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705: Helping Others Change in Four Steps with Peter Bregman and Howie Jacobson

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Peter Bregman and Howie Jacobson break down their simple four-step process for encouraging others to change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical question that opens others to change
  2. The best thing to do when a person doesn’t want to change
  3. The perils of giving positive feedback

About Peter & Howie

Peter Bregman is the CEO of Bregman Partners. He coaches, writes, teaches, and speaks, mostly about leadership and about life. His sweet spot is as a strategic thought partner to successful people who care about being exceptional leaders and stellar human beings. Peter is recognized as the #1 executive coach in the world by Leading Global Coaches, the bestselling author of five books, and host of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. His works frequently appear in Harvard Business ReviewBusinessWeekFast CompanyPsychology TodayForbesCNN, and NPR.

Howie Jacobson, PhD, is an executive coach to clients ranging from startup founders to established and rising Fortune 100 leaders. He is director of coaching at Bregman Partners and head coach at the Healthy Minds Initiative, as well as host of the Plant Yourself Podcast. He’s written a bunch of books, and his mission includes helping kind and generous people grow their capability and scale their influence.

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Peter Bregman & Howie Jacobson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Peter and Howie, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Peter Bregman
Thanks so much. It’s great to be here.

Howie Jacobson
Ditto. Ditto.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to learn that it is, in fact, possible to change other people. Tell us, how did you reach this discovery?

Peter Bregman
It’s a truism, right? You hear it all the time, “You can’t change other people.” And, actually, one of the things that occurred to me is that every time someone says to you, “Hey, you can’t change other people. You can only change yourself,” they’re actually trying to change you. They’re almost always saying that because they’re trying to change something that you’re doing.

And both Howie and I, we change people for a living. That’s what we do when we’re coaching people. We’re helping them to make changes that they, otherwise, find difficult to make in their lives, and we’re making a difference. And so, Howie and I were just in a number of conversations, and thought to ourselves, “You know, let’s actually talk about this more widely, and let’s give people the tools to do it in a way that actually works.” Because it’s not that people don’t try to change each other, it’s just that they do it so poorly, and that there’s actual ways of doing it that work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then so what is sort of the big idea or core thesis associated with the book You Can Change Other People: The Four Steps to Help Your Colleagues, Employees– Even Family– Up Their Game? I guess one is that, first, it’s possible, but, fundamentally, how does it happen? Or, what are the missing ingredients that folks are overlooking?

Howie Jacobson
Yeah, so one of the key points is that when we approach people to change them, we often are upset, we’re judgmental, we’re critical, we know better than they do, and that approach actually creates tremendous resistance. And so, I’d say the key point of the book is instead of approaching people as a critic, approach them as an ally.

So, that’s actually the first step of the four-step process. When we approach someone as an ally, as we want the best for them, instead of coming across as we know better, their defenses don’t come up, and very often the changes that we’re hoping they make are changes that they would like to make themselves. So, what we’re doing, first and foremost, is not creating or fomenting or exaggerating their resistance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, could you give us some examples of how we can make that shift? Like, I guess the end destination is the same. We still want to get to the same place. But it’s sort of the stance, the posture, the vibe that we have with the other person. Can you sort of share some contrasts, like, “Hey, saying something like this is critic territory versus saying it like that is ally territory”?

Peter Bregman
Yeah, I think that the first step is even before that, in a way, which is to say, “How are you thinking about this? How are you approaching it?” Because, like Howie just said, almost always we’re annoyed. Like, the point at which we want to start changing people or helping people change is from a place of frustration and annoyance.

And so, the first step almost is, “How are you talking to yourself? How are you showing up in this dynamic and in this situation?” And if you’re saying, “That person is so annoying, and it’s so frustrating.” And in that frustration, finding the care behind it, underneath it, meaning that anytime you’re frustrated or angry about something, it’s because you care about something. There’s something you care about.

And, in some ways, that first step is to speak to yourself in a way that says, “I care about this person,” or, “I care about the outcome that we’re both trying to achieve, and I care enough to want to put some energy and effort into kind of helping it move in a certain direction, or helping them move in a certain direction.” And that’s really a first step.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. So, you spoke also about the idea of, like, we’re trying to get to the same place. Maybe not, though. Because when we’re focused on, “Okay, I want my spouse to eat better,” and we’re going to do things that are going to try to lead them there, as opposed to what we really want to do is to ignite in them the qualities that allow them to change themselves for the better.

So, one of those, for example, is ownership. So, the more we’re pushing for it, the less space they have to say, “Yeah, this is something I want for myself.” We want them to have independent capability so that they have to develop it over time and be able to do what it is they have to do in various situations of increasing challenge.

So, if we’re really focused on enabling them with these and a couple of other qualities, then we’re going to go about it very differently. So, instead of saying, “Here’s what you should do,” and just go out and giving advice, we’re going to be very curious, like, “Hey, tell me about the situation. Tell me about the challenges you’re facing with eating healthy. Tell me what bothers you about your body right now that relates to food.”

Very often when we get people talking, they solve their own problems. And when we create the space for them to not feel judged, they can open up and become very creative.

Peter Bregman
And, Pete, I’ll just throw out one other thing, which is initiating that conversation is really important. And instead of just offering advice or criticism, or using the example that Howie gave, instead of just sort of saying, “Hey, I noticed you took that third cookie. Is that really the best decision given that you’re trying to lose weight?” to actually ask permission to engage in the conversation, to say, “Hey, that’s the third comment you’ve made about how you can’t stop eating. And I just noticed it, and I’m wondering, do you want to think this through together?” And they might say, “No, I’m not interested in thinking it through together,” in which case, you don’t have the opening to engage in the conversation and support them and help them change.

But, oftentimes, if you’re raising it in a way that’s uncritical, and then you’re able to say, “Hey, this thing that you’re struggling with, do you want to think it through together? I have some thoughts. But do you want to think it through together?” Their likelihood of saying, “Well, yeah, I’m happy to talk with you about it” increases their ownership in having the conversation and being part of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. And then, let’s see, so we’re shifting from the critic to ally. And then, can you walk us through? You got four key steps, that’s the first one. Can you give us the overview and sort of dig into each of them a bit?

Howie Jacobson
Sure. So, the second step is once they’ve said, “Yeah, I’d love some help thinking this through,” is that’s the point in which we all just want to give them advice, like, “They have said yes. Great. Now, let me tell you all the things I know.” And instead of that, our approach is to immediately ask about an energizing outcome, an outcome that they want, because we’re still going to get into all the nitty-gritty and all the good, bad, and the ugly of the situation, but we want to frame it in terms of, “What do you want?”

Because when people are in problem mode, when they’re struggling, their brains, our brains, when we’re struggling tend to be very defensive. So, we’re looking at threat, we’re trying to avoid threat, as opposed to when we are looking for good things, looking for food, looking for opportunities, looking for mates, this is like evolutionary, biology, psychology 101, when we’re in opportunity mode, we see much more broadly, and we can act on opportunities, that when we’re in defensive mode, we don’t even see.

So, by immediately getting them to shift their thinking towards, “What do I really want here?” not “What am I trying to get away from?” we can open up a huge internal reservoir of creativity and optimism. So, that’s step two.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Peter Bregman
Yeah, and I can jump in with step three. So, step three is the opportunity. So, in some ways, we’re starting the conversation by getting permission and really focusing on being their ally, then we’re identifying what is the outcome that they want. And then the third is, in this problem, there’s an opportunity. I don’t know what it is yet, they might not know what it is yet, but there’s an opportunity. And how do we find out what’s good about the problem that can guide us to finding an opportunity that doesn’t just solve the problem but makes us better off than we were before the problem?

So, if the problem brings us to a negative, and solving the problem brings us to zero, we’re going for positive, we’re saying, “How do you find an opportunity?” And I’ll give you an example of that, which is it’s actually an example I was thinking about today.

But I eat too much sugar, and so the problem is I eat too much sugar, I want to start eating less sugar. And one way of handling it, the issue is to just sort of say, “Okay, how do I stop eating sugar? Like, if I stopped eating sugar, then that would solve my problem.” But if you really ask questions, and when Howie uses this process with me, and Howie asks me a bunch of questions, one of the questions is, “What’s good about the sugar habit? Like, you have a sugar habit. What’s it doing for you? How is it helping you?” And I realized how it’s helping me is I’m way overtired, like, I’m working way too hard. I’m doing too much, and sugar keeps me going.

And so, maybe the problem I’m trying to solve isn’t, “How do I stop myself from eating sugar?” but the sugar problem is identifying an opportunity that I could use more rest in my life, like there’s a larger problem and a larger opportunity that the sugar habit is pointing to. And once I understand that, I can begin to solve for the opportunity of getting rest in my life. And by doing that, not only do I solve my sugar problem, but I solve a whole bunch of other problems that go along with my sugar problem.

So, that’s just one example of what is the opportunity that’s hidden in the problem. And then the fourth step is a plan, and it’s getting very, very specific, “What am I going to do? By when? How am I going to do it? How will I measure my success? How will I know that I have succeeded or haven’t succeeded? And how do I learn from the experiment that I’m going to be doing on sort of addressing this or finding this opportunity to achieve the outcome?”

So, if you think of the four steps, you’ve got being an ally and really being supportive and getting permission, identifying an outcome, finding the opportunity to achieve that outcome, and then identifying a path forward and ways of holding myself accountable in order to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, could you give us a couple examples of folks successfully changing other people, and then kind of walk through these four steps?

Peter Bregman
Sure. So, I’ll give you an example that we talked about in the book, and it’s an actual example. It’s a guy named Brian Gaffney who is CEO of Allianz Global Distributors, and he walked into an organization that was losing $30 million a year. And it had a leadership team in there, and he came in and he basically used this process, he used the process, in order to, with the same team he was working with beforehand, he came in and he turned the company around to a gain of $140 million. And there were all sorts of problems on the team. There were people who were like really salespeople who were smart but kind of sloppy and turning off other people, there were like all sorts of different people had different problems or challenges on the team.

And the first thing that he did was he would go in and, basically, identified where there was a larger opportunity, basically saying, “Look, we’re losing $30 million. That is not our intention. We cannot sustain ourselves as a business if we continue to lose $30 million,” and talking to the team, in general, to be able to say, “Are you willing to think with me about ways that you can change that will help turn around this company, and, also, to learn how to have these conversations with the people who report to you? Like, are you willing to do that?”

“Because if you’re not willing to do that, we’re going to continue to lose $30 million, and that’s not going to help any of our bonuses. So, there’s certainly motivation to do it. That said, I still need to know that you’re willing to do it because I could tell you plenty of examples where people are losing $30 million and the company goes bankrupt because they don’t make changes in the team.”

So, to a T, everybody said, “Yeah,” but that doesn’t mean that they know what to do and how to change. So, now, Brian is in this role where he has to help all of the leaders in the organization make certain changes. So, step one is he’s got their permission. Step two is identifying the outcome, and, organizationally, there’s a big outcome. The outcome is to become profitable, that’s organizationally. But individually, the outcome is going to be different for each person because each person is struggling in a different kind of way. So, it’s having a very specific conversation with each person, and saying, “What is the outcome that you’re going for?”

And I think one of Brian’s great successes is he didn’t leave it at a mild outcome. He kept raising the bar and encouraging people to raise the bar so, for example, in the example I gave beforehand, which is someone who was sort of smart but, literally, sloppy, they showed up in a sloppy way, they presented poorly. That person says, “Okay, I want to not be sloppy.” “Well, that’s solving the problem. But what’s going on, like what’s the real outcome you want? The real outcome you want is to have an incredibly impactful presence when you’re in a room with a number of people so that you move the room. That’s the goal. Yes, not being sloppy is part of it but that’s not the goal. The goal is to have the kind of presence that moves the room.”

Great. So, now, let’s look at where are the opportunities to help you grow that capability, and it has to do with feedback from other people, it has to do with engaging people in a different kind of way, and then they can work through and work through, “How do we explore and identify the sloppiness in dress, and sloppiness in style, and sloppiness in approach becomes this trigger that says, ‘Okay, so what do I have to do to have the kind of impact that moves a room?’”

And, yes, the person ends up cleaning up how they present but they also begin to think about their audience, they begin to think about, “Who are these people I’m presenting to? And what is it that they need? Not just what do they need to see in me, but what are they longing for?” Like, the whole mentality of this person started changing to go from living in their own kind of world of brilliance to thinking about their audience. And their opportunity was to think through, “How do I serve the need of the clients that I’m trying to serve?”

And then it was being very, very accountable about saying, “What are the challenges that we’re facing? And what are the opportunities that we have and specific milestones and benchmarks for making the kinds of sales that we want to make?” But it’s all based in the outcome of having an impact on your clients in a certain kind of way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. Well, so digging into each of these in some depth, I’m curious, when it comes to getting the permission, in your experience, how often do people say yes? And what do you do if they say no?

Howie Jacobson
Well, one of the things you have to do is you don’t ask a question you’re not willing to hear any answer to. So, if you’re not willing to hear, “No, I don’t want to work with you,” then don’t ask the question because then you’re just trying to force an outcome in which we saw that any kind of forcing on our part makes it less likely. So, we’re really talking about best odds rather than some sort of Svengali Mesmer technique that’s going to be manipulative and gets them exactly where we want them to go.

So, the first is be willing to have people say, “No, I don’t want to engage.” Saying the best way to increase the odds is for someone to feel like you have their best interest at heart. And so, one of the things as coaches, we learn, is that our first thought about what someone needs is almost, always invariably wrong. Like, someone will talk to me, and I’ll go, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen this before. I know exactly what’s going on here. I’ve solved this a hundred times. I’m just going to keep my mouth shut so I’ll be a good coach but I really know the answer, and I’m going to get them there.”

And three minutes later, I’m like, “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t open my mouth because I had no idea, neither did they, but the space of exploration opened it up.” So, to be willing to say, like, “I want the best for you. I want you to have ownership of your life. I want you to have independent capability to chase the things, the outcomes that you want and achieve them. I want you to have the emotional courage to make tough decisions and stick by them when the going gets rough. And I want you to be able to do all that well into the future when we don’t know what the future might hold.”

So, if I’m trying to get someone to eat a certain way, or to start exercising, or to stop interrupting in a meeting, it’s my agenda. But one of the things the book really believes in is we basically trust other human beings to know what’s best for them, and then if we open up the space for them to take ownership over their lives and to achieve the outcomes they want, that that’s probably good for everyone.

Peter Bregman
A hundred percent, and I’m thinking about something as you’re saying this. And, Pete, your question is a great question because there is some magic in asking permission not just for the person who gets to say yes or no, but for you. Because if I’m frustrated with your behavior, and it’s just sitting in my mind and I’m annoyed and I’m frustrated, and I don’t ask permission and I just start giving you advice, and you get pissed off and you don’t accept my advice or you tell me to mind my own business, I leave both more pissed off, you leave pissed off, we’ve hurt our relationship.

But if I ask you, “Hey, look, I’ve noticed this thing, and are you open to thinking about it with me? Or, do you want some of my help?” If you say no, for me, it separates me from an obligation to impact you. Like, you’ve said, “I don’t want your help.” Now, I know, I understand the dynamic now. Now, I might be frustrated by that but I’m probably not going to keep trying to change you.

Now, there are sometimes when you have positional power. If you’re a boss, and you say, “Hey, if you want my help in thinking through how to be more effective in a meeting,” and the person says no, but they still do poorly in a meeting, ultimately, there’s going to be consequences. That’s just the reality of a corporate organizational life, which is, “If I have positional power over you, and you’re my employee and you’re not performing, there’s going to be consequences to that non-performance.”

But if I offered help and you say no, you are now really accountable for your behavior, and I am now really not accountable for your behavior, and it creates a lot of clarity of who’s responsible for what, which keeps things very, very clean. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah, and another thing is when somebody says no, and you accept that with grace, you might be confounding them a little bit. Like, if you’ve been trying to change them for years, and they say, “No, I’m not interested,” and you give up, you say, “Okay, cool.” They’re like, “Huh, did they just do that? That’s different.” And you could play the long game, and, at some point, they might start trusting that you’re not trying to force them to change. So, the very act of saying no can open the path for a later yes.

Peter Bregman
I’ll give you a very precise example, which is what happens with my daughter. Like, I would give my daughter all sorts of advice, and I was sort of giving the cookie example, and I’ve talked a lot about sugar, so now you know what my habits are. But she had eaten a whole bunch of cookies, and she was complaining about it, and I said, “Do you want my help?” And she said, “No, no, I’m good,” and I said, “Okay,” and I didn’t mention it again.

And then she comes back, and she goes, “Hey, but I would like to talk to you about it now.” I’m like, “Okay. Well, that’s great. I’m happy to talk to you about it now.” But it was her choice, like it wasn’t dad forcing something on her. It was her saying, “Hey, maybe dad can help here.” And that’s really powerful. Now, I’m responding to her requests as opposed to being a naggy dad.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. So, then we talked about the permission piece of things. And then I’d love it when we talk about, could you just layer on the examples associated with the energizing outcome? Because I hear you in terms of, “Hey, stop being sloppy” is not nearly as energizing as “Have a commanding presence in a room,” like, “Ooh, yeah, I like that.” So, could you give us a few more examples rapid fire so we can go, “Oh, okay, I see the difference between a not-so energizing versus a quite so energizing outcome”?

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. So, a friend of mine had lost like almost 200 pounds, and he started running marathons, and he contacted me because he was starting to gain weight back, not significant but five or ten pounds, and his whole thing was like, “I don’t want to be fat again. I’m not going back there and I’m scared because I’m starting to let things into my diet a little bit.” And we had a conversation, and the reason he wants to keep the weight off is he wants to be a better runner.

And so, his energizing outcome was, “I’m an athlete.” He’d never been an athlete, he never played sports in school, but now in his late 40s, he started seeing himself as an athlete, and so that was an energizing outcome. And to be an athlete, he was going to eat and move and live his life in such a way that he wasn’t going to be gaining that weight back, but it wasn’t about his relationship with the scale, trying to go two pounds up, two pounds down, which was, for anyone, can be a very annoying demanding relationship with very little benefit. But becoming an athlete, and seeing his identity as someone, something he never thought he could be, that really excited him and it made it much easier for him to do all those same actions.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Let’s hear another.

Peter Bregman
I’ll give you one that is a little bit of a complicated process but is really, really powerful, which is a guy that I was coaching, who was very, very frustrated with the way his boss’ boss was acting. His boss’ boss was getting aggressive and promised things that he felt like, “It wasn’t really something that we’d be able to deliver,” and it was like a difficult situation.

And so, he came in, and the problem was, “I’ve got this boss’ boss who’s getting in my way, and I would really like him to just go away. Like, how do I get out from under this?” And as we thought about, “What is the outcome that you really want?” and this will drive into the next step, too, which is opportunity, but, “What is the outcome you really want?”

It’s got nothing to do with the boss, “The outcome I want is to be a powerful actor in my own world and to be able to make the changes and the moves, organizationally, that I think are going to be most effective for the organization, and do it with integrity. Like, that’s the outcome I want. Like, I want power. I don’t want to be hamstrung by this manager,” the manager’s manager, in a sense, “And I don’t want to feel like my integrity is in question but I really want the freedom to deliver for my customers the way I want to deliver for my customers.”

Okay, great. So, now, it’s not about the manager’s manager anymore. Now, that problem still exists and we’re not going to ignore it, but, “The outcome is how I want to show up in the business, how I want to show up as a leader, how I want to show up as a contributor in the business.” And that’s an outcome that’s exciting, like, “Well, I’m going to have some power in how I show up. I’m excited about that.”

So, I can give you other outcomes, but do you want me to jump into the opportunity here, like where the opportunity falls in? Because, to me, I found this to be a fascinating one. It turns out that the same characteristics of that boss’ boss who was aggressive, and out there, and shooting from the hip, and willing to make promises, that there were things about those behaviors that were potentially very, very damaging, and there are ways in which this person that I was coaching was so far removed from those kinds of behaviors that he wasn’t able to have an impact.

Meaning, he wasn’t making commitments until he was a million percent sure that these were the right commitments to make, that he was afraid of being too aggressive, that these attributes that he saw as so negative in his manager’s manager were attributes that he was missing in his own life, and was making it harder for him to show up.

So, now, it turns out that this problem that he was trying to solve turns out to be a key element to how he’s going to achieve his outcome, which is, “I don’t have to get rid of my manager’s manager or avoid him or try to work around him. I actually have something to learn from him. And it doesn’t mean that I’m going to lose my integrity, and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to agree with everything he says, but there’s something about his behavior that I find alienating that can really help me to be successful. And because I find it alienating, I’m staying as far away from him as I can, and it’s limiting my own growth.”

“And so, I actually am now going to get into a little bit of a development relationship with him, which now is exciting because this behavior that was so infuriating to me beforehand, and so frustrating and alienating beforehand, I’m realizing, wow, I have an opportunity to learn something from this. And it doesn’t mean I’m going to take on his personality but I’ve got something I can learn here, and that’s kind of exciting when I think about how it might help me to achieve the outcome I want to achieve, which is to have more impact on the business.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And the last step, create the plan, you’ve used the phrase create a level-10 plan. What does that mean? And what makes a plan level 10 versus something lesser?

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. So, level 10 is our way of saying, “I want the person who is going to commit to the plan to say, when I ask, ‘How confident are you that you will try this plan?’ they’ll say, ‘Ten.’” Because, very often, what happens is we can get people to think of wonderful things to do, and, “Oh, that would be great. And, yes, I’m so excited,” and we never ask them, like, “How confident are you?”

So, to go into it, like think about the next time you’re going to have say no to a cookie, Pete, or the next time the guy you were just talking about has to have a development conversation with the manager’s manager, “How confident are you that you’re going to actually do it?” And we then take people to think about what’s that moment, and really like, “Yeah, no, I probably wouldn’t,” or, “That’s a step too hard,” so then we can say, “Okay. Well, let’s think about the rungs of the ladder. Can we do something easier?” Because momentum and motivation come from confidence, and confidence comes from experience.

So, one of the things we’re helping people do, one of the four attributes we’re looking for is this emotional courage. And so, we want people to challenge themselves but we don’t want them to have something that they really don’t think they’re going to do because the best predictor of whether you’re going to do something, aside from whether you want to do it, is whether you think you can. So, that’s why we say level 10, where we want to make sure that we’re offering people a path forward that they are willing to try because they think they can succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
And, zooming out a bit from this, I mean, sort of across the four steps, what are the top things that we shouldn’t do? Any key phrases not to say? I’m already kind of gathering that it’s like, “You always do this. What’s wrong with you? Get your act together.” All those things are probably incompatible with your ethos and model here. But any other choice words or phrases to embrace or avoid?

Peter Bregman
Sure. I think anytime you’re going to give someone advice that’s not requested, and it took me a long time to learn this because people pay me a lot of money to give them advice. Like, I’ve built a really good business on giving people advice. So, when I try to give advice to people, like in my family who are not asking me for advice, I find it’s not appreciated the same way I would expect it and want it to be appreciated. So, anytime, like to really hold off on criticizing people or giving them advice or even suggestions, unless they’re asking for it, is really helpful to do, and that means sort of managing and controlling your own emotions around kind of what you’re seeing and what you want to have happen.

Another thing is, and this sort of seems obvious and yet it’s very hard to hold back, sort of snide passive-aggressive comments, like, those are not very helpful. Or, even little comments, like, “Oh, huh, so you’re eating another cookie?” Like, not helpful. Commenting on your behavior is probably not going to have the impact that you wanted to have. If you comment on someone’s behavior, like giving them a narrative, “Oh, I see you went for seconds,” or, “I noticed, oh, you’re talking again in the meeting. Another comment from John.” Those things lead to shame, and shame is an inhibitor of change.

So, if I feel shame about something, it’s counterintuitive. If I feel shame about something, I’m probably going to deny that I’m doing it and I’m going to end up keep doing it because we will do almost anything not to feel shame. And so much of the way we try to change people, often elicits shame. And so, any kind of comment that is offered without permission, I would say don’t share.

Howie Jacobson
And there’s a flipside to that, which is we think so we’re not going to say negative derogatory things, that we want to say positive upbeat complimentary things, and that can be dangerous. If someone comes up, we’re working on the plan part, and we’re helping them identify options for what they could do, and they say one and it’s the one we’re thinking of, we could say, “Oh, that’s great. That’s terrific.” We’ve just shut them down, they’re not going to think of other ones because now they’re afraid, “Well, if I say another one, then he might not like it as much.”

So, we want to make sure it’s not our agenda that’s driving it, and we want to appreciate their willingness, their courage, their willingness to be in the process with us, but we want to not evaluate. And the flipside of a negative evaluation is a positive evaluation which still puts us in charge.

Peter Bregman
And to your question, Pete, about let’s keep it really simple, what do you say or you don’t say. That’s where the four steps come in. It’s like it’s actually very simple. Ask permission,  , like, “Hey, do you want to talk about this? Or, can we talk about this?” If they say no, it’s a non-starter. If they say, “Yeah, I’d love to,” then the only thing you’re saying is, “What’s the outcome you want here? What are you going for? What are you looking for? What, ideally, would you want as an outcome?”

And then you’re just engaging in a conversation about how they might be able to get there. We make things more complicated than it needs to be in many ways, and it’s very simple. Ask permission. Identify where you’re headed, what the outcome is. And then brainstorm ways of getting there and opportunities that your problem might be offering you.

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

Peter Bregman
I think the only thing I would want to mention is that this is…I think changing other people gets a bad rap. As soon as you say, “You can change other people,” you’re seen as possibly as manipulative or like you’re controlling, and I honestly feel like changing other people, helping them make the kinds of changes that they struggle with and are unable to make on their own, is the most gracious, kind, caring, loving thing that we can do.

And the reason Howie and I wrote this book is because to give people the skill, the capability to skillfully help others make changes that they struggle with in their life. The world is a better place if we’re able to do that with each other. So, I just wanted to kind of share that.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. And we talk a lot about the litmus test of whether you were successful is whether the person thanks you afterwards, like they’re really grateful for the conversation. It’s the opposite of half nelson-ing them into compliance.

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

Peter Bregman
One of my favorite quotes of all time is Frederick Buechner, the theologian, who wrote, “Your vocation in life,” or the work that you should do, your calling, “is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” Like, find that intersection of your greatest joy meeting the world’s greatest need, and spend your time there. I love that quote.

Howie Jacobson
One that’s come to recently is very much related to the book is a Joseph Campbell quote, he says, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” So, all the places that I say, I wake up and I say, “Ah, I wish this wasn’t happening,” to look at it again and say, “What can I make of this? How is this an opportunity for me to become a better person?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Peter Bregman
I’m going to be a little disappointing here but almost all of…I mean, I read a ton of books for my podcast, but my favorite books, or I make a habit of reading what my children are reading, and my children are really into like YA fantasy fiction, and the Crooked Kingdom is the last thing that I read. My kids often will tell me, “There’s a lot of leadership in these books. You should have the authors of these YA fiction fantasy books on your podcast.” And I’m like, “Yeah, maybe I’ll do that someday.”

But I love reading what my kids are reading.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Howie Jacobson
And, for me, the book that’s had the biggest impact on me over the past couple of years is Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta, and the subtitle is “How Indigenous Wisdom Can Save the World.” And it’s an indigenous Australian philosopher and craftsman talking about Western civilization from his perspective and how it’s unsustainable and the lessons we need to learn. And it’s a very beautifully insidious book. It got inside my head, and I’m now seeing all of our problems from this other perspective. So, I found it very helpful.

Peter Bregman
Howie, you are so much more profound and sophisticated than I am.

Howie Jacobson
I wish I had known what you were going to say. I didn’t have to go that high to beat it.

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

Peter Bregman
Honestly, like I got to tell you, the tool is my phone but I use it in a very, very different way than 90% of the people, which is I actually use it to make phone calls. Like, I love, I just pick up the phone and I call my clients and we’re in this brief conversation, even if it’s a 10-minute conversation, and I just…I really love the phone for the use that I grew up, knowing what it’s for and having real conversations.

Howie Jacobson
My tool right now is my adjustable height desk.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Howie Jacobson
I do different things at different heights, I found. Like, I write at one height, I podcast to the second height, I do admit in the third height.

Pete Mockaitis
Those are fun for sure. Well, do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Peter Bregman
My final call to action would be to, and do it now as you’re listening to this podcast, think of one person in your life who could really benefit from your support, like one person, and start to try to use this stuff. Take that first step and ask permission if you can have the conversation with them because you will be awesome in your job if you help the people around you be awesome at their jobs. And so often, we think we’re struggling to be awesome at our jobs despite the people around us. And I think we would be far more awesome in our jobs if we can help all of them be more successful, we’ll be more successful as a result.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah, I want to leave that right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, Howie, Peter, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of success and positive vibes as you’re changing other people.

Howie Jacobson
Thank you.

Peter Bregman
Thank you, Pete. Such a pleasure being on with you.

643: The Overlooked Fundamentals of Inspiring and Managing Teams with 15Five’s Shane Metcalf

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Shane Metcalf reveals his top research-based do’s and don’ts for being a great manager.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one meeting a manager should always make
  2. The teambuilding technique for great teams from the get-go
  3. How and why to keep an employee dossier 

About Shane

Shane Metcalf is a keynote speaker on building a world class workplace and one of the world’s leading pioneers in the space of cultural engineering and positive psychology. His insights have been featured in Inc, Fast Company, Business Insider, Washington Post, Tech Crunch, and Bloomberg. 

As the Co-founder of 15Five, Shane and his team support HR Executives with data-driven continuous performance management. 15Five has won numerous awards for their company culture, including the prestigious Inc Best Workplaces award, and is ranked #3 in the U.S. on GlassDoor. 

Follow Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn, and listen to him co-host the Best-Self Management Podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Shane Metcalf Interview Transcript

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

Shane Metcalf
Pete, it’s good to be here and I’m hoping that I’m qualified. I’m, like, asking myself, “Am I being awesome at my job today?” And, you know what, I think I am actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the website says you’re a visionary, so.

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hey, man.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a lot to live up to.

Shane Metcalf
That’s all, you know, websites are amazing. It’s like, “Shane Metcalf. Visionary.” Yeah, one of the many illusions of the digital world, that I’m a visionary.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, I don’t think you envisioned getting a job after spilling orange juice on a customer but you’ve got a fun story there. I’ve got to hear it.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, I was, God, I was probably about 19, 18 or 19 and I was working in a restaurant called The Western Sky Café in the town where I grew up called Taos, New Mexico. And I’ve been in the restaurant industry for four or five years or something, kind of worked my way through high school. And one day I was waiting, I was serving tables, and I go to deliver a glass of orange juice to this gentleman wearing a white shirt. And, lo and behold, something happens and I spilled the glass of orange juice all over this poor gentleman. And he’s pretty gracious, and I made the most of it and I handled it however I do.

And then about 20 minutes later, somebody comes up to me and approaches me, and he’s actually the guy who was washing the windows. We’d hired a professional window washer to wash the windows of our restaurant. And he comes up to me and he says, “I was so impressed by how you handled spilling that glass of orange juice on that poor dude. I’m wondering, do you want a job? Do you want a different job?” and he offered me a job to join his window-washing company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And so, I still don’t really understand what I did that was so impressive other than like being apologetic and probably comping his meal and not being an a-hole after spilling orange juice on him, but, yes, so it got me a job. I think the lesson there is that we never see the big picture. We don’t understand how things that seem catastrophic and bad news are actually the drivers of creative evolution.

And zooming out a little bit, I mean, this is a very small example of that, but one of my favorite quotes is from this cosmologist named Brian Swimme, and he said that the driver of life’s creative evolution…” remember, this is a cosmologist so he’s thinking on this massive time scales, “…is always bad news, breakdowns, and chaos.” It was the extinction of the dinosaurs that paved the way for small mammals to proliferate and become humans. It’s just part of the recipe of evolution is that the things that look horrible are actually moving the storyline forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, I could chew on that for a good while. And so, you move the storyline forward in terms of the experience of work and management and culture at your client organizations. Your company is called 15Five. First of all, what is that and what do you do?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. So, 15Five, we are a people and performance platform. And so, what does that mean? So, we build software education and services that helps to create highly-engaged and high-performing teams by helping people become their best selves. We believe that human development, like careers, are an opportunity for incubating human potential.

So, if we stop looking at our company as, “Hey, I’m going to hire a bunch of human resources to then kind of extract value from them and generate profit and then kind of throw out the used resources.” If we stop thinking of our people like that and actually looking at them as potential to be unlocked, we think that’s really where the best performance, the most creativity, the most engagement, the most retention, and, ultimately, the most rewarding experience we can create for not only our people but also for ourselves.

So, our software does everything from performance reviews and engagement surveys, to more manager-focused tools like check-ins, one-on-ones, peer recognition, real-time feedback. Creating more of these opportunities to communicate and have the right and most important high-leveraged conversations to improve everything inside of a company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, if those conversations are high-leverage, it sure sounds like we should be having them. Can you give us a picture for just how high that leverage is? Like, what kind of results or lift or value do you see generated for your clients? Do you have any cool case stories or numbers to share here?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. You can go to our website. We have over 2500 companies using us and there’s a lot of really interesting stories. No two companies are alike and so no two applications are going to be the same. But one of the things that I love hearing one of our customers, I had people like Credit Karma. She says loves 15Five because it instantly gives her X-ray vision into, “Which are the managers that are actually engaging their teams and giving feedback? And which managers are just not doing the basics of what foundational management principles really are actually being kind of required of us as managers, as people leaders, as people that are organizing other humans and helping to untap their creativity in problem-solving and the ability to move the needle forward?”

Pete Mockaitis
So, they can just see straight up, “Are the managers doing it? Are they in the platform having the conversations? Are they not?”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, and what’s the quality of their conversations, what’s the quality of the feedback. Gallup says, I mean, there’s a pretty damning statistic from Gallup. Gallup says only one out of 10 managers should actually be managers.

Pete Mockaitis
Based on their competence.

Shane Metcalf
Based on their competencies

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And competencies, strengths. It’s a bit of black box when you try to figure out, “Well, what are they determining that from?” But, bottom line, managing people is actually a pretty tough job. Giving proper feedback, getting people aligned with their strengths in their right roles is not always a simple thing and it does require a bit of attention and intention.

And so, what we try to do with our software is provide the scaffolding of what great management really looks like and make it easy, automate that. Automate the asking of the right questions on a regular basis. It’s a bit of a reinvention of the annual performance review. It’s slightly more frequent, less of a heavy lift, more future-focused than just looking at the past.

Also, not only tied to comp because there’s a big mistake in only tying performance conversations to compensation conversations because people are just trying to game the system to try to make more money, and they don’t go into the conversations as much around, “How can I actually improve performance? And what are the blind spots? What are the areas for me to improve upon?”

But then you have manager tools like the check-in, and that allows you to automate the asking of questions around, “Where are you stuck? Where do you need help with? What’s an idea you have to improve your role?” And you can front load your one-on-ones with getting this check-in so that you can sit down and actually have a coaching conversation versus a check-in conversation and waste that 30 minutes in person on just during what the latest is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so much of what you’re saying is resonating big. I just want to make sure we’ve got the why nicely installed here. So, have you seen some rocking things in terms of the, I don’t know, Gallup engagement number, or the attrition rate, or sales performance? Or, can you give us a couple hot numbers?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, some of these things are hard to measure an ROI on. And so, the thing that I go back to is retention. We can go into an organization and through increasing recognition, increasing feedback channels, we keep people at companies longer, we keep the right people at companies longer. Engagement, we’re just starting to play in the engagement game, and so what I’m really excited about is, not too far from now, we’ll be able to run the assessment of engagement, get a score, and then, through the deployment of 15Five, of the check-ins and better one-one-ones, see the impact of that.

And it’s so customizable, so depending on what you’re struggling with as a company, you can then custom-tailor the questions to direct those conversations. So, say, you’re struggling with meaning, say, you’re getting low-meaning scores in your engagement surveys. You can then start asking questions and lead the trainings around, “What actually gives you meaning in your role? Where do you find meaning and inspiration inside the company? And maybe you aren’t finding it. Okay, cool. Well, let’s have a conversation around what that actually look like. Are you just separating your job from meaning and inspiration? Or is there an opportunity to merge those two? And, potentially, also, maybe change roles. Start bringing more of your strengths to the table when you’re actually doing that same role.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig into, so we talked about the basic foundational scaffolding management stuff. Like, we had Bruce Tulgan on the show, and we talked about what he called the crisis of undermanagement and it still haunts me to this day, how I’m guilty of some of that, and how insightful it is in terms of, like, yeah, you actually don’t have a clue unless you’re doing some of these very basic stuff on a regular basis.

So, lay it out for us, what are the basic things that managers need to be doing? And what are the basic questions that need to be asked and how often? Like, give us the one-on-one. Like, what should a manager who’s like doing his or her basic job be doing in terms of conversations?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, okay. Well, look, and some of this stuff is so obvious that I like to think that, “Oh, well, everybody is doing…every manager is doing a one-on-one with their people at least twice a month.” And so many times that’s not actually happening. So, let’s just start there. Let’s just start with one-on-ones because one-on-ones are a container to be having a conversation. It doesn’t mean you’re having a really high-quality conversation but that’s the foundation, so regular one-on-ones. And then how do you actually design those one-one-ones?

So, first of all, the one-on-one isn’t for you as a manager. It’s not for you to be holding your people accountable and making sure that they’ve done the tasks of their role. This is actually your employees one-on-one. This is the chance for them to actually have a direct channel to you to talk about the things that are either going well, the things they want, career development conversations, blockers, places they’re stuck in solving a problem.

And so, if you can orient the one-on-one as more of a coaching conversation, and, again, this is really kind of starting to shift out of the mindset as a manager, of a task manager, which is we want to be leaving behind, and more into as a coach, “I’m here to help you get your next job.” That’s how I think managers should be thinking about this, is, “I want to help you be successful so that you can go and get whatever job you want. Once successful, you’re going to get a promotion, you can move careers, you can move industries. And so, that’s part of the context here I have as your manager is to help you get your next job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And I think from an unhealthy perspective, it’s like, “My job as a manager is to keep you in your place so that you don’t try to take my job,” and that’s an unhealthy approach to management.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there we go, some foundational pieces in terms of the right mindset, helping them succeed, and get whatever job they want, as well as having one-on-ones just occurring on a regular basis, at least twice a month, as you say. All right. And then those one-on-ones is not about, “Do this or this or this or this,” not about accountability on the task checklist but rather about serving them and their needs. And then what are some key questions that are important to cover there?

Shane Metcalf
Sure. Okay. So, other pieces of this that I think are going to be useful in terms of, “How do you then actually maximize your one-on-ones?” is, “Are you setting the right goals? Are you helping your people get clear on what they’re trying to accomplish in their role?” Honestly, we actually should go back to the beginning and really go back to role clarity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s do it.

Shane Metcalf
So, kind of surprising but one of the key things to psychological safety that we’ve discovered, not 15Five but Amy Edmondson and all the research being done on psychological safety, is that role clarity is a massive factor of whether people feel safe at work, whether people feel like they actually know what they’re supposed to be working on and what are the expectations, and the actual agreements of what they’re supposed to be doing in their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that resonates.

Shane Metcalf
And very few people have.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like when I don’t know, it’s so like, “What’s important here and what should I be doing? And am I doing it? Am I not doing it? I hope I’m doing it but I can’t be sure.” And, thusly, there’s always a lingering possibility that somebody be like, “Pete, you know what, you’re just not crushing it the way we want you to.” It’s like, “What does crushing really mean in this role, in this organization?” So, role clarity is huge. Most people don’t have it.

Shane Metcalf
And, look, that starts at the beginning. Like, you should be able to take your job description that you’re posting for that job to hire that person. You should be able to. That should be so well thought out and detailed that basically you take that, copy and paste it from the website, and that is that person’s role description. It should actually hold true.

If you want some examples of this, if you go to our careers page at 15five at 15Five.com/careers, you can see what a really well-thought-out job description actually looks like. Because, ultimately, the job description, we call them actual role and performance agreements. It’s the role, this is exactly what we want in this role, and this is exactly the performance expectations. This is what okay looks like, this is what great looks like, and this is what exceptional looks like in this role. So, that right there is something that the manager and the employee should be crystal clear. And it takes a little bit of work upfront but it’s frontloading the work in the beginning to avoid pain down the line.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, give us an example there in terms of on your careers page you’ve done the work of showing them before they even apply for the role, “This is what’s up and what we consider great versus okay on those dimensions.” That’s pretty cool.

Shane Metcalf
So, you have that clarity, and then people are coming into that position with that clarity. And then the beginning of that relationship, your first week with your new manager is super important. Lots of research has shown the first 90 days of somebody’s role experience at a job is going to be kind of a determinant of how long they stay. Onboarding is super important.

And, again, another thing that a lot of companies get wrong about onboarding is they make the onboarding all about the company, “Look at our values, and look at what we’re doing, and this is where we’re going. We’re going to be a rocket ship and we’re going to do all these things. Aren’t you excited to join our club?” That definitely has a place but you want to balance it with a lot of attention on the individual that’s actually joining.

Help them discover new things about themselves. Ask them what their personal values are. Discover what their strengths are. What does success for them look like in this role? Because, then, it’s actually, “Oh, wow, this company is curious about me and they’re helping me learn and grow and evolve on my own path.” And that’s going to win every single time. If you help your people learn, evolve, and grow, walk their own hero’s journey, you’re going to get better performance. They’ll either leave your company sooner if they’re not the right fit or they’re going to stay longer if they are the right fit.

So, in the onboarding process, we do what we call a best-self kickoff. This is generally about a two-hour meeting, and so you get assigned a new employee and it prompts you to do a best-self kickoff, which is going through a set of questions designed to really actually build rapport and have the manager and employee get to know each other.

And, again, it’s about frontloading some of the work here so you can build a better relationship. I mean, business is all relationship. Every single thing we do in business actually is about relationship. All collaboration is relationship. So, if you have more rapport, you can have more truth. If you have more truth, you can be more efficient with how quickly bad news gets communicated, how fast you learn about what’s really going on with your people and what the real problems of your company are.

And so, the best-self kickoff is just a series of questions to go through and understand things like, “How do you like to receive feedback? What’s your preferred method of communicating? Which channels do you like to be on? Should I text you? Should I Slack you? Should I email you? Where are your work boundaries? Do you have obligations at home that really have you not be available at certain hours?”

Those are the kinds of questions that so rarely get answered and agreed upon and established in the beginning of a management relationship, and so without those things, there’s a bunch of expectations which are always going to lead to disappointment and people being, like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe that they didn’t give me a public recognition and just gave me a private high-five.” And maybe they really love public recognition and you would’ve found that out if you’d only done the best-self kickoff.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s so good and I’m reminded of one of our guests, Mary Abbajay, wrote a book about “Managing Up,” and she said exactly this, like, “Here’s something that make all the difference in the world with your manager relationships is to have the conversation about, ‘Hey, what are your expectations and preferences on all these dimensions?’” And so, just get that understanding from each other. And she says that in her experience, like less than 1% of people have had this conversation.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But it makes all the difference in the world in terms of having a great relationship. And so, if you’re not as fortunate to be a 15Five client organization, you can still engage in these conversations and get some of that clarity and expectation setting to proactively diffuse/preempt just a billion kerfuffles and moments of irritation down the road.

Shane Metcalf
Absolutely. And, like, if you can keep kind of an employee dossier where it’s like, “Okay, cool. This person on my team, their family is this. Their strength, their top-five strengths are these. Their preferred method of communication, the way they like to receive appreciation is this way.” You have an incredible resource to have that person feel deeply seen and appreciated.

And that’s how you’re actually going to get the best out of that person. You can give them all the perks and rewards, but if they don’t actually feel seen and appreciated by their manager, it dramatically shortens the life cycle of them at your company as well as it just kind of limits the amount of success and joy they’re going to have in their role at your company.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s hit the dossier and some of the big points. So, top five strengths, I mean, that’s easy to get a StrengthsFinder or whatnot as well as maybe some reflections.

Shane Metcalf
And it is. So, like, the two evidence-based strengths profiles are Gallup and VIA Character Strengths. At least that’s what my head of people science tells me. And the strengths are really interesting because strengths, I like to say the first time I did strengths, I did my top five from Gallup and I got them and I read the thing, and it kind of felt like a bad horoscope. It’s kind of like, “Meh, okay, kind of resonates. Whatever.” It didn’t really make an impact.

It wasn’t until later that I actually worked with a facilitator and a coach on strengths that the lightbulb really went on. And I think most people are in that kind of bad horoscope relationship to strengths. And strength is unbelievably powerful but it takes a little bit of digging. It takes a little bit more contemplation to really unlock them.

And so, I would highly recommend, if you’re a manager, make a study of strengths. Help your people not just take the strengths assessment but then really be in a months-long conversation, and really you should be in conversations about your strengths your entire career because the more you look into it, the more it opens up, and the more you realize, “Wow, okay, I really could develop these strengths into my superpowers as a professional.”

You want to talk about how to be awesome at your job, it’s strengths. Use your strengths. That’s the secret. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a big part of the game is really digging in beyond, “Oh, Activator. Okay,” “Ideation, all right.” It’s like, “No, no, seriously. What are the kinds of places where I’m getting like all these ideas? What’s the kinds of activities I’m doing as I’m getting those…?” To really dig deep such that it’s not just a, “Hey, good for you, Shane. Here’s a star for this strength you’ve got,” but to really zoom in on, “How do I cultivate that into a superpower?” and I guess what I’m finding personally as I do this sort of thing is that a lot of the gain is getting all the stuff that needs doing that are not my strengths done in different ways without me.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s hard. It’s hard to let go of things, whether trusting people, developing processes and systems and talent in others, just like, “This is yours. You own this now. I’m saying goodbye because I’m okay at this and you’re great at it, and it just makes more sense for it to be here,” but it takes a lot of doing to make that handoff.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. And I think as managers, essentially, we’re orchestrators. We are the ones with the greater responsibility to make sure that we’re helping our people actually understand their strengths. And this is kind of a recent revelation that kind of blew my mind is that every strength has a need and a contribution. Like, “What does this strength want to contribute and what is the need of this strength?”

And you can go look up like Gallup strength needs. I think you’ll find a chart on this. But it kind of opened my eyes of like, “Wow, right.” Like, part of what’s so difficult about designing cultures and designing really thriving companies and cultures is that, fundamentally, I think culture is about meeting human needs. And so, we have universal ones around belonging, and connection, and esteem, and growth, and autonomy, and mastery, and all these things. But then there’s the nuance ways that it shows up.

And, okay, Pete, you have a different top five strengths than me, I’m assuming. And maybe we have the exact same ones. It would be interesting to compare but those are all going to have their own unique combination of needs to feel truly fulfilled. And so, designing a culture where you can meet a broader range of human needs is how you win the culture game.

Business, traditionally, was like, “Hey, we only care about you as a professional. You’re a cog in the machine. We don’t even really care about your thoughts about things, let alone your feelings about things.” And, now, we’re just broadening the scope of this. We’re saying, “Actually, we want to support you in having a great life as well as a great career, because we’re in personal development as also professional development. And so, we’re going to support/nourish the whole being, the whole human.”

And I think there’s distinctions there because we’re not actually supporting the whole human. There are parts of us that truly are better off to not be addressing in the professional context. But there’s a much broader range of the whole human that we can address as business leaders than we’ve traditionally been led to believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so I love it, Shane, how you walked us back a little bit and we zoomed out and we say, “Let’s just get the fundamentals in terms of role clarity, understanding expectations associated with the role and how we cared to interact with each other, having that deeper sense of person knowledge that builds out the dossier with the top strengths and such.”

So, then now that we’ve established some of the fundamentals that almost no one establishes, let’s hear about some of these one-on-ones. What are some of the questions and content that we should be covering over and over again?

Shane Metcalf
So, again, it’s not only because it’s part of one of the main products in our platform but because I think it’s actually good practice and the science backs us up on this, is asynchronous check-ins that lead into your one-one-one. And so, what I mean by that is take a few minutes to write down the answers to some basic questions in advance of your one-on-one.

And those, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” there’s a great quote, “A problem well stated is half-solved.” Get your people to state their problems and articulate exactly where they’re stuck, and they’re already half-solved. They’ve already done part of the work.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, this reminds me of just, I don’t know, junior high, high school, maybe middle school, I know, learning ages. Some folks would ask a question of the teacher and it was just, “I don’t get it.” And you can even see the teacher is frustrated, like, “I guess I could repeat what I just said. I mean, I don’t know,” versus, I noticed that the good students would ask the more specific questions, like, “Okay, wait. So, what’s RNA polymerase’s role in this whole DNA process that’s going down here? Because I see what these things did but what’s the RNA polymerase?”

So, yeah, I think that that’s well-said in terms of we have a little bit of precision and clarity and specificity associated with, “This is where I need help. This software platform makes no sense to me and I’ve asked four different people, like, how the heck to do this thing and none of them seem to have a clue. So, I need to know how to do this function in this software platform,” which is way more specific than, like, I don’t know, “Expenses suck,”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, of course, but I also know that we have heard. Anyone who’ve been in business has heard ridiculous complaints that are only complaining and aren’t actually addressing the problem. Instead of saying…and so instead of like getting into your one-on-one, and then the person just bitching about expenses, you’ve already asked the question, “What are you struggling with? Where are you stuck?” and they say, “I’m really struggling with my expense report. I just don’t understand how to classify the lunches that I’m supposed to expense, and it just really confuses me and it just hurts my brain.”

The beautiful thing is that does not belong in a one-on-one. That is something that you can then go and answer ahead of the one-on-one, and say, “Oh, you categorize it as a benefit, a company benefit, category 12.” Boom. Done. Handled. Cleared. And then you can get into the deeper meatier issue of maybe like they also bring up that, and maybe they put this in private comment, “I’m really having a hard time with Sally, and we’re having a lot of conflict, and I’m pulling away on that team.” That’s the kind of meaty stuff that that one-on-one can be of use to coach this person on and to challenge them, and to actually challenge them through the values of the company, to challenge them to lean in and go direct with that person.

So, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” phenomenal question. “What’s going well? What are you proud of? What are you celebrating?” The power of small wins cannot be underestimated. There’s a great book, a woman Teresa Amabile wrote The Progress Principle, and it’s all this research they did on what actually makes the biggest difference in improving somebody’s inner work life. And so, they had a bunch of professionals keep these journals of tracking their inner work life, how actually they were feeling at work.

And the number one determinant they found was an experience of making progress on meaningful work. And one of the easiest hacks that create a sense of progress was they actually record the small wins. And so, those are kind of just preliminary basic questions that you’d be asking ahead of one-on-ones so that you can then go in and actually have that time to get into the heart of what this person really wants.

And sometimes that’s problem-solving with issues at work, and sometimes those are actually career conversations of “What do you really want?” Like, okay, like you’re pretty happy in this role, but you know that sales isn’t actually what you want long term, and you want to start thinking about maybe actually products is calling your name, or maybe customer success is that.

And so, that’s where we get to put on the coach hat and really start thinking about, “How do I help this person get clear about what they want? And then once they know what they want, how do I help them get it?” In my experience, it’s that even when that person…even when that conversation leads to helping that person get clear that they don’t want to work at my company, it’s a good thing because they’re obviously not going to be fully engaged if they don’t want to be there.

And if you help them pursue their career as a DJ and quit, we actually had somebody do that. They were like, “Yeah,” because we hold these annual in-person company retreat, and I had an aspiring DJ and he loved DJ’ing the retreat so much he was really inspired. And through a lot of support from us, actually went to pursue his career to produce electronic music.

And, for me, that’s just the coolest. As an entrepreneur, as a founder, those are the stories that fill me up because when people actually come into alignment with doing what they actually want to be doing in life, that’s how we’re awesome at our job. That’s when we’re not wasting our time doing something we don’t want for a paycheck. It’s like doing a job we don’t like to make money for a house that we don’t ever spend any time in, and that’s just a miserable cycle. And I think we can do better in the business world on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. Well, Shane, we hit some big ideas and I’d love it if maybe you could just give me a couple just like, hey, top do’s and don’ts. You’ve looked at a lot of research, seen a lot of correlations across a lot of things as people are checking in and have the exchanges and answering questions. Can we wrap it, before we hear some about your favorite things, just a couple top do’s and don’ts based on what you’ve learned on management from your unique vantage point?

Shane Metcalf
Do get personal. There’s obviously nuance to this. But care about the whole person. Care about what they really want. Get curious about what they want out of life, what they want to experience, how they want to grow, and what they want to contribute. Go back to those three questions and dig deep and really understand who this person is and what are their intrinsic motivations in life. That’s going to build a better relationship. It’s going to establish more trust. And it’s, ultimately, I think going to produce a more productive working relationship.

Don’t. Don’t neglect your people. Don’t skip your one-on-ones. Don’t always cancel them because something more urgent came up. That’s going to communicate that you don’t care, that that person is not really important, and that you aren’t invested in their growth and development.

Do study strengths. Go deep into StrengthsFinder. Understand your own strengths and be really honest with yourself whether you like managing and whether managing other people is something that you want to do and you’re intrinsically motivated by. Or, is it did you get into management because it was the only way up the career ladder but, really, you’d love to actually still be coding and doing IC work?

That’s a really interesting one because most companies have it setup as a trap. Why do we have so many crappy managers that shouldn’t be managers in the first place? Because it’s the only way to gain social status and make more money. So, as company builders, as HR professionals, we need to design career progression tracks that accommodate for other ways of progressing in the company other than just being a manager.

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

Shane Metcalf
This is a poem by this guy Jed McKenna that wrote books on spiritual awakening. It’s pretty short. It’s called Open Sky.

“If you are not amazed by how naïve you were yesterday, you are standing still. If you’re not terrified of the next step, your eyes are closed. If you’re standing still and your eyes are closed, then you are only dreaming that you are awake. A caged bird and an open sky.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Shane Metcalf
And so, stay on that own bleeding edge of your development, your own evolution. We need to be on a continual journey of examining our own beliefs, reexamining what we hold as true. Adam Grant just came out with a really cool new book called Think Again which is about questioning our underlying assumptions about things and rethinking how we approach the world. And we need to be doing that. The world is changing, our jobs are changing. If we don’t reexamine them, we will be left in the dust.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Shane Metcalf
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Phenomenal book about, “How do we actually create cultures that focus on developing all the humans inside of them rather than just our high potentials?” And that learning and development is something that needs to be baked into our daily process rather than to some retreat or an offsite.

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

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Shane Metcalf
Phenomenal habit. Can’t recommend it enough. Various ways of doing it, everything from an inversion table to like a yoga swing. And so, every morning I do my Morning Pages, I write out three pages, handwritten, of stream of consciousness, and then I hang upside down for five to ten minutes. And then the other one inside of that is Wim Hof breathwork to alkalize the body, oxygenate the whole system. That’s kind of like my trifecta right now is Wim Hof breathwork, Morning Pages, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that connects, resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Shane Metcalf
The journey of helping somebody become their best self is a long-term commitment. It’s not something that just happens once where you have a momentary commitment to somebody. It really is a long-term journey, and we need a long-term commitment.

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

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, so you can sign up for our content at 15Five. You can just go to our blog. I think it’s at 15Five.com/blog. You can find me on LinkedIn, Shane Metcalf. You can also follow our podcast HR Superstars where we’re interviewing kind of the leading experts in HR, people operations, culture, management, leadership. And that is you can find that at HR Superstars if you just search in any of the major platforms.

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

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. Really understand if that’s the job you want. If you fell into your life kind of by accident, and now are just in the habit of inertia, and feel like you can’t actually break out, and that’s a really dangerous place to be. Because if you’re just staying in your job because, “Well, what else would I do? Or, I don’t know how to do anything else,” it probably means you haven’t really examined the rest of the options.

And we’re always free. We can always make new choices even if it means some sacrifices and to kind of shake things up in a pretty radical way, but life is short. Let’s really actually live the life that we want to live and connect with our deeper sense of purpose and passions and be aligned with what we truly are meant to be doing here.

Pete Mockaitis
Shane, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you and 15Five all the best.

Shane Metcalf
Pete, thanks so much for having us.

555: Why We Fail to Empower, Inspire, and Engage: Unmasking the The Advice Trap with Michael Bungay Stanier

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Michael Bungay Stanier explains why we need to stop giving advice and start asking questions instead.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three reasons why advice is overrated
  2. A step-by-step process for breaking your advice-giving habit
  3. How to ask more insightful questions

About Michael:

Michael Bungay Stanier is an author and the founder of Box of Crayons, a company best known for teaching 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. He was named the first Canadian Coach of the Year. He left Australia 25 years ago to be a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

Michael has been featured in several publications such as Business Insider, Forbes, The Globe & Mail, Fast Company, and The Huffington Post. He has held senior positions in the corporate, consultancy, and agency worlds. He has lived and worked in Australia, the UK, the US, and Canada. He currently lives in Toronto.

Items Mentioned in the Show

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Michael Bungay Stanier Interview Transcript

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I know. Thank you for having me back, Pete. It’s really nice to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I was having a lot of fun during chats because you’re not afraid, again, putting the pressure and expectation on, not afraid to get a little silly and neither am I.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I strive to be hilarious yet useful at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a winning combo in my book. So, we’re going to talk about advice. And you’ve got a fun turn of a phrase, the advice monster. Can you tell us what is that? And can you maybe give us a wild example, like if you’ve got one or two, of the advice monster in action?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Oh, the examples are a legion. People are going to know this right away. So, when I wrote the last book, The Coaching Habit, as a throwaway line, I’m like, “You’ve got to learn how to tame your advice monster.” And people have loved that idea, they’re like, “Oh, I know what an advice monster is. I know my advice monster. I have it.” And, in fact, you all do. As soon as somebody starts talking, and even though they’re telling you about a situation you don’t really understand, involving people you haven’t properly met, with a context you don’t know at all, and technical specifications that you don’t get, after about 10 seconds in your brain, you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got some ideas here. Step aside, I’ve got something to say to you.” And that’s our advice monster. We’ve had to train for years, we spend our lifetime nurturing, feeding this insatiable part of ourselves.

And in this new book, The Advice Trap, I’m like, “You know what, the barrier to staying curious turns out not that we don’t know what a good question is, not that we don’t know the value of staying curious and being more coach-like. The barrier to actually making this behavior change is our advice monster. We’ve got to learn to tame our advice monster.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you’ve got examples are legion. But could you give us one or two that made you go, “Wow, that is not what to do textbook”?

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s like, do you want me to just talk about the ones that have happened over the last three hours for me or should I go back to the rest of my life? So, let’s talk about my marriage.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, this is getting good.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I have been happily married for almost 30 years. I met Marcella, my wife, when we were studying at Oxford together. It was one of the two great outcomes for me being a Rhode Scholar. But there’s nothing like a spouse just to drive you nuts. You know, somebody once said, “Your soulmate is the person who pushes all your buttons.” And Marcella does that for me. She has all the right things as well but she also has a way of me going, “Right. If I’m going to give anybody advice, it’s going to be her.”

So, she starts telling me something that she’s up against, and I’m like, “Okay, just stop talking. Just let me tell you what to do.” And if any of your listeners are married, or in a longer-term relationship, or you’ve been in a relationship, or maybe you have kids, or maybe you have parents, you will recognize that need to kind of go, “Okay, with this person I’m close to, or this person that I love, this person I actually like and I want to support, part of what I default to is this, ‘Let me rush in and try and fix it and solve it for you.’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that sort of the impulse, the inclination there, “Let me fix this and solve this for you.” And so, I can see that, hey, that’s not sort of fun on the receiving end frequently. But could you make the fuller case for how that’s really problematic and just what can be at stake if we let our advice monster roam wild?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, advice is overrated for three reasons. The first thing to say, Pete, is, look, don’t think that I’m saying never give advice because that’s obviously ridiculous. I mean, the podcast is actually this moment of advice-giving so it’d be ridiculous to say never give advice. The problem isn’t with advice, the problem is when giving advice becomes your default response, and we have this ingrained way of behavior. And it turns out that advice kind of goes bad in three ways.

So, here are the three ways. Number one, you’re often trying to solve the wrong problem. We get seduced into thinking there’s all the time that we believe that the first challenge that shows up is the real challenge. It almost never is. It’s the best guess, it’s the stab in the dark, it’s an early hypothesis. But almost never is the first challenge the real challenge.

But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that actually you are working on the real problem, the real issue that needs to be fixed. Here’s the second issue with advice, your advice is not nearly as good as you think it is. Now, there’s all these cognitive biases that are wiring us to make us believe that we’re smarter, wiser, more able, more insightful than we actually are, and so often our advice is just our projection around, “This is what I did once or what I thought of once. This should work for you as well.” So, there’s your second issue which is not only is often solving the wrong problem but, secondly, even if you’re solving the right problem, the advice you’re offering up isn’t nearly as good as you think it is.

But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, the knowledge you have the right challenge at hand but you have this awesome piece of advice, I mean, it’s brilliant, it’s gold dust, it’s pearls of wisdom, you’re like, “This is amazing.” The third challenge with advice is, “Is this the right form of leadership? Is this the right way of showing up and supporting the person you’re in conversation with right now?” Because there’s a deep insight to say that the idea, the solution, the advice that a person gives themselves is a much more powerful intervention than the advice that you give them.

Even if their idea isn’t quite as good as your idea, and our cognitive biases will have us believe that that’s almost always the case, but there’s something really powerful as a leader, and by a leader it doesn’t mean that you’re actually literally managing a team or if you just interact with other human beings, if you show up with other people and you help people figure out their own stuff. What you’re doing is you’re empowering them to get smarter, to own the idea, to get the wisdom, rather than having it coming down from you because, honestly, when you have somebody giving you an idea, your natural reaction is just to push back against the idea even if it’s well-meant, as it so often is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the advice monster and what is problematic about just letting it roam. So, your book is called The Advice Trap. Is it fair to say the trap is just that you have a temptation to give advice and then you fall into it and that’s a bad thing? Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, basically, again, advice, fine. The default response to going, “Look, my job here is to give advice.” That’s the advice trap, into seducing to thinking that that’s your role. In fact, it goes a little deeper than that. So, the double-click on this whole advice monster thing, it turns out the advice monster has three different personas, and each one of it kind of feeds a deeper need for us, which makes it hard for us to step into this way of behaving which is around the power of being more curious.

So, I’ll take you through the three advice monster personas because people like this. And for the folks listening in, listen up because you’ll hear the advice monster persona that resonates most for you. So, number one is tell-it, and tell-it has convinced you that the way you add value, in fact, the only way you add value is to have the answers. In fact, you need to have all the answers. In fact, you probably need to have all the answers to all the problems all the time. And if you don’t have all the answers, you fail. So, that’s the first one, that sort of sense of that weight, that obligation of, “I’ve got to know everything. I’ve got to always be providing answers or else I’m not adding value.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s a persona, “My persona is tell-it and I’m telling it.” Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You’ve got it. Number two, save-it. So, save-it, a little more subtle than tell-it which is a noisy one. Save-it, you put a time around you, “Pete, your job is to keep everybody safe at all times. You can’t let anybody stumble, you can’t let them struggle, you can’t let them fail, you can’t make them sweat. Your job is to keep everybody protected, keep everybody safe, keep everybody comfortable. If they struggle, if they stumble, if they fail at all, you fail.” So, that’s that second piece, that kind of that weight of going, “I’ve got to make sure everybody is okay all the time.”

And then the third advice monster, which is the slipperiest, the sneakiest of the three, is control-it. So, control-it has convinced you that your job, the only way you win, is to maintain control, keep control at all times. Don’t give up control. Don’t let others have control because if that happens, you fail. You’ll definitely fail. So, you got those three different advice monsters: the tell-it, the save-it, and the control-it. And each one of them speaks to a deeper need that we hold onto that keeps us stuck in the advice-giving mode because we’re like, “You know what, I feel obliged to have the answer. I feel obliged to save the person. I feel obliged to control the situation.” And when you do that, you don’t let curiosity really blossom.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so, you call these personas because…well, I guess, I think of them as verbs, “So, I want to tell it, I want to save it, I want to control it.” So, it’s a persona in so far as there’s kind of like a personality or a character associated with the kind of person who feels the need to tell it, to save it, to control it?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s a really good question. On the website TheAdviceTrap.com, we’ve actually got a questionnaire which is like 20 questions or so, five minutes to do, and you can follow it through and you’ll actually end up with the advice monster that kind of is your go-to, your default, the one that you’re kind of most familiar with. When I was writing the book, I’m like, “Do we have three advice monsters, and each of them is a different advice monster? Or is it one advice monster but kind of shows up in different ways with different traits depending on who you are and depending on the situation?” In the end, I was like, “No, I think it’s better as a persona. We all have the advice monster. How it shows up, the clothes it wears, the behavior it has, is different for different people.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then let’s see, we’ve got three personas but we’ve all got an advice monster. So, I imagine you probably have some universal solutions and some particular prescriptions, given which persona you fall into. So, yeah, what do we do? So, someone is telling us something, we’ve got that urge, the impulse, to pour forth the advice, so what’s the appropriate response?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, you can guess that the easy solution here is to just stay curious a little bit longer because curiosity is the light that holds back the advice monster. I mean, questions are the kindling of curiosity. So, the easy, fast answer for people is go, “Look, just ask them good questions. Stay curious a little bit longer.” But, Pete, this is actually what took me to writing The Advice Trap because the first book, the one we talked about when we did the previous interview is called The Coaching Habit. Well, The Coaching Habit is like, “Here we go, I’m trying to unweird coaching for you. I’m trying to make curiosity feel like a useful everyday skill. Seven good questions can take you a long way down the path.”

And we’ve had a lot of people go, “These questions are fantastic. I’ve started using them with my spouse, with my kids, with the people I work with, with the team that I lead, and things are getting better.” And I’m like, “I love that.”

There’s also a lot of people out there who go, “You know, Michael, I like your questions, I like your book, I like the podcast you did with Pete, it’s all great, and I’m finding it really hard to change my behavior. I’m finding it really hard to shift from being advice-driven to being curiosity-led.” And so, there’s kind of a deeper piece of work that’s required.

In the book, this is kind of the opening part of the book, I talk about this difference between easy change and hard change. We are all good at easy change, that’s why it’s called easy change. And the metaphor I’d give you is it’s a little bit like downloading an app on your phone, it’s adding a little bit of knowledge to the current version of you. So, easy change, anytime you get a new phone, or walk into a new hotel room, like I’m in at the moment, or show up in a new place, you’re like, “Okay, I’ve just got to figure this stuff out.” And you do. You listen to a podcast, you watch a video, you read a book, you go and talk to a teenager who explains it to you, and you’re like, “Okay, I kind of get it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I go to Amazon.com and buy a little something. Well, this problem’s solved for $15. Thank you. All right.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. So, you kind of figure it out and you start off and you’re a little bit incompetent when you do it the first time, but you quickly get competent, and then you quickly get to a point where you’re like, “Yeah, I’ve got it. I’m fine with it.” So, that’s easy change. No problem with that.

Hard change, obviously, is trickier, harder, slipperier, and we all know this because we’ve all tried to take on something where you’re like, “This should be relatively straightforward,” and for some reason it’s really difficult. For some reason, it just seems to be elusive for you. You keep trying, you keep reading more books, you listen to more podcasts, you watch more videos, you buy some more stuff from Amazon, and it just isn’t enough to help you crack this dilemma, this piece around, “I’m trying to figure out how to do this.”

If you’ve ever had a New Year’s resolution where you’re like, “Okay, I’ve made this resolution for the last seven years, but I’m going to make it again this year because, damn it, I’m actually going to get it sorted out this time around.” Well, this is what hard change is. And if easy change is downloading the app on your phone, hard change is when you realize that an app won’t do it. You need a new operating system. The other way of talking about this, Pete, is like if easy change is about tweaking current you, present you, hard change is a commitment to future you. It’s like, “You know what, to do this, I need to become a bigger, different, better version of myself. So, what needs to change so that I can actually step into that way of doing it?”

And that’s a very long answer around your question around, “Okay, we notice your advice monster, what do you do about that?” Well, for some of us, it’s easy change, which is like just ask some questions, and some of us it’s hard change, which is like, “Oh, you’ve got to learn to tame your advice monster.” And that can be tricky, that can be difficult, and that’s absolutely worth the battle because you get to show up in a whole different way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s going to take some hard change, and it’s not a matter of downloading the app. So, what is it a matter of doing?

Michael Bungay Stanier
So, step number one is going, “Are you up for this? Are you actually committed for actually going to do this?” Because some people are like, “Yeah, in theory, I kind of wouldn’t mind being a bit more curious, but in practice, I can’t be bothered.” So, the first step is to go, “You know what, it’s really worth it. It’s now irritating me how much I give advice. It’s irritating the people I work with how much I give advice. I want to do this change.”

Step number two is to actually say to yourself, “Look, I’ve got to start recognizing my advice monster because until I start seeing it, until I start knowing how it shows up, then it’s really hard to tame something that you’re not quite sure where and how it exists in the world.” So, there’s a way for you to actually take the time and going, “So, when does my advice monster really get loose where they go crazy? What’s the situation and with whom is the person?”

So, it might be when I have my weekly check-in with Pete, “Oh, that man drives me crazy. He starts talking and my advice monster is absolutely loose.” So, the next step is for you to identify when your advice monster is on the loose, so you’re not trying to do a generic, “I’m just trying to be more curious.” You’re like, “No, this is the moment where I’m trying to change my behavior.” And, Pete, this comes from our last conversation, actually, which this ties in with what it takes to build a new habit, which is like be specific, be singular, be focused, don’t be generic but actually pick a moment, pick a new behavior, pick a context, so that you can actually change your behavior in this way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Bungay Stanier
So, step number one, declare the battle is on. Step number two, identify the moment where your advice monster shows up. Step number three, it gets a little more personal. It’s a little deeper dive. And it’s to understand the prizes and the punishments of your current behavior. This is the thing. You give advice because you get something from it. It’s actually a win for you. So, there’s a way of actually identifying how you’re showing up, “What do I get out of that?” And it’s like, “You know what, I feel smart. I feel in control. I get them out of my office faster. I feel like I’m adding value to the conversation. I feel like I’m in control of what’s going on.” It speaks to some of those three different types of advice monsters that we talked about before.

Pete Mockaitis
Or there’s like this pressure, I feel this in my brain sometimes. It’s like if I don’t somehow capture what’s in my head, either by saying it out loud, or writing it down, or sticking it somewhere, then it’s just going to have a piece of me, and that’s uncomfortable, and it’s like I need the resolution and breadth and peace associated with knowing that it’s been captured, otherwise it might disappear forever, and it’s a treasure trove that I can’t allow to just run away, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. I love that. That’s pretty powerful insight, Pete. That sense of, “Oh, no, no. What I’ve got is essential and it’s vital, and it’s like, honestly, it’s genius, so I can’t not offer that up to the world, that would be irresponsible.” So, it’s really helpful to see that. And, actually, I love how you talked about that because you can see, in you saying it, there’s an honesty and a kind of vulnerability and a self-awareness around, “I can see how this is a little bit ego-driven, but it’s also true. It’s kind of what’s there for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s just so fun, it’s like, “Ooh, this is a really interesting idea. It’d be fun to explore it and maybe we’re going to do that right now with the person since they brought it up or maybe we’ll do it later. It’s a little uncomfortable for me to imagine. Well, maybe we’ll just never get to explore, and that fun thought is just going to run away because I put all my attention back towards listening and being curious.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
And miss that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, understanding the benefits you get from it sets you up for the next piece, which is, “What’s the price that you and others pay for your need to share this little piece of genius?” And all parts of equation kind of can suffer as part of this. You can pay the price of being the person who feels that they have to always have the answer, or they always have to have the little genius idea, or they’ve become the bottleneck to the conversation, or they disempower the other people because they’re like, “You know what, is there a point in coming to Pete with ideas because he’s always got his own little genius idea that he always has to share with us and he’s always telling, well, that’s kind of the thing we should be doing?” So, there’s a way that both you and the other person can pay a price around that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier
And having done that, you’re actually at a bit of a crossroads, which is to go, “You know what, do the prizes outweigh the punishments, or is it vice versa?” And until you get to a point where you’re like, “The punishment of my advice monster, the price I pay and the price other people pay, are now sufficiently significant enough that they outweigh the more short-term,” you know, in the book we call them winds not wins, that short term, “Oh, I get to be genius, I get to be smart, I get to have the answers.” When you see the punishment outweigh the prizes, you’re like, “Okay, I’m up for the change here because the current equation isn’t working as well as it used to.”

Then you go a little deeper. And I will say, Pete, at TheAdviceTrap.com, there’s actually a way, a little video of me facilitating people through this process. So, if people are going, “Yeah, I’m kind of following this but I would like it a bit more.” There’s a video and there’s a worksheet and stuff that people can grab at TheAdviceTrap.com.

We get to that next level down where you’re like, okay, so if what you’ve done with prizes and punishments is kind of figure out the equation for present you, let’s go down to future you and kind of go, “All right, two things to look at here. If you were to tame your advice monster, if you were to stay curious a bit longer, what would you be worried about? What would make you anxious about that?” Because you’ve got to acknowledge which is like, and you’ve got to talk about it, which is like, “I don’t feel like I’m adding value. My little bits of genius might never see the light of day and a little bit of me dies if I don’t get to be a genius every time I show up. That other person might struggle. I might lose control of the conversation. I might not get to be the smart person in the room.”

You get to see all of those kinds of anxieties that you have but then you weigh that against them. But what would future you gain from this new way of behaving? What would you find? It’s like, “Oh, I get to allow other people to be brilliant. I get other people to share their genius with me. And I’m a catalyst and a space for them to be brilliant rather than me to be brilliant. I get to not be a bottleneck. I get to have other people be more confident and more competent and more self-sufficient and more autonomous so I, honestly, I work less hard because they’re all doing their own stuff without having to come to me for their blessing or the idea or whatever it might be.”

And then when you kind of weigh that up, you’re like going, “Okay, I see the choice now.” And it’s actually only when you do that, people work, Peter, that you kind of go, “Right. Now, this is setting me up for a place where I can go. It’s worth me asking a question because I’ve actually kind of gone deeper into the kind of the complexity of the behavior change that’s required.” And you’re going, “You know what, now is the time for me to invest in this future-you state so that I can have more impact as a human being in the life that I live.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I really like that process, that framework, in terms of I think you can use that anytime you think about a behavior change or a should, “Oh, I should work out more,” or, “I should eat better.” It’s like, “Well, maybe, but I think what’s probably most appropriate is rather than just sort of have a kneejerk reaction if you’re guilty for doing or not doing all the things, to really zero in on, all right, a true sense of the cost and benefit and opportunity that is awaiting you if you embark upon that kind of a change.” And so, I think that’s super handy that a lot of things you think maybe that you should do, you can realize, “Hey, you know what, actually not worth it. Not worth the cost so I can just sort of let go of that peacefully and move onto something else.”

At the same time, let’s say maybe you do get that perfect clarity and conviction that, “Yes, this is the thing. It needs to happen. I can absolutely see it’s worth doing. The benefits massively justify that investment.” And, nonetheless, much like a diet exercise, temptations arise. What do you recommend for in the moment, you’re committed and yet, ooh, you’re feeling it? What do you do there?

Michael Bungay Stanier
I would go back to some of the stuff I talked about in the opening chapter of The Coaching Habit book. I’m like, “You know what, pick a person, pick a moment, pick a question. Don’t go, ‘Look, I’m just trying to be more coach-like. I’m committed to being more curious in every aspect of my life.’” All that does is set you up for failure.

What I’m saying instead is like, you know what, pick a question and go, “I’m going to try and ask that a few more times per day than I currently do.” And if you’re going to pick one of the seven questions I talked about in The Coaching Habit book, I might go for number two, which is the shortest and the most powerful of the seven questions, which is “And what else?” Like, “What else?” So, the acronym of that is AWE, so it’s literally an awesome question which I love.

And what I found is that what that question has is it kind of built within it is the insight that the person’s first answer is never their only answer and it’s rarely their best answer. But what happens in this is our advice monsters, you ask a question, somebody comes up with an idea, and you’re like, “Nailed it. We’ve got something. Let’s go with it. Let’s run with it. Let’s implement it. Let’s make it actionable,” or whatever it might be.

And what I would encourage people to go is like, “You know what, their first answer is almost never their only answer.” So, ask “And what else?” because it will mean that you get more, you squeeze more out of the lemon of any question that you’ve asked them, and you’ll get better and more diverse answers from the person that you’re working with. So, I think there’s my generic piece of advice on how not to give advice, which is like, “Hey, if you only got one question, make it ‘And what else?’” Because you know what, you can slip that into almost any kind conversation. People won’t even notice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I think that I’ve been using a lot of the questions that’s come up with a few guests, it’s comparable although you’ve got a knack, Michael, for identifying the nuances between how one question is, in fact, quite different from another given the words and the triggers that it does for people, so let me put you on the spot with this. I’ve been loving “Tell me more about that.” Let’s compare or contrast. Are those interchangeable or do those have some nuances that you’d like to discuss?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, “Tell me more about that” has some inherent landmines built into it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’ll tell you why. So, if I go, “All right, Pete, what’s on your mind?” And you give me something, I go, “Great.”

Pete Mockaitis
This coffee, I’ve been so engaged, I have barely sipped it.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I know about that. And you go, “Okay, here, Michael, here’s a thing that’s on my mind.” And I go, “Oh, interesting. Tell me more about that.” Now, this question feels like it’s in service of me rather than you because I’m going, “I want to find out more about what’s going on secretly because the more I know about that situation, probably the better advice I can give you when it comes to actually my time to give you advice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
And one of the nuances about asking questions, and this is kind of a real step towards mastery, is to go, “In whose service is this question? Is this more for me or is it more for them?” Because if I go, “Well, tell me more about that,” you’re like, “Well, I already know a bunch about it, but sure, now I’m helping you out by telling you more.”

Pete Mockaitis
I see.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Whereas, if I go, “All right, that’s interesting. I hear what’s on your mind. Tell me what’s the real challenge here for you.” Now this question is in service of you. It’s for you to go, “Well, what is the hard thing here? What is the challenge? Where am I struggling with this?” And then I go, “What else is a challenge here for you?” You’re like, “Oh, yeah, what else?” And as you go deeper, then I go, “Great. So, Pete, of all of that stuff, what’s the real challenge here for you?” Now you’re working and you’re figuring stuff out, because the stance I hold is, look, if I’m in a conversation with you or I’m asking you questions, I don’t need to know a whole lot about what’s going on.

I mean, when we finish this conversation, I’m in Anaheim at the moment to speak at a big tech conference for a big tech company, and I’m going to coach a very senior leader on stage in front of about, I think it’s 1500 people. Now, what do I know about the impossible job of being an executive vice president of one the top three tech companies in the world? The answer is I know nothing. I know absolutely nothing. So, if I sit down with this person, and I go, “What’s on your mind?” and they tell me, and I go, “Well, tell me more about that.” Now, they’re like, “Okay. Well, you don’t know anything about this anyway, and I’m not sure that this covered under our NDA, but I’ll give you some topline stuff.” And I’m like, “Okay, tell me more about that. What else can you tell me about that?”

And now he’s explaining to me what the situation is so I can try and figure out a solution. But if I go, “Yeah, okay, I don’t even know what that means. But what’s the real challenge here for you around this?” And they’re like, “Oh, yeah, it’s this.” I’m like, “Great. What else is a challenge here for you around this?” And they’re like, “Amazing.” It’s them, they’re in the spotlight, I’m in service to them. And “Tell me more about that” is often in service to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a powerful distinction there in terms of who’s the question in service to. And, also, when we’re reviewing coaching contexts in terms of, hey, on stage and such, that’s really handy. I think in previous contexts, “Tell me more about that” was handy in terms of someone said something to you that made you kind of angry, like they’re volunteering some feedback or they’re about to let you know just how you’ve screwed up. “Tell me more about that” is great for disarming versus “And what else?” It’s sort of like, “Oh, really? You’re going to dismiss what I’ve just said?” So, that’s perfect in terms of the different contexts, making one versus the other a bullseye.

Michael Bungay Stanier
So, in the context of somebody said something, feedback, or aggravating, or something like that, the power of “Tell me more about that” is it’s a self-management tool to stop you leaping…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that too, yeah.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You know, strangling, you’re like, “You’re triggering me here. I want to kill you.” Here’s a nuance then in that context, which is like, “Tell me more about that” is a pretty broad question. There’s a way that you might direct that conversation to become more useful for you. And here’s how it could look like. You could say, “What’s the data for this?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Because when people give you feedback, it tends to be a mix of a little bit of fact and a whole bunch of judgment, and a whole bunch of unspoken feeling, and an unspoken want or need, and there’s a way that “Tell me more about that” you may get a bit more of a repeat of what you’ve already heard, which is the same kind of mess of all of that stuff. But you could take it in different ways, you go, “Okay, I hear there’s something going on here. Tell me what the data is. Tell me what the facts are around this because I’m curious to know what’s making you think that.”

You could say, “I hear what’s going on. Just so I’m clear, what do you want here? What do you want from me? What do you want from this conversation? What do you want from this outcome?” Because sometimes actually everything they’ve told you is entirely separate from what they’re really trying to get out of this, and knowing what they want is a much more specific and useful question to actually figure out.

And then the third question that you could ask around that, you could ask, I mean, I love putting feelings and judgments together. In my head, I’ve got this model which is like every conversation has four parts to it: data, feelings, judgments, and the wants and the needs. And the context of like a tough conversation, I’m like, I’m trying to get clear on what falls into what bucket.  So, it’s like I’m just trying to find the right articulation of the question, Pete. It’s like, “If that’s the fact, if that’s the data, what are your assumptions based on that? What do you assume to be true about me, about you, about this situation at hand?”

And what you’re doing is you’re effectively asking the same question you’re asking, which is “Tell me more about that” but you’re being a little more direct, it’s like, “I want to find out about the data. I want to find out what you want. I want to find out what you assume to be true.” And all of those questions can be helpful but one in particular might particularly serve you in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And so then, maybe could you give us an example of disaggregating those four components there in terms of let’s just say I’m saying…? Okay, I just looked at your hotel room, so I’ll just say, “You go up to the front desk and you tell them that your bed is unacceptable.” Can you disaggregate that for us?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah. And if they go, “I can hear you’re frustrated there, sir. What is it that you want?” “You know what, I just need a bed, a pillow.” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s easy. We’ll just send over there a pillow.” Or I’m like, “I’ve got a colony of bedbugs.” And they’re like, “Oh, okay. Well, we’ll move you to a different room.” Or, it’s a hammock and I don’t sleep in hammocks, “I thought I was getting a king-sized bed and you put me in the nautical-themed room, and there’s like pictures of pirates on the wall, and it smells of brine, and I don’t like hammocks.” So, that curiosity can help.

Now, it might be for them, they’re like, “Tell us more. What seems to be the issue, sir?” But you’re like, the bigger insight in all of this is that piece around curiosity and the power of it, because “Tell me more about that” is an invitation to stay curious. And that’s the big win around that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’m thinking like a more complex situation because with the hotel and the hotel bed, it’s a transactional relationship, like, “We’re just talking about a bed and then we’re never going to talk to each other again.” If it’s somebody I have a relationship, like it’s my wife, and I go, “Well, I’m just curious. What makes you think that? What’s the data behind what you’ve just said?” And she goes, “Well, I just saw the rubbish bins, the trash cans, out on the pavement, and they were this and they were that.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, actually those aren’t our trash cans. Our trash cans are on the back. I brought them in.” And she’s like, “Oh, all right. My mistake.” And that data diffuses the whole situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
But if I’m like, “Tell me more about that,” she’s like, “I never liked you. You’ve never been good at household chores. You’ve been a burden to the family for 30 years,” and I’m like, “Okay, this has gone really dark really quickly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oops.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in that trash can example, that’s actually really handy because if we look at those four components, so the data are “I witnessed some trash cans that were askew.” Their feelings are “That’s gross and I hate looking at it and it’s very unpleasant.” The judgment is “You’re unresponsive in doing your chores, Michael, and my need is for you to fix that.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
It actually goes deeper than that, which is that, “You’re bad at your chores. You’re a roundabout lazy man. You’re a parasite. You’re sucking me dry. You never carry your weight in this relationship. You don’t love me.” That stuff can kind of escalate pretty quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, Michael, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things here?

Michael Bungay Stanier
No, I think that’s it. There’s a bunch of good resources at TheAdviceTrap.com, there’s a questionnaire around which of the three advice monsters is the one that you’re most familiar with, there’s that process around going into hard change versus easy change. All that resources that people can make the most of it they’d like.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I have so many good quotes. I will point to that I’m sitting with at the moment is from Muhammad Ali, and somebody once said this is the shortest poem ever written. And it is, “Me, we.” And I love the profundity of that which is to say we are all connected. There’s no me without the context of us. And what you do here for you is in service to us, and remember that connection. So, me, we. Muhammad Ali.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share with us a favorite book?

Michael Bungay Stanier
The book that I keep coming to because it’s an amazing combination of science and just the kind of celebration of the miracle of this planet, being a planet that we can live on, is Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s hilarious. That man can write a metaphor better than anybody else I know. And, really, it just opens up the kind of the unlikelihood of being this life on this planet at this time where you and I are able to do a podcast together. It’s like spectacularly unlikely that this could ever happen, and yet here we are.

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

 

Michael Bungay Stanier
The thing that I am enjoying most is a pen given to me by the people that are helping me publish the book, it’s by a company called Baronfig, which are a New York stationary cover. And it just is a beautiful pen.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
TheAdviceTrap.com is a place to find out about the book. But if you’re going to go to a singular place, basically, a newish website called MBS.works, and that’s kind of a collection of my works, all the stuff that I’m working on, so you can access the books I’ve written. So, MBS.works is a good place to go.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, add a question, just one question per day to your conversation. Make it “And what else?” Make it any other question but I would love you to take one small step in the direction of curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Michael, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck with The Advice Trap and all your adventures.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for the great conversation. I appreciate we kind of went deep and interesting, and you threw yourself in the mix there as well, so thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you. It’s my pleasure.

546: Choosing Better Words for Better Leadership with David Marquet

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About David:

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

Items Mentioned in the Show

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David Marquet Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, good work. Good work.

David Marquet
Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Does that make sense?

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

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

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

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

David Marquet
Yup.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s awesome.

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

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

David Marquet
Yeah, beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I see what you’re saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t argue with that.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Crickets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds like fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Marquet
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

541: Increasing Your Contribution and Fulfillment at Work with Tom Rath

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Tom Rath says: "You can't be anything you want to be... but you can be a lot more of who you already are."

Tom Rath discusses how to find greater meaning in your job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to find your unique style of contribution
  2. Two easy ways to recharge your energy
  3. A powerful way to make any job feel more meaningful

About Tom:

Tom Rath is an author and researcher who has spent the past two decades studying how work can improve human health and well-being. His 10 books have sold more than 10 million copies and made hundreds of appearances on global bestseller lists.

During his 13 years at Gallup, Tom was the Program Leader for the development of Clifton StrengthsFinder, which has helped over 20 million people to uncover their talents, and went on to lead the organization’s employee engagement, wellbeing, and leadership practices worldwide.

Most recently, Tom co-founded a publishing company and he is also an advisor, investor, and partner in several startups. Tom holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife, Ashley, and their two children.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tom Rath Interview Transcript

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

Tom Rath
Thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting with you. I have enjoyed reading your books for years and have taken the StrengthsFinder multiple times, so I was excited to dig into your latest work. But, maybe, let’s go back in time if we can, because I understand that some health news you got as a teenager really played a prominent role in how you think about your work, and life, and this particular new development.

Tom Rath
Yeah, a lot of my early experiences shaped especially this most recent book Life’s Great Question just to give you a short summary of it for your listeners, when I was 16 years old, I was having trouble seeing out of one of my eyes, and I was eventually diagnosed with several large tumors on the back of that left eye, and lost sight soon thereafter permanently in that side. And the doctors told me that that was likely indicative that I had a very rare genetic disorder that it essentially shuts off the body’s most powerful tumor-suppressing gene, and they said, “There’s more than a 50% chance you’ll have kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, cancer in your spine,” and a host of other areas over whatever lifespan I might hope for. And I kind of did some research back then and realized that the over-ender was probably between 35 and 40 years.

So, what that did in retrospect, as I’ve kind of looked back on, as a part of this recent project is it certainly helped to get me focused on two things. And one of those things was just reading as much as I could every morning about what I could do to keep myself alive a little bit longer and help people to live longer in good health. That was part of it. And the second part was it really did help to get me focused even at a young age and early on in my career on, “What are all the things that I can work on each day on kind of an hourly or daily basis that contribute to growth in other people that I care about or serve, that can continue to live on whether I’m actively involved with that or not, a week, a month, or a decade down the road?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is some great guidance there. And it seems like you’re statistically probabilistically you’re doing great, huh?

Tom Rath
Yeah, I’m doing really good. I have battled kidney cancer. Still, I have cancer in my spine and in pancreas recently, and I’m continuing to kind of fight through that on a bunch of different trials of drugs and trying to do everything I can to stay as healthy overall as I possibly can.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to hear that there’s reason and room for hope and that you’re still here contributing, and we’re very grateful for your contributions. I know I am. And I want to give a shoutout to my buddy, Lawrence, who brings up strengths just about every week. And so, yes, it’s been quite a contribution. We appreciate you. So, yeah, let’s talk about this Life’s Great Question. What is it?

Tom Rath
Life’s great question, which a lot of this was inspired by one of my favorite challenges and quotes of all time from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, I think, he put it so eloquently when he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” And when I first thought about that question, it kind of haunted me for a few years. Then I realized what a powerful rallying call that can be on a daily basis. So, every morning for the last few years, I’ve tried asked myself, “What am I working on today that will contribute to others in their growth, in their wellbeing over time?”

And what I’ve realized is the more time in a given day that I can spend on things that just directly in a way that I can see serve others instead of worrying about my own priorities, or focusing inward, or trying to get through a bunch of busy work, the more time I can spend on that, the less stress I have, the better I feel about my days.

And I think all of us want to be able to do that on a daily basis and to do some work that matters for other people. We just don’t have a very clear way to talk about it and think about it, especially in teams and groups when we’re working on things, and as a result, we spend maybe too much of our time focused inward on ourselves and our own development instead of outward on, essentially what the world needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a number of ways that you recommend that we go about gaining some clarity on that. Can you share with us, you’ve got a phrase eulogy purposes? What are these?

Tom Rath
Yeah, you know, one of the things I realized quickly when I was talking with some organizational leaders and CEOs about this is that right now the main way that we have or the main method for summarizing a person’s life and work is a resume. And if I were to go back and try and create the most detached, clinical, sterile, lifeless thing I could, it would be the form of a resume of today.

So, the more I got into that and had some of these discussions, I realized that we need to help people put together a profile of who they are and why they do what they do, and what motivates them, and how they want to contribute, and to have that be as kind of robust from a detail standpoint as a resume is so that we can make the focus on contribution just as practical and tangible as we have when we assemble resumes and profiles today.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve taken this profile, and it was fun to dig into and think about. You’ve got a number. I believe it’s about a dozen different flavors or modes of contribution. My top were scaling, visioning, and adapting. So, can you maybe help us think through a little bit about what’s the goal here, so we’re going to understand those things and knowing them, what do we do?

Tom Rath
What I was trying to do to help readers, give readers something practical to do as a part of this book, and I have a code in the back where they can login and build this profile. But the profile also asks about, “What are the big roles you play in life?” So, as a spouse, for me, as a researcher, as a writer, as a dad. What are those big roles that are really the, as you mentioned earlier, the kind of eulogy values, the things you want to be remembered by?

So, to start there and then also bring in, “What are the most important life experiences, or miles, throughout your life that have shaped who you are and it could help other people understand why you do what you do?” And then we also ask readers to add their best descriptors of their strengths. As you’ve talked about, I think strengths are maybe the most important starting point for aiming a lot of your efforts in life.

And then, the fourth element, that you were just getting into is, “How can we help people to prioritize how they want to contribute to a team?” What happens so often right now is we get teams of people together to accomplish something because we’re all wound up and energized about a given task or priority and we all just hit the ground running and start moving forward and working, and we don’t take the time to, A, get to know one another, and, B, most importantly, sit down and say how each one of us wants to contribute to the effort in a complementary way.

So, if you’re helping our team, if we have four or five people on the team with scaling, for example, and that’s a big part of operating and making something great and helping it to grow over time, how do we also have people who are helping us to make sure we’re energizing the team and building closer relationships over time, and taking care of some of those fundamentals? And how do we help people to ensure that we’re teaching others about what we’re doing and challenging us to make sure that we’re focusing on the right priorities as we go along?

So, I started, instead of starting with who the person is, with this project I started with, “What are the things that the world needs?” And I went back and looked at thousands of job descriptions from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and try to kind of build those into big buckets and categories about what our society values and needs from people who are doing work. And then I think the challenge is for each of us as individuals to kind of go through a series of prioritization questions like you did and decide we’d like to contribute given who we are and who else is on a given team.

Pete Mockaitis
And is the concept there that certain modes of contribution will be more life-giving, energizing, enriching for us as compared to others?

Tom Rath
Yes. One of the things that gets ignored often when we go through inventories and prioritization exercises is there’s not a lot of work on what motivates us to do our best on a daily basis. So, I did tie in some questions in there about what motivates you to do your best work, and then how you want to contribute.

We all have very unique and different talents, and the way I contribute to one team may be different from how I’ll contribute to another one 6 or 12 months down the road. So, we really built this to be a team activity that a person can go through in unlimited number of times if they’re thinking about a new job, a new project, or a new team, because there is a balancing act, for lack of a better term, that needs to occur if you get three, five, seven, ten people around a team so that you’re all working as seamlessly as possible based on what you’d want to do and what you’re good at with as little overlap as possible essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’ve, in fact, I understand, defined five amplifiers that help us see our jobs as more than just a paycheck and are bringing some of those cool vibes and enthusiasms for folks. Can you walk us through these bits?

Tom Rath
Yeah, you know, the first one that I think is important for people in the work world, in particular, is to, as much as I’ve talked to a little bit today about making sure that you’re focusing your work on others, the one place where I’ve learned where we really do need to put our own needs first is when it comes to our health and wellbeing and energy. It’s really the energy. We need to prioritize things like sleeping enough, eating the right foods, moving around throughout the day, in order to have the energy we need to be our best. Even if our sole intent is just to help other people, we need that energy to be our best. So, that’s one of the big elements.

Another thing in the workplace is that we need the freedom to do work in the way that matches our style. And so, one thing that’s been refreshing as I’ve learned about how people can uniquely contribute is most managers and leaders are very open to a conversation about, “How can you do your job in a way that fits who you are even though you may have the same goals and outcomes and expectations as ten other people?” You don’t have to do it the same way. So, a piece that I think has been underestimated and measured in more places is we need the freedom to be our best every day, and a lot of that is about finding the right work environment, the right manager or leader and so forth.

Another really important element that in all of the wellbeing research I’ve been a part of is probably the most common core that cuts across wellbeing and work experiences, we need strong relationships to not only get things done but to add more fun while we’re doing it. I have a good friend I have worked with for almost 20 years now, and I can call him up, in 15 seconds, I can get more done than I could in a 15-minute conversation with a stranger. And so, those relationships create a lot of the speed and trust and wellbeing, it keeps us going.

Another central element is that we’re working each day to ensure that we have kind of the sense of financial security and stability that we need to keep moving through the day. There’s a lot of talk about money shouldn’t be the only outcome and the sole basis of a contract between a person and an employer. I think those days are past us and we’d evolved from that, but we do need to make sure that early on in our career we’ve got enough money to pay for basic needs and food and shelter and the like. And until we get to that point where we’re not stressed about money on a daily basis, a lot of these other things are secondary. So, those are a few of the kind of basic needs in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued and I know wellbeing is a big theme and an area of passion for you. And I‘m right with you in terms of, boy, your energy levels make all the difference, and you did tons of research in your work. So, I got to know, do you have any secret strategies, tactics, tips in terms of having and bringing more energy to each work day? I mean, I think sleeping and eating well are critical and, at the same time, I think people, and maybe I’m guilty of this too, we want the cool new thing. So, is there a cool new thing and/or what should we be thinking about with regard to sleeping and eating well to maximize energy?

Tom Rath
Well, I learned a lot about this when I worked on the book Eat, Move, Sleep that kind of tied in some of those healthy experiences we’re talking about. The good news is one good night of sleep, even if you’re on a bad streak, one good night’s sleep is kind of like the reset button on a video game or a smartphone where it gives you almost a clean slate the next day. You’re more likely to be active throughout the day, eat better food, and so on. So, I think we really undervalue sleep at a family level and at a workplace level. It needs to be a part of the conversation because if people are half-asleep and nowhere near as creative or sharp as they need to be at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon in a meeting, that’s not good for anyone.

And someone I’ve worked with, former Army Surgeon General Patty Hororo, she talks about how in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan that she knew the troops needed ammunition for their brain, and that’s how she prioritized sleep. So, I think we need to make sleep a critical ammunition for our brain-level priority, that’s one thing.

The second big one, I think everyone should be able to do their work without being chained to a chair for eight hours a day. The more I’ve studied this topic, and I started working sitting and standing 10 years ago, and I’ve been working 80% of my time on a treadmill desk for five years running now, and there are bolts falling out of the bottom of the thing now, but it still gives me so much more energy, it’s not even comparable to days when I’m stuck in planes and meeting rooms. I think we need to re-engineer our immediate environment it’s really about variance, or up and down and moving around every 20, 30 minutes throughout the day.

The good news is I think it’s more important to just build a little burst of walking activity throughout the day, and that’s more important for human health than the intimidating goals of 30 or 60 minutes of extreme cardiovascular activity, for example. We just need to find ways to have conversations with people and get work done while we’re up and down and moving around quite a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so I think that might transition into something. You had a very intriguing book bullet point about how we can turn the job we have into the job we want. It sounds like one way is to re-engineer so you can move a little bit. What are some of the other main ways that we can see an upgrade in that department?

Tom Rath
Yeah, one of the things that I think we all need to dedicate more time to in that regard is to bring the source of our contributions or the people that our work is affecting, lives it’s improving, back into the daily conversation. So, when people in food service roles were preparing food, chefs and cooks, if they can see the person they’re preparing the food for, they make better-quality meals, they make more nutritious meals, and they feel better about their work.

If radiologists who are reading scans of MRIs and CTs all day, if someone is a part of an experiment, when they append a photo of the patient to the record, they write longer reports and it increases their diagnostic accuracy. And I’ve seen this across every professional, it’s been studied. The closer we can get to the source and see the people we’re influencing, even if they’re just internal customers and clients, for example, the better work we do and the better we feel about it when we get home each evening. So, I think that’s one of the most practical places to start. And if you struggle to do that yourself in a workplace, my best advice would be help someone else to see why their efforts are making a difference tomorrow. And just in doing that, you’ll set something in motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is powerful. And so, certainly, and so there’s many ways you can accomplish that goal. You can actually sort of rearrange the office so that you are getting a visual, or you can just have photos of those folks that you’re serving right there. So, you mentioned in the medical example, just having photos of the patient there made the impact. And so, that’s inspiring. It’s, like, I got to get some listener photos in my work environment.

Tom Rath
Photos and stories, I mean, there’s kind of the stories and legends we tell ourselves. The other is I talk about this a little bit in the book, but because I don’t have vision on my left side, I have a prosthetics so people think I can see out of both eyes. But I accidentally bump into people all the time because I don’t see them coming on my left. And it’s always an interesting experiment for me psychologically because I’m always the same but that person, sometimes they’re in a really bad mood, sometimes they’re frustrated and didn’t have the time, sometimes they’re very kind and apologetic. It varies so much.

But I get to see, even when I’m in a coffee shop or a grocery store like that, I can kind of see how if I react as good as I possibly can, and I’m really apologetic and tell them I’m sorry and everything else, in some cases I can take someone who’s kind of in a bad mood and diffuse it and turn it around where it’s a little bit better. And I think we all have, I don’t know if it’s 10, 15, 20 moments like that with strangers and people we know throughout the day. And, in any case, if you leave that person in a little bit better state than when you first engaged in the interaction, that is a victory that we probably need to do a better job of acknowledging in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love it. Well, that’s the, “How full is your bucket stuff?” in action.

Tom Rath
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in the realm of those small but sort of uplifting, bucket-filling things we can do in the workplace, could you give us just several examples of things that really make a difference and we can do all the time?

Tom Rath
Yeah, like we just talked about, I think it starts with those very brief exchanges and saying you don’t get to control the emotional tone that someone else brings into a room or into an office that you’re in at the moment, but we always do have control of our response. And I think if you start to view those little responses as an opportunity to turn things around, that’s one good starting place.

The other thing that I’ve learned a lot from over the years since some of the work on that How Full Is Your Bucket? concept is that if you can make it a goal to spot somebody else doing something really well that they might not have even noticed, ideally try to do that once a day, that’s one of the more powerful things that can have a real lasting influence on people over time.

I think we talked briefly about some of the strengths work, and because of my involvement with that, people often ask me, “What’s the most valuable strength? What’s the best one? What’s the most productive, and so on?” What I’ve learned and my real quick answer is the most valuable talent is spotting a strength in someone else that they had not been able to notice and encouraging them to build on that because, boy, when I’ve seen people do that, it’s so powerful it can kind of last a lifetime and change the trajectory of a career.

So, I think to look for those two things in a given day and then at least three, four times a week to look for moments to just recognize in an audible, in a written, or an electronic form great work, and to recognize and appreciate someone for specific efforts. And when you’re doing that, to try and connect your recognition with the contribution made to another person gives it a little bit more amplification.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, I love that. Boy, Tom, there’s so much good stuff here. Maybe you could just regale us now with a couple of stories in terms of folks who had some career transformations in terms of before they did not quite have that clarity on how they want to contribute and what they’re going to do with life’s greatest question, and then they got it and it changed everything? Could you give us a couple of fun examples there?

Tom Rath
Yeah, you know, the one that’s most top of mind for me when you talk about kind of figuring out contributions as they went along it, a friend of mine I talk about in the book, I’ve started working with him maybe 20 years ago. His name is Mark. And he was really involved in Young Life, which is a student kind of a faith-based group and efforts to help kids get involved in communities and give back and do more. When I started working on some of the very early strengths work, Mark was passionate about college freshmen, and said, “I think maybe we could put something together that helps them figure out how to use their strengths to pick better classes and have better relationships.”

He was a pragmatic guy, and said, “I think if we can just get plug into these freshmen experience classes, maybe it could make a difference. We’ve just got to get a handful of professors to assign it as a textbook.” And that’s now helped, I think it’s two or three million kids in their freshmen year or two, essentially get a better handle on what they’re doing, and navigate, and hopefully end up in a little bit better careers as a product of that. It started with someone who had a real passion for doing things in kind of a pocket like that, and said, “How could we scale this out and have a huge outsize influence on the world?”

I had about a 20-year friendship with Mark and he’d battled a heart transplant and cancer a few years ago, and he passed away just a little bit over a year and a couple of months ago. I write about this in the book, but when I went to his memorial service, you know, usually you think of it as one of the sadder moments, but it was one of the most inspiring things I’d ever seen in my life because student after student after former student got up and talked about how they were doing things so differently in their relationships and their careers and their education because of the specific influence that Mark had had in his mentoring. As we talk about contribution here as a topic, it was just kind of a summary of an entire lifetime of enormous contribution to other people.

I know, for me personally, it was deeply inspiring and kind of what I hope to be able to continue to do over the remainder of my life is to make those kind of both broad directional contributions and the real specific deep individual mentoring contributions like Mark both did. So, that’s kind of the top of my radar right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is powerful. Thank you. Tell me, Tom, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Tom Rath
No, I think we’ve covered the main topic here.

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

Tom Rath
Ben Horowitz was giving a commencement address at Columbia two, three years ago now. And he talked really eloquently, if listeners have a chance to check it out, about real growth is the product of not following your passions but following where your contributions lead you.

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

Tom Rath
You know, I think what’s influenced me most in the last few years is some of the very important distinctions between daily wellbeing versus how we look at our life satisfaction and wellbeing over many, many years in a lifetime. For so long, scientists have just been saying, “If you look at your life as a ladder with steps numbered one through ten, where do you stand essentially?” and they ask people to look back retrospectively.

And when you ask people that question, it’s usually a very highly-correlated income. The more you make you buy more points on that ladder essentially. And countries like Sweden and Denmark and Norway are at the very highest of the wellbeing rankings when you look at rankings based on that broad evaluation. But, in contrast, when you ask people, “Are you having a lot of fun today? Have you smiled or laughed a lot today? Did you have a lot of negative emotions? Do you have a lot of stress?” And you really look at that daily experience to where you or I had a good day today, it looks very, very different.

And the happiest countries on a daily basis are Costa Rica and Panama and Uruguay and Paraguay, these Central American countries that are at the very bottom of the wealth rankings of gross domestic product per capita. So, I think that daily experience can be a great equalizer where even in the United States you don’t need to make a great deal of money to have really good consistent days. And once you do make enough money to stop worrying about your finances every day, the more you make an income doesn’t really make that much of a difference. In some cases, it might even lead to more stress and issues.

So, I’ve really been intrigued by a lot of emerging research, the body of it, on the influence and importance of just daily positive affect, as what researchers call it, versus negative affect, and how that can…I think the accumulation of those days may be a lot more important than how we evaluate our lives once at the very end.

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

Tom Rath
If I can, I’m going to do a paired trade of two books I read back-to-back, one being now getting a lot of press with a movie out Just Mercy. And the second one being Hillbilly Elegy which they are two night and day different books about two completely different experiences on different ends of social geographic and demographic continuums in the United States, but I’m really inspired by true stories that help me to understand experiences that are very different than my own. So, those have been well-written moving books I’ve studied recently.

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

Tom Rath
Over the last 10 years, everything I’ve read both in print and online, and conversations I’ve had, I’ve stored everything in Evernote, the app. And I was just joking with my mother-in-law over the weekend that when I’m her age, that’s going to be my memory because my memory won’t be that good. So, that’s been a great repository for all of the research and studies and things that I’ve been collecting over the last decade.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into that a little more. So, in terms of you just sort of drag and drop a PDF of the thing you read into a given note then make your notes on top of it? Or how does that work if you have the actual documents in there?

Tom Rath
Yeah, online I can drag and drop PDFs or just clip any webpage directly from a browser with one button. And when I’m reading things in print, I still get some newspapers and magazines in print, I tear pages and shoot them through a scanner that goes directly into the cloud in Evernote just based on some tags and so forth. Even everything I get in the mail goes right through that scanner unless it’s just junk mail ad, for example. But it’s been a great way to kind of have my own kind of a separate Google for my own experience and everything that’s gone through my head but, by no means, will I be able to locate and process and search for without a lot of electronic help.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you to be awesome at your job?

Tom Rath
My favorite habit is I think I spend 80% to 90% of my time in a given day working while I’m moving around. And so, whether that’s having a conversation on the phone and walking around, ideally, outdoors. I try to get, all the time, outdoors every day. Walking. I try to walk my kids to school any day that we can just so that we all get a little head start on our mental energy let alone the physical exercise that helps. So, my favorite habit is just minimizing the time I spend completely sedentary in a chair in a day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you’ve shared in your books, in speaking, that really seems to get highlighted a lot, or retweeted, or quoted back to you frequently, a Tom Rath nugget that you’re known for?

Tom Rath
Yeah, I think the one that I see most commonly highlighted out there, kind of posters and internet stuff, is the quote about “You can’t be anything you want to be but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” And I talk about that a little bit in this most recent book that I’m really confident, and I first wrote that maybe 10, 15 years ago, but I’m really confident that people, counter to some conventional wisdom, you really can’t be anything you want to be, if you think about it.

But I do worry a little bit about when people just try and be more of who they already are. I’ve seen that in some cases pull people too much towards looking inward. And that’s why in a lot of the recent work I’ve been focusing on trying to help people to say how can they take who they are and quickly focus that as point A outward to point B which is what the world around them needs, because I think the more they focus and hone their energy towards what their family, their organization, their community needs, it leads to even more productive application of their strengths.

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

Tom Rath
I’d point them to TomRath.org for any of the books that we’ve talked about and then Contribify.com for the new Life’s Great Question book and the companion website that goes with that.

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

Tom Rath
I would challenge people to spend even a little bit of time today determining how they can get even closer to the source of the contribution they’re making to the world, because the closer you get to that source, the more you can do for others over the years.

Pete Mockaitis
Tom, this has been a pleasure. Thank you. I wish you the best in health and all the ways you’re contributing in the world.

Tom Rath
Thank you so much. It’s been an honor and fun talking to you.