveys. The results are kind of crazy. 100% – this is about a 60-something person study, so pretty small, but we think significant. 100% of the respondents said, “Yes, this improves my productivity.” Of those, 96% said, “It improves my productivity by at least 50%.”

Then just on the anecdotal side of things, we have many, many, many people who are saying, “I’ve tried everything under the sun and nothing has worked until this. I have severe ADHD and I never thought I could do X. I just wrote it off. I was never going to get to do this goal. Now, I actually think that I can.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I’m intrigued then. That’s one sort of tremendous tool we now all have in our toolkit. We can just go to Focusmate.com and grab a partner on demand so that’s great.

So I imagine though as you’ve done your research, you’ve sort of determined a few other kind of best practices and themes when it comes to humans and our capacity to focus and be productive and stay on task and beat procrastinating, so what are some of your other pro tips beyond getting a partner?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. I think it’s useful to actually kind of abstract one step because really the principle that is at work is around this tribal psychology. There’s this great quote from Jim Rohn that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I must have seen that quote like ten times before I really understood what it means.

As I started to study psychology more, the way that I’ve come to understand why that really works, because it’s not magic, it really works. The reason is that we are social animals. We evolved in tribes where if you wanted to eat, you had to hunt. If you wanted to hunt successfully, you needed to collaborate with other people.

Or you wanted to raise a child, well, there was no baby monitors, so if you wanted to step away to do something else, you relied on somebody else. Or you got a cold, well, on how earth did you survive a basic common cold living in a tribal society? You completely relied on other people to take care of you.

We’re really hard wired to respond to these social triggers. There’s plenty of places that you can see this in life today, just stuff like why might you buy a Nike shoe versus a New Balance shoe? Well, a Nike shoe is going to send-

Pete Mockaitis
Because Steve Prefontaine, of course.

Taylor Jacobson
Of course. Well, that’s funny because it kind of gets at the thing, which is that Nike stands for something else. What that really means is it sends a different message both to you, but also to other people around you.

You go into an office, why is every guy there wearing basically the same thing. Well, that’s because you want to fit in. In a tribal society, it’s really, really costly if you stand out. The minute you stand out, you get ostracized, you’re dead. The way our brains our wired is we conform to the behaviors around us.

That works both ways. That means, hey, if your spouse turns on Netflix every night at 7 like clockwork and you really want to study up on machine learning. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen. Netflix is on and boom, your willpower is gone. You’re probably just going to sit on the couch too.

But it works in the other direction too. Since we’re talking about running, just one of the coolest examples I’ve seen in 1954 this runner – what’s his name. I want to say Roger Bannister, don’t quote me on that. But basically no one had ever run a four-minute mile before. In 1954 this guy he breaks the four-minute barrier for the first time. Remember this thing has literally never happened before.

Suddenly, two months later, somebody else does it. I just checked the research on this. As of today, over 1,400 people have broken the 4-minute barrier.

When your brain makes that switch to something is possible because somebody else did it. Something in your environment sends a signal about what’s possible, suddenly it’s also possible for you or it becomes normalized for you.

On a really practical level, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The way that plays out is, you start to internalize the way that people around you are speaking and their body language and soon the way that they think and the way that they act and all these things you’re just – the way your brain is wired is you’re just subconsciously absorbing all those things. You actually can’t help but start to be like them.

It’s not a totally rational thing in today’s society, where you can totally pretty much survive on your own, technically, but it is still a really, really incredibly powerful hack where if you change the people that are in your environment, if you change that social environment, it will just change who you are from the inside out.

That has so many implications for our work, but in the very immediate who’s your boss, who are your co-workers, who are the people that you talk to about work, those sort of things can actually have a very, very direct impact on your output, your results at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. Part of the game is just hey, pick some great people and be around them frequently.

Taylor Jacobson
Completely, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well so then, we’ve got sort of that lever to pull. Then I’m wondering in terms of when you find yourself without people at your disposal or maybe you have a shorter window in which you need to focus, like 20 minutes instead of booking a 50-minute advance session, what do you recommend in the heat of battle to sort of stay on task and focused and to beat procrastination and to keep at it when you’re not feeling it so much?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. I think this can be a tough one. One of the things that I find really helpful is this idea of doing less better.

When you sit down and you’ve got 50 things on your to-do list, which all of us have at least 50 things on our to-do list, it can be really crippling, especially when you only have in this case 20 minutes or something. You might be a little weary and decision fatigue has set in. It’s really crippling and that’s one of the things that makes it really hard to be productive when you only have 20 minutes.

Actually really streamlining and I’ve heard different approaches to this. One person shared that she uses a Post-it note every day and she can only fit about three things on there so that’s how she plans. She just uses a really tiny surface. That’s one way to do less better.

I’ve borrowed a technique or adapted a technique from Jake Knapp.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, we had him on the show.

Taylor Jacobson
Oh nice. Yeah. Jake wrote an article about what he calls the Burner Method or something like this. Sorry, Jake, I’m going to totally screw this up. But the essence of it is to do less better and to really simplify.

My approach to this is I take a blank sheet of paper every day and I divide it into a top half and a bottom half. On the top half, I literally put just one thing usually. If there’s other things I absolutely must get to that day, they go on the top half. That’s a really, really high bar for things you absolutely must, must get to.

And the bottom half is like okay, bonus if I finish that thing at the top, here’s some more tasks I can get into. On the bottom right is personal tasks, administrative, “I’ve got to pick up my dry cleaning” or “I’ve got to – “right now I have write a thank you note is in that bottom write corner. I find that it helps avoid decision fatigue when it’s just extremely simple and you can just focus on that one thing.

And then kind of related to that, I like to say that we should write our to-dos like we’re giving instructions to a robot or to a computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that.

Taylor Jacobson
What that’s about is really about specificity and reducing complexity. Our brains don’t like complexity. When we create it, we procrastinate. When you see something on your to-do list that says write a presentation, to reprise our old example.

You actually can’t write a presentation. You can create a blank document in Keynote. You can write an outline with some slide headers. You can sketch out some graphic, some ideas for visuals for your slides. Those are things that you can actually do, but it’s not physically possible to do the activity of write a presentation. That’s another fun little trick is write your tasks like you’re giving instructions to a robot.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. That’s sort of one of the tenants of GTD, Getting Things Done, methodology.  We had David Allen on the show back in the day, episode 15, awesome dude.

Taylor Jacobson
OG productivity baller.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah and a personal hero. But it really resonated because if on your to-do list it just says ‘mom,’ it’s like there’s a whole other level of – I don’t know if it’s consternation or friction, it’s like what does that even mean, ‘mom.’ It’s like, “Oh, mom’s birthday.” Okay, well that’s closer, but what’s the instruction for mom’s birthday. It’s like, “Visit Amazon.com to find something that mom would like for her birthday and order it.” Okay, that’s what I’m doing.

Then you sort of really cut through a lot of that resistance in terms of “Oh, it’s not ambiguous at all. This is what’s happening is I’m opening a window and going to Amazon.com and buda bing buda boom.”

Taylor Jacobson
Totally. Yeah, I love the level of specificity that you just went to because that’s exactly what is necessary for our really terrible brains.

But it’s funny how much resistance – I still find this, I got the habit down now, but there’s – you’ll still find there’s resistance when you’re writing down a task to just write those extra words and do that little bit of extra thinking when you’re planning.

I find that doing all your planning and reflection together as its own task and making sure that, “Okay, now while I’m doing the reflection and planning, I’m going to take the time to write down ‘go to Amazon.com and research gifts and buy gift for mom,’” whatever you’re going to write down.

The other sort of hack that I use on this is sometimes you need to write something down that is complex and it’s not the right time now to actually plan out the specific actions around that. So you might actually need to write a presentation and you just need some kind of place holder on your to-do list to work on that. It may not be right to break that into the 12 steps that are actually involved.

When I encounter that situation, i.e., every day, you can just write plan out the steps to write the presentation. Actually treating the planning as its own task I find is a really helpful way to sort of get around the stuckness on complex projects.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, tell me, you’ve got a turn of a phrase I find intriguing. You say ‘Stop relying on willpower.” What’s the key message there?

Taylor Jacobson
Oh gosh especially in the US, we have this notion of rugged individualism. I subscribe to it so much as you might guess from someone who does a cross-country bike ride, but it’s also kind of toxic in that I think it has us think that there is some glamour or glory or righteousness about muscling through things. That can look like trying to do things on our own. It can often look like just trying to use willpower.

I can’t count the number of, days that I wasted earlier in my career just kind of shaming myself because I thought, “Gosh, I really just should be able to willpower myself through this obstacle.” And it doesn’t’ work. There’s plenty of evidence that it doesn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that does. We’ve talked about some of the stuff that does. But I think just the key message is to just let go of the notion that there’s something better about muscling through.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. It’s almost challenging in terms of you hold on just like, “But if I were some sort of a hard core super achiever, I could do it.” But the word Navy SEAL comes to mind, but even then, they’re working in teams.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, yeah, they’re working in teams. They live together. They have routine. All of it.

This is like the part two to this idea is it’s okay to get some support, but not too much. There’s a line that we draw somewhere in our minds, where it’s like, “Okay, I can call up a friend and ask for help on this, but I really shouldn’t call two friends I don’t want to take too much of this person’s time or whatever.”

Of course, you need to use social intelligence and be gracious and not overtax your relationships, but separate from that, I think we just kind of put a barrier on what’s acceptable to create as support in our lives. Categorically, there is no limit to how much support is okay. I really think it’s just if there’s a way to get the job done, maybe you should use it.

So accountability is one great way, but I’m sure you’ve had plenty of guests who talk about stuff like automating things in your life, where, “I’m not necessarily reliable to get my laundry done when it should be done, so I just have a pick up set for once a week, where I’m like, all right, I guess I’ve got to scramble and get my clothes together because the person is coming,” just to give a couple examples of any way that you can avoid using willpower to do something, might be a good idea.

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

Taylor Jacobson
No, I’m good. Let’s do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, how about you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so, I’m going to just trot this one out again. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s Jim Rohn.

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

Taylor Jacobson
There’s a study called The Power of Kawaii, which is this concept of viewing cute baby animal photos. What they looked at is what’s the impact this has on your productivity. I’m talking about this because it’s a perfect example of tribal psychology of we can’t help when we look at a picture of a cute baby animal, it actually boosts cognitive function, it boosts mood, it boosts concentration. Pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard references to this. I said, “What?” I never scratched beneath the surface, so while we’re here, you’re thinking that it’s the tribal psychology explains this. Can you make that connection for me?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. The kind of obvious connection is-

Pete Mockaitis
It’s an animal, we should kill it and eat it.

Taylor Jacobson
Well, okay. There’s that. I think it might be more intuitive for people to think about raising kids. When you have a baby there’s this blob that really doesn’t give you much interaction. There’s really no reward for a long time. There’s just a thing that has a lot of needs and also causes you a lot of distress.

How do we get through that crucible? Well, a lot of it is just the way our brains are wired. When you look at a baby, what happens? You calm down. You feel better. You can concentrate. They’re evolutionarily optimal to ensure the survival of the species. You can extrapolate one layer or in this case, the research suggests that this effect also extends to looking at other kinds of animals that are also babies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. Thank you.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now could you share a favorite book?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, you mentioned Navy SEALS. I’m actually reading right now a book called Living With a SEAL but Jesse Itzler. This guy, Jesse, who is a really successful business guy, he invites a Navy SEAL to live with him for a month and to train him.

In addition to being really inspiring, it’s also hilarious and amazing example of how changing your environment, changing the social structure and putting this other really high-performing person in your environment is transformative for Jesse. It’s awesome. Highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. How about a favorite tool?

Taylor Jacobson
A favorite tool. Well, I’m going to just be self-promotional and go there and say Focusmate. I wouldn’t say it if this is something that as a recovering procrastinator has really changed my life and changed even my identity, where I feel that I can rely on myself to get my most important work done. It’s been transformational for me and a lot of other people. I think it can be really effective for a lot of your listeners as well.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, I wanted to choose something a little maybe uncommon. The habit that I want to share is around positive self-talk. This is something that probably the first million times I encountered it I was like this is some woo-woo crazy stuff. But it’s actually made a huge difference for me in the last few years that I’ve really started to get some momentum around it.

It cuts a couple ways. When something goes well, I’m actually sometimes out loud verbalizing, like “Great job,” or “Boom.” I’ll keep it clean on here, but I’ll enthusiastically congratulate myself. It just kind of – it literally creates, maybe dopamine actually in this case, but literally creates a chemical response where it sort of cements that experience in my memory or something that makes it actually more tangibly positive and helps me build on it.

Sometimes I’ll do that even if it was mediocre because there’s just like, “You know what? You did the best you could given what you knew at this point in time, so that’s awesome.”

And then plenty of times something goes terribly I walk out of a meeting and I just feel like I did terrible. In that situation too, I’m not telling myself “You did great,” and trying to steamroll the negative feeling, but I will really say to myself, “It’s okay. And it’s not all on you. There’s another person in this interaction. What did you learn from this interaction?”

Shockingly, after many years of thinking this was a crazy thing, it’s actually become a really indispensible and career-changing tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. And a part of the key is saying it out loud?

Taylor Jacobson
You know, I have found that sometimes saying it out loud makes it a little – what is it? It can make it a little more real. It can also help reinforce the habit as you’re building it. It’s kind of fun too. Maybe it’s a little crazy and I’m just a crazy guy, but yeah, something about saying it out loud, it’s maybe a little extra oomph.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks when you share it?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. We’ve really talked about it a lot. It’s just this idea that in order to upgrade your life, upgrade your accountability.

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

Taylor Jacobson
You can email me at Hi@FocusMate.com. You can also head over to our website, FocusMate.com.

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

Taylor Jacobson
I do. My challenge is – you can call it an audit of the people in your life. It’s not just your work life, although that’s certainly an important category, but it’s really everyone that you spend a meaningful amount of time with. It’s your friends, it’s your romantic partner. And to ask yourself – I guess there’s two questions.

One is, are there sort of – are there roles in your life that – or needs that you have that you don’t have somebody who’s serving that role. I think of these as roles that you are casting for in your life. That’s sort of list one.

List two is people in your life or behaviors that some of those people in your life are exhibiting that are causing drag, that are slowing you down, that are sort of – again, if you are the average of the five people who you spend the most time with, are there people in your life that you actually don’t want to become more like them?

And then go find the people that you’re casting for in list one and in list two, either establish a boundary with those people or if you need to actually cut those people out from your life. I think actually following through with those two things can completely change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Taylor, this has been a real treat. Thank you for sharing your experience, your vulnerability, your story, and your cool software with us. I’m just a huge fan of what you’re up to and I wish you all the best.

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks so much Pete. It’s been really great being on the show.