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KF #10. Courage Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

704: How to Achieve Lasting Success by Thinking Long-Term with Dorie Clark

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Dorie Clark says: "The things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you're going to be successful, you need to stop."

Dorie Clark reveals the critical skills that help us think long-term and set ourselves up for future success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three barriers to long-term strategic thinking
  2. The top two skills that make you indispensable
  3. What to do when you’re stuck in a rut

 

About Dorie

Dorie Clark helps individuals and companies get their best ideas heard in a crowded, noisy world. She has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, and was honored as the #1 Communication Coach in the world at the Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards. She is a keynote speaker and teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, which was named one of Forbes’ Top 5 Business Books of the Year, as well as Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. magazine.

A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Clark has been described by the New York Times as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and consults and speaks for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, a producer of a multiple Grammy-winning jazz album, and a Broadway investor.

 

Resources Mentioned

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Dorie Clark Interview Transcript

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

Dorie Clark
Hey, Pete, it’s so good to be back with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom once again. And one exciting thing that you’ve mentioned I think the world needs to hear is that you have written a musical.

Dorie Clark
Yes, I have.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the story here?

Dorie Clark
Well, this is a process that started about five years ago. I actually write about this in my new book The Long Game. I’m a big fan of long-term goals, ten-year plans. And so, in 2016, I decided that my ten-year goal was going to be that I would write a show that would make it onto Broadway. And so, I have been assiduously pursuing this. I was literally starting from zero because I had no training or experience in writing Broadway or musical theater-type shows.

And so, since then, as I was mentioning earlier, I was…well, first, I applied and was rejected, and then I applied and was finally accepted into a training program, a kind of a prestigious training program that BMI, the music publishing company, runs. And so, I’ve been through that, I’m part of their advanced workshop now, have learned to write musical theater, and, in fact, have written one, which I am now shopping around to produce into regional theaters.

So, it’s just working the network and getting it out there. But I have written a sexy, lesbian, spy musical called Absolute Zero. So, you heard it here first. God willing, 2026 Broadway season.

Pete Mockaitis
I just have so many follow-up questions in terms of how that’s going to unfold but I’ll just wait to see it in theaters.

Dorie Clark
You’re going to love it. It’s going to create a whole new genre.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate in and of itself when things cannot be easily defined. Original genres, appreciated. All right. Cool. Well, now something that you have a bit more experience writing is nonfiction books that help people be awesome at their jobs, and it sounds like you got another hit on your hands with The Long Game. Tell us, what’s the big idea here?

Dorie Clark
Thank you, my man. Yes, this is my fourth so I have been flexing my muscles for a while with business and career books. So, the new book is called The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, and, basically, it’s about how to apply the principles of strategic thinking to your life and your career so that you can get better results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that sounds super helpful. And tell us, long-term thinking, is that something that professionals have a shortage of these days? Or, how would you assess the health of the long-term thinking game these days?

Dorie Clark
The broad state of affairs is not great, partly, of course, that’s human nature. Everybody likes a little bit of instant gratification if you get down to it, but, also, things have become harder for a couple of reasons. One is just in our society, in general, even pre-COVID, I think most of us recognize that there are a lot of forces conspiring to encourage short-term thinking.

We have at the corporate level, you have the push for quarterly earnings and how that trickles down to everybody about trying to get results sometimes with really negative consequences and corners being cut in the Volkswagen or the Wells Fargo type of situation. And in our personal lives, we’re 10, 20 years into our social media era, and a factor that has always impacted people, which is looking around and comparing yourself to other people, we always had that but now we’re comparing ourselves literally to the whole world. And that can be a little demoralizing sometimes, so there’s a push towards short-term thinking.

And then you take that and you put COVID on top of it where all of our plans got blown up suddenly. All we can do is react and be short-term because we don’t know what’s coming down the pike. So, it’s a lot of pressure in that direction. And so, it is my hope that this book, in some ways, can actually help us overcome that and put a stake in the ground because when we have been in reactive mode for so long, of course, it’s a good skill. You want to be agile, you want to pivot, you know how to, you want to know how to be able to respond to change, but, also, that can’t be the only thing you do.

We need to start making plans again. We need to be reclaiming our lives and coming up with the visions of where we want to go so that we are driving the train, not just responding to external stimuli. And, for me, that’s what playing the long game really is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, playing the long game seems like the prudent, wise thing to do when I’m thinking about reading some Aesop’s Fables type things to my children. And so, we’ve got those stories about the ant and the   grasshopper and storing things for the winter, and the tortoise and the hare, and kind of sticking with it over the long haul.

So, I think that I’m guessing the milieu is that, “Oh, yeah. Hey, long-term thinking is probably a good and virtuous thing I should be doing.” But could you lay it on us in terms of some of the benefits for people’s careers, like, “No, seriously, if you do this, you can expect these fabulous results to come to you, and if you don’t, here’s what you’re risking”?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. Well, let me give you one example. I could ask sometimes, like, “Who is an example of someone who’s a good long-term thinker?” And one person who, honestly, stands out, of course, he has his own challenges in terms of his, essentially, world domination. But leaving that aside, Jeff Bezos is actually a really remarkable example of a long-term thinker.

And I think back in 2011, he did an interview with Wired magazine that I think was very telling. They asked him, “Okay, what is the secret to your success? What is the secret to Amazon’s success?” And, of course, this was 10 years ago, this was before Amazon became…it was successful but it was before it became the behemoth that it is today. And what he said was, “What makes Amazon special is that our competitors are only willing to plan on a three-year horizon. We are willing to plan on a seven-year horizon, and invest in a seven-year horizon. Because of that, we are able to take on bigger, more monumental, more potentially game-changing projects than they are. And that is the difference.”

And so, we go a decade out, and we see, oh, my goodness, Amazon Web Services. We see Amazon Prime. These were bets that they laid years ago, and they took time to pay off but now it’s created a massive competitive moat between Amazon and other players. And it’s the same thing for our own lives and our own careers. If you are willing to invest now and you keep at it assiduously while everybody else is just saying, “Ahh, that doesn’t make any sense. Oh, what a waste of time,” by the time they actually figure out the value of what you’ve done, they really can’t even catch up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot and I think, and, Dorie, I don’t know, I read so much of the stuff you’ve written, and this might be from you, that with that Amazon example, I think Bezos is also said to have commented that he really tries to focus on things that he does not expect to change in terms of, he said, “Well, ten years from now, will people want to pay less? Yes, I think that will not change. People still like low prices. And, like, ten years from now, will people still want things faster or will that change in terms of, ‘You know what, I’d rather have it in five days’? Like, no.”

And so, with that sort of confidence, they said, “All right. Well, we’re pretty sure that people will want the prices low and will want it fast ten years from now, thusly, we can invest big on doing what it takes to make that happen.” So, yeah, that’s really resonant. So, maybe can you bring it into like careers then? If we’re playing the long game with our careers, what are some things that we can bank on as employers and the marketplace will really want from us years from now?

Dorie Clark
Absolutely. So, one of the sections that I have in The Long Game is actually talking about, again, to take a corporate example, but bring it down to the granular of how we apply it in our own lives, most of your listeners are probably familiar with Google and their famous 20%-time policy. And this is the idea that Google pioneered and, well, to be fair, 3M, the Post-It company actually came up with it originally as 15% time. Google adopted it, they even expanded it, made it 20% time, but it really came to public prominence with Google.

And their concept is that employees should be able to spend up to a fifth of their time working on, essentially, speculative projects outside the scope of their regular job, but it should be things that they find interesting, obviously, but things that they believe would help the company. And that is how some of Google’s biggest innovations, like Google News and Gmail, got created.

Now, the caveat, the asterisk on all of this, interestingly enough, even most Google employees don’t do this. About 10% of Google employees actually do 20% time, which is this very low statistic. You might say, “Oh, well, that’s ridiculous. Why should we even take seriously this thing if the company that’s preaching it doesn’t do it?” But actually, I think it’s an important point for us to plumb. We know that it is not easy to carve out 20% time. You have to really be forceful in creating a fence around it. It is always easier to just lean into doing your existing job, “Oh, I’ve got meetings. Oh, I’ve got emails to answer.” And so, you allocate that time accordingly. I get it.

But if you are fencing off time for, essentially, your own professional development, for learning things, trying things, where you are developing new skills and exploring new areas, this becomes your insurance policy for the future. COVID showed us that we have no freaking idea what is going to happen. We just don’t know.

And so, we can make educated guesses and we can plan for the future, but, really, the best thing that all of us can be doing is turning ourselves into Swiss Army knives where we are not overly optimized for one task because that task could change, the company could change, it might not need it anymore. What we need to do, and 20% time is a really good vehicle to do it, is to allocate part of our time to proactive professional development so we’re learning new things and have new skills that we can fall back on if we need to. And it’ll also open up new opportunities as well. So, I think that’s one clear takeaway that can be very useful for people in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I like the notion of becoming a Swiss Army knife, and proactive professional development, and being kind of a bullet proof, invincible, depending on the winds of change and sway and stuff. And so, I guess I’m thinking what are some of the top skills, or I’m actually visualizing literally a Swiss Army knife, the bottle opener, the screwdriver, the tweezers, the scissors?

Dorie Clark
Everybody’s going to love you if you can open bottles. I say go for that one.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the hook, the little hook. I always found that tricky. Apparently, it’s for when you’re carrying boxes wrapped in twine. Okay, now you know if you were curious. You can also pull out stakes with fishing wire. Anyway, Swiss Army knife has a lot of tools. What do you think are some of the top tool skills that professionals should work to be developing that are timeless? Because, on the one hand, I’m thinking, “Well, hey, a lot of sort of artificial intelligence stuff, for example, is hot.” And then a coding language like Python or something is something that you say, “Oh, maybe that’d be good to know, but then, again, maybe that’ll be irrelevant in six years.” So, help us, Dorie, how do we think through what are the skills are really worth investing and building?

Dorie Clark
That’s right, Pete. Absolutely. I’m going to answer it in a couple different ways. So, the first one, props to you, my man, is a really simple starting point that people can do is actually LinkedIn Learning courses. And I’m an instructor, you’re an instructor, and, in fact, both of us are fortunate enough that some of our courses were among the top 20 most popular of the year. So, actually just diving in and immersing yourself in that is a really good simple way.

These courses are not long. This is something you can do on your lunch break but that’s a good regular way that you can begin to just take time that often might’ve been deployed for other purposes, maybe just messing around, maybe answering emails. Actually, really investing in learning. So, that’s one low-hanging fruit.

But, also, I think it is true, of course, we can all kind of envision that, “Oh, I should learn about 3D printing or something like that. What are the things of the future?” If you are interested in those things, then, Godspeed, go do it. That’s great. I also want to argue that there is merit in learning about things that might seem completely irrelevant. And my example, in fact, I consider musical theater to be my 20%-time activity. And it might sound frivolous in some ways, like, “Well, what does that have to do with being a business author?”

And on the surface, hmm, I don’t really know but what I do know is I am not only learning skills about how to do a particular thing, lyric writing, book writing, whatever. Those are really powerful and you can argue that there are some overlays in terms of story arcs and narrative and how it applies to my book, but, also, from a networking perspective, I am meeting massively different types of people. There’s a lot of interesting development of who I’m connecting with and what I know, and it’s giving me access to a whole new canon of knowledge.

And so, I can tell you that it’s been…there are examples where I’m meeting people in the business world and I’m able to connect with them better because I have additional knowledge that I can bring to bear about theater if that is, in fact, one of their interests. So, even something that seems really like, “Oh, why would you do that?” There actually can be a lot of surprise hidden value in it. It’s sort of the equivalent of the well-worn example of Steve Jobs studying calligraphy. Like, “Well, what did that matter?” Well, it turns out, it can create a design orientation that actually can be very influential but we couldn’t have predicted it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. Okay. Well, so then in terms of the 20% time, it’s like it’s a combo then of, “What do you find really fascinating? Go for it,” and then, “What do you think you just can’t see any connection whatsoever? Don’t let that stop you.” And then LinkedIn Learning is one quick and easy and fun resource to get in there.

And so, I’m curious then, are there any – and I’m sure this will vary as the years unfold or maybe it won’t at all, and that’s the point – what will be some like the top skills you think, boy, every professional can really benefit from sharpening these skills?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. Again, with the purview so that, honestly, if you want to keep yourself motivated, the most important thing is that it should be interesting to you. But I would say, in my own experience, things that are super valuable, one, probably the biggest that I’ve put at the top of the list, is public speaking. And part of the reason that I do this is there are some very interesting research that was done a few years ago by The Center for Talent Innovation, which is a think-tank in New York. And they were studying the concept of executive presence, which is, essentially, this idea, this very poorly-defined idea of somebody looking like a leader, or seeming like a leader. Like, what does that mean?

And so, they wanted to break that down because a lot of people talk about, “Oh, he’s got executive presence but he doesn’t.” And so, okay, what are they talking about? And one of the key components that it turned out people were implicitly referring to is people’s public speaking ability. And it kind of makes sense because if we think about, for instance, how our country, how countries, in general, elect leaders, what are the trials that we put them through? Well, it’s usually debates, it’s townhall meetings, it’s rallies, it’s all about your public speaking, so a very low-hanging fruit where someone can get a dramatic ROI from investing time and effort is actually becoming a better public speaker. So, I would put that at the top of the list.

I’m also, you know, I’m partially communications in general, given that I started my career as a marketing strategy consultant, but I would say that effective copywriting, persuasive sales writing is one of the most important skills, whether you’re literally selling something or whether you are a regular professional trying to sell your boss on an idea, or trying to get a client to take a concept and let you run with it. Sales copy, which is different than regular writing, persuasive sales copy is an incredibly valuable skill to have. So, I would probably put those two at the top of the list.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. And so then, beyond just simply learning, training, skills development, what are some other ways that you recommend we can shift our thinking away from the short term and to the long term? Are there any sorts of key questions, or prompts, or exercises you recommend folks go through to get more in the long-term zone?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, I love that question. So, when we think about, “How do we kind of reorient ourselves?” One of the most important starting points is actually just, at a very basic level, creating the white space necessary to be able to have those conversations, whether it’s literally a conversation with a colleague or just an internal reckoning with yourself. It is not that it takes a huge amount of time to do strategic thinking. It does not. But it takes some time.

And one of the problems that I see with a lot of the clients that I worked with and colleagues around me is that they literally have no time for this because they are so packed to the gills with their scheduling. They’re constantly racing around. They don’t have a moment to breathe. And, therefore, they really don’t have a moment to ask very fundamental questions about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, if it’s the right thing to be doing. Nobody wants to be the person that is optimizing perfectly for the wrong goal, for the wrong outcome.

So, I think that one of the very best things we can do to begin to give ourselves the space to ask these questions is to actually just create a little room on our calendar. Obviously, it’s easier said than done, but I think we need to start becoming a lot more ruthless in terms of what we accept. Something that doesn’t get talked about, this is a skill you need to develop, although no one will tell you this, the things you said yes to earlier in your career, if you’re going to be successful, you need to stop. You need to regularly re-evaluate and create tighter and tighter criteria for what actually gets on your schedule. And this is an essential part of being a strategic and long-term thinker.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I find that actually pretty inspiring, Dorie, and I don’t know if that’s the reaction you get very often, “Tighter and tighter criteria. Ooh, boy.” But I think it’s true in that I‘m thinking about just, hey, this podcast, 700 episodes in, that’s exactly what’s happened in terms of criteria get tighter and tighter and tighter with regard to what guest gets in, which parts of the interview stay versus get edited out. And then, likewise, just as a function, I think the percentage of incoming pitches that are thumbs up gets smaller and smaller as well.

Dorie Clark
Yeah, when you were first starting, you probably would’ve interviewed my cat. That’s what it’s like when you start.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I might make a case for that in terms of, “Well, cute animal photos have been shown to reduce stress.”

Dorie Clark
It could go viral.

Pete Mockaitis
“Cats have been known to go viral.” So, then can you make that all the more real and specific for us in terms of maybe in your own schedule or others that you’ve coached or worked with and how you’ve seen, “Hey, this used to be okay, and now it’s not. And here are some particular filters or rules or criteria I’m using now that determine what gets the yes”?

Dorie Clark
Yeah, absolutely. And I actually go into a lot of detail about this in The Long Game because I think your question points to something important, which is specifics actually really matter here because you can say all you want, “Oh, you should just say no more often,” and that’s great but people are like, “Okay, you jerk, like how do I do it?” So, you need to really understand the mechanics and the scripts and how do you draw these criteria.

Just to give you an example. When I first started my business, I’ve been working for myself for 15 years, I kind of didn’t know anybody. Like, when you’re starting any career, or you’re starting at a job, you don’t know anybody and so, therefore, you don’t even know who’s worth your time. And at that moment, it’s actually good to say yes to everybody because it’s not like you have so many other important things to do, and it’s not like there are so many people fighting to spend time with you. if you have an opportunity for a networking engagement, you should probably do it, right?

So, early on, the filter should be very wide. But, over time, people do begin to seek you out more, and so you’ve got to narrow it. So, some examples. Early on, I was so happy that anyone would like talk to me. I would immediately offer to go to them, “Oh, where do you want to meet? When do you want to meet?” And so, I would accept these things where I’d be taking like a 45-minute train ride into the city to go see somebody at some inconvenient place. I’d be coming back. I would literally have spent half a day in a networking meeting with someone.

Now, a half a day is extraordinarily valuable. I think about how much revenue or all the things I could be doing but, back in the day, I would say yes to that. So, over time, I slowly tightened it and say, “Okay. Well, maybe I’d meet with them but I’m not going to just offer to go to them. I would either make them come to me and meet near me, or I would only do it if I was already going to be in their neighborhood.” Also, I used to meet with people, “Hey, let’s have a networking meeting,” for like pretty much no reason. It could be, “Oh, somebody suggested we might like each other,” something like that.

Now, I actually need a pretty compelling reason, like, “Well, what do you want to talk about? Like, what’s the goal? Why is it that we should connect?” because, oftentimes, what I would discover, that I didn’t know, is that people actually had an agenda. They just wouldn’t state it. It was often to sell something to you. And so, it’s important to kind of understand what’s behind all of that. So, that’s a piece of it.

You can also, if you want, if you want to do the meeting, you’re not sure if you can say no, another strategy that I use is find a way that you can downgrade it but still say yes. So, you might say, “Oh, Dorie, can we have coffee? Can we have lunch?” and if I want to be careful, I don’t want to offend you or something, or I feel like I should say yes, I might say, “Oh, thank you, Pete. I’d love to do it. That would be great. My schedule is super crazy. I can’t do lunch but how about a call? Can we do a call next week?” And so, that way, instead of lunch, which might be two hours, two and a half hours, like getting there and then a lunch, the call is a tight 30 and then you can log off. So, you have, essentially, found a way to still say yes but save yourself 90 minutes, and all of that adds up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dorie, I like this so much. It’s funny, just recently, I think I was getting a new insurance quote, and they proposed…because sometimes this is very easy to do, they said, “Oh, hey, when’s a good timing and we can hop on a call for me to walk you through a point-by-point all the elements of this plan?” I was like, “Wow, I never want to do that,” and maybe that might be prudent depending on the nature of the insurance product and what’s at stake and if there’s a lot of points of differentiation between that insurance product and the competition. Maybe that might be well worth your time. But for me, it wasn’t. It was sort of small potatoes insurance and I thought, “Wow, do people really say yes to this?

And so, I was able to say, “Oh, would it be possible for, instead, for you to email me the policy and share with me the key points and the price?”

Dorie Clark
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I know what they’re doing. I think from like a sales process, I’m sure the studies have shown, you get a higher conversion rate if you have like a relationship and some engagement and some conversation, but I probably just wanted to kind of say yes, thank you, get some insurance, and move onto something else.

So, sometimes it’s easy but for me it’s kind of rare. And it’s funny, as you share those things, I’ve had those thoughts. Let’s just get real about sort of emotions here. And sometimes I will also have thoughts to be like, “Pete, who the heck do you think you are? Oh, now you’re big time, huh? Oh, you’re so important now that you can’t be bothered to have lunch.” So, I’ve got some internal dialogues in terms of just like, “Well, no, I can have a spreadsheet I can show you that time it better placed somewhere else from a business development perspective. Like, that’s a fact.”

But sometimes it’s more fuzzy, like, “Well, I don’t even know what’s going to make a bigger impact. Hard to say.” But then there’s also a little bit of the, “Oh, so now I’m too good.” And it’s like I don’t want to become, I don’t know what the anti-hero I’m looking for here, the villain I’m trying to paint here, not Scrooge McDuck swimming in money, or like Scrooge…help me out here. Like, I still want to be a generous person who is not corrupted by success as I grow but I guess that’s part of the long game as our time will become increasingly more valuable. We will need to say no more often. How do we deal with that?

Dorie Clark
Right. Well, I think you’re pointing to something important, which is that there’s a lot of layers to this. It’s not just a strictly rational ROI calculator, essentially. But I think there’s a few ways to think about this. And, also, of course, it depends who’s asking. I think sometimes, again, when we are less experienced, we often, at least me, I would essentially fall prey to people, just anyone who’d be like, “Hey, want to have coffee?” and I would just assume like the correct answer is yes, “Okay, yes.”

And then, meanwhile, you come and it’s some kind of a sales pitch or something where it’s almost like you’ve been kind of tricked or strong-armed into it, or if it’s not a sales pitch, maybe it’s they want something, “Oh, hey, Dorie, I hear you write for so and so. Can you introduce me to blah, blah, blah?” And it’s like, “Oh, now I get it. Like, oh, you want a thing that’s why you want to connect.” And so, those are things I do not feel bad screening out. I don’t want some user who is taking advantage, and so I think, partly, it’s about learning how to be more mindful if you feel like that vibe is coming off of someone.

I think, also, the truth is I don’t feel bad about saying no to people that are coming at you, or coming at me, in ways that are a little inappropriate. I think that, for me, when I was 22, when we’re all 22, we would have the college career counselors, they’d be like, “Oh, you should reach out to people and pick their brain.” And many people, again, when you’re 22, fine, but many people just kept with that, and that’s still their approach, and it should not be the approach of a seasoned professional.

If you are dealing with someone, you want to be showing empathy for their situation. And if you know that that person is, and you got to think about it, but if you actually, when you rationally think about it, realize, “This person is probably getting 10, 20, 50 emails per week with people asking for something,” you have to be mindful of what your ask is and contextualize it properly. And so, if you’re just sort of blithely saying, “Oh, can I have, for no reason at all, an undifferentiated amount of your time?” that’s actually not really being a sophisticated consumer. And so, I think that we need to…we all need to be more thoughtful in terms of how we approach people.

I actually did an analysis of the emails that I received a while back, and I discovered that, in the course of a week, I got somewhere between 10 and 11 requests per day for something. Now, sometimes it was a coffee or a meal, sometimes it was a, “Hey, will you share this on social media?” Sometimes it was a, “Will you blurb my book?” or, “Will you do this?” And many of them were from great friends, and I would be glad to do it. That’s totally fine.

But we all have to recognize for ourselves and when we’re dealing with others, if someone is getting 70 requests in a week, it is just foolish for that person to say yes to all of them. You have to triage and protect it so that I can say yes to you, Pete, and not some random person who is sort of barging in with inappropriate request.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Was it Jim Carrey where he says yes? Is it Yes Man? With all the chaos that ensues with the yes to everything. Yes, that’s helpful and thought-provoking both in terms of as the requester and the potential grantor of requests, like how to do that well. Well, thanks, Dorie. We went really deep there.

Dorie Clark
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s zoom out for a bit. Any other critical ideas from The Long Game that you think folks looking to be awesome at their jobs should know about?

Dorie Clark
Yeah. Well, I’ll just add one piece to where we were going before, which is, ultimately, if you want to actually be true to your vision, if you actually want to accomplish whatever your long-term goal is, it is not just about the people around you and saying no. We often fail to think about the opportunity costs when some requests or something is coming at us, some opportunity. We often think, “Should I do this thing or not?” And that’s not really the right question. It is actually, what we should be asking, is, “Should I be doing this thing or any other thing in the world that would take approximately that amount of time?”

And so, we have to contextualize it because if there’s a goal that you truly care about, that needs to be a north star in your mind so that you are carving out time so you can really do that and fulfilling your agenda rather than everyone else’s agenda for you. So, just connecting with that point, one area that I talk about that’s related in The Long Game is a concept that I call being willing to say no to good things.

Of course, we understand that we should say no to the bad things. It might be hard or that you worry that you might be hurting people’s feelings or something like that, but, ultimately, we get it. But where we really develop the kind of ninja-level skill, and this is very hard for all of us, is that if we want to leave room to pursue what actually is great, what is a great opportunity or a really important thing for us, if something is nearly good, we also need to be willing to say no to that. And the discipline to do that is really what can set us apart and make us extraordinary.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Boy, Dorie, we’re two peas in a pod here when you talk about saying no and sort of the alternative is like everything else that you could be doing. And I remember the first time I learned about the concept of opportunity costs in an economics high school course, it freaked me out. I’m just like, “Holy crap, so you’re saying in choosing to do one thing I’m saying no to everything else on the planet every time. Whoa!”

It kind of shook me up actually for a few weeks. It’s like a random day in economics class, a day in high school. But it’s the reality of the matter with regard to where you can funnel your time, and that’s really powerful when you’re thinking about those long-term objectives that you’re shooting for and how to get there.

I guess I want to hear your take in terms of the…well, if it’s diet or exercise or smoking or video games, anyway there’s a whole host of ways we humans have a knack for going after that instant gratification at the expense of long-term stuff. So, do you have any tips or perspectives or reframes that could help people when they’re in the heat of battle and they have a temptation to do something that maybe feel good or short term when they’d be better to do something more long-term oriented?

Dorie Clark
Oh, as someone who ate a large ice cream sundae last night, I can totally speak to this. But to be fair, I planned. I planned that sundae. I saved up for that sundae but, nonetheless. I think there’s a couple of things that we can keep in mind. And one of them, in The Long Game I tell the story of a woman named Kim Cantergiani who was a busy mom, a busy wife, had a great job as she was a C-suite executive at a nonprofit. And the thing that always fell through the cracks was her health, and she had gained weight that she wanted to lose, and she just had not been able to do it.

And, ultimately, for her, what proved successful is she created a pound-a-thon campaign where she publicly pledged to all her friends, and she got them signed up, that for every pound she lost, that they would donate X amount of money to the local Battered Women Shelter. And so, at that point, it became about something bigger than herself. She was going to be letting down other people if she did not lose weight.

And so, she told me, she said, “After that, I really couldn’t be seen walking around with chips and a Diet Pepper after that.” So, I think sometimes it’s about external accountability and tapping into the bigger picture of a cause outside yourself. And the third point that I’ll make is that oftentimes it’s really about committing to a date certain for something, because humans, we love to kind of blur the lines or make exceptions or, “Oh, I could do this a little later.”

But I tell a story of a woman named Sam Horn who was a very successful speaker, author, just running herself ragged in the pre-COVID world, traveling everywhere, giving these talks. And she decided that what she really wanted to do, it’d been a longstanding goal, is she wanted to move near the water, and actually not just one place. Not like get a lake house, but she wanted to spend an entire year as kind of a digital nomad, living by the water in beautiful places, like Florida and Hawaii. And she ended up doing it but she said the only reason was that she just forced herself to commit. She circled October 1st on her calendar and she made herself happen. And she said, “If I didn’t have a date, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Well, Dorie, tell me, any final thoughts about the long game before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dorie Clark
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete. I will just mention, for anybody that wants to dive in further to strategic thinking and creating a long-term vision, that I have a free resource, which is a Long Game Strategic Thinking Self-Assessment, and folks can get it for free at DorieClark.com/thelonggame.

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

Dorie Clark
One of my favorite quotes is actually one from Theodore Roosevelt, and I love it because, fundamentally, to me, long-term planning is important but it’s acting toward those long-term goals. It’s about the action. And his quote is, “In any moment of uncertainty, the best thing to do is the right thing. The next best thing to do is the wrong thing. And the worst thing to do is nothing.” And so, I think we learn by taking action, and, to me, that quote exemplifies it.

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

Dorie Clark
So, I have to pick a sentimental favorite. I actually talk a lot about this in The Long Game as well, is the famous marshmallow study by Walter Mischel, talking about, “Do you take one marshmallow now or two if you wait 15 minutes?” If we can figure out how to crack that code, that’s the ultimate in long-term thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Dorie Clark
One of the things that was most inspiring to me as I was starting my business and my business career was the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Pete Mockaitis
Had him on the show. So amazing.

Dorie Clark
He is. It’s so beautifully written. It is so engaging. And I think it just taught me so much about life, so I really respect the work that he’s done.

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

Dorie Clark
Yes, a favorite tool that I use, actually all the time, is Google Translate. I feel like these days, I’m working with so many people internationally, and where I can, at least learn a few phrases or say something as kind of a tip of the hat for them and their culture, I try to do that. So, I enjoy using that tool for connecting with people across borders.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you’ve been sharing that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Dorie Clark
Well, one of the things that I feel like seems to be resonating for people a lot, perhaps especially coming out of COVID, is a concept that I talk about in The Long Game called thinking in waves. And the basic idea is that, oftentimes, when we feel stuck, we feel like we’re in a rut, the problem is that we are, essentially, trying to just keep doing more of the same thing, and it’s the same thing that we’re good at, or the same thing that we’ve gotten results at. And, unfortunately, one of the things about being a successful human and a successful professional is that we actually have to do different things and we have to shift into a different wave.

And so, one of the most important things, I believe, is that we need to recognize, “Okay, which wave are we in? And where are we in the cycle? And how can we shift?” So, as just one example, for a lot of people, many of whom, frankly, have been kind of hard on themselves about this, they may have had a lot of extra home responsibilities or family responsibilities during COVID, and it’s not like you had a lot of choice in that. That’s sort of what the situation called for. We can’t beat ourselves up about it. But the important thing is to recognize that if we are playing the long game legitimately, then we need to lengthen the time that we’re looking at, and realize that it’s not necessarily about having perfect work-life balance, let’s say, during a set period of time.

During the past 18 months, you probably didn’t have very good work-life balance, but what you can do is actually make a choice to over-index in other areas. And once you are able to re-allocate some of that energy toward work, or toward non-family relationships, like friends, and deepening connections, and things like that, or if you’ve been going crazy with work, working way too hard, that’s fine in the short term. Sometimes you need to do that in order to be successful, but the problem comes when you do that always.

And so, it’s just understanding what wave are you in and how can you transition successfully so that over a long-enough period of time, you are getting the balance that you need.

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

Dorie Clark
One of the final challenges that I will suggest to people is in The Long Game I talk about a concept that I call optimize for interesting. And we all know that in our culture, oftentimes, things are a little bit polarized. It’s either, according to conversations, it’s either that we’re optimizing for our passion or we’re just making money, “Okay, let’s get some money.” I feel like those are fine options. They all have their limitations.

But because not all of us necessarily even know what our passion is, or it might change over time, or maybe your passion isn’t something that you can or that you want to monetize, what I like to suggest that we have as one potential orientation is the idea of optimizing for interesting. Because even if you don’t know what your passion is, for sure, you know what you find interesting. There’s hobbies, there’s things, you know what, some people really like birds. Guess what? If you like birds, you know it. If you’re not into birds, you also know that.

Some people are into wine, some people are into golf, some people are into football, some people are into theater. Optimize and try to direct your discretionary time and learning and knowledge and effort toward things that you find interesting. And you really can’t go wrong because you will enjoy the process, you will get more data, and you will learn things about yourself. And if it stops being interesting, no problem. Just pivot to something else.

Pete Mockaitis
Dorie, thank you. It’s always a treat. I wish you much success in the long game.

Dorie Clark
Pete, thank you. Always a pleasure to be here with you.

703: How to Find the Work that Sparks You and Makes You Come Alive with Jonathan Fields (Host of Good Life Project Podcast)

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Jonathan Fields says: "I think we always have to be guided by our own inner wisdom, by our own intelligence."

Jonathan Fields discusses how to spark meaning, fulfillment, and joy in your work by aligning with your Sparketype.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A (free!) assessment that identifies what makes you come alive 
  2. The ten impulses that describe how we work
  3. The fundamental questions that create career fit 

About Jonathan

Jonathan Fields hosts one of the top-ranked podcasts in the world, Good Life Project®, where he shares powerful stories, conversations, and resources, on a mission to help listeners live more meaningful and inspired lives. Fields is also the founder and CEO of Spark Endeavors, a research initiative focused on helping individuals and organizations reclaim work as a source of purpose, energy, meaning, and possibility. His new book, SPARKED: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work That Makes You Come Alive delivers an important message in a time when many people are emerging from the pandemic and seeking out new work that will both challenge and fulfill them. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

Jonathan Fields Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan, thanks for joining us on How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Jonathan Fields
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here. And, first, let’s talk, boy, with the Good Life Project, you’ve been at it for a good long time. So, kudos. My hat is off to you. Can you tell me about one or two of the most fascinatingly useful discoveries you’ve made along the way as you’ve hosted the podcast?

Jonathan Fields
There’s one that I’ve been really thinking on for a while now but it’s not from a recent conversation. It’s from a conversation that is probably six or seven years old. So, we’ve been producing since 2012. And I had the opportunity to sit down with a guy named Milton Glaser. Milton died two years ago at the age of 91 on his birthday.

He kind of had a magical life. He was one of the most iconic designers in history. A lot of people outside of the design world wouldn’t know his name but everybody actually knows at least some of his work. For example, the most ripped off logo in the history of iconography iHeartNY, that was Milton. He sketched it out on a napkin in the back of a taxi in the ‘70s as a way to try and give something back to the city that he loved, which was then on the verge of bankruptcy, and rally people to a place of hope and aspiration.

And I sat down in a conversation with him, and as we were talking, he shared with me that he knew what he was there to do since the age he was six, which was to make things, and I kind of lit up because I thought to myself, “Me, too.” I’ve known from the earliest days I’m obsessed with the process of creation. I just see things that don’t exist, that need to exist all around me. But then he dropped this other bit of wisdom further into the conversation, and this is what I’ve been circling back to lately.

And he said to me, “The impulse to make and the impulse to create beauty are related but not the same.” And what I’ve realized later in life is that I’m not just driven by the impulse to make and to create. There’s something around the impulse to create beauty, which is deeply compelling to me as well. So, when I make something, I don’t want to just create something that’s cool or interesting or different or valuable. Something inside me says, “I want it to be beautiful.”

And, granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there’s an impulse in me towards beauty, towards the creative process that births in some way, shape, or form where it moves people emotionally, there’s an elegance to it. I don’t often hit my metric for that aspiration but I’d realized that it actually matters to me on a level that’s super important that I started to center it more in my work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I like that definition of beauty then. So, it need not necessarily be a visual aesthetic beauty but say it again in terms of what it does. Beauty is beauty when it does what again?

Jonathan Fields
To me, beauty is something that, in some way, shape, or form, it bypasses your cognitive processes, your filters, and lands in a deeply emotional way and moves you. It evokes something in you. Now, granted, a lot of things can evoke something emotionally, but it evokes a sense of awe in you, and it evokes a sense of wonder, it evokes a sense of appreciation in elegance. It just makes you feel good, like things are as they should be. Not everything in life, but for that moment, when you interact with whatever this thing is, you have that feeling. And, to me, to be on the receiving end of that feeling is so powerful. It’s why I’ve been a fan of art for my entire life. But, also, I’ve realized that I want to be on the creation end of that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, that’s how to do a powerful conversation. That’s really resonated for quite some time. That’s awesome. I want to hear about your book Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive. That sounds fantastic. How does one go about doing just that?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah. Well, there are probably a lot of contributors. For probably my entire adult life, I’ve been fascinated with the question of, “How do we find a work that gives us this feeling like we’re doing the thing we’re here to do?” Like, we’re filled with meaning, a sense of purpose. We’re excited and engaged to wake up in the morning and do this thing. We feel like our fullest potential is being leveraged and we got a bigger sense of purpose.

And I started to dig into the question of whether there are some set of identifiable, mappable impulses for work or for effort that would give us this feeling. Could we tease them out from all the tens of thousands of jobs, roles, titles, and distill them down to a simple set of things? And then help people figure out what those are.

Because if we could, then that would give a pretty important nugget of insight to somebody and help them understand what to say yes or no to, whether that’s a project, a role, a position on a team, a job, an industry, an organization, and spend a lot more time in that state – I call it spark or coming alive – rather than fumbling and wondering why they never had the feeling that they want to feel.

So, I spend a lot of time doing the research to map out these 10 different impulses or imprints. I call them sparketypes. And they are the source that then around them we build entire archetypes. So, there’s an impulse for work, and then around each of these impulses, there are certain tendencies, preferences, and behaviors that are pretty common across a lot of different people. And then we built a tool to help us validate the research or invalidate it, equally validate it, and then for people to use and interact with so they could discover theirs. And those are the sparketypes and the spark assessment.

And that is now been completed by over 500,000 people generating over 25 million datapoints that have been just astonishingly insightful and helpful in helping people understand what to say yes and no to. And that became the sort of source fuel for the book that has now become Sparked.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would like to hear a bit of a rundown of the 10 different sparketypes and then sort of like the core impulse and preference and behavior that illuminates or exemplifies that sparketype. I suppose, maybe before we get into that, let’s hear about the research and the validation just because if someone is about to give me, you name it, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Big Five, StrengthsFinder, any assessment. It’s sort of like, if they say, “Hey, there’s four key preferences or there are seven key types,” it’s like, “Says who based on what and why?” Like, my skeptic gets fired up.

So, for those in the audience, before they take your word for it that these are, in fact, a pretty good way to slice up the universe of different flavors of unique imprints that makes you come alive, can you satisfy the skeptic and say, “What research and how do I know you didn’t just make this up as opposed to it has genuine validity as to what is in the hearts of humanity?”

Jonathan Fields
Yeah, I love that question. So, a couple of things. One, don’t take my word for it. Please don’t take my word for it. Use your own experience to validate whether it is the sparketypes, whether it’s any number of other tools or assessments that are out there right now. I agree with you. I think we always have to be guided by our own inner wisdom, by our own intelligence. Like, use the tool, see what it tells you, see if it lands as valid or not. What we know is not that 500,000 people have done this and thousands more doing it every day, is we’ve done our follow-on study that showed us that 93% of the people who complete this tell us that it’s anywhere from very true to extremely accurate. But we’ve also gone beyond that.

In that same study, we wanted to know. So, first threshold is accuracy, “Do people feel this is accurate?” And the only way to actually know whether something like this is accurate, there’s no objective measure. If I ask you…there’s no objective measure of meaningfulness for every person on the planet. It’s completely individual and subjective. So, I’ve got to ask you, “When you do this particular thing, does it give you the sense that it’s meaningful to you, that it matters?”

And so, we will ask those questions, we’re like, “Do you have a sense of purpose when you’re doing it? Are you able to easily lose yourself in a state of absorption where time seems to pass in the blink of an eye and you vanish into the experience?” And when we ask these questions, what we actually find is really strong statistical correlation.

So, for people who are literally wrapped in the data, the R value, or the correlation coefficients between doing the work of your sparketype and saying that you feel a sense of meaningfulness, that you are easily able to access flow, that you’re excited and energized by your work, that you’re able to access the fullest amount of your potential and perform at your highest level, and that you have a sense of purpose in life. There are really strong correlations that we see in the data.

But, again, I can give you numbers, I can give you R values, I can give you correlations. Why would you listen to me? We’ve got a tool that is out there and available in the form of assessment. You can take it. One of the reasons that we actually have it publicly available for anyone to take for free is because I want you to actually interact with the tool yourself and see how valid it feels for you. So, the skeptic in me, because I have that same skeptic, I look at everything that comes out there, and I’m like, “Well, how do I know that matters to me?”

So, I also wanted to make sure that whatever we created was brought to market in a way where anyone could interact with a fundamental tool, and get the basic wisdom from it, and decide from their own whether it actually was valid for them or not without having to actually invest anything beyond a little bit of their time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And just to triple confirm, because I think we have had some guests who have had some really cool tools, but as a listener, if it’s sort of like, “I don’t know if I’m going to spend 20, 30, 40 bucks on that, and this conversation is boring to me if I’m not,” so it doesn’t go perfectly well even though I think the tool is really cool. So, that’s awesome. So, for the record, this is not a temporary book promotion. This is free for the world forever. Hooray! Is that what’s up here?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Jonathan Fields
So, this is not a sort of marketing quiz that was put together for a marketing campaign. This has been…took about a year to develop it through beta. We rolled it out publicly at the end of 2018. We’ve since continued to develop it and refine the algorithm. We rolled out a 2.0 version of the assessment that added one particular metric to it, I believe it was earlier this year. In the entire time, it has been freely available to anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. All right. Well, so then the benefits sound pretty handy in terms of meaningfulness, flow, energy, so that’s a nice lineup of goodies that happen when we’re doing work that is in alignment with the sparketype. Any other key benefits that you’d highlight front and center for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah, there’s something that I didn’t see coming, which is so we tend to hear two things when people interact with the body of work. One is that there’s something inside of them that feels validated. So, very rarely do we hear someone say, “Oh, this was so surprising to me. I never knew or realized that.” What we hear people say is, “There’s something in me that I’ve known that this impulse is in there. I have always felt this way about when I do this particular type of thing. It gives me this feeling. But, for a variety of reasons, maybe I didn’t think I could earn a living doing it, maybe I didn’t think I could figure out how to build a career, or maybe I was socially told that it’s not an appropriate pursuit for me. I’ve stepped away from it, or I’ve stifled it.”

And what this does is it sort of reflects back to someone, “Oh, this is real, and this matters.” So, that’s one thing. But there’s a second thing that we’ve really started to see, which is that people start to realize that they’re feeling seen on a level that they hadn’t before, that they feel like the language when we describe what these types are and how they tend to interact with people around them in the world, they feel understood, they feel seen, and they now have language to then turn around and tell other people, “This is me. Like, now you can see and understand me on a deeper level.” And that other person may be a partner in life, it may be a family member, or it may be a leader on a team or a teammate in the context of work. But it helps them understand themselves, feel seen by themselves, to themselves, and also give them language to help others see them more clearly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. Well, so lay it on us here. We got 10 different sparketypes and we have like a key impulse or call, and then some preferences and behaviors that go with it. Could you maybe give us the 20- to 60-second rundown on each of the ten? I’m a maven, if you wanted to start there, or maybe there’s a sequence that makes good sense that you’d like to run through.

Jonathan Fields
So, the maven is actually a great starting place. The maven is the most process-fulfilled of all of these impulses, all of these sparketypes. The fundamental impulse for the maven is learning. It’s all about knowledge acquisition. This can show up in a really narrow and deep way. So, you may find a topic there where you just, for some reason, you probably don’t even understand why. Maybe it’s 15th century history and something particular about it and there’s something about it that just fascinates you, and you have to know absolutely everything about it, and you would literally devote all of your energy. You’ll spend money, if you need to, to gain access to people or classes or resources, to know everything you can about this one topic.

It also shows up broadly on almost more of a trait level where you open your eyes in the morning, and all you want to do is learn anything you can about everything and everyone. A friend of mine basically never takes a cab ride without knowing the entire life story of the person who is driving them. He’s just absolutely fascinated by people, anybody, all walks of life, and what their stories are. So, the fundamental impulse there is knowledge acquisition.

You may actually gain knowledge that is incredibly valuable to other people, but that’s not actually why you do it. You do it simply because of the feeling that it gives you. So, that’s the maven. The maven also can get lost in a bit of a learning dark hole. So, you can become so obsessed with learning something. And if it is a big and vast complex deep body of knowledge, then you can essentially just stop all of your relationships, stop exercising, stop eating well, and just completely devote yourself to the pursuit of knowledge. So, there’s a bit of a risk there to become obsessive about the quest for learning.

Next up, we have what I call the maker. So, the maker’s fundamental impulse is creation. That also happens to be my impulse. I wake up in the morning and it’s all about the process of creation. I look around and I’m like, “What can I make today?” That has been my impulse from the earliest days in my life.

When I was a kid, I used to create pretty much anything that you could imagine creatable. I would cobble together old bike parts to create Frankenbikes. I would draw album covers on jean jackets. I would renovate houses. As an adult, that’s more of into building companies, creating books, brands, experiences, media, anything you can imagine. It’s the process of creation that completely lights me up. Because the maker is also very process-fulfilled, similar to the maven, there’s a risk of really losing yourself in the black hole of creation and ignoring all the other amazing things in your life by doing that.

So, next up, we have what I call the scientist. The fundamental impulse for the scientist is to figure things out. It’s all about problem-solving, figuring out pieces of a puzzle and burning questions. You wake up in the morning, you say, “What can I figure out?” This impulse tends to really be highly valued in industry. There’s literally a job called scientist or researcher where you can spend your entire life researching big, broad, complex, deep questions.
One of the interesting quirks about the scientist is that you could devote, say, five years and figure out the answer to something. Maybe you figure out something in the context of medicine or cancer that has a profound impact on millions of people’s lives. You really like that. You appreciate it. You enjoy it. But the interesting thing about the scientist is it’s not actually the reason you do it. The reason you do it is because of the feeling that it gives you. It’s because the quest for an answer makes you feel alive. So, when you finally find that answer, as happy as you may be that you’ve discovered something incredibly valuable to others, it’s not unusual for you to wake up the next day with a sense of melancholy because, now, you’re not waking up with a burning question anymore, and it becomes your job to go and find the next one.

So, behind that, we have the impulse that I would call the performer. Now, when you hear performer, a lot of people immediately think performing arts, “Well, it’s a singer, it’s a dancer, it’s the theater.” And, in fact, oftentimes that impulse does get channeled into those things because it’s kind of the logical place for it to go. But what we see in adulthood is this impulse which is always to enliven, energize, and activate an experience or interaction or moment. This impulse has incredible value in nearly every domain. You could exercise that in a meeting, in a boardroom, in a sales interaction, behind a bar, as a parent with children, in local community organizing. It has really, really broad and amazing applicability.

Behind the performer, we have what I call the essentialist. Now, the impulse for the essentialist is to create order out of chaos. You see complex things, you see mess, you see all sorts of chaotic things around you, and all you want to do is create clarity and utility from it. What we’ve discovered about this is that this tends to show up really early in life also. The producer for our podcast, for Good Life Project, is actually an essentialist. And when she was a little kid, she used to line up her stuffed animals in height and order, or height and color in her bedroom. So, this tends to show up really early in life, and be praised because parents like when kids are orderly.

Later in life, what you start to see is it is an indispensable trait because so many people who are not the essentialist not only are not interested in doing that work, they outright loath doing that work. So, when they find somebody who is an essentialist, they will happily hand that work off to them, and that essentialist very often, in an organization, becomes really quickly overloaded once they become discovered because everybody wants to give them that work, and they’re good at it and they like it but, at some point, you have to create boundaries in the work.

There’s another interesting part around the essentialist, which is if you’re really getting more nuance, it goes beyond creating order, clarity, and utility. Essentialists tend to see a certain amount of elegance and beauty in order and clarity, and so there’s almost an artistic aesthetic to the work that they do.

After the essentialist, we have what I would call the warrior. Now, the fundamental impulse for the warrior is to gather, organize, and lead. And many people would look at that, and say, “Well, leadership, sure. Well, that’s a skill.” And I would say, “Yes, there are skills for leadership the same way,” but there are skills for all of these different impulses that I’ve talked about that we can acquire. But leadership in particular tends to be treated exclusively just as a set of skills that you can acquire. What we’ve seen is that, in fact, there is an underlying impulse that some people have.

They wake up in the morning and all they want to do is bring people together and take them on an adventure, a journey, from point A to point B. This often shows up early in life as a kid on the playground, who’s like, “Hey, everybody, let’s go gather around. Let’s go on an adventure in the woods,” or the team captain in school. It shows up in literally every domain of life. The warrior is a really, really powerful impulse. It can also be lonely.

So, you tend to be somebody who leads the way and you’re not always the person where people want to step alongside of you and go with you. And sometimes, bringing people together, especially disparate groups of people with different intentions, different personalities, can be a really frenetic and chaotic social dynamic. So, part of what you do is have to learn how to be really good managing social dynamics with people.

So, next after the warrior, we have what I would call the sage, the fundamental impulse of the sage is to awaken an insight. It’s about illumination. So, you know something and all you want to do is tell other people what you know. You want to share it with them. And seeing the lights of insight go on in their minds is a thing that is kind of magical to you. So, the maven devours information purely for the sake of knowing. The sage may also devour information but for them, the impulse is not just to learn. It’s to turn around and have something really powerful and new and valuable to share with other people.

So, next behind that, we have the advisor. The advisor is all about guiding others, it can be an individual, a group, a team, an organization, through a process of growth. So, they tend to walk alongside someone, whereas a warrior very often is one of the people that they organize and lead, they’re among those. The advisor most often is somebody who is not within the group. They walk alongside that individual or group, and they create a container of safety and trust, and it’s a very relational impulse.

A big part of the reward for the advisor is the depth and quality and the sustained nature of the relationship that happens with other people as they guide them through a process of growth. It may not necessarily be, “I’m going to get you from point A to point B,” but it’s some sort of evolutionary process that person or group goes through.

And that leaves us with two remaining sparketypes. We have the advocate. So, the fundamental impulse of the advocate is to champion, it’s to shine the light on an idea, ideal, individual or community. And this isn’t so much giving voice to other people, because with individuals, as a general, I don’t believe that you give anybody else voice. You may give voice to nature, or to an ecosystem, or to animals.

But with other people, it’s generally, it’s championing them. It is you see something that, in some way, shape, or form, lands with you as unfair, inequitable, unjust, and the impulse is, “I need to, in some way, shape, or form, shine the light on what’s going on here. I need to advocate for, or on behalf of, or alongside of, or with, so that we can create some sort of change.”

The final impulse is what I call the nurturer. The nurturer is all about elevation. It’s all about lifting others up. It’s about giving care and taking care. The nurturer impulse, the person then, and one of the primary tendencies around that is, usually, has a very strong sense of empathy. So, that is the empath, that is the person who walks into a room and very likely feels other people’s emotions, feels their states, feels other people’s suffering, struggle, and pain, and they’re compelled to do something about it. They move to that person and they will do anything they can to lift them up.

One of the challenges of the nurturer is that they tend to feel so much of other people’s experiences and emotions that it can leave them pretty empty and gutted themselves. So, there’s a deep need for self-care if you’re one of those people. So, those are the ten different sparketypes and the ten, sort of on a very basic level, the fundamental impulses that drive them to actually take action.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can we contrast the sage with the advisor? The sage shares the knowledge. They want folks to have the light of insight. And the advisor, make that a clearer distinction for me.

Jonathan Fields
Yup. The sage basically says, “I know something. I want you to know it. Once you know it, I’m out.” The advisor says, “I have ideas, frameworks, and experience. You want to move through some sort of process, and I’m going to walk alongside of you and be a sounding board, be a mentor, be a confidant, as you move through this process.” And so, it’s less about, “Hey, I’m going to tell you something really cool or valuable,” and then tap out. It’s more about, “I’m going to walk alongside of you. I’m going to be with you in a relational way, in a safe way, and help you navigate this particular moment or experience or process.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, to recap, we got the maven, all about knowledge acquisition; we got the maker, about creation; the scientist, about figuring things out; the performer, likes to sing, dance, or put it out there; the essentialist, finding order out of chaos; the warrior, gathering, organizing, leading folks; the sage, sharing knowledge; the advisor, mentoring alongside for the duration; the advocate, championing something; and the nurturer, providing care.

And so, there we go, there’s ten. We did it. Hooray! And so, the idea is when you’re doing work that fits into one of those that is yours, you are feeling that meaningfulness, that flow, that purpose, that energy, the good stuff. And when you’re working on something that is not it, you feel the opposite of that. Is that the short hand there?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah. Fundamentally, the more that you can align what you do with this basic impulse, the more you have those feelings, the more likely you are to access them, and the more intense those feelings can become, and the more sustained they can become. And the more what you do conflicts with those impulses, the less likely you are to feel them. You may still feel the glow of accomplishment. You may still revel in the sense of camaraderie with people who you just really enjoy being around.

So, this is not the only thing that gives us a feeling that we want to feel in the context of work but it’s really important. And I think a lot of us look at the external things, and we say, “Let’s look at culture, let’s look at team dynamics, let’s look at the motivational things, let’s look at the carrot and the stick, let’s look at leadership and growth opportunities.” All of those things matter but none of them does a whole lot if the fundamental nature of what you do when you show up and spend your seven to 12 hours a day working is misaligned with the impulse for work that makes you come alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’d love to get your perspective in terms of once you know this, what are some of the top things you recommend people do or not do in terms of they’re kind of like, “Okay, I took the quiz. It was cool. I got my sparketype. That sounds about right. Thank you, Jonathan. Now what?”

Jonathan Fields
Let’s start with what not to do because this tends to be a really big impulse for people. Once they discover this thing, they’ll immediately tend to look at the work that they’re doing and say, “Huh, like, am I doing, like is this impulse that is so central to me? Am I actually expressing this in the work that I’m currently doing?” And if they’re not, there’s very often this impulse to say, “Oh, wow, I need to just blow everything up. I need to walk away. I need to start over. I need to find something entirely different.” And what I’m going to invite you to do is not do that.

There may be people for whom that is an intelligent, that is a reasoned step, but, generally, that’s the last step that you want to take, not the first, especially once you’re a little bit further into life and you’ve got responsibilities, and there are a lot of things hanging on the fact that your job may be sustaining a family in a particular way. It’s not so easy to do that.

We tend to dramatically overestimate the giddiness and the joy, the elation, that we’ll feel when we blow things up and we have this freedom, and then we dive into something that we absolutely are drawn to, and we underestimate the time that it will take to actually get there, and the pain of the disruption that will be caused through that process. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for everyone but it means that, in my mind, it’s the last thing that you consider doing, not the first.

What I would consider doing as the first part of the exploration, to say, “Okay, let me look at the work that I’m doing right now,” and then do that same analysis, “How aligned is what I’m doing with this fundamental impulse forever?” If I’m a maker, “How much of my time, how much opportunity do I have to actually immerse myself in a process of creation?”

And then if you start to see, “Well, actually, there’s a whole bunch of this that is really well-aligned but there’s 30% of the work that’s completely misaligned,” or maybe there’s 50% where you just have no opportunity to express this. Then you start to ask the question, “How can I reimagine what I’m doing now? How can I do it in different ways? How can I look for ways to try different tasks, use different tools, dip into different processes, that may allow me to express this impulse without having to make these really big disruptive changes?”

And then start to run little experiments, “Well, what if I do a little more of this and a little less of this?” And what you’ll find over time, for most people, is that you have a lot more ability to do that. And as you start to do that, the way that you feel in your work starts to change. You start to show up differently and people actually start to respond to you differently because your state is essentially different and better and improved and more energized and more alive.

And a lot of people can actually get a lot closer to the feeling that they imagined by reimagining what they’re doing, even doing things that were not squarely within your job description but they’re available to you to actually start doing, simply because of the way that it makes you feel.

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

Jonathan Fields
Just, I think we’re in a moment right now where really big questioning has become normalized in a way that has not in generations. There’s a lot of judgment if you’re sort of working in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, “You know what, I want to think about what got me here and is it the thing that’s going to get me there? And maybe I’m going to do some really big reimagining.” That kind of questioning was sort of not welcomed socially in a lot of contexts.

What’s happening in the world right now has shaken people so much and on a scale that that kind of questioning has actually been normalized now. So, we have this rare window of opportunity to step into it, to really examine, and to not hide it, to be public, to have conversations and discourse and seek help, in a way that would’ve been a lot more difficult just a few years ago. And what I would invite people to do is to not waste this window.

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

Jonathan Fields
There’s a classic script or book or poem, really, called the Bhagavadgita, and it’s not written in English. It’s written in Sanskrit. But one of the translations, there’s a line in it that translates roughly to, “Far better to live your life imperfectly than to live another’s life perfectly.” And that has always landed really powerfully with me.

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

Jonathan Fields
I think I was fascinated for a long time with a bunch of the research around self-regulation and that positioned it as a depletable resource. And what I’ve been probably equally fascinated by recently is that the sort of emerging, the follow-on research around that shows that actually whether willpower or self-regulation is a depletable resource or not, is largely determined by whether you believe it is or not, and that the original research wasn’t entirely correct, which means that we have a lot more control over our self-control.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Jonathan Fields
One that comes to mind is an oldie but a goodie. It was originally published as a short story in Life magazine in 1951, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’m a huge fan of Hemingway’s writing because of how much he can convey, how much he can leave you with so few words. His efficiency in language is astounding, and then the story of this old man, Santiago, it starts as what you would think on the surface is a battle between him and this great fish. But what he’s really doing is a deep meditation on how we interact with the things that we see as struggle and how we reframe them as partnership in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners and others, and say, “Wow, that was good,” and they say, “Jonathan, I love it when you said this”?

Jonathan Fields
Yeah, there’s something that I’ve been talking about recently, and I haven’t shared it with a lot but I’ll share it here with you. It’s what I call the principle of maximum sustainable generosity. It’s the way that I look at building businesses but it’s also the way I look at building relationships, just the way that I look at moving into life, which is basically asking the question, “How can I be as generous as humanly possible in the way that I move into the world, in the way that I offer things to others, in the way that I build relationships, and do it in a way that is sustainable over time, financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m going to chew on that. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jonathan Fields
I would point them either to the Good Life Project Podcast. And if you want to learn more about the sparketypes, at Sparketype.com, and the book Sparked is just available at booksellers everywhere.

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

Jonathan Fields
Yeah. My call to action really bridges off of what I shared earlier about this being a unique moment in time. A lot of people, I think, have not been entirely satisfied with the way that they work. It may be taking care of them financially, it may be giving them a certain amount of security, but life is short. I think we’ve been all reminded how tender it can be most recently. I got a huge wakeup call around that during 9/11 when I was in New York City, and that shifted the way that I look at the world, the way that I look at work.

I think we’re in a moment right now where there’s a similar disruption happening. And my invitation would be to not take this feeling, not take this questioning, and just bury it, just stifle it, and just kind of keep on keeping on, and keep your head down. Whether you make a bigger change or not, it doesn’t really matter. But take this window as an invitation to discover more about who you are, about what fills you up, about what empties you out, and then use that information to try and make better decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jonathan, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best as you keep on putting your imprint on cool stuff that makes you come alive.

Jonathan Fields
Thanks so much. Appreciate you having me.

702: Building the Courage to Speak Up and Stand Out at Work with Jim Detert

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Jim Detert says: "Advocacy isn't just yelling my conclusion more loudly. It's helping people see why I came to that conclusion."

Jim Detert discusses how to build your courage to stand out and influence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why acting courageously is easier than you think
  2. The four fears that keep us from acting courageously
  3. The most effective way to get others to listen to you

About Jim

Jim Detert (PhD, Harvard) is the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Detert’s research focuses on employee voice and other forms of workplace courage, experiential leadership development, and ethical decision-making and behavior. His research has won several academic best-paper awards, and his teaching and curriculum development have also won multiple awards at UVA and Cornell.

Resources Mentioned

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Jim Detert Interview Transcript

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

Jim Detert
It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting about courage at work. And I’d love to hear from you upfront, what was a time you really had to muster up some courage at work?

Jim Detert
Well, as a tenured professor, it’s actually kind of laughable perhaps to talk about courage at work. I have a real privilege of a type of job security most people don’t have. So, I would say, most of the times I’ve had to muster up courage at work in the spirit of challenging long-standing tradition. We’re pretty slow to change.

And so, when I was dean, for example, of our executive MBA program, I found myself repeatedly responding to statements that we can’t do something, with statements of, “By ‘I can’t do something’ do you mean it’s illegal or immoral, or simply that we haven’t done it in the past and prefer not to?” Those, frankly, are so numerous that I won’t bore listeners with all the specific examples of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is a nice helpful distinction to put front and center there. Cool. All right. Well, so that’s your personal experience. And how about your research, any particularly counterintuitive or surprising discoveries you’ve made about courage at work over your research career?

Jim Detert
Well, I think a few insights that have emerged that might seem counterintuitive, or at least they’re counter to the narrative. So, for example, I think we have a myth, in fact, I know we have a myth that courage is some kind of in-born trait or capacity that a few possess but most don’t. And having studied, literally, thousands of individual actors and acts of courage, I can tell you that there is no magic gene, there is no magic personality trait, background experience. People who step up and do the right thing at work, when they could and should, very tremendously in every dimension you and I can name. So, one sort of insight or sort of myth-busting for me has been it is not about a personal type. It is about a personal choice.

I think related to that is that people talk about courageous action as if these folks were sort of born ready or it was easy but, in fact, when you study folks, when they’re talking about John Lewis, for example, in the political realm or so many people I’ve studied in more regular kinds of workplaces, what you realize is that actually what looks like this natural confidence comes from hard work, years of practice, years of trying things, learning how to be more effective. So, that’s a second takeaway, is that this is like any skill. It’s developed through practice and commitment.

Maybe one insight or aha about the process itself is we think a lot about the moment when somebody speaks up or steps up. That’s the thing we remember and tend to pass on through narrative. But it turns out that what seems to make a difference in many cases for how those moments go is the preparation work and the things people do before those acts, and then, maybe most surprisingly, what they do after. So, skillful actors don’t just manage the moment well. They’re really good about after the fact, following up when things seem to have gone well, getting commitments, securing resources.

And when things didn’t go so well, they’re courageous enough to go have yet another difficult conversation, and say, “Hey, you look upset or angry or your body language suggests that you weren’t onboard. Can we talk about that?” And I think that follow-up is something we don’t think much at all about because we’re so focused on that big-bang moment itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes. So, you’re right, in terms of as we just think about being courageous, like what comes to mind is exactly that, those moments of stepping up, saying something unpopular, or challenging the status quo in some way. And so, that’s a good thought in terms of there really is some private work going on either internally in their own brains or sort of afterwards one-on-one in the mix. Well, thanks for those. And maybe zooming out a bit, so your book Choosing Courage, what’s the central thesis here?

Jim Detert
The central thesis, I guess, going back to where we started, is really that courage is a personal choice and it’s a responsibility, and it helps to think not about courage as if it’s some sort of property. I often say, if you do an autopsy of somebody, you won’t find some stock of courage somewhere in the body. There is no such thing. So, it helps to think about courageous action.

And once you say it’s about whether you do something in those critical moments, you then can assume personal responsibility. And, in a sense, the thesis is that we don’t allow ourselves to say that any other virtue is just a responsibility of some, or that we should do some of the time. If you think about fairness or moderation or kindness, so many other principal or cardinal virtues, those aren’t just the responsibility of one of my ten coworkers, or myself, one of ten opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m not really an honest person, Jim. You know that. I leave that to the other guys. They’re often honest. That’s good enough for me.”

Jim Detert
The question, right, is, “Why have we allowed that?” We wouldn’t say that about any of these other traits, these virtues, so why do we allow that in the realm of courage? Frankly, I think we let ourselves off the hook too frequently. And part of it is because we’re afraid, and so the book talks a lot about how to address fears, and part of it is because we’re not very skilled, and so we see so many screw ups in ourself and others when people do try to behave courageously, that we conclude, “It’s just too dangerous.”

And so, the book is fundamentally about saying, “Hey, you got to choose your moments, but then you have to be willing to take on some risks and you have to be willing to do the work to increase your competency.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, Jim, it’s interesting, we’re talking about virtue, and I’m thinking about Aristotle and how the pursuit of the good life is good in and of itself, and brings about happiness and such. But just to get mercenary for a second, is it in professionals’ best interest to choose courage? Will that help them be more awesome and advance their jobs? Or is it better to play it safe? How do you think about that?

Jim Detert
So, I think there’s basically two answers to that question. First of all, it depends on your goals. If your goals are basically to just get ahead, potentially as quickly as possible, then, frankly, you and I know there are lots of organizations where the definition of being awesome at your job is keeping your head down, doing what you’re told, and just delivering. And in that regard, you could say choosing courage in the short run, not a great idea.

On the other hand, if you say, “I want to live of life where I felt I had agency, where I was authentic, I was true to myself, l lived my values,” then, hell, yeah, it’s the right choice to make. Another way to think about it is, “Over what time horizon?” So, if you’re talking about whether, “Choosing courage will necessarily put me in line first for the next promotion,” well, maybe, maybe not. But when you start to look at a longer-time horizon, like, “Will I be proud of the legacy I’m creating? Will others really remember me and want to stand with me? Will I have long-term regrets or not?” that’s when this choice is so critical.

If you look at the regret literature, for example, it’s pretty well-established that people, by a large margin, tend to regret inactions, things they think they should’ve done and didn’t than actions they took that didn’t go well. This is true even in people who suffer pretty big consequences – whistleblowers, for example. Almost none of them say they regret doing it.

So, what I would say to listeners is it depends. If you’re talking about how to be most popular or get ahead tomorrow, well, sticking your neck out is not always the best approach. If you’re talking about living what you or I or Aristotle or anybody else would call the good life, then I’d say, yeah, you got to choose courage sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d imagine, with sort of any measure of prudent risk-taking and say, “I’m going to take on this big project or responsibility or duty or opportunity where the outcome is uncertain,” I think that a level of that is essential for a career to advance, otherwise you don’t seem that special, it’s like, “Okay, you did your job within the realm of ordinary responsibilities. You didn’t deliver near really cool sort of noteworthy improvements, so.”

Jim Detert
Yeah. Okay, I would say if we’re really honest there, a few paths probably to eventually standing up. One, of course, is to be the absolutely best political player. Attach yourself to the most important people and play their game and you’ll get ahead to some degree. Now, for those of us who find that approach distasteful in a variety of ways, I think you’re right, you have to stand out eventually and with some consistency in other ways. And that’s where there’s such a difference between just being courageous and being competently courageous.

My book is titled Choosing Courage. It many respects, it should’ve been titled Choosing Competent Courage because, indeed, the route to success is not just speaking up or speaking out, pushing back against every possible thing you could in offensive language or with terrible emotional valence. It’s about doing those things in ways, to your point, to help you stand out positively. Because not just did you point out a problem, a path forward, a way to expand a market, a creative idea, but you did it in a way that those above you could hear, that they weren’t offended by. Because, at the end of the day, you can stand out in positive or negative ways. And what you’re referring to is how to stand out in positive ways, and that’s about skills when you behave courageously.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we’re talking a lot about courage and standing up, standing out, taking risks, speaking up. Could you make it all the more real for us in terms of some examples of common places where courageous acts make all the difference at work, or where people often shy away? Kind of what specific kinds of moments are we talking about here?

Jim Detert
So, there are a few sorts of prototypical types of acts that if you sample thousands of people, as I have, say, 75% or more will say, “Yeah, unfortunately, these behaviors are moderately courageous or more.” The most obvious type of behavior, set of behaviors, are what I call truth to power behaviors. So, these are challenging your boss, or skip-level bosses. It could be about policies or practices. It could be about interpersonal behaviors that are offensive or hurtful. It could be about actually illegal or unethical things. It can be about going to bat for your own subordinates to people above you. So, lots of truth to power behaviors.

Somewhat surprising, going back to that conversation, I was surprised to the degree to which when I just asked people, “Tell me about a behavior at work that would be courageous,” I expected that everybody would say truth to power type behaviors. What I wasn’t prepared for was the frequency of people talking about how hard it was to have honest conversations with peers or even have honest conversations or give difficult feedback to subordinates. And the reason I think that was originally surprising to me is I was thinking primarily of risks in terms of economic or career consequences, “If it doesn’t go well, my promotion, my pay, my future here is at stake.”

It turns out, people have a few fundamental fears, and that’s only one of them. People are also highly afraid of social consequences. If you think about it, it makes sense. We’ve evolved in small clans, bands, tribes, and our daily tasks was survival. And if you got ostracized from your group, you were going to die, and you were going to die in short order. And so, it’s not illogical that even though that’s not our environment today, evolutionarily, we’re still programmed to be hugely afraid of being ostracized, to have social consequences.

We also hate psychological risks. We say, “Why don’t people step up and try a new task or take a new job or be more innovative?” The answer there is often they don’t want to look stupid. They don’t want to feel embarrassed. They don’t want to see self-doubt creep in. And so, there’s actually this huge range of behaviors that’s not just about challenging power. It’s about difficult interpersonal situations with peers, subordinates, external partners. It’s about being innovative.

I developed an index of the most common behaviors I heard about from thousands of people, and there’s 35 different behaviors. And many of them, you would probably say, “Gosh, for a professional or a manager, isn’t that just doing your job?” And I’d say, “Yeah, it is, but these things have been surprisingly infrequently.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I love this. So, categories of fears: economic risk, “Might lose my job or money or promotion”; social risk, “Folks will not like me, shun me, ostracize me”; psychological risk, “I might feel stupid or embarrassed if I screw this up and look real dumb.” Are those kinds of the three categories or are there some more there?

Jim Detert
Well, the fourth one, which is real in many contexts I didn’t mention, is physical. If you go back 2,000 years of courage-writing, the vast history of courage-writing was about military contexts. And sure enough, there are still, in military, firefighting, police work, plenty of other settings that come to mind, they’re so physical risks. And even, frankly, I was surprised the degree to which folks who work in any sort of service occupation – bartenders, waiters, customer service – actually report cases of being physically assaulted, accosted, threatened with a weapon, so there’s physical risks also that some people face.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And these 35 behaviors, can you tell us what sort of tops the list in terms of like one, two, three?

Jim Detert
So, in terms of level of courageousness, not surprisingly, those physical risks. So, jumping into the middle of imminent physical risks or harm is number one. What’s surprising, though, is that there are several other behaviors that are statistically no different in terms of how courageous they’re seen as being. These are things like being willing to challenge bosses or skip-level bosses about unethical or illegal behaviors, quitting a job on principle. There are actually several, more available to all of us, kinds of jobs that are actually seen as just as courageous as these physical risks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. So, that’s the lay of the land. Now, Jim, tell us, if we think we want or need or should do something, and we feel scared about doing it, walk us through it, how do we go about choosing competent courage?

Jim Detert
So, let’s talk just briefly about what you would do before you would take that specific action, then sort of the moment itself, and then what you would do after. So, before. Some people say, “Hey, I’m not ready to take this specific act,” and I say, “That’s fine but you can still work on it every day.” And they say, “What does that mean?”

Well, what it means is the reception you’re going to get to that challenge you issue is, in part, based on the content of the issue. Is that a highly sensitive threatening issue to the boss? But it’s also going to depend on the impression that boss has already formed of you. Does that boss think you’re benevolent? In other words, is the reason you’re speaking up because you actually care about him and others in the organization, or is it because you’re self-interested and just trying to get ahead?

And the boss is also going to ask himself or herself, implicitly, “Hey, if I listen to Jim or Pete, and give them resources or take action they’re suggesting, are they competent, can they do it? Can they make good use of these resources?” And so, every day, we are creating in others, perceptions of whether we’re warm and competent, and that’s really sort of setting the stage, showing people we are fair, we’re emotionally intelligent, on a regular basis sets the stage. So, those things you can be doing every day.

Another thing is the question of, “Is this really the right issue? And is it really the right battle and the right time?” So, if you work in an organization, any organization I’ve ever studied, you could pick something to speak up about every single day but most of them are not truly important to you and don’t make a huge difference. And so, having the skill to sort of suss out what are critical to your core values and to your objectives, and which are sort of tertiary issues, that’s really important.

A woman I work with, Tawana Burnett at Facebook, African-American female leader, really a spectacular leader, and she’s one of the first 20 black females at Facebook, and she said, “Look, if I was going to speak up every single time somebody said something that was inappropriate or insensitive based on race or gender, I’d be doing it every day, but I also would quickly become ineffective because people would stop listening to me.”

And so, she said, “Look, my core value, my core objective is that we have to get more black females into leadership roles, senior leadership roles, because only then will things really change.” So, her rule is, “When things offend me, I ask myself, ‘Is this about the hiring, evaluation, or promotion of black females?’ And if it is, I speak up because we’re not going to get where we need to go if I don’t. If it’s about other things, I may choose to let it go.” So, it’s really about sort of choosing wisely.

Then there’s the moment itself. That’s about what you say, where you say it, how you say it, with what emotional tone, and I’ll give just one specific sort of general piece of advice here. All of us, when asked or when thinking about, like, “I’m going to go for it on this issue,” our first instinct is going to be to say the matter, present the issue, try to give the persuasive remarks from the perspective that’s compelling to us. After all, it’s our brain in which we’re concocting the story, the argument, the pitch, and so our tendency is going to be to frame it in a way that works for us. Often, that’s exactly wrong because if you already control the behavior of the other person or the resources the other person controls, you don’t need to do this anyway.

And so, imagine, for example, that I work for you or with you, and you are really compelled by things that affect us economically, that hit the bottom line, and you really are sensitive to threats or risks to our wellbeing or performance. So, you care about the money and you care about threats. But I come in pitching this great new idea to you, and I’m talking about how it fits with our values and it’s so culturally aligned with who we are, and how it’s such an opportunity, and that opportunity framing and cultural framing doesn’t resonate for you at all because I failed to mention the economic reality or the potential threats if we don’t do this.

And so, people have to remember that it’s the target’s ability to hear and respond well to what you’re saying that makes all the difference. And my book talks about lots and lots of specific strategies for achieving that, but the high-level concept is you got to speak to the target. And then as we started with, I mentioned the importance of following up, whether things have gone well and you’re securing additional resources or timelines, or whether they haven’t gone so well and you’re trying to mend fences, that’s really important, too.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when it comes to the framing, I would like to hear some of the specific tidbits there. So, do you have some archetypes or categories of frames, so values, economic? Those sounded nice in terms of, yeah, those have very different flavors to them. Any others that come to mind?

Jim Detert
So, there are some other sort of broader frames. For example, I versus we, or sort of win-win versus win-loss. I think what we often fail to remember, we know this but we fail to remember it in the moment, is that when you’re telling somebody why they should do something differently, or you’re pitching your idea, part of what they’re hearing is, as the recipient is, “Oh, you’re saying I’m bad, or my idea or current practice is inferior,” or, “Oh, you want to do this,” or, “You look good and I look like a fool.” And so, framing that helps people understand, “I don’t want to replace or win at your expense. I want to take what you’ve done to the next level. I want to be the scout out front who then brings us all along together. I want to expand the pie for everyone.”

So, helping people be able to hear what you’re saying because they really think you’re on their side, and that you’re advancing excellence rather than beating something down in a win-loss, that’s a huge element of positive framing. And then, frankly, there are lots of just small things we inadvertently say. We can have sort of a beautiful set of data compiled and we can present evidence and solutions, and in just a couple small words, we can screw things up.

We often follow, for example, into the trap of naïve realism, which is simply this idea that there’s just one reality out there, and it just happens to be, “The one that I see. So, if you don’t see it my way, you’re dumb.” And when we unconsciously operate that way, we’ll say things like, “Well, since it’s so obvious that this is the case,” or, “Since this is so unambiguous,” “Since it’s so clear to everybody,” “Since it’s unquestionably the case.” Well, the effect of words like unambiguous, or so clear, or unquestionably, is essentially to say, “If you have any questions or doubts or see it any differently, you’re a dummy or you’re self-interested.”

So, learning to speak with less certainty, learning to avoid other certain phrases, I call them frequency words. My wife and I still joke, 25 years in, how often we would get distracted from the actual content of what one or the other of us were saying because the person who pointed something out would use the word never or always.

So, for example, if my wife wanted me to actually help with the dishes, she was actually quite correct if she would say, “You don’t help clean up as often as you could or should.” That was a correct statement. But if she would say to me, “You never help with the dishes,” the never would trigger me and I would get into a frequency argument with her, and say, “That’s not true,” and I would pull out my little notepad and say, “On Tuesday, July 30th, I actually put the pizza dishes in the…” And so, we would get derailed into an argument about never or always and away from the underlying issue itself around which she or I would be right.

Also, saying things, for example, like, “Don’t take it personal.” I would submit to listeners that we actually never use that phrase except in situations when we know at some level it’s personal. There’s no reason you would say that if that wasn’t the case. There’s the classic scene from You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks has got the big Fox Books store and he’s putting Meg Ryan’s little family independent bookstore out of business, and he says to her, “Why are you so mad at me? It’s not personal. It’s just business.” And, of course, she rightfully says, “What are you talking about? ‘It’s not personal?’ This is my family’s bookstore. This is nothing but personal.”

And so, I think avoiding phrases like, “It’s not personal.” And, listeners, if they want, can easily find a short piece on HBR.org that I wrote just a month or so ago on trap phrases and words to avoid in a conversation that speak to all of these kinds of examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it when we get specific about precise words to avoid. Any words that you love, key things that find their way into a lot of great communications?

Jim Detert
So, if you go back to the great sort of master Chris Argyris, he talked about the idea of cognitive ladders of inference and advocacy and inquiry. And so, for listeners who haven’t heard of this, the basic idea was that most of the time we communicate at what Chris called the top of the ladder, our conclusion. I say, “Hey, Pete, we should do this and we should do it tomorrow.” That’s a conclusion. And Pete says, “That’s crazy. We should stick with what we got.” That’s a conclusion.

What we fail to do is get below those cognitive ladders of inference, that is what’s going on in our head. So, if I’m saying, “Hey, we should do this and we should do it tomorrow,” what I have done actually is I’m drawing on some data, like, “Hey, here’s data on what our competitors are doing. Here’s data internally on how our sales have decreased recently,” or, “Hey, here are some data on us losing some top talent because they’re bored.” And from that, I might reason, “We need to do something new and we need to do it in a way that catches the market’s attention, and, therefore, I reached that conclusion I said to you.”

And, similarly, you’re saying, “Hey, we should stick with it the way it is.” The thing is that you’re looking at other data. You may be looking and saying, “Nobody above me has said we have a problem yet. Most of the industry is still doing what we’re doing.” You might therefore reason, “I think things are fine. Jim is just antsy. They’re ballistic with what we’ve got.”

And so, the specific tool here is advocacy and inquiry. And advocacy isn’t just yelling my conclusion more loudly. It’s helping people see why I came to that conclusion. So, phrases like, “Can I share my data with you?” or, “Can I help you see my reasoning?” things that reveal your ladder, language that reveals your ladder. And then the most powerful thing are inquiry phrases, saying, “Hey, Pete, I heard you say that you think we should stay. Can you help me understand why? Can you help me see where you’re coming from? Can you share your reasoning with me?”

Skillful inquiry is perhaps the single best way to sort of build communication bridges I know and have ever read about. And all you got to do, we’re talking about the world of work, but all I got to do is look around the world we’re living in, the divisiveness politically, etc., and you realize we are all constantly screaming at each other from the top of our ladders, and we’re not good at all of helping people see where we’re coming from, or taking perspective by asking people where they’re coming from.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s so good. That’s good. And speaking of emotions, what are your top tips on managing the emotions, like, either you’re super scared or you’re super angry when you are prepping to speak up, choose courage?

Jim Detert
Yeah, so fear and anger, we sort of all intuitively know, they have the opposite action propensities. So, fear will tend to make you sort of flee or freeze. Fear is an avoidance emotion, whereas, anger is an approach emotion. Anger makes you want to go toward the source. So, the advice has to be quite different. With fear, you have to do things, frankly, often ahead of time. Over longer periods of time, it can be about being in good physical shape, it can be about mindfulness, yoga, anything that sort of helps you sort of change your sort of base physiological response.

People with high fear often find they have to also take specific steps like scripting out in advance things they’re going to say. They may have to practice more and have people sort of shoot back at them so they can practice sort of staying in the moment and not fleeing. Most people don’t physically run out of a room but you’ll see them just shut down and cave. And so, they have to really practice camping down the fear.

Anger, on the other hand, is, in some respects, useful because if you get angry enough about something, you’re actually likely to bring it up and say or do something about it. The problem with anger is you’re likely to be quite unskillful – offensive, for example. And here I’ll tell a story about myself. Most people, I think, in fact, almost everybody who knows me would say, “Jim has no problem choosing courage but at times Jim has had a problem with displaying competent courage.” And in most instances, that would be because I let anger at injustices or problems or whatever get in the way.

And so, part of dealing with anger is what you do in the moment. It turns out these old adages like, “Count to ten,” or, “Take three deep breaths,” these are actually quite useful because what they actually are doing is trying to engage your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down. It’s often a very useful tactic to try to teach yourself, to train yourself, to accept in emergencies not speak in that moment but schedule a follow-up, allow the moment to pass and then schedule after you’ve sort of gotten your emotions back together.

And then, frankly, part of it is knowing who you are and using strategies, sometimes even technologies to be your friend. So, in my case, this was a number of years ago, having made the classic mistake of firing off some emails when I was upset. I’d learned that you can actually set the Outlook timer to basically hold all emails you’ve sent in the outbox for any designated number of minutes or hours. And so, for quite some time, I set my Outlook outgoing mail to hold for 60 minutes because I knew that if I basically didn’t send emails for an hour, there was a very high likelihood I would calm down and revisit that email and have a chance to save it before I couldn’t.

So, learning strategies for both, lessening your anger, and then sort of navigating around it are really important.

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

Jim Detert
I think, again, the thing to really know is that if you accept the premise that we’ve talked about here today, which is that this is a choice everybody has to make and it’s about skills, then the really important thing to do is to set specific goals. And I guess one thing we haven’t talked about is the reason I think people often don’t engage in courage at work is they think of the very scariest thing that comes to mind first, and then they, rightfully so, conclude one of two things, “I’m not going to do that because it’s too difficult and it’ll go terribly,” or they’ll say, “I tried it, and because it was so incredibly difficult and I wasn’t ready, I totally screwed it up. And that only confirmed for me how stupid choosing courage is.”

I think this is akin to the idea that you decide, you’re not a runner but you decide you’re going to run a 10K. Well, the dumbest thing to do would be to go out and try to run 10K the first day. You’d be so sore with so many injuries, you’d probably never jog again. So, what I encourage people to do is build a personal courage ladder. Yeah, you can put that scariest thing on the top rung but put some sort of moderately difficult things in the middle rungs, and put some things that you’re a little afraid of but you could imagine doing on the lowest rungs, and then choose those to start with.

Because, as with any skill, the way you actually build competence over time is you start small, and you have a little success, and you feel better about yourself, it increases your motivation. So, what we haven’t really, I think, talked about enough is the importance of starting small. That’s how all skills are developed.

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

Jim Detert
Yeah, I love the quote of George Bernard Shaw. He says, “Reasonable people adapt to the world around themselves. Unreasonable people try to adapt the world to themselves, and that’s why all progress depends on unreasonable people.” I think we give so much advice about sort of fitting in, getting along, and sometimes we forget that, actually, the great change agents, the people who we most admire were okay pushing boundaries and being a little bit unreasonable.

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

Jim Detert
So, although these are quite dated, I think, perhaps the most powerful research ever done was the Milgram experiments on deference to authority. Milgram was, essentially, showing that in any reasonable size town in America, he could find people who would be willing to pull the shock lever to pretty high voltage simply because they were instructed to do so by power. And I think the Milgram studies and Asch’s conformity studies, they have shown us, time and again, how powerful the forces towards sort of conformity and deference in hierarchies is. And that is such a potent set of research to remind ourselves why we have to sort of choose courage and change systems.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Jim Detert
So, I love some of the classic fiction books, like Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, these books that you say, “Gosh, 50 years, or however ahead of time, these people, even though writing fiction, really foresaw a world that was going to come into being.” Also, recently, a much more recent favorite, I read a book called Awareness by Anthony De Mello. He was sort of a Buddhist monk who, essentially, in this book is saying, “Stop trying to change everything in yourself and everybody else. The first step is just awareness,” and then has a lot of tips on how to just become more mindful and self-aware.

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

Jim Detert
Yeah, I tell you, I was thinking about this notion of tools, and I felt a little bit like a Luddite because I’m not so much of a tools guy. But I will tell you that what I love, actually, are intellectual frameworks. A simple one, very consistent with the conversation we’re having, is Kim Scott’s Radical Candor two-by-two framework where she describes being radically candid as that beautiful combination of telling the truth but also having people understand you care.

And I love her off-quadrant descriptions of ruinous empathy, people who don’t tell the truth because they’re so worried about looking like they care, or people who are obnoxiously aggressive, they tell the truth but nobody thinks they’re doing it for the right reason. And I find that notion of having to move either from ruinous empathy or from obnoxious aggression toward that quadrant of caring honesty just such a compelling reminder when I work with folks.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jim Detert
So, I am a big reader of other folks’ advice on writing. And while people vary across the board – they write in the morning, they write at night, they write with a suit on, they write naked – you name it, there’s huge variance. But one thing that all writers seem to agree on is you got to have butt in seat, that books do not get written, articles do not get written, if you aren’t at the desk, if you aren’t writing.

And so, for me, a really important habit is just butt in seat. I don’t have to feel it, I don’t have to think I’m going to have great wisdom, I just do it. And, in fact, when I wrote Choosing Courage, I set a goal that I was going to write 15 minutes every day, just 15 minutes, I said, “If that’s all I got in me, fine. I’m going to write 15 minutes every single day until it was written.” And I did. And some days, because that was such an easy goal to achieve, I wrote for several hours, but there was no pressure to do just 15. And I think I wrote the first draft of Choosing Courage in 173 days of my 15-minute rule.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And is there a particular nugget you share that resonates with folks; you’re known for?

Jim Detert
So, I think I have said and seen multiple people quote this notion that leadership is not a popularity contest. We grow up thinking, because we see leaders as folks who emerge in the playground or in student council elections, or whatever, we think leadership is a popularity contest but great leadership is much, much harder than that and actually involves a willingness to sort of stand alone and sometimes do unpopular things. So, leadership is not a popularity contest. And then, more recently, I think this notion that competent courage comes from practice not any innate quality or capacity is, I think, something that has resonated with people.

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

Jim Detert
So, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. I do a lot of writing and posting on LinkedIn. And I also have a website, simply JimDetert.com where my different projects, writing, curriculum, etc., are all shared.

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

Jim Detert
Build that courage ladder for yourself and commit today, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. Commit today to what you’re going to do. And the particular challenge, beyond just build the ladder and choose something, is lock yourself in. So, if you know you have a hard time following through on things you find sort of difficult or risky, put some stake in the ground. Tell your boss you’re going to do it. Make a pledge that you will give a sizable amount of money to a charity or political party you hate if you don’t take the action by a certain date. Somehow lock yourself in. That’s how people end up doing hard things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jim, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success in all your courageous choices.

Jim Detert
Thank you much. Same to you.

588: How to Calm Anxiety and Achieve Peak Performance with Dr. Luana Marques

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Luana Marques says: "Once we get stuck on patterns of thinking, we forget that those are habits."

Dr. Luana Marques discusses how to face anxieties and fears head-on using proven strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to stop avoiding and start taming your fears
  2. Why anxiety isn’t always bad
  3. The TEB cycle for calming your anxious mind

 

About Luana

Dr. Marques is a licensed clinical psychologist in the states of Massachusetts and New York and an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for a wide range of psychiatric disorders.

She received her B.S. in Psychology from the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) in 2001, as well as her Masters and Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo in Clinical Psychology in 2005 and 2007, respectively. She completed an internship and postdoctoral fellowship in the CBT track at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and was subsequently hired as a post-doctoral fellow in the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic & Research Unit at MGH. Currently, Dr. Marques is the senior clinical psychologist at the MGH Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders program, as well as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Luana Marques Interview Transcript

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

Luana Marques
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to…is excited the word? I’m highly interested in digging into your expertise when it comes to anxiety, and fear, and coping, and resilience, all that good stuff. But I want to understand, first, I understand that you had a fear of heights at one point. Past tense, I’m using. What’s the story and how did you overcome this?

Luana Marques
You’re absolutely right. I learned it the hard way. I was actually hiking Yosemite National Park, and when I got to the end of Half Dome, I realized that there are cables there and I had the fear that I was going to fall down. My heart was pounding, a classic fight or flight response. I was already in graduate school thankfully and so I took matters in my own hands to make sure I’d overcome that fear, so it is past tense. I go skydiving as often as I can.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s exciting. I’ve been skydiving once, twice. At least once. And it is a thrill. Well, how did you do it? What were the key steps for you personally?

Luana Marques
So, the key step of anything when it comes to a fight or flight response is, really, approach and not avoid. But it’s not just to approach completely, it’s what I call comfortably uncomfortable. So, the idea is to create your hierarchy, your approach ladder, and to start small. What you’re trying to do is to teach your limbic system, the emotional part of your brain, how to cool off a little bit. And the limbic system is wired really for fight or flight, and so what you want to do here is approach, stay with the fear situation again and again until the anxiety comes down. And so, I started with ladders, then I went up on stairs and roofs, and then I went to Disney, I did 16 rollercoasters in one day. I don’t recommend it. Skydiving is a lot more fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. Well, now I’m thinking, I’ve just been playing with my Oculus Quest headset a little bit when I can’t get out in the real world, and they have a plank experience which is just freaky in which it’s like you’re top of a skyscraper walking out on a plank, and it’s not real but it sure makes you feel crazy, like, up there. So, I don’t know where that falls in the ladder, but I guess that’s sort of one other way that you could initiate a type of exercise, experience, encounter, a something, that is not the whole thing but it’s somewhere on the rung there.

Luana Marques
Absolutely. So, the virtual reality world has taken over and, really, today, there’s virtual reality treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. So, whatever you can do to play with the brain a little bit, and really what we’re trying to teach is it’s a false alarm. And this example of the plank is great because you’re still in your house but I bet you get your heart pounding a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Really, you know, the first time I did it, I was actually…my brother came into town and we went. This was maybe a year or two ago, we went to his VR lounge place, and I sort of embarrassed all of us because I was, “Oh,” made quite the scene, and people looking at a dude with a headset on, like, “What’s his problem?”

Luana Marques
Now it makes sense. And I really like that you’re sharing that, Pete, because often we can’t understand when somebody is anxious, what the experience is like, and at the core of it is this fight or flight response.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, I guess we kind of jumped right into it a little bit of the how and some steps. So, maybe let’s back it up a little bit. When we talk about anxiety, could you give us a definition? It doesn’t have to be supremely, precisely, academically perfect, but just so we’re on the same page for what we’re talking about here.

Luana Marques
Absolutely. So, when we’re talking about anxiety, often we’re talking about a couple things. First is the physiology that comes with this fight or flight response. And so, for a mild sort of just heart pounding a little bit to a full-on sweaty palms, tension, feeling ready to run from threat. So, one component of anxiety is really the physical component of anxiety. The other component of anxiety is where it falls more in sort of the anxious thoughts, it becomes worry, “What if this happened? What if that happened?”

And so, I tend to think about anxiety through the Yerkes-Dodson Law, really thinking about how low levels of anxiety results to low levels of performance. At moderate arousal, we have this peak performance. At mid arousal, peak performance. And then when we get to too much arousal, too much anxiety, then our brain shuts down a little bit and becomes really hard to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
I totally buy that in my own experience in terms of…and I’m thinking about…What was the model you mentioned? What was the name?

Luana Marques
So, it’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Pete Mockaitis
Yerkes-Dodson Law. I guess I’m thinking about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow with regard to if it’s too little, it’s we’re bored; too much, we’re freaked out, overwhelmed; and moderate, it’s like, “Ooh, an interesting challenge,” and we’re in the groove and flow. And I experience that as well in terms of just thinking about career moments, like, “Ooh, this is a big opportunity.” I’m a little nervous and excited about it, and then I’m stretched, as opposed to, “This is wildly overwhelming, and I’m freaked out or I’m really bored by what’s going on here.”
So then I would like to hear, in terms of the research and discoveries, what for you has been the most fascinating, surprising, enlightening discovery you’ve made about anxiety and how us humans work during your long career of psychologist and researcher and real-time adventurist?

Luana Marques
So, early on in my career, a lot of the studies I worked on were questions like not, “Does therapy work?” but “Does it work better with medication?” In therapy, the ones I’ve studied really fall on the cognitive behavioral therapy, so what you’re saying to yourself, what’s that making you feel, your emotions, and what is your behavior, the actions you’re taking. And early on, what we knew is that CBT is not only effective but it can help you rewire your brain. Pre-imposed studies, so 12 weeks of therapy. Pre-imposed function MRI, you see a change in the brain domain that you’d want to see, decrease limbic response, increase frontal cortex of thinking brain.

So, early, what was exciting, is to know that, before we even talk about neuroplasticity, that we could actually change our brain with therapy, is really cool to me. And then, now that we know it works, what gets me the most excited these days is, “How do we get out of the ivory tower and into the streets? How do we actually think about this as brain health and so that you need to exercise your brain with those skills? And how can we get it to everyone?” And that’s really what our research lab focuses on mostly these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let us know, what are some best practices if more people want to taste some of those benefits without, to the extent possible, doing a full-blown 12 weeks of therapy? What can we do?

Luana Marques
So, there are a couple of ways you do it. One, on July 12, we’re going to release a course called Mental Health for All, and it is a very simple dosage of the skills I’m talking about. There are four modules, and it’s going to be available for free for anybody in the world. So, if you think about building resilience, you’re going to be able to learn how to slow down your brain, separating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. You’re going to be able to learn how to charge up. So, the role of eating, sleeping, and exercise for your physical and mental health. We’ll teach people how to approach their fears and to also change some of their thinking.

And you can find more about the course on my website DrLuana.com. You can also practice the skills like mindfulness and meditation. Those are definitely some things that are out there, easily accessible, and shown to rewire your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, boy, I’d love to talk about all those things, I’ll just have to take the course. Let’s talk about changing thinking, shall we? We talked a little bit about the going up the steps, and we’ve talked with a few guests about charging up and self-care and energy stuff. So, how do you recommend we go about changing our thinking?

Luana Marques
The first step with changing our thinking is to remind ourselves that thoughts are not facts, and that’s really important. Once we get stuck on patterns of thinking, we forget that those are habits. So, you show up at work and somebody gives you a look, and you might say to yourself, “That person is mad at me.” You jump to a conclusion. And that thought immediately probably makes you a little anxious and you might avoid that person.

So, the first thing is just sort of like listen, “What am I saying to myself? What is exactly that thought?” And then a very simplistic way to change your thought is to say, “Okay, what’s the evidence that I have to support that thought? And what is the evidence I have against that thought?” So, in the example here, you may say, “Okay, maybe that person is mad at me, but I don’t have evidence. Maybe they are preoccupied, maybe they’re tried, maybe they were thinking about something else.” And so, you really want to put the evidence for and against in a balance, like in a scale, and be able to say, “Okay, based on this evidence, do I actually have data that can prove that thought right?”

And if you can’t, then we need to really arrive at a more balanced thought. And the trick here, Pete, is really balanced. Often, when we talk about exploring thoughts, people are like, “Well, is it a happy thought? Is it a sad thought? Is it a good thought?” It really is not. It’s balanced. Sometimes there are thoughts that are realistic. I can’t say to a patient who had an experience of racism that that wasn’t real, right? But if you focus only on that experience, then you’re going to continue to feel upset.

Pete Mockaitis
So, with some fair synonyms for balanced in this context be sort of like accurate, truthful? I get the sense that when you say balanced, you mean that it is reflective of full reality more or less. Is that what you mean by balanced?

Luana Marques
Exactly, Pete. That’s what I mean by balanced. By really looking at the whole picture and understanding sort of all of the facts in front of you, and almost summarizing them in such a way that you can say, “Huh, I’m saying this to myself for a long time. I have a habit of saying this. This may not be an actual fact. It could not be held in a court of law as a fact.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. I’d love if you can maybe give an example here, and let’s talk a little bit, shall we, about coronavirus, shall we, a source of much anxiety these days? Let’s say someone has some thought patterns like, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I must do this. I must do that. I’m freaked out that I could catch it and have a horrible time, lose my sense of smell or taste forever,” and they’re just all kinds of anxious and freaked out. How would we go about moving to balance?

Luana Marques
So, the first thing I would do is slow down. So, let’s imagine that was you for a second, that you’re the person saying those things to yourself. So, the first thing I’d want to know is, “What is the situation that triggered those thoughts? Where were you? I’d like to see exactly what you’re doing when those thoughts came up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say, so I’m the person who’s highly anxious. Let’s say my wife suggested she wanted to go get an oil change, and I thought, “Uh-oh, we can’t have that. There’s all sorts of person interaction there.”

Luana Marques
So, your wife suggests, I can see great situation. So, the first step is to actually anchor in the situation, because if we don’t anchor in the situation, we can’t isolate a specific thought that may get you anxious. Now, in that situation, there were a bunch of thoughts that you had, right? So, let’s walk through the thoughts again. What are the first two thoughts that may have jumped in your head?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, now that we’re anchored in the situation, I’d say, “Uh-oh, she might get it from a mechanic, and then she could be hospitalized, and we’ll be in a world of trouble with taking care of the kids and work and everything.”

Luana Marques
So, I’m going to stay with the person, “She may get it from a mechanic.” Okay. When you say that to yourself, how did you feel? What’s your emotions like?

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I could use the word, I want to say anxious but it almost feel like cheating in this conversation, so we’ll say afraid, concerned, worried.

Luana Marques
So, afraid and concerned, which makes you get worried, right? And what do you want to do? What’s the behavior?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say, “No, don’t go. Let’s not do that.”

Luana Marques
“Let’s not do that,” right? And your wife then says, “No, I really, really want it.” What does that do to that fear that you’re feeling?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it makes it more, it’s like I wanted to exert some control over in this hypothetical situation, and now I apparently am failing.

Luana Marques
And so, the first thing I’m illustrating for us, before we even get to this balanced thought, is that before we get there, we need to understand what we call our TEB cycle, T for thoughts, E for emotions, B for behaviors. TEB cycle. That’s really separating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors anchoring in a situation. Once you do that, then you look at that thought, “My wife might get it from a mechanic” Now, let’s ask questions out of that thought. What is the evidence – and evidence, I mean, something that could be held in a court of law, that a judge says true – that your wife might get it?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if it was Dr. Anthony Fauci, or one of these health people, said, like, “Oh, the best course of action is just to assume that everybody has it.”

Luana Marques
So, I agree, that may be the best course of action, but how does that help us prove that your wife will get it?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, I guess one authority figure said, “Assume everyone has it so you might…” I guess I don’t have the best stats here. I think some health experts estimated perhaps 10% of people in the US have it right now.

Luana Marques
Okay. So, your brain is saying your wife will get it, and the stats are saying 10% of the people are getting it. So, perhaps the probability may be slightly lower than she’ll get it. Is that fair?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, yeah. It would be 10% or less.

Luana Marques
Or less. What would be the evidence against it, that she might not get it?

Pete Mockaitis
That she might not get it. Well, I guess then the 90% don’t actually get it.

Luana Marques
I know. You see the brain tricks us. The minute you say to yourself, “She’ll get it,” then you’re locked into this worst-case scenario, right? Getting to a balanced thought is really looking at, “Okay, there’s 10% chance, there’s perhaps 90% chance that she won’t, and I bet we could work together through the steps of making her stay so that she could still engage with it in a safe way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Luana Marques
Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Luana Marques
So, a balanced thought may look like something like this, “My wife is taking a chance but we really need that oil change to be able to keep doing the things we need to do, so we’ll make sure she’s wearing a mask, that she’s distanced, that we’re going to disinfect the car after, and that would decrease the likelihood that she’ll get it.” That’s more of a balanced thought versus, “She’ll get it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so then, a balanced thought…well, let’s say it’s as balanced as you can get. Why don’t we say based upon deep research and many epidemiological bottles, we can infer that there’s approximately a 0.34% chance, give or take, that she will contract the coronavirus from an interaction with a mechanic. So, that’s very small. Now, that may be balanced, but it might still have all sorts of anxiety emotion wrapped up in it, like, “Oh, that’s a lot more than zero, and it could be real bad if she gets it.” So, where does that leave us?

Luana Marques
Well, it leaves us to face reality a little bit, and I think this is where it’s hard to fully balance our thoughts when we’re talking about more realistic thoughts. A thought of somebody is mad at me, for example, it’s very distorted and black and white. When we’re talking about a pandemic, there is the reality that some bad things are really happening. And so, there’s this piece of having to tolerate being comfortably uncomfortable, and then I think really trying to right-size your willingness to take some chances, right?

The best chance is to do nothing, to not get the oil change, I agree. But it’s sort of hard to live that way. And so, I think it’s a sense of like, “Can I tolerate some uncertainty?” And if you really can’t, then, in a pandemic, I’d say, “Don’t do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And then I guess it’s balanced in that we can then really compare, it’s like, “Okay. Well, that is the risk that we would take.” And on the flipside, “What is the consequence of not getting the oil changed? I guess there’s a risk that the car will break if you don’t intend to basic maintenance. You okay with that?”

Luana Marques
Yeah. And it is tough. It is a hypothetical scenario and we’re joking around, but it is a tough time. And the idea of exploring thoughts in a pandemic is to be able to at least making sure that you’re not adding to your anxiety. Anxiety is biologically adaptive up to a point. Up to a point, you get to that zone. What we don’t want to do is be tipping over that zone to a really negative area by having thoughts that distort it. So, that’s really where I think the juice is in exploring thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, let’s talk about that notion of not adding to it. I imagine there’s all sorts of implied do’s and don’ts for us right now or any sort of stressful time of change and difficulty, whether it’s economic or social or health, and we got all three at this moment in the US. So, yeah, I imagine, for example, reading news could make you feel more anxious.

Luana Marques
Definitely do’s and don’ts. So, what we don’t want to do is anything that adds to this fight or flight response. So, anything that activates your emotional brain, we don’t need more of that. We have plenty of it. We have a real threat, coronavirus. On top of it, we have an economic crisis and lots of other difficulties, so we don’t want to do anything that turns it on. So, what do we want to do? The opposite. You want to cool off your brain. How do we do that? By turning on your thinking brain, your prefrontal cortex.

So, the five skills that we often talk about, so the first one is anchor and unplug, and you handed it to me beautifully, which is we know, for example, research shows us that during the marathon bombings here in Boston, that individuals that watched six plus hours of the news related to the bombing at home had a heightened stress response than those that were actually there.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow!

Luana Marques
So, the news can actually induce stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Actually there. Okay.

Luana Marques
Right? And so, think about what that says, that just watching, you’re activating your thinking brain. So, we really need to unplug as much as we can from the news, perhaps watch it twice a day. And then you need to anchor your brain on something that’s good: mindfulness, meditation, talking to your family, doing things to slow down the brain. That’s one of the skills that I often recommend based on science.

Pete Mockaitis
Something good. Well, I think about John Krasinski with his “Some Good News.”

Luana Marques
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, nice work there, John. I’ve never met him but we’re on first-name basis. So, give us some more examples of maybe even, hey, research-based, sort of a big bang for the buck in terms of good stuff that do good things to us biochemically.

Luana Marques
Well, in many ways, we get actually sort of a second set of skills which you’ve mentioned you’ve talked with several of your guests before, but it’s the idea of charging up. Eating, sleeping, and exercise, our bodies are like the batteries of our heart. We actually have to spend energy to get energy. And the problem is, when we’re feeling really anxious, people get stuck, right? They don’t feel like doing something, so they don’t exercise. They forget to eat or overeat. And we know that those three things not only help your physical body, it actually decreases depression, decrease anxiety, and increase wellbeing. So, charging up is extremely important, and I think not optional during pandemics. It’s one of the few things we actually have some control, for the lucky ones, to be able to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s go there for a bit. So, charging up, exercise, good nutrition. Are there any particular high-leverage areas here? Well, there’s sleep. I mean, can you tell us something that we might not know in terms of…?

Luana Marques
About sleep?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, in some ways, that’s the hard thing with great common-sense wisdom, you know, it’s sort of like, “Oh, yeah, I should eat healthy and I should sleep and I should exercise.” So, I‘d love it if you could put a little oomph to it in terms of, “Ooh, this particular nutrient makes a world of a difference,” or, “Hey, this study showed that, boy, a little bit of sleep deprivation is actually devastatingly harmful.”

Luana Marques
Yeah. Well, sleep deprivation not only decreases your immune system but also create memory deficits, so that, for sure, we know it’s a problem. But when it comes to sleep hygiene, broadly speaking, one of the things that most people completely violate in the sleep hygiene is that their bed should be used for sleep and sex. That’s it. You should never watch TV in your bed. You should really make sure that when you transition to bed, you’re really actually trying to slow down your brain, and that’s what most people don’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, tell us, anything else that you recommend we do or not do before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Luana Marques
I guess I recommend that we really hyper focus on the value of social support, of staying connected. It’s the only buffer that we really know against mental illness. And so, no matter what it is, even having this conversation, right, staying connected one way or another can really help us decrease the chances of developing emotional difficulties as a consequence of this pandemic.

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

Luana Marques
So, my favorite would be “Whenever you really want something, the whole universe conspires for you to have it,” by Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or a piece of research?

Luana Marques
I go back to neuroplasticity. The fact that you can rewire your brain, pre-impose cognitive behavior therapy. It’s incredible.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Luana Marques
I go for The Alchemist. Searching your personal legend, I know it’s a fiction book but it really helped me in my journey here to this country.

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

Luana Marques
Approach, not avoid. So, the most important thing is to be comfortably uncomfortable all the time. I define myself as an over-approach-er, so always ahead of it.

Pete Mockaitis
An over-approach-er. I want to dig into that. So, you’re saying you would approach perhaps even more than…what are we over-approaching?

Luana Marques
So, the thing is anxiety is biologically adaptive up to a point, right? And then when it becomes too much, our brain starts to really stop working, as we talked about. I don’t like the experience of anxiety, like nobody really does. And so, whenever I wake up, if there’s something I really don’t want to do, it’s the first thing I do. I over-approach and I try to get ahead so that I stay as close to the zone as possible. That’s what I mean by over-approaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, well, it seems related, but how about a favorite habit?

Luana Marques
That’s pretty much it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay.

Luana Marques
Approach. Approach. Approach. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Comfortably uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for and people quote back to you frequently?

Luana Marques
Recently it’s really been this idea that it’s okay not to be okay, that we all experience strong emotions in the pandemic but that we can also be able to change what we experience by using science-driven skills like we talked today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn or get in touch or take that course, where do you point them?

Luana Marques
To my website, DrLuana.com. You can sign up for the newsletter there. And we’ll be releasing the course in mid-July.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that’s D-R-L-U-A-N-A.com?

Luana Marques
Yes, you got it.

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

Luana Marques
Yeah, I would encourage you to really work on approaching areas of discomfort, really this idea of being comfortably uncomfortable, and share with us. I’d love to hear more.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Luana, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in your approaches.

Luana Marques
Thank you. It’s been delightful to be here, Pete. Thank you for having me.

581: How to Empower Teams in Difficult Times through Coach-like Conversations with Michael Watkins

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Michael Watkins says: "You're not there to provide answers or solutions, you're there to help facilitate a process... of discovery."

Michael Watkins shares the new conversations leaders need to have in order to empower and support their teams during difficult times.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The question all leaders must ask during a crisis
  2. Why you don’t need to solve problems to be of value
  3. The best thing to do when conversations get emotional

About Michael

Michael Watkins is the co-founder of Genesis Advisers, a global leadership development consultancy based in Boston, Massachusetts, specializing in transition acceleration for leaders, teams and organizations, where he coaches C-level executives of global organizations. He is the Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the IMD Business School. He has spent the last two decades working with executives—both corporate and public—as they craft their legacies as leaders and was ranked among the leading management thinkers globally by Thinkers50 in 2019.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Michael Watkins Interview Transcript

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

Michael Watkins
It’s great to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to have you. Boy, I think it’s been about four years. You were episode 29 back in the day. What have you been up to in four years?

Michael Watkins
Well, it’s been interesting, right? So, still at IMD, still doing a lot of work on leadership transitions, still running the consulting company, coaching a lot of CEOs these days, which is absolutely fascinating because, of course, going into a new job right now is just so different than it was before; writing some stuff on onboarding people remotely. But probably the most interesting work has been around the crisis and how people are responding to it, how companies are responding to it, that’s really been the most interesting stuff in the last sort of two-three months.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes. And tell us, what have you discovered in your observations, in your research, in terms of what’s new, what’s different? How is work a different ballgame?

Michael Watkins
So, there’s a few different dimensions to that, Pete, and maybe we can unpeel them a little bit, right? The starting point for me getting really interested in this work was I was sitting with an executive team, and it was a senior C-level executive that I was coaching, and she had her team together to sort of talk about the crisis and how things were doing, and doing a little bit of a check in, and they were all kind of expressing their gratitude for, like, “Hey, look, this hasn’t been so bad for us really, but when we look at our people, I mean, look at a level down below that, there are some really different level of magnitude of impact on lots of people.”

And one of the leaders in the room said, “We need to understand, as a leadership team, that we’re in the same storm but we’re in very different boats.” And that was, I think, a very interesting phrase. He knew it wasn’t an original phrase and I tried to kind of track it down. But that got me thinking a lot about just how different the impact, Pete, is on people by age, by stage, by industry, and so I started doing a little bit of writing about that. We also did a pretty big survey through IMD looking at some of the impacts, and so a survey of 600 or 700 leaders across the globe, looking at how they were being impacted.

And one sort of related finding that was really interesting was that it’s the middle tier of leadership that’s really being hit the most by this. The junior people are doing reasonably okay, the senior people are doing reasonably okay, And our theory about this, basically, is, “Look, you’re a part of a two-career family, people you know are losing their jobs, you’re trying to manage the kids at home,” so that was kind of an interesting piece of research and writing. And I want to help leaders think about what’s the impact on their people and begin to coach those people in a reasonable way.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say hit hardest, is this just like on the questionnaire that says, “Hey, I am experiencing a great difficulty,” and we see like those responses are kind of the strongest there? Or what do you mean by hit hardest precisely?

Michael Watkins
So, the way we framed the question was, “To what extent is the crisis creating negative impacts for you at work and at home?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Watkins
And so, what we saw that was really interesting was the biggest impacts for work, the work side, were senior then middle then lower level. But the biggest impacts on the home front were the lowest on the senior because often their kids are gone, they’re pretty well off, somewhat higher at the bottom but it was the middle tier that was really suffering at home, and that’s, I think, not surprising in some ways once we thought about it given the pressure that you’re facing if you’re dual career, with kids, trying to manage some of what’s going on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And so then, you field out this whole COVID-19 stress index, and what kind of insights can we glean from that in terms of, let’s say we are in the middle, it’s like, “Hey, we’ve learned it sucks to be you”? Okay, well, that’s one insight. What else do we got?

Michael Watkins
No, it really sucks to be you. Let’s be clear, right? So, look, I think the biggest insight here was that senior leaders needed to understand, first of all, at much a deeper level than typically they do, what’s going on with their people. And they need to be willing to coach those people in a way that they probably have never coached them before, and they need to get over the terror of opening up that box of kind of “What’s going on with you really, Pete? Like, what’s really going on here for you?” Because normally, most leaders in normal times, they don’t open that box up very often, and they don’t dig into sort of, “Where are you energetically? Where are you in terms of what’s going on with you right now? How much capacity do you have to really deal with more?”

The context was, by the way, the team was trying to decide how hard to push on the transformation. They’re like, “Yeah, we got everything under control. We did this, we did that. We reacted beautifully to the crisis. We’re feeling great about things. So, hooah!” And this is something else we could talk about, Pete. The crisis is actually accelerating a lot of transformation in ways of working and digital, we can talk about that a little bit, so let’s just drive. And there’s kind of like a, “Well, wait a minute. Let’s take stock of how much energy our people really have and try to understand and factor that into our thinking about how rapidly we’re going to try and push this whole process forward.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so many fun directions we can go. And I want to talk about that notion of “How are you doing really?” is not something that people go into very often in terms of sort of a work context. So, I want to learn all about that in terms of to what extent should we, “Hey, work is work, and home is home, and people need personal lives”? To what extent is it optimal that colleagues engage in that discussion? Let’s start with that. Tell me this, how often do you think we should go there?

Michael Watkins
Well, I think we should go there now a whole lot more as leaders than we normally would because this is not normal times, and there are such major differences in the impacts this is having on people. And I guess I start with a very pragmatic point of view, which is you want to try and get the best out of your people right now. That’s part of your role as a leader is to mobilize and focus and to sustain the energy of your people. It’s core to what leaders fundamentally do.

Under normal circumstances, we create this kind of reasonable division between work and life, and we tend not to dive too deeply into people’s lives because, in general, we’re not responsible as leaders in a business for those lives. And you know people are going through things, they’ve lost a spouse, they’ve lost a child, they’re going through financial difficulty, and, depending on the leader you are, you may open that selectively for certain people. If you are someone who’s a real high performer, Pete, “Here’s Pete. Pete’s a real high performer but something is not right. His performance has dropped off pretty significantly. He doesn’t look like the Pete we know, so maybe we’ll peel open that box a little bit and maybe we’ll say, ‘Look, we’re going to give you a little time to get through this divorce, this situation.’” That’s the norm, the way it was before.

Now, almost everybody, when you get down a level or two in organizations, is in some form of challenging situation right now. If you think about the people at the very top of organizations, in general, they’re not going to lose their jobs; in general, they’re financially secure; in general, they’re living in safe places, but so many of the people below them in the organization, none of those things are true. And so, what would’ve been an exceptional thing that you might’ve done, Pete, to open up that box and, “Pete, how are you?” I think it’s become what you normally need to think about doing. Doing those check-ins with your people, seeing where they are, just for the simple reason that you want to try and push that organization forward, continue to get work done.

Like the team I talked to, that chief quality officer, knowing how much she can push forward with something without crashing the organization, crashing people, it’s just, to me, is a very different situation. most leaders are not equipped to open that box up on a fairly broad basis with a lot of people. In fact, they’re often terrified, Pete, about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I want to talk about how you open the box well and how you deal with the internal terror. But, first, if we could maybe get a preview of the prize to be had when you go there, could you share with us a cool story about a leader, a team, who made the shift and saw some cool results?

Michael Watkins
Yeah. So, this, I’ll keep with the example I gave you because I think that what happened, it was fascinating what happened, which is the CQO, the chief quality officer, she said, “So, how are we doing?” And the first person out of the box basically just kind of bared their soul not about their personal challenges, but about some of the challenges that a couple people who were working for them were facing. And there was this kind of like silence, kind of this “Huh,” kind of everyone else sort of when she finished, there was this kind of like, “Wow, I didn’t think we were going to go there. I thought it was like the usual check-in where we’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, everything is fine. Things are going great. Working on this now. Everything is good.” But it opened the floodgates of a lot of dialogue about the differences in what some significant people were facing.

And this person was, “We didn’t know they were high risk. We didn’t know they had a mother who was living in an old-folks home in the midst of a fire zone of virus.” You got to understand the things, right? And so, there were decisions made about how quickly and in what way to push forward with that transformation that were very different than what would’ve happened otherwise, Pete. There was a decision, “Hey, we’re not going to quite push with the pace we thought. We’re going to buy ourselves more in the direction of asking for volunteers, for people to step up and do things, rather than start to assign roles and responsibilities.” And, to me, it was just fascinating how different the response could be if you had people who, as leaders, were tuned in to some of the emotional reality of what was going on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s cool. Well, then it sounds like that team had a greater appreciation, understanding, camaraderie, bond there, and just didn’t put people in terrible burnout-type situations by demanding that they step on the gas full steam ahead when there’s not much in the tank available to do that.

Michael Watkins
Oh, exactly. Right. Exactly, Pete. And I think that if you ask sort of what’s the longer-term benefit of that, it creates a greater sense of cohesion, it makes people feel connected to the organization and not so alone, it’s an expression of humanity. We don’t expect humanity necessarily in business organizations but it turns out that there are humans in business places, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Michael Watkins
So, yeah, to me that was just kind of fascinating. And then the other point you were getting at a little bit was, “Okay. So, wow, I’m going to open the box. I’m going to sit with Pete and three or four of his peers on my leadership team, and I’m going to open the box. And, Pete, how are you really doing?” And you’re going to start with level one of, “I’m fine. Everything is good. Yeah, challenging times. It’s good. But when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, you know. Ah, I’m fine.” “No, Pete, how are you really? Because I’ve seen, to my eye, it looks like there are some challenging things going on for you.” “It looks like, whoa, you actually are asking me what is happening for me?”

And there may be a little bit of time and you may have to do it a couple times, but pretty soon there’s a real discussion going on. Now, you might ask yourself, “What’s the benefit of that?” And you might ask yourself, “That sounds like the work that a coach would do, or a therapist would do, to open that little box up. I’m neither of those things. I’m a leader. I’m not a therapist and I’m not a trained coach. And a kind of this scary thing for me.” And think about it, Pete, why is it frightening to do this?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, as I’m putting myself in that shoe, well, one, I guess it could just be anytime something is new, different, unfamiliar, there is a weirdness or awkwardness associated with, “Oh, we’ve never really talked like this before, so this is…” So, it’s just weird because it’s new. That’s one thing. And then I think the other thing is, as a leader, I kind of want to be able to provide all of the answers and resources and solutions, and when you sort of go into a different domain or arena, I may very well have really nothing to offer, and that feels uncomfortable as well, like, “I can’t give you what you need.”

Michael Watkins
Well, so I think that you just nailed the second one. I think there is, “Uh, this is different,” but it’s really that second insight, Pete, that’s so crucial which is, “I’m used to solving problems. Part of the reason why I’m a leader is because I’m really good at diagnosing and solving problems. And so, my inclination to a situation like this is to try and fix your problem. And so, if you present a problem to me, I’m going to feel like I’m responsible for solving that problem, and I can’t.” And so that’s part of that. Part of it, too, is, “If I open this up, what happens if Pete really starts to show his suffering? What if, all of a sudden, I’m confronted with a Pete who’s really suffering in front of me clearly? How do I respond to that?” So, I think it’s a combination of those two things.

And so, the implication is that you need to kind of really shift your mindset a little bit as a leader away from thinking that the way you’re going to add value in this situation is by solving the problem, to where it’s thinking that just by opening up the conversation, you’re creating value here. Simply giving you a forum, Pete, to talk about what’s really going on with you, express your emotions, feel like someone cares to some degree about what’s going on, recognize what’s happening, that’s what needs to have happen here. But, for most leaders, you nailed it, the terror is, “I’m going to be confronted with a problem that I don’t know how to solve.”

And, by the way, when you’re trained as a coach, one of the most important things I think you learn is that you’re not there as a consultant, you’re not there as an advisor, you’re not there to provide answers or solutions, you’re there to help facilitate a process. A process of discovery, a process of learning, a process of connectivity. But there’s lots of leaders who don’t, have never really been trained, and perhaps think that they can’t do that, or they worry a lot.

I talked to someone recently about this, they said, “It’s like if I open this up, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to close it. I don’t know where this is going to take me. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to manage what flows out of that box at me.” And I think, again, the advice I give to people is, first of all, you don’t have to be a trained coach to deal with this but you do need to adopt a different mindset, and that’s a mindset of curiosity. It’s a mindset of inquiry. It’s not a mindset of, “Let’s frame your problem and solve it.”

And you need to accept that you may not accomplish much in terms of solving the problem in the moment. But that, even by showing that degree of humanity, even by allowing that person, allowing you, Pete, to begin to express yourself to some degree about what you’re really up against, you’re creating what psychologists would call a secure base, a place that this person can anchor themselves. And, in times like this, the role of the leader in providing a secure base for their people, it’s essential. And you can imagine, too, what happens if you’ve got leaders who don’t create secure bases for their people in times like this.

By the way, this is another part of the conversation. I actually wrote an article after listening in on this meeting. I was just so fascinated by the dialogue. And there was another leader who said, basically, “We have to show them, them being our people, that we have the backbone and strength to lead them through this, but the heart that lets them connect and know we care.” And, to me, that was just such a brilliant articulation of the tension that you feel as a leader in moments like this, because I can’t just go all soft and gushy on you, like, “Oh, poor Pete. That’s terrible. Let me hold you, Pete.” There are limits, obviously.

To be a secure base for you in a moment like that, you have to feel like you can trust me, that I’m going to lead you and the organization towards promising directions, that I’ve got the emotional capacity to deal with what’s happening, but you also want to feel like there’s some connectivity. And this is the way to begin to create that kind of connectivity. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And so, I’d love it if we could get a little bit more of the verbiage, or not that it’s a script, but I imagine there are often some keywords, phrases, expectation-setting, follow-up, bits of dialogue, that come up again and again. So, one example you shared was, “How are you doing really?” Any other things that…?

Michael Watkins
“What’s going on for you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “What’s going on for you?”

Michael Watkins
“What’s on your mind?” And not accept the first answer necessarily, “Okay.” “Yes.” You saw a little bit in that interaction, “Yeah, I hear that things are basically okay on the work front but it feels like there’s more going on for you.” And then the person on the other side of the table, you in this case, has a choice. They can say, “No, everything is really fine.” And, at that point, you’ve done the work you need to do as a leader. You’re not there to try and force people into revelation. That’s not your job. Your job is to create a safe space within which that person can share things to the degree they feel comfortable doing so. But the key is not to necessarily accept the surface answer but to maybe open that box up a little bit more.

And there’s other things you can do. You can share a little bit about what’s going on with you. Social psychologists, there’s lots of good studies that have been done on what’s called the reciprocity dynamic. I do a favor for you. You feel obligated to do one for me. It works in a funny kind of way with self-revelation, Pete, which is if I engage in a little of self-revelation, you can feel like it’s okay. Now, I’m not going to say, “My life is a mess, Pete. I can’t begin to tell you how bad things are.” That’s not what I’m saying. But you could give an example of someone, “So, my brother-in law just lost his job. It’s really challenging right now.” And the key here is to be willing to demonstrate a little bit of vulnerability yourself in the name of creating that secure space, again, within which that dialogue could begin to take place.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, let’s say that we do go there, we open it up, and then some, I guess, the fears are realized, yup, some big problems have emerged that you can’t do much about. Let’s say, “You know what, it’s just like…” Let’s just say, “Hey, my marriage has been kind of tense and rocky before the crisis. And then when you add in all these extra obligations and difficulties and challenges, now it just seems like we are really at the breaking point.”

Michael Watkins
So, first of all, “I’m really sorry to hear that because it’s coming at a really tough time for you.” And the second thing is, “Are there ways that you can get support that might help you through this? Who are you able to talk to about this? Are there resources that you can start to bring to bear?” You can begin to ask questions that are about creating a context within which perhaps they begin to see alternative ways of looking at the situation, “Is there another way to look at what’s going on? Are there alternative perspectives you might explore about what’s happening here?”

And, again, there’s no rocket science here. It may be that you help someone just get a little bit different of a view. Maybe you help someone think, “Hey, wait a minute. There is someone maybe that we could talk to about this. There may be someone in the family system that can help us think about this a little bit.” You might ask, “Have you talked to each other about it? Do you feel like you’re communicating well about it?” And, again, none of this is about you solving the problem, Pete. It’s about you enabling a thinking process to go on, and a feeling process to go on, and may take people in a potentially productive way.

And, by the way, you don’t have to go too far down this road necessarily, and it may be a few different conversations that lead to this, or they may just walk away feeling like, “Hey, at least someone was listening.” Does this make sense to you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got you. Thank you. Yes, that is good. And just to reassure listeners, Katie and I are doing well. That was an invented example. Not to worry.

Michael Watkins
But you say you’re doing well, Pete. But do you feel like everything is going on…? I’m teasing you. I’m teasing you. We’re not going to do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, I was going to say, well, we could do it. I think demonstrations are valuable. Well, I talked to Marcia Reynolds, who’s a great coach, on the show. We went into this a little bit. But I do, I feel like I have less, I think, capacity is a good word, in terms of I’m a bit less zesty, energized, fired up. I have a harder time doing a 10-hour workday in terms of real work than I used to. And so, a lot of times things just seem too hard, like little things. Like, “Oh, I should maybe clean up this office a bit.” It’s like, “Oh, it just sounds so hard. I should go to that pile of mail there.” It’s like, “Oh, geez, that’s too much.”

So, there’s been some of that in this midst of feeling kind of I’m an extrovert, I like to see my people and have some adventures. And two plus months of deprivation on that front, in church, I miss that. they wear on you, and so I’m feeling less zesty and less capable of cranking out great work hour after hour. But I do like that I’ve gotten pretty good at prioritizing, it’s like, “This is the stuff that really, really, really, really matters,” and I’m kind of managing to be consistent in executing those things.

Michael Watkins
So, there’d be a few different directions we could go. And, by the way, we’re kind of a little past the leader stuff and into the coach stuff now, and that’s okay, right? You can have a conversation that revolves around a little bit of what you just did, which was sort of the good and the not so good, and try to see that there are different perspectives about what’s happening, that it’s certainly not all bad. I certainly don’t feel like everything that’s happened is bad. There’s some been real positives. So, how do we sort of explore that a little bit?

I’d be asking you whether there are things that you’re doing that are consistent with your values and do you feel like you’re creating value with what you’re doing. And I can tell you do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Michael Watkins
For sure. I’d be talking to you a little bit about your energy probably, which is sort of what you’re describing is a situation within which the normal things that energize you, especially as an extrovert, may not be as present for you. There are some different ways to deal with that. One is to accept it, “Okay, I’m going to have a little less energy right now. I’m not going to beat myself up about the fact that I didn’t deal with that little pile of stuff today.” Or there could be a discussion about, “Are there alternative ways of replenishing your energy?” Maybe even a discussion about, “How in tune are you with your energy level?”

Now, we’re sort of past what I would expect a typical leader to do in a situation like this. What I would expect a leader to do in a situation like this is at least open up a discussion, create a space within which some conversation can happen, demonstrate that secure base, that you are a secure base for this person to some degree, and maybe you can offer them some ways of thinking about things in somewhat different ways, or seeking out other sources of support. I think, as a leader, you can go. Beyond that, you’re into the realm of coaches and perhaps even therapists, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s helpful. Thank you. And it paints a nice picture. I want to address the fear or concern that, “Uh-oh, if I open this box, maybe I can never kind of bring it back.”

Michael Watkins
Let’s imagine the worst case happens. So, I say to you, Pete, “How are you doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I say, “Fine.” Okay.

Michael Watkins
And then I say, “You know, Pete, it seems there are some things you seem to be struggling,” and you just break down completely in front of me, which can happen. And it’s not a male-female thing. It could be that you’re under so much pressure and so much stress that at that particular moment it all comes crashing in on you, and you break down in front of me. I mean, I can’t imagine anything that’s a whole lot harder than that, to see somebody having to just crash on you.

Pete Mockaitis
Full on crying, yeah.

Michael Watkins
What do you do in a moment like that? You wait and sit with the person. You’d be present with them. You give them the space to recover. You engage them in a way that you can tell they’re willing to be engaged with. I think the bottom line, Pete, is that there’s kind of an overblown fear here, that if I’m in the presence of such powerful emotion, I’m not going to be able to deal with it. But the reality is I don’t think it’s that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. I buy it. I’m with you. And then, I guess, I imagine that it’s overblown fear. It’s not going to continue forever. I guess maybe the fear is that if you’re going on for two hours, like, “How can I…?” how to say, like, “Well, we’re done now.” How do we bring it to a close?

Michael Watkins
“Pull yourself together, Pete,” you know. Start the Patton solution, right? The General Patton solution comes in. Like, that’s not going to happen. It just isn’t. And if it does, then you’re dealing with someone who probably needs some real therapeutic support because they’re depressed it’s probably better that you know that, honestly, and you can suggest that maybe they need to do it. You also need to deal with the next-day phenomenon, too, which is they come to work the next day, and they’re kind of embarrassed by what they shared.

And you kind of got to be thoughtful about making sure that they understand that whatever was revealed was okay. You haven’t lost respect for them. They’re still a valued member of the team. Because I’ve seen this happen, I’m sure you have too. It’s kind of you do something, you make a revelation and then you go back, and then you kind of go, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I shared that with Michael. What must he think of me?” And so, you’ve got to be aware of the residences, the waves that kind of flow out of something like this.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Michael Watkins
But, again, there’s nothing rocket science here, Pete. It’s just kind of this whole humanity but we’re not used to as leaders necessarily playing that role.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you, Michael. So much good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael Watkins
No, I think that’s the big point. I think the other thing that I’m finding interesting these days is how organizations are kind of how organizing to thrive as we come out of this, so that’s been another stream of work I’ve been doing because the tendency at times like this is to really focus on the crisis, focus on trying to deal with the financials, trying to retrench, you get into survival mode. But I see some organizations that, even though they’re in the midst of that, you’ve already got leadership that’s beginning to think about, “What might after that is going to look like?”

I’m working with a big healthcare system right now. It’s been pretty fascinating because they’ve been very badly hit, as you can imagine by what’s happened. And the healthcare systems have taken a double blow, Pete. On one hand, they are the frontline of what’s going on with COVID-19, and so they’ve got frontline caregivers that, as you can imagine, are going through really tough stuff. They’re mobilized into trying to deal with this crisis. They’re trying to find the equipment. They’re doing all this stuff that they’re doing. And, on the other hand, their largest sources of revenue are being demolished because people aren’t coming for office visits. Some of them are doing better with virtual stuff. They haven’t been going for surgeries, and so they’re kind of watching their financials just go, right?

Now, you can imagine that the response would be, “Oh, my God, we need to focus just on the financials. We need to focus on those caregivers. We need to retrench.” But what I found fascinating with this particular organization is the extent to which they have kind of pulled out aside some energy, some leadership energy, and devoted that leadership energy to imagining how they are going to reimagine key parts of their business to really propel themselves out the other side of this. And I think that’s pretty rare but it’s pretty fascinating how they’re doing it. And if you think about the value of doing that, they will be in so much better a place when they come out the other side than they are right now.

And I’ll give you an example of something they did. There’s lots of little examples. So, the crisis breaks, and all their offices are closed, all their primary care practices are done, all their elective surgeries are cancelled, and there’s COVID-19 in the area. This is a big healthcare system in the southeast U.S. And, all of a sudden, they’re getting deluged by calls from people who are saying, “I think I might have COVID-19. How do I…? What do I do? Well, can you see me?” And so, sort of day one, when this happened, when it broke, they got 35,000 calls.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Watkins
Thirty-five thousand calls, okay? Now, how do you respond to something like that? One answer is you don’t take the calls. They’ve got a lot of people who are very worried. But what they did was just fascinating, and their chief strategy officer in this organization is a real visionary. He happened to have some great connections with Microsoft, and they knew that they were building these AI chatbots for healthcare. And, within two days, they had a functioning screening chatbot that would basically triage people to determine whether or not they really were likely to have COVID-19, and if they did, they would then take them to the next phase, which was a virtual care that fortunately they built the platform for that.

That system, in the first month and a half, handled more than a million and a half calls. Now, you can say, “Hey, that’s a great reaction to the crisis and very innovative.” But they then took it one step further. They said, “Okay, this is really what the future is going to look like from this, so we’re going to use this to learn about our customers. We’re going to use this to pilot this technology. We’re going to lay the foundation to take this in a number of different diagnostic directions even as we’re dealing with this particular issue.” And, to me, that’s what differentiates an organization that’s operating in that reimagined mode and not just in that reaction mode. And I personally find that pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And it’s a lot more fun, as I’m imagining being in that workplace in terms of like, “Okay. Well, hey, we got a capability now to handle a ton of incoming calls that we didn’t have before. That’s great. We’ve got a capability to do virtual appointments now, which we didn’t have before. Okay. Well, now what do we do with these sort of like two new toys that we have to play with in the marketplace to really help patients and financially stabilize?”

Michael Watkins
But I think I would add to that, Pete, think of what it takes from a leadership foresight point of view to devote some of your time and energy in the midst of something like this when, literally, all hell is breaking loose to reimagining the future even while that’s happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it takes some fortitude, and you’ve got to kind of…

Michael Watkins
Discipline, my God.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you want to do this but you force yourself to go do that.

Michael Watkins
Yeah. And, to me, this is just…as you know, I’m fascinated by great leadership, and I think that these two examples are examples of ways in which the crisis is driving new types of great leadership whether it’s at the micro level with the coaching and the stuff that we were talking about, or it’s at a more macro strategic level when you’re seeing people who have the foresight not just to react but to reimagine in parallel. And I think we can talk lots more about things as the crisis is accelerating in terms of transformation, ways of working.

Well, same healthcare system but another discussion with the HR chief of staff. Before this broke, this is a 70,000-employee healthcare system. They systematically discouraged work from home, systematically, because they had a culture that basically had a belief in it that, “If I couldn’t see you in the office, you weren’t working.” And, all of a sudden, they’ve got a quarter of their workforce working from home 100% of the time. That’s accelerated the way they will work in the future by five years, more. They’re already putting in place new policies, they’re rethinking their real estate needs for the future.

And, again, it’s just part of that foresight, that reimagine and don’t just react piece that I just think is really so fascinating. But we’re seeing lots of examples of things where something that could’ve taken five years or more and a half is happening in the space of months if you’ve got leadership that is willing to kind of embrace it. Not just react but engage in that reimagination and actually devote some energy to it.

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

Michael Watkins
Maybe not a quote but I have a mantra, so maybe that’s a little bit in the same ballpark as a quote. “Every day is a new adventure.” And that adventure can be a great adventure, a fun adventure, or it can really be a hard thing you go through. But, in these days, you’ve got to expect change. You’ve got to expect challenge. You’ve got to expect that you need to be resilient against those things and, indeed, embrace them to a degree.

And then the quote that I’m thinking about, I guess, goes back to the discussions we had about the first 90 days and leadership transitions in the last session we did, the work I do there, which is, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Pete Mockaitis
I believe you shared that on episode 29.

Michael Watkins
Yeah, exactly. That’ll take us back. It’s a little bit of a time warp for you.

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

Michael Watkins
So, I was trained at Harvard Business School originally many, many years ago. And as part of the doctoral training that we went through, we studied classic studies of human behavior, and there was something called the Hawthorne experiments. Basically, they were early studies that were done on productivity where they basically took a factory and they tried different things to see if they could make people more productive. And they’ve crunched the data, and in the end, what do you think they discover?

Pete Mockaitis
I think, as I recall from the Hawthorne experiments is they tried to change something, like the light, it’s like, “Hey, it’s better.” And it’s like, “Oh, wait, maybe it’s not.” And it’s sort of like I think what they’re finding was people just liked feeling that you were listening and trying things with them.

Michael Watkins
Exactly, Pete. Well, that’s great that you know that. Not many people know about that study.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Michael Watkins
But the bottom line was that it was the simple act of paying attention to people and making them feel like they were part of something, that was what grew performance. It wasn’t the amount of light. So, to me, that was a really seminal kind of insight that came from that particular piece of research.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Watkins
I’m very interested in strategic thinking these days, and so I’m going back to some of the original literature that was done about decision-making and how people actually make decisions as experts.

And so, it’s funny you say this, there’s a book, I’m going to pull it out from under my computer right now, believe it or not. It’s almost like I had a prop ready for this, called Naturalistic Decision-Making. And this is a book that probably no one but me could love but it’s absolutely fascinating. Because if you think about it, it’s really all about what is the foundation of human expertise? What is it that makes us reasoning, thinking, decision-making creatures? And it’s not that we run like computers. It’s that there’s something about the way our brains work that allows us to do that.

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

Michael Watkins
I’ve used mind mapping some and I’ve found that’s a pretty productive way to do things. I’m looking at a tool right now so I’m a little bit advertising it here. I’m in the process of taking my first 90 days program at IMD fully virtual with coaching and a bunch of other stuff. And so, figuring out how to make virtual sessions really interactive and not just the standard one more Zoom call. There’s a tool called MURAL.

It’s a really interesting way to kind of do visualization in real time with different kind of sub-tools associated with it, and I’m going to be experimenting with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool.

Michael Watkins
I just think it’s a really cool thing. I don’t know about you but I get so tired of Zoom. Like, please, not one more Zoom call. I think there’s real challenges in how you continue to motivate teams when you’re operating in an environment like this. We’re way past finding it interesting to do this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, “Oh, this is interesting. It’s like I can see you. Wow!” We’re over that.

Michael Watkins
Exactly. Like, we’re so past that. And so, how do you continue to sustain energy in situations like that? How do you build teams? It’s not easy to build teams and sustain teams and sustain culture through this. And so, tools like MURAL, I think, are really valuable because they introduce a little bit of a creative dimension as well into what can be a fairly sterile set of interactions.

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

Michael Watkins
So, the easiest way to get to me always is LinkedIn just on my profile Michael Watkins. I manage my own messaging and it’s a great way to do that. Otherwise, I’m a professor at IMD. So, if you go to the IMD Business School website, IMD.org, I’m there. And then Genesis is my consulting company. But, really, if people want to connect with me, LinkedIn is probably the best way to do it.

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

Michael Watkins
Yeah, I think, to me, this is so much about what are learning about ourselves through the process of living through these times. What is it that we’re really truly learning about ourselves? What actually are we going to do differently when we come out the other side? I’m not, as you know, a pessimist exactly, Pete, but people talk a lot about the new normal at the end of this. I think it’s possible there won’t be a new normal at the end of this, that the world could be a much more challenging place for a long period of time as we continue beyond this. And so, to me, developing the resiliency to manage what is to come is maybe the biggest challenge we’re going to face.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Michael…

Michael Watkins
Sorry to end with this note. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate your candor.

Michael Watkins
Like, “Oh, right, Michael. A real downer for the end.” But I actually think it’s exciting. I think it’s exciting to think about how we adapt, how we truly adapt, and what we truly learn from all this.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Michael, it’s been fascinating hearing your latest insights. Please keep up the great work.

Michael Watkins
All right. Thanks. Great to see you again, Pete. Thanks for having me back.