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KF #13. Develops Talent Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

763: Stephen M. R. Covey Reveals How Great Leaders Inspire Teams

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Stephen M. R. Covey shares why command-and-control leadership is ineffective (yet widespread) and how to get superior results as a trust-and-inspire leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two traits needed to build trust
  2. Why so many leaders today fail to inspire their teams
  3. The one belief that separates great leaders from the rest

About Stephen

Stephen M. R. Covey is cofounder and CEO of CoveyLink and of the FranklinCovey Global Trust Practice, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Speed of Trust. A sought-after and compelling keynote speaker, author, and advisor on trust, leadership, ethics, culture, and collaboration, Covey speaks to audiences around the world. A Harvard MBA, he is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which under his stewardship became the largest leadership development company in the world. Covey resides with his wife and children in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.

Resources Mentioned

Stephen M. R. Covey Interview Transcript

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

Stephen Covey
Hi, Pete. Excited to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited as well. I’m really looking forward to digging into your wisdom on trust and your latest book Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others. But just to warm it up, I’m thinking about my son right now, he’s four years old, and my dad, and how there were a few special moments in terms of memories that were really instructive and stuck with me. And since you and your father are both great when it comes to leadership development, is there a memory that comes to mind for you in terms of something that sticks with you and was really instructive and lasting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely, several but I’ll share one of them, and I actually put this in the book. It’s in a story that my dad wrote about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the green and clean story, where he was trying to teach his son how to take care of the lawn. Well, I’m that son, I was seven years old, and my dad was trying to teach me responsibility and teach me how to work and these types of things. And so, he basically, over a two-week period of time, he’s got to train me how to make sure that the lawn, our yard, we had a big yard, how to make sure that it was green and clean.

Now, this was back in the days before automatic sprinklers, which ages me, Pete, but this was I was just a young boy and he taught me, “Look, to get a green lawn, you got to water it. The key to watering it is you got to turn on the sprinklers but how you do it is up to you. If you want you could just use a hose or use buckets or spit all day long. It’s up to you. All I care about is green and clean.”

And then he kind of taught me what clean meant. He cleaned part of the yard, left the other part unclean. So, again, seven years old, so it was a two-week process. I actually distinctly remember it. And then he added one more piece. He built in an accountability piece. So, I had very clear expectations – green and clean – how I did it was up to me. I would judge myself. And here was the accountability, that twice a week that we would walk around together and I would tell him how I was doing against the standard of green and clean.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stephen Covey
And so, he goes, “I’m not your judge. You’re your own judge. You judge yourself. I’m your helper. If I have time, I’ll always help you but it’s your job.” So, two weeks of training, and then he turns it over to me in the middle of the summer. And it’s this scorching hot time during the summer and I did nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s not going to be green.

Stephen Covey
I did nothing. I was over playing ball across the street. Sunday nothing, Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing, Wednesday. It’s five days, it’s scorching hot, the lawn is turning yellow by the hour almost, and we had a neighborhood barbecue over the weekend, and there was garbage just strewn all throughout the lawn. It was anything but green and clean.

And my dad, he later said, “You know, I was just about to just yank that job right back from him,” thinking, “Maybe he’s just too young. He’s seven. He can’t handle this yet.” But he didn’t. He stayed with it, and he said, “Hey, son, we’d agreed that we’d walk around the yard and you would tell me how it’s doing, so why don’t we do that?”

So, we started to walk around, and I realized, “This is not looking green at all. It’s yellow and it’s not clean. There’s garbage everywhere.” And I began to break down and cry, and I said, “Dad, this is just so hard.” And he kind of said, “Well, what’s hard? You haven’t done one single thing.” But what was hard was learning to take responsibility, it was me taking ownership for that job and taking it on as my own.

And I said, “Well, can you help me, dad?” He said, “I’d agree I’d be your helper if I have time.” I asked, “Do you have time?” He said, “I’ve got time.” So, I ran into the house and I got two garbage sacks. I came out, I took one and I gave him one, and then I started to instruct him and tell him what to do. I said, “Dad, would you go over there and pick up that garbage that’s fallen out because it makes me want to vomit?” So, he said, “I’m your helper. Whatever you say, I’ll do it. I’ve got time, I’ll help you.”

So, he started doing what I asked him to do. And it was at that moment, as I was directing my dad as a seven-year-old on, “Pick up this. Pick up that. Do this,” and he was doing what I was asking, I realized, “This is my job. I’m responsible.” And it was at that moment that, suddenly, I took responsibility and took over this job of making sure the yard was green and clean. I did not have to be asked the whole rest of the summer to do it a single time. I owned it. I took responsibility for it, and the lawn was green and it was clean.

Now, my dad used to always tell this story when he taught The 7 Habits about how this was the creation of a win-win performance agreement but, Pete, I was a seven-year-old boy. I didn’t know what those terms meant but here is what I did know as a seven-year-old. I felt trusted. I felt my father trusted me and I didn’t want to let him down.

So, I was too young to be worried about allowance or status, but I didn’t want to let my dad down. He was important to me and he trusted me, and I felt it and I responded to it. I was inspired by it. I rose to the occasion. I developed capabilities I had no idea I had at age seven and I took responsibility for a huge yard, and it was green and clean.

Now, that was a defining experience in my life because, first of all, my father built such a relationship with me that his whole purpose was one of love and caring, trying to teach me, so I received it differently because of that. But it’s interesting. I experienced, as a seven-year-old boy, a trust and inspire leader, a trust and inspire parent who was believing in me, and he saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself at that time as a young boy but he didn’t…when he gave me trust and I didn’t follow through, he didn’t take it back and just say, “Oh, too young, can’t do it.”

Or, he didn’t hover and micromanage me, and say, “Now, look, here’s how you have to do this job, and do it precisely the way I say. You got to get out there and water.” No, he gave me the responsibility, he trusted me, and then he let me do it. And I learned, and I grew, and I came out of it better. My dad, later, was also asked, “How did you not just take it over and just either micromanaged him or just take the job back?” And he said, “Because I reaffirmed my purpose, which was to raise kids, not grass. So, getting the grass green and clean was a bonus. That was a nice thing but it was more important that I raise a child that learned responsibility and a work ethic.”

And so, I used that little story as a great example of how if this kind of extension of trust can work for a seven-year-old boy, I bet it could work for a 27-year-old or a 47-year-old or a 67-year-old. We all long to be trusted and inspired. It’s a better way to lead, and we respond to it, and I did as a seven-year-old. So, it’s a great story. It’s a fun story. My dad gives his side of it in The 7 Habits, and my side of it is that I was seven years old, what do you expect?

But really, it’s that I felt trusted. I didn’t know what a win-win performance agreement was but I did know that I felt the trust of my dad, and I didn’t want to let him down.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. Thank you. I love it. And a great way to set up a conversation, talking about trust. You’ve done a lot of research and teaching and writing on this topic, is there a particular insight or discovery that you find particularly surprising and powerful when folks really grab onto it when it comes to trust?

Stephen Covey
Yes, there is one. I don’t know that this one is going to be surprising per se but it is extremely powerful. It’s not necessarily surprising but it happens all the time. So, it’s surprising that this is still an issue because it’s pretty self-evident. And it’s simply this, you could have two trustworthy people working together, both trustworthy, working together and yet no trust between them even though they’re both trustworthy if neither person is willing to extend trust to the other.

In an organization, you could have two trustworthy teams or departments working together, both trustworthy, and yet no trust between them if neither team or department is willing to extend trust to the other. So, to have trust, the noun, the outcome, yes, you need to be trustworthy, and that is earned, we earn that, but we also need to be trusting to give that. So, trust is both earned and given.

I get asked all the time, “Stephen, is trust earned or is it given?” And my response is, “Yes, absolutely it is earned. We’ve got to demonstrate our character, our competence, our credibility. We’ve got to be trustworthy but it’s not enough. It’s necessary but insufficient. We also have to be trusting.” And what I find, as I worked with organizations all around the world, that maybe the bigger factor in those two halves, and they’re halves, I think the bigger factor is that we’re not trusting enough as leaders. We don’t extend enough trust to our people and to others.

That’s a bigger issue than if we’re not trustworthy. Now, we can work on both halves of the equation. We need to work on becoming more trustworthy but, as leaders, we especially need to work on becoming more trusting. And, at some level, that’s not a surprise. But what’s a surprise is that how we’ve almost ignored that piece, and we focus so heavily on the trustworthy side and not near enough on the trusting side. And I want to bring that to the fore, that, as leaders, we got to become more trusting. We gotta be extending trust.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so, since we kind of say the word trust a lot, how about we do a little bit of defining of terms? What do you mean, precisely, by trust? And what are some ways that we extend trust or we show that we are trusting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. So, by trust, I simply mean confidence. That’s the most simple definition I can give. In fact, Pete, in many languages, trust and confidence are the exact same word, like in Spanish, in French. I have personally presented now in some 55 countries on site, in person, and in about, I’m going to say, over at least half of those countries, where they have a different language other than English as their native tongue, in at least half of them, trust and confidence are the exact same word.

So, in English, we have two words for it. So, think it means confidence. Now, the opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion. So, confidence versus suspicion. That’s the most simple definition. Now, where does that confidence come from? I suggest it comes from two sources. It comes from having both character and competence. Character and competence, both are vital. If you have one but lack the other, you will not sustain the trust.

This makes a person credible. It makes them trustworthy if they have both character and competence, and that is something that we earn. So, we earn trustworthiness through demonstrating character and competence but then we extend trust, we give trust by being trusting. And I think the opportunity here is to find the ways, as a leader, as a colleague, as a partner, that you can extend more trust to people.

And when you extend the trust, I’m not advocating that you just blindly trust anyone and everyone. That’s not smart in a low-trust world because not everyone can be trusted or there could be that the context matters. If there’s really high risks on the trust you’re extending, or the credibility of the person is either unknown, or is known to be low credibility, low trustworthiness, then you’re going to be very limited or careful or cautious on how much trust you extend.

But, generally speaking, we need to be more trusting, not less, and find the opportunities to extend that trust, always creating expectations, always creating the process for accountability, like my dad did with me on green and clean. He had expectations, “I want the yard to be green and clean,” and accountability, “Let’s, twice a week, you tell me how you’re doing against the standard of green and clean.”

So, here’s a great opportunity right now that companies have had over the last two years coming out of this pandemic. People have started working from home, working from anywhere, remote work, hybrid work, intentionally flexible work, and that’s continuing, and it’s going to continue in some format going forward.

Actually, a lot of organizations really do a great job at demonstrating to their people, as they’re working from home, “That we trust them,” that they trust their people. And it’s explicit, it’s clear that they come in, they say, “Look, we trust you. Here’s the expectation, here’s the accountability, but you need to know we trust you.” And people feel it and they receive it, and they’ve actually accelerated and grown the trust through this difficult circumstance by being deliberate and intentional about the trust that they’re extending to their people.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some other companies with the same setup, where the people working remotely did not feel trusted at all. They felt they’re now just being micromanaged from a distance because there was no choice or option in the matter, and some companies put in place surveillance software and the like, all in the name of productivity to make sure that people were actually doing their job, and it just conveyed and screamed distrust. And so, yeah, they were working remotely but they still did not feel trusted. And rather than increasing the trust, they actually decreased it.

So, what’s happened in the last couple of years has been a great opportunity to actually increase the trust and generate the reciprocity by demonstrating that you trust your people, or maybe have it go the other direction because you’re actually demonstrating through your behavior, your actions, that, “I don’t trust you and I’ve got to micromanage you.” It’s just done differently now because it’s remote.

And, going forward, as people come back, and we come up with a new way of working in this new world, what matters more than the precise mechanics of what it’s going to look like, some hybrid combination of remote and on site, intentionally flexible work, what matters more than the actual structure is our leaders are actually leading with a trust-and-inspire approach with their people where they actually trust them with whatever model they come up with.

Or, are they trying to still operate from a command-and-control model that leads out with distrust with whatever they come up with? That matters more than the actual structure. There are many right answers. What matters more is the paradigm, the mindset of trusting your people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into that contrast quite a lot shortly. Maybe, first, I want to dig in just a little bit, so in terms of trust is confidence, and someone is trustworthy if they have character and competence. And so, I’m interpreting that to mean character, they have virtue, they’re not going to lie to you or steal. They’re not only looking out for number one all the time.

And competence is like they’re good at the things that their job demands of them. And, thusly, when someone has that, I trust them and that I have the confidence that if I give them some bit of responsibility, they are going to have the smarts to do the job sufficiently, and the ethics to not, I don’t know, skim off the top or do something shady along the way in executing it.

Stephen Covey
Not cut corners.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, you got it exactly. It’s both halves. And too often, we’ve equated trust with just character, and I say, no, it’s equal. Equal parts, character and competence. And a big part of this show, How to be Awesome at Your Job, it’s all about trying to make sure that we can become really good at our job because we know what we need to do. And that’s building the capabilities around what’s needed to do, and the expectations so we know, as well as then delivering on that, performing and delivering.

And so, the confidence is both kind of capabilities and results that, “I’ve got the skills and the talents and the expertise and the knowledge and the insight to stay relevant in a changing world, and I have a track record of performance, of results, that gives people confidence that if you give me a job, I’m going to get it done. Look at my track record. But I’m always learning and getting better and improving, the things that you’re doing with this podcast of, How to be Awesome at Your Job, because I’m learning about the capabilities that are needed to succeed at a job.”

So, that confidence is half as vital because someone could be an honest person and very caring and selfless, but if they can’t deliver or they don’t come through, they don’t do what they say they’re going to do because they’re not capable of it, even though they’re honest, I’m not going to trust them. And the reverse is true. If someone could deliver, get the job done, but if they’re running people over in the process, or violating the values and the beliefs of the company, cutting corners, I’m not going to trust them either, so I’ve got to have both.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And it’s interesting, at How to be Awesome at Your Job, we have quite the contrast, I think, in terms of getting a feel for, “What is awesome at your job and true excellence look like versus mediocre, ho-hum, like okay?” So, likewise, with character, I’m thinking that, could you paint a picture for what excellence in character looks like versus, yeah, mediocrity? Because I think most of us are not…we’re not sociopaths. We have some level of guilt and conscience. We’re going to obey applicable laws.

And, yet, even with that, like sometimes I still don’t trust folks because it’s sort of like, “Hmm, I don’t believe you care about me and/or I think, if given the opportunity, if there’s ever a tradeoff between a little bit more expediency and profit, and my needs, wants, wishes, you will choose your expediency and profit.” And so, I don’t know, how do you think about what is a picture of real excellence look like in character?

Stephen Covey
In the character?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephen Covey
Beautiful. Love it. And, by the way, you identified, beautifully, the two components of character – integrity and intent. And integrity is honesty, truthfulness. Like you say, that someone might say, “Well, I’m particular and I follow the rules and the laws,” but compliance alone is necessary but insufficient. Someone could be legal but not ethical.

But here’s the big opportunity to what you just identified, that the real test of integrity, of doing the right thing, is when there’s a cost or consequence in doing so. Until then, I haven’t fully been tested. What do I do then when there’s a cost or consequence in doing the right? Do I still do the right thing? Another test of integrity is when nobody is looking and may never look. Do I still do the right thing?

So, integrity is, yes, it’s honesty and truthfulness, but it’s also congruence, an authenticity, that we are who we say we are, do what we say that we value, we walk the talk, the say-do ratio is aligned. And then, also, it takes humility and courage to have integrity. Humility, that there are principles that govern, courage to do the right thing when there’s a cost or a consequence, or when no one is looking. And that’s a deeper drive towards excellence.

So, someone could comply, someone else could act on commitment to do the right thing and make judgment calls doing the right thing even when there’s a cost or a consequence, and maybe when there’s degrees of this, where someone could get away, and say, “I was legal,” but maybe the right thing goes above and beyond that. That’s a higher standard, higher expectation of excellence.

And just like how I put competence in the two halves, I put competence in the half of your capabilities, and your results, your track record of performance. I put the character in the two halves – your integrity and your intent. So, the second half of character is your intent, and that is your motive. Do you care? And you mentioned this. Do you care about the people that you’re serving? They know and feel that you care about them. Or, do you not care?

Caring matters in terms of how people feel, in terms of trusting the person. If someone doesn’t think that another person cares about them, they often will tend to withhold the trust, wondering, “Do they really have my best interest at heart?” That’s the motive, caring. The agenda is to seek mutual benefit, that’s win-win. Especially, partners working together, collaborating, in charge of different departments, they just feel like, “Do I feel like you’re truly seeking mutual benefit and trying to do the best for all of us? Or, is it just are you just being self-serving and only acting in your best interest alone, and not really looking at mine? You might not say that but that’s what I feel and experience.”

And if I feel that, that you’re self-serving, I tend to withhold the trust. Or, if you’re only acting in your best interest and not in a shared best interest, I tend to withhold the trust. So, that’s your intent, which is the motive of caring and the agenda of mutual benefit. So, there’s a standard of excellence there for both integrity and intent that you can go much higher than kind of the mere threshold level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Excellent. Thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about sort of the big idea behind the book Trust and Inspire. So, you say there’s trust and inspire, and then there’s command and control. How would you sort of expand upon the differentiation between the two?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, here’s what the data shows, that most organizations today, in spite of all our progress and our management thinking, are still operating in some form of command-and-control style, about nine out of ten.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, the data is surprising. And, in some form, now here’s what’s happened though, Pete. They’ve become, it’s a far better version of it. It’s not necessarily the authoritarian command and control of the industrial age that was more accepted but it’s more of what I call an enlightened command and control. It’s more sophisticated. It’s more advanced. It’s a better version. A kinder, gentler version of it. We’ve brought mission into it. We brought emotional intelligence into it. We brought strengths into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychological safety.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, we brought a lot of good things into it but what we haven’t done fully yet is shift the paradigm, the mental map of how we view people, how we view leadership. We’re still trying to, basically, contain people as opposed to unleash them. We’re still trying to control people as opposed to release them. And we don’t see the greatness inside of people. We see it inside of some who we deem high potentials and not inside of others.

So, the idea that everyone has greatness inside, “I’m sure I’m not ready to buy that,” some people might say, or at least their style has not matched that belief. And so, we haven’t shifted the paradigm. We’ve incrementally improved within a limited applied paradigm, mindset. And that will take you so far, and it’s a better version of it.

So, we made a lot of progress but, in spite of all our progress, we still fall short of really shifting the paradigm to a trust-and-inspire approach, where I start with the fundamental belief that people have greatness inside of them. So, my job as a leader is to unleash their potential, not to contain or control them. I start with trust and inspire. I start with the belief that people are whole people. They have a body, heart, mind, spirit. They’re not just economic beings. They’re a whole person.

So, my job as a leader is to inspire, not merely motivate. You see, motivation is extrinsic, carrot-and-stick awards, external. Inspiration is intrinsic, internal. To inspire means to breathe life into someone, into something or someone, and so it’s inside of them. I light the fire within, and that’s a better thing. And when people are seen as whole people, yes, they have a body, they want to be paid; but they have a heart, they want to connect; and they have a mind, they want to contribute and develop, and use their talent.

And they have also a spirit, with the idea of meaning, of purpose, of mattering. That’s the whole person, and that can inspire people instead of just merely motivating them. So, these are some of the beliefs. Also, another belief is that there’s enough for everyone, an abundance mentality. So, my job as a leader is to elevate caring above competing because there’s many organizations in which they’re competing internally all the time with each other because they’re operating on the basis of scarce resources.

And while scarcity might be a sound economic principle, it’s a lousy leadership principle. Abundance mentality is a better way to lead, elevate, care than about competing. Leadership is stewardship. It’s a responsibility, not a right. So, my job as a leader is to put service above self-interest. And another belief is that enduring influence is created from the inside out. So, my job as a leader is to go first. Someone needs to go first. Leaders go first.

So, these are, collectively, a paradigm of a trust-and-inspire leader. They see people and leadership more completely than more of a fragmented narrow view of, partially accurate, but incomplete map of people in their ship. And until that paradigm shifts, we’re going to stay deep in command and control, a better version of it, an enlightened version of it, but we’ve got to shift the paradigm. And we’re so deep in command and control, we’re not even aware of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s actually exactly what I was curious about in terms of like the trust and inspire sounds awesome. It’s like, “Yeah, that’s where I’d like to work, and that’s what I’d imagine leaders would like to believe is the case in their organizations.” So, when you said the data reveal that about nine out of ten companies are still in command and control, not to get too deep into the weeds on the research process, but I got to believe, if you just asked, “Hey, are you more of a command-and-control or more of a trust-and-inspire organization?” they’re like, “Oh, I’m a trust-and-inspire organization.” People would, self-servingly, want to click that and be shifted there. So, how do you make that determination when you are doing the research on that matter?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, again, we’ve come from different sources in different forms, and some of our own research in which we asked, “If you were to assess the predominant leadership style of the organization,” not what they profess but this is people assessing it, what they experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, gotcha.

Stephen Covey
So, it’s not the senior leadership. If you asked the senior leaders, I think it’ll almost be the other way around. Most of them would say exactly what you’re saying, Pete, “Of course, we’re trust and inspire.” But if you ask the people, “How do you describe the management style of leadership?” and you get far more into command and control.

Also, there’s a beautiful study by LRN, a consultancy that focuses heavily on ethics and things like that, a superb firm that looks at these archetypes of what they called blind obedience, informed acquiescence or self-governance, kind of three different archetypes. And, again, almost everyone is in some form of what would be, in my words now, command and control, either the blind obedience or the informed acquiescence, that they move a lot.

There’s a lot more now in informed acquiescence, so it’s a more transactional type of thing versus a blind obedience, but very few that are into self-governance, which is another capture away for this idea of trust and inspire.

And, again, you’ll see a lot of, again, there’s been progress, but we’re so immersed in a command-and-control world, even to this day, that it’s right in our language. You look at span of control, chain of command, rank and file, recruitment. These are all military terms, and command-and-control is a military term. It’s kind of coming from this mindset, and you see it in our systems and structures. Structures tend to be more hierarchical.

Now, there are some shifts again, of course, we’re seeing in traditional hierarchies and the like. You see it in systems of forced rankings, and your high potential is identifying different things, and performance appraisals and reviews. You see it in all kinds of paradigms of bosses and subordinates and all kinds of different things. So, it just shows up in a variety of ways.

I call it fish discover water last. We’re so immersed, we don’t even recognize it, and we see this command and control is so all around us, we’re often not even aware of it. But another thing is this, that we kind of know all this, that command and control doesn’t really work today as well as it maybe did in a different era, and I don’t think it worked that way that great before either. But to know and not to do is not to know.

And so, it’s one thing to say, “Yeah, we’ve got to lead with trust and inspire,” but it’s harder to say than to do it because people have a hard time letting go. They have a hard time truly empowering. They have a hard time truly extending trust, and abundantly extending trust because they’re worried that they’re going to be held accountable, “What if it doesn’t work? Or, what if I’ve been burned before? Or, what if I don’t know how to do this? What if I can’t let go? Or, what if this is who I am? I built my whole career being this kind of leader, and now you’re asking me to change because we’ve got a different mindset of the new generations coming up and the like?”

And so, it can be really a challenge for people. But one last thought is that old paradigms can live on almost indefinitely, like bloodletting, 3,000 years old. Egyptians were doing it, then Romans, and then it went through the Middle Ages, and then as late as in the 1600s, that’s when the people discovered the germ theory, another thing that said, “Bloodletting is bad map. The map is not the territory. Bloodletting is not it,” and yet it continued for another 250 years being the common practice, or at least a common practice, among many, even though it had been disproven 250 years earlier.

So, old paradigms can continue to lead on, and we’re seeing much of that. Command and control is like a native tongue, and trust and inspire is like an acquired tongue. And when the pressure is on, and if I’m hammering, I accidentally hit my thumb with the nail, I’m going to cuss out in my native tongue because that’s just second nature. So, all these factors are just really why we remain somewhat still a little bit trapped in a command-and-control style of leadership, and we need to shift the style.

That’s why I like to use the word style. This is a meta style. And trust and inspire, you said it, Pete, it sounds better. We all like that. We all want to be trust and inspire. It’s like me and my dad. He didn’t hover over and micromanaged me. He trusted me. He inspired me. And it’s aspirational, we all like that. And I’ll bet some of us have had a trust-and-inspire leader in our life, at least one, maybe many. But at least one whether it be a family member, or someone at work, or a mentor, a coach, who believed in us, had confidence in us, extended trust to us, maybe believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.

So, I ask our listeners, when you had someone like that, a trust-and-inspire leader in your life at some point somewhere, whether at work or at home, or in the community, what did that do to you? Did you need to be managed or did you self-govern? And how did you respond to that? Did you need to be motivated with a carrot stick or were you inspired? Did you rise to the occasion? Did you want to prove justified and give it back, and just feel gratitude, and you perform better? So, that’s the idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, you’re right. It does sound awesome if you’re to have that kind of vibe, the trust and inspire, and it does seem, in some ways, almost too good to be true in terms of like a large organization can really work and operate that way without chaos somehow taking over. So, could you give us an inspiring example of a team or an organization that made the leap, they were running in a command-and-control kind of a way, but then they did some specific things such that they are now operating in a trust-and-inspire kind of a way, and it’s worked out okay?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely. There’s many. Here’s one of them. Microsoft under Satya Nadella. When Satya Nadella got in as CEO, Microsoft had been kind of fading. They’re still huge because they had so much market share but they no longer had the same great culture that people wanted to be a part of. They were starting to lose people quite a bit. They were not innovating and they kind of rested upon their laurels in the past. Not innovating.

A cartoonist in Seattle drew a cartoon of the Microsoft culture in which he depicted silos and pyramids with people from within pointing guns at each other. It was seen as this cutthroat culture that was internally competitive, and the way to get ahead was to take out your fellow Microsoft person there within the company.

I call this the two epic imperatives of our time that we have today. They were not, at the time, winning in the workplace. They did not have a culture that attracted, retained, engaged, and inspired the best people. They were losing too many. And they were also not winning in the marketplace through collaboration and innovation. They’re starting to fade.

In come Satya Nadella, did many things, but among those things, it really was a leadership style. His style was different in kind. He was a trust-and-inspire leader. He modeled, he trusted, and he inspired. Their words for this were model, coach, care, and those were the things they expected of their leaders, and, again, Nadella modeled it.

He modeled humility and courage. He modeled authenticity and vulnerability. He modeled empathy and performance. But, also, this, he adopted a growth mindset, the work of Carol Dweck, not just for him and for their management but for everyone, to see the greatness out of everyone, to have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone.

Because of that growth mindset, they now said, “Let’s trust people. Let’s not manage them. Let’s coach and let’s extend trust.” And you always extend the trust with expectations and accountability so you don’t have that chaos we talked about, or you don’t lose control because you build it in to an agreement and through context and through culture as opposed through more rules or through micromanagement. You can still have control without being controlling.

And they trusted and then they inspired both by caring, which is a big focus for them, and connecting with people through caring at an interpersonal level, and connecting to people at a team level through belonging and inclusion. And that inspires people when they feel like you care about them and they have a sense of belonging. But, also, by connecting to people, by connecting people to purpose and to meaning and to contribution, making a difference, mattering. They did all these things.

Long story short, under him, now they’re really winning in the workplace. They’ve got a high-trust culture that inspires, they’re not perfect, but it’s a cooler place to work than it has been, and they’re winning in the marketplace. They’re collaborating and innovating. They’re a cloud powerhouse. They recreated themselves and they’re innovating again, and their stock price went from, I think when the Dow came in, it was 38, today, it’s about 300, and so dramatic turnaround. They modeled, they trusted, they inspired, led by Satya Nadella and his leadership style.

Here’s another one. Cheryl Bachelder, what she did at Popeyes. A complete turnaround of Popeyes. They’ve had four CEOs in seven years before she came in, they’re just spitting them out. She had advisors say, “Don’t take this job.” There was distrust completely between the franchisees and the home office, and they didn’t trust each other at all. It was contentious.

She comes in. Long story made short, she modeled, she trusted, she inspired even when some people said, “You can’t trust.” She said, “No, we’re going to trust,” and dramatic turnaround. She took their stock price from 11 to 79, doubled their market share from 14% to 27%. They began to innovate, they began to win in the workplace, and they built a high-trust relationship between the franchisees and the home office when it was fractious and contentious before in the old model, and now they also are collaborating and innovating. It was a trust-and-inspire approach to leadership, not a command-and-control. Involvement. Listening.

And Eric Yuan at Zoom is a trust-and-inspire leader but he was that way from the beginning. That was not a turnaround. That was one from the beginning with trust and inspire. So, examples are everywhere. You can become a trust-and-inspire leader in a command-and-control company, so you don’t have to wait for the CEO. You can do this. You can lead out with this.

But I’ll give you one distinction on this, that this is the one piece I wanted to add to it. Command and control, the idea’s that you manage people and things. Trust and inspire, you manage things and you lead people. See, we need great management. I’m not against management. We need management. We need great management. Management of things. And things include systems and processes and structures and technologies and inventories and financials. You manage things but you lead people.

The moment we start to manage people as if they were things, we’ll end up losing a lot of those people. They’ll go elsewhere because we’re trying to be efficient with people. You can be efficient with things but not with people. Be efficient with things, effective with people. Manage things. Lead people. The danger is we get really good at management and we’re starting to manage people as if they were things. That’s kind of the mindset of command and control, they treat it that way. Even the name managing people, the very wording, the language is a command-and-control mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like people don’t think, “I want to be managed. Like, that sounds great.” I guess we want, even I who, I’m self-employed, at times I would like a great manager, but I guess what I really mean is a leader in terms of someone who really sees what I’m doing well and not so well, and giving me kind, honest, enriching feedback that pushes me to greatness. But, yeah, that doesn’t feel like management per se.

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I like to put it this way, Pete. People don’t want to be managed; they want to be led. They want to be trusted. They want to be inspired. So, again, you can call them your manager if that’s what they’re called but they manage things, lead people, and people respond to that. They still want their help. So, maybe the one piece on this that maybe for our listeners that they might think, “Well, this trust and inspire sounds good but I feel like I’m going to lose control, or it may not be as strong enough for our world and such.”

I want to distinguish and say this. Trust and inspire is not the opposite of command and control. The opposite of command and control is advocate and abandon. Command and control is kind of like excessively hands on, really hands on. Advocate and abandon is like completely hands off to where I’m not even directing, I’m not leading anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Do what you want. I’m out of here.”

Stephen Covey
Yeah, “Do what you want.” Like, a holacracy or just no structure, no vision, no expectations, no accountability. That’s not what we want. That’s not going to work. Trust and inspire is a third alternative that includes trusting and inspiring people but also builds in the control into an agreement, into context, into the culture.

Like, at Netflix, they call it freedom and responsibility. They don’t have policies on most things – vacation policies, sick days, all these things. They trust their people. They call it freedom but it’s not a wild loose freedom. It’s freedom and responsibility. It’s a third alternative. They build the control in through context not through controls like most organizations have that say, “We’ve got to control people with systems and structures.” They do it through context, through agreements, through responsibility that goes along with the freedom, through a culture that does that. So, that’s the idea.

And so, trust and inspire is a third alternative. My dad, with me, on green and clean, he actually had built in accountability. He was still holding me accountable but I was holding myself accountable through the agreement we had created together. So, the point is you can be in charge and have control without being controlling. You can be strong without being forceful. You can be compelling without being compulsory.

A trust-and-inspire leader can be authoritative without being authoritarian. They can be decisive without being autocratic. So, the point is, this is strong. This is not weak, kind of like, “Yeah, maybe for a few things but you don’t know my industry. We’re a command-and-control industry with heavy regulation and compliance.” You can still be trust and inspire in these contexts because it’s not weak; it’s strong. It just does it through different means.

It involves people. It creates agreements. It creates contexts versus rules, regulations, policies, procedures, controls. And that’s kind of the big breakthrough. This is a third alternative that is very strong.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephen, if folks are like, “Yes, I want that,” and they’re either an individual contributor or they’ve got a small team, what do you recommend as some of the very first steps to getting some of that trust-and-inspire goodness flowing?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I’d go back to start with your paradigm, how you see people, how you view leadership. Look at those fundamental beliefs. You see greatness inside of people? And if you do, then are you working to unleash that greatness not contain or control it? Most people feel like they have a lot more they can give to their organization than they’re allowed to give. They had a lot more creativity and talent and ability to influence things than they’re allowed to give, and, yet, people are under greater stress to do more with less, and there’s this gap there because we’ve not unleashed our people well enough.

So, start with that, the paradigm. See the potential, communicate the potential to people so they can come to see it in themselves. Develop the potential, grow people, develop capabilities, and this is a big part of what you’re doing with this podcast, is, “What do I need to work on? What do I need to do? What do I need to know? What skills do I need to develop?” Give those people those chances. Develop them and give them opportunities. And part of that includes trusting them so they have an opportunity to learn and even to make a mistake and to fall short like I did on green and clean.

So, you develop the potential and then you unleash it, you tie it to what you’re trying to accomplish and achieve so they can use what they have for the betterment of the mission, the purpose, the organization. And so, I call that see, communicate, develop, unleash the potential that’s inside of people, and you see the greatness. And so, your job, you’re like a gardener trying to cultivate the right conditions for the seed to flourish.

The power, the life is in the seed, it’s in the people. You’re trying to create the conditions for the seed to emerge, to be cultivated, versus a mechanic where it’s all mechanistic. No, it’s organic. You’re a gardener.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you.

Stephen Covey
That’d be the first thing. Start with the paradigm. Have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s hear about a couple of your favorite things. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stephen Covey
This is kind of a mantra that’s in the form of a quote that I learned from my father, and it’s what I’ve adopted for myself, and that is simply this, “Seek to bless, not to impress.” It’s a whole approach of how to work with people and add value to others. So, I do this any time before I give a speech, Pete, as I go into an organization. I come back to, “What’s my motive here? Am I trying to impress people with who I am or am I trying to bless, to serve to make a difference, to add value?”

And if I find that I’m in my head and focused on, “I sure hope I can impress them and dazzle them with a great speech or be seen as really smart,” then I’m putting self-interest above service, and I’m putting my head above heart and not reaching people. But, instead, if my motive is one of caring, and my motive is one of serving, and my motive was one of blessing, not impressing, so I’m really focused on them and helping them succeed, not me looking good, then I find I actually do a better job.

It’s just a simple phrase that I constantly check with myself. And I had to course correct all the time because it’s natural to want to impress but a better way to impress is to focus on blessing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, hey, I think we feel blessed and impressed with this conversation, so one makes the other happen.

Stephen Covey
Oh, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stephen Covey
Well, I’m biased, I love my father’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m in there as green and clean. And I liked how Jim Collins said it about that book, that what the browser did for…it became the user interface that made the internet accessible, because the internet had been around since 1969 or something like that but it was not accessible, it was not usable except for extreme scientist types, but the browser made it accessible.

He describes The 7 Habits, Jim Collins did, as the user interface for human effectiveness. It made it accessible. And it was that for me, and I think it’s that for many others. So, my dad brought together the ideas and languaged it and sequenced it to make it accessible, practical, tangible. And so, that’s, I think, a big contribution. That’s why it’s maybe my favorite book.

I like my own, too, but I’ll let you talk about Trust and Inspire not me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And is there a particular nugget that you have coined or shared with audiences or your books that gets lots of Kindle book highlights or re-tweets; it’s the Stephen M. R. Covey quote that you’re extra famous for?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, there’s a few. One is that “The first job of a leader is to inspire trust. And the second job is to extend trust.” That’s what leadership is – inspiring trust, extending trust. Another one is, “Treat people according to their potential rather than their behavior.” So, you’re aware of their behavior and informed by it but if you treat them according to their potential, they tend to live up to it far better.

And, finally, one last one, that while we tend to judge others on their behavior, we tend to judge ourselves on our intent. What if we could know another’s intent? I think we’d see them and judge them differently. So, those are a few quotes or expressions that people repeat.

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

Stephen Covey
You can go to TrustandInspire.com. We’ve got a website for this book, Trust and Inspire. You can get the book. It’s available on bookstores everywhere and, obviously, online through Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com. And then you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn, I’m @StephenMRCovey. I’d love for you to follow me and dive deeper into what I’m calling the new way to lead in a new world.

A new world of work requires a new way to lead – trust and inspire. It’s aspirational, it’s what we want. You said it, I agree. It’s what we want when we’ve experienced it. It’s hard to not feel gratitude toward that and want that. So, my challenge for our listener, I’ll go full circle on this, is I ask the listener to think about maybe someone in your life who was a trust-and-inspire leader for you and what that did to you. So, I’m going to do a 180 on this and say for whom, listener, could you become a trust-and-inspire person? Who could you become that person that would look at you and say, “Pete trusted and inspired me, and here’s what it did to me”?

So, we’ve maybe had someone that’s done it for us. What if we could do it for another? And if you can do it for one, you can do it for many. This is a better way to lead in a new world of work. I think trust and inspire is part of the solution to the future of work. It’s not enough to just deal with the structure and the methodology. It’s the mindset. It’s the style of leadership. And don’t let your style get in the way of your intent.

I think most people’s intent is trust and inspire. I think most of our style, much of our style still falls in command and control. Our style is getting in the way of our intent. And we can change that, we can re-script ourselves, we can learn the skills to lead in a way where we’re very trusting, while also building in control into the trust, into the agreement that we’re building. It’s having control, not being controlling, and that’s possible. We can get good at this.

So, I hope our listeners will find that, the tools, the resources, the book Trust and Inspire to be helpful. I love the subtitle because the subtitle tells it all, which is, “How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others.” This is a book about people and about leadership. Whatever your role, you can apply it as a parent because you want to see the greatness in your children; or as an aunt, or uncle, or grandparent, or godparent. You could apply it as a friend in the community. It’s about unleashing the greatness inside of others. That’s what great leaders do. Trust and inspire.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stephen, this has been such a treat. Thank you for all you do and for your trust and inspiration. And keep on rocking.

Stephen Covey
Well, thank you, Pete. I feel the same about you. You’re a trust-and-inspire podcaster that’s really trying to focus on helping your listeners succeed, become truly awesome at their job because they know what to do, and you’re helping them succeed. So, commend you and commend what you’re doing here. Wish you every success and also all of our listeners.

760: Taking the Fear out of Feedback with Joe Hirsch

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Joe Hirsch reveals why we all struggle with feedback and shares how we can get better at giving and receiving it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The small shift that improves our relationship with feedback
  2. Why to ditch the feedback sandwich and embrace the W.R.A.P.
  3. What to do when you’re not getting the feedback you need

About Joe

Dr. Joe Hirsch helps leaders apply behavioral science to improve the way they listen, lead and learn. He’s a TEDx and international keynote speaker and the author of The Feedback Fix, which has been praised by Fortune 500 executives, NFL coaches and educational reformers for its forward-looking view of human performance.  Joe’s work and research has been featured in Harvard Business ReviewCNBC, Forbes, Inc., The Wall Street Journal and other major outlets. He’s helped more than 10,000 people across three continents communicate with impact and hosts the popular podcast, I Wish They Knew.

Resources Mentioned

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Joe Hirsch Interview Transcript

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

Joe Hirsch
Hey, Pete. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited to dig into your wisdom about feedback. But, first, I want to hear about you and pushups. What’s the story here?

Joe Hirsch
You remind me, I have to go do some. Yes, so I enjoy pushups. I’ve been doing them for like 20 years straight, never missed a day, and I have found that to be a low-impact, high-value exercise. I used to use weights and I found that the weights were cumbersome. I couldn’t travel with them, they took up space in my basement, my kids were competing with me for them, and it never seemed to work.

So, I shifted a while ago, even before like this new phase of my life, and I shifted to pushups and I never looked back. And I feel like it’s a great metaphor for feedback, in general, because the things that we do, the small steps and small shifts that we make, sustained over time, they have such a huge impact. So, all about the pushups, it’s good for you, folks. Go out there and do five while you’re listening to this podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, how has it evolved in terms of where did it start and where is it now and what’s the pushup vibe, groove, goal?

Joe Hirsch
So, after about 20 years, I’m up to three pushups.

Pete Mockaitis
Progress.

Joe Hirsch
I’m getting better every day and, yeah, I think it’s a great way to challenge yourself. So, you set a goal for today, you say, “I’m going to 50 pushups today.” Maybe you can do them straight, maybe not, you break them up into short bursts but you start to realize that those small wins begin to happen and you start to incrementally build upon that progress. And I find that very rewarding.

Sometimes you finish a workout, you’re like, “Oh, what did I just do for the last 45 minutes?” or, “Man, I’m sore but I don’t feel like I did anything.” With pushups you really feel like you’re making gains and you can really track that progress. So, I like the workout.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. Well, we’re going to talk about feedback and your book The Feedback Fix. I’d love it if you could just kick us off with kind of a Joe greatest hit. Is there a particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about us humans and feedback over the course of your career?

Joe Hirsch
I think that if people start to think about feedback not in terms of fear but joy, they’ll be surprised by the resonance of their message and the impact of their words. I don’t care if you’re a manager, or you’re an individual contributor, or a parent, or a teacher, or a spouse, feedback is hard and it makes the conversations high stakes, and that’s exactly when we need to be high touch.

And by shifting our message and our mindset, and in the process of looking out towards the future that people can still change, rather than looking back at a past they can’t, we can absolutely make a difference in the tone and the trajectory of these super important conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You said joy. Intriguing. I guess we’re going to go into a lot of detail about some feedback things. But any quick perspective on how do we get more joy on the receiving end of feedback? Is there a mindset that is optimal for us?

Joe Hirsch
It’s to look at feedback not so much as a gift, which you hear a lot from people and it’s not wrong. It’s not bad advice but I tend to think of it more in terms of a deposit. Because a gift, you can return. The gift doesn’t have to be something you like. It’s more about what the other person thinks you might need. But when it’s a deposit, that’s when we can start to separate that truth signal from the noise and we can start to build interests on that deposit and take it somewhere if we make the right moves and have the right mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, it’s a deposit, sort of like, “Okay, I can do something with this. I can invest it. I can get rid of the illicit drug money component of the deposit.” Really stretching this metaphor, Joe.

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, it’s not a drug drop. It’s a deposit. And, ultimately, that’s the thing about feedback. We don’t choose the feedback we get but we absolutely choose where it goes. And I think that’s why deposits make so much sense to people because when they think about feedback as a fear-inducing experience, and I’ve literally asked this question, Pete, to thousands of people across the world, leaders at every level, across industries, “How do you feel when you get feedback?” These are the leaders, “How does it feel?”

And then I asked them a simple follow-up, “How did it feel the moment just before you got that feedback, when you knew it was coming?” And the answers are almost universally, “Well, I felt cautious. I felt uncertain. I felt uncomfortable. I felt in pain,” and that’s because, for a lot of people, we approach these conversations with a focus on deficits and not strengths, with a focus on the unchangeable past and not the unfolding future. And we, ultimately, look at feedback as a sledgehammer to hit people over the head with rather than a shoehorn to sort of open up possibilities and potential.

And when we start to make that small shift, whether that’s on the receiving end or as feedback-givers on the delivery side, that’s the moment when we can start to make a world of difference in the tone, in the trajectory, and, ultimately, in the impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Joe, you’re of master distinction. I love this already. A sledgehammer, no, no. A shoehorn, and the past versus the future. Like, these are the sorts of things that make people go, “Oh, okay.” Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak. And when you add them up, it’s very actionable and doable and potent, so I dig it. So, tell us then, in your dreamworld, what’s really possible with feedback? Like, what should feedback accomplish and do for us as professionals in the world?

Joe Hirsch
So, in The Feedback Fix I explore feedback through the lens of something called feed forward, a term that was first introduced by Marshall Goldsmith. He gave it sort of common currency. It goes even further back before Marshall to some researchers back in the 1960s. But feed forward, a concept that was originally intended to help people elicit quick feedback in almost like a speed-dating format, that’s how Marshall uses it.

And I began to wonder, like, “Could this possibly have a strong research undercurrent to it? Is there something more to this than just a neat way to grab some quick insights on my current performance with total strangers?” And as I begin to unpack the research in preparation for writing The Feedback Fix, it became clear that, in fact, there was.

And when you start to peel this back a little bit, you begin to notice some trends, that when we start to make these small shifts in the way we look at ourselves as leaders and how we operate, that the moment we start to approach with more inquiry and more curiosity and act more like learn-it-alls than know-it-alls, that’s the moment when we give permission for others to do the same.

And we start to shift these dynamics from power to partnership. And, ultimately, that’s what feed forward is. It’s a strength-centered forward-looking view at who people are becoming, not just who they are. And it’s the moment when leaders start to operationalize this mindset of, “I’m going to be more of a listener and a learner, not a teller and a seller.”

That’s when they start to unlock these great insights that they don’t always have, and give permission to the person on the other side of that conversation to continue to be a partner in that process. In a perfect world, we would do a lot more listening and learning and a lot less telling and selling.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that really unlocks what we can become, and that’s beautiful. So, let’s get into it then. You say right now, in contrast, traditional feedback is, you say, broken. Could you give us the rundown on what’s not working when it comes to feedback in this day and age, 2022? I’m thinking United States-centric, although we have listeners around the world. Hello, guys and gals. What’s not working right now in professional settings feedback?

Joe Hirsch
So, you really have three problems with traditional feedback, which happens infrequently which focuses on a past that people can’t change, and, ultimately, it’s preoccupied with weaknesses rather than strengths. So, the first is bias. There’s some really interesting research out there that shows that when I give you feedback, let’s say you’re my employee, Pete, and I’m talking to you about something that just happened at work. The feedback that I give you is filtered through the important priorities and principles that I have and not focused on the things that matter to you.

So, when I give you feedback about your performance, I’m actually speaking more towards my priorities and principles. It says more about me than it does about you. It’s called the idiosyncratic rater effect. And there’s other cognitive mind traps that slip into this process, focusing on people’s past and holding them to it. Recency effect, the most recent thing that happens takes centerstage.

Or, sort of the opposite of that, spillover, where we chain people to their past performance. We don’t ever let them get out of their past mistakes or missteps. Or pillow or horns, looking at people as either all good or all bad, and filtering that way. So, you have big problems with bias, and that’s even before you get into other biases about people’s backgrounds and who they are and their life experiences they bring, and it’s a messy, messy picture.

The other problem is blindness. And, especially today, we’re talking now in March of 2022, today, work is more complex and less visible than ever before. And that’s one of the great upheavals of the pandemic is people started to leave their offices and go work from home. Work became less visible but it also became more interconnected.

And as work became harder to track, because more people, more hands touching projects, and at the same time became less visible because it’s happening away from the view of managers a lot of the time, so it’s very difficult for managers to have all the insights and all the answers that they might have once had.

It’s like if you go to your favorite pizza joint and you order a pineapple pepper pizza, don’t knock that until you take a try, by the way. It’s quite awesome. So, like, who’s responsible for that awesome pizza? Is it the chef who came up with the recipe? Is it the guy in the back cutting all the vegetables to perfection? Is it the farmer who sourced the vegetables or the pineapples? Is it the delivery man who brought it all together? So, who’s responsible for success?

And that’s the question that managers are really focusing on today, “Who’s responsible for success? I can’t see it, therefore, I can’t track it. And, as a result, I don’t know it.” So, blindness is a big problem for people. And then you have memory. Even if we had all the pieces in front of us, we can’t necessarily remember it. And memory researchers talk about this thing called the forgetting curve, and it sounds exactly as it described. There’s a sudden and steep loss of information just as soon as you begin to learn it. And researchers point that loss somewhere between 30% and 50%.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, minutes after you tell me something.

Joe Hirsch
It’s wild. It’s crazy. So, like, if you learn something on a Monday and then you try to implement it on a Tuesday, you’re already wondering, “Well, what was the password?” or, “What was the website I was supposed to go to?” or, “What was the new policy that my managers just told me about?” and we don’t remember it.

And that memory loss steadies and slows but becomes steeper over the course of a week so that by the time a week goes by, we have forgotten almost 90% of information, which is astounding. So, if you think about the fact that most companies are on a performance management cycle that is either annual, which is – oh, God – like why, or quarterly, which is still not great, the problem is one of memory.

The manager and the employee acting like forensic psychologists or archeologists trying to recreate a past that neither one can truly remember, so you’ve got bias, you’ve got blindness, you’ve got memory, and all these factors combine to produce a picture that isn’t pretty, so it’s no wonder that when you ask the question, “Can I give you some feedback?” We have a physiological response to that question. Our hands become clammy, our knees buckle, we feel like less of ourselves, and that’s why traditional feedback is failing and that’s why feed forward is succeeding.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that makes sense right then and there. Like, even before we talk about how you say it, like just the content in and of itself is going to be inaccurate and incomplete. So, it’s almost like roll the dice. It’s like, “Let’s just see what’s going to happen,” and that naturally makes us pretty uncomfortable, like a huge dose of uncertainty and it’s personal, “Joe, I’m going to tell you something about you. It’s going to have some implications about your future and your prospects. I don’t know what it is and it may or may not, but likely will not be accurate.”

Joe Hirsch
Right. And that’s why we have such an instinctual resistance to this. We look at feedback, as you said, as a judgment and it’s not just about our work, it’s about ourselves. We also don’t take it very seriously because we don’t think it’s accurate. And that’s why if managers were to approach the conversation with greater humility and greater curiosity to act, as I call them, as mirror holders instead of window gazers, as people whose job it is to simply enlarge and expand the view of another person rather than to tell and sell the other person on what they think has happened, then we’re going to have a different conversation.

So, it really starts with this mindset, as you said, even before you get to the message. The way we think about this has to really change.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then how does one be more of a mirror holder?

Joe Hirsch
So, it does start with that shift in thinking about, “What is my role here? If the manager says my job is to solve a problem, my job is to force a change,” then you’re going to be frustrated because, as we said, you don’t have all the answers, and even the data you have may not be good. So, instead of trying to tell and sell, ask the other person for their perspective, and this is where approaching with that learn-it-all mindset, a sense of curiosity and wonder can be super helpful. So, that’s the first step is to start to approach more as a partner and less as a power broker.

Once you do that, though, the message really has to shift from, “I’m trying to fix you” to “I’m trying to frame the problem or frame the issue.” And when we start to act as framers and not fixers, that’s a resonant message for people because rather than tell them what to do, we’re trying to unlock an insight that they already have and hold. And in The Feedback Fix and the work I do with organizations, it becomes very clear that you don’t need to overhaul your whole system. With small shifts and how we shape these conversations, we can actually have a dramatic impact.

And it really starts with operating with a simple belief that, “My job is not to force a change but rather to provoke an insight, and use the person on the other side of this conversation. You have answers that I may not have. You have insights that I may not possess. And if I can do a little more to engage you as a partner, to have more of a dialogue rather than a judgment, and to focus on the things that are really important to you and the moments when you were successful and to build on that, then we can start to have a conversation which is focused more on truth, it’s focused on clear goals, we talk to people as humans, we don’t focus on them as numbers, and, ultimately, we make them feel like more of themselves and not less.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Joe, this is beautiful. I think I’ve got a nice picture for the mindset, the vibe, the feel, the attitude to how we’re kind of centered and pointing at this thing. So, now, I’m curious, in practice, let’s say I love it, I want to feed forward, what are my action steps? What do I go do?

Joe Hirsch
So, one tool that I love sharing with clients is something called a feed forward wrap.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like a hip. Are we literally talking about rhyming lyrics?

Joe Hirsch
No, this is not Tupac. This is all different. Did I just go to Tupac? Well, I really just dated myself.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s classic.

Joe Hirsch
It’s okay. If you watched the halftime show this year, everyone kind of traveled back in time a little bit at the Super Bowl. So, this is a wrap, as in like the sandwich, or more appropriately the opposite of that praise sandwich, which, oh, God, we have given so many times and probably we’d just like to do without a little bit more.

So, the big problem with the praise sandwich is that it tends to be very meandering, it doesn’t really address the issue, it kind of dodges and disguises information, and we hope that people can kind of decipher our intentions somehow by sandwiching what we want to say in between two pieces of praise to kind of trick them and distract them from what we’re actually trying to get across.

And, look, I have no problem with praise. The issue is the sandwich. Research shows that when you sandwich feedback like this, it ends up going nowhere because people can’t follow your message. They tend to think of the person giving it to them as less reliable or trustworthy because we begin to wonder, like, “Well, if there’s an issue, just tell me, man. What’s going on?” And, ultimately, we don’t know where to go with that feedback.

So, the wrap, as in, “Let’s go get a fajita wrap,” yeah. Anyone hungry? Actually, this reminds me, I need to go eat something. So, when we think about feedback wraps, we’re talking to people more candidly, more caringly, and more collaboratively. And wrap stands for what and where, reason, affect, and prompt. What and where, reason, affect, and prompt.

And when you start to break feedback down this way, then you start to give people more clarity and control over the process, you engage them more collaboratively, you yield higher levels of commitment, and, ultimately, you get impact because you’ve got clarity. So, it’s a super effective tool that anyone can do and it helps you shift the dynamics from the past to the future, and from power to partnership.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very clever, moving away from the sandwich and toward a wrap. It might be a lower carb as well.

Joe Hirsch
Lower carb and high protein. Yeah, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, could you give us some examples walking us through the what and where, the reason, the affect, and the prompt?

Joe Hirsch
Yeah. So, let’s say I have a tendency to talk over people in meetings and you, as my manager, Pete, have noticed this and you got to bring it to my attention right away because other people on the team, they’re commenting on you offline, and they’re saying, “Joe won’t shut up. I mean, literally, in every meeting, the guy is cutting me off and can’t get my ideas out there.”

So, you pull me aside, and you say, “Joe, could we talk? I want to talk to you about something that happened in the meeting yesterday. A couple people felt like you had cut in when they were sharing their idea for how to engage this client.” So, that’s the what and the where. Now, why is that important? Because if you just say to me, “Joe, can I give you some feedback?” in this vague amorphous way, then my mind starts racing and bracing.

And when you look at brain scans of people who are asked that question, “Can I give you some feedback?” It’s amazing what the brain shows. There’s a spike in cortisol, the stress-inducing hormone, that literally depletes us. We become less creative. We experience a reduction in our executive functioning. We feel like less of ourselves. So, that’s why feedback feels so crappy because we are operating in a suboptimal way.

And so, by giving it a destination, a zip code, I suppose, of what’s happening and where it’s happening, you don’t eliminate the fear factor but you mitigate the fear factor. And so now, I know, “Okay, you want to talk about the meeting. It was yesterday. Here’s what happened and it’s not about my numbers. It’s not about my breath. It’s not about the shirt that I’m wearing. And it’s not about my lack of Zoom etiquette. You just want to talk about something that happened in the meeting yesterday when I cut in. Great.”

You then say, “Okay. Joe, look, the reason I want to tell you about this is because Paige and Sam, they felt really bad when you kind of cut in. And I know that something that you would never intentionally try to do, and I know how important our team dynamics are. You’ve been there a while, you’ve obviously demonstrated commitment to our goals and our values as a company, and I just wanted to bring this to your attention because it hurt them.”

And so, there’s two reasons, Pete, why we want to give the reason. Even if we’re talking to adults who are fully formed and we assume are aware of everything. The first is that people aren’t as aware as we think they are. There’s some great research out there on self-awareness that 90% of us have only 10% self-awareness, which is an astounding gap in perception and reality, and that’s why we have to tell people about this because they might not even be aware of how they’re showing up in the moment.

The other reason you want to give the reason is because of our innate need for certainty. So, I was on a plane recently going to a client event. We’re back on planes now, post-COVID, that’s kind of cool, but everyone was still a little bit anxious. And so, we got on the plane and we did the pre-flight stuff and everyone’s buckled up ready to go, and then nothing.

Like, we were just on the tarmac. We weren’t moving and people were getting fidgety and nervous and they started to look at their watches, and they’re like, “What’s happening?” and there’s no announcement, and everyone was beginning to worry, “What’s happening? What’s going on?” until the pilot finally got on and said, “So, we’re actually just, you know, we experienced a small mechanical issue. One of the members of the crew are coming to check it out. It’s a small warning signal that went on. We’re just looking into that before we take off.”

And so, now I’m thinking, “Oh, a warning signal, a warning light. Great. That’s why we’re here. It’s not because there’s bad weather forecasted, or not because a member of the crew got sick, or someone’s experiencing a medical emergency. It’s just a warning light.” And then you’re like, “Oh, a warning light. Well, maybe that’s a bad thing, but at least I know. At least I know what it is.” And so, certainty and self-awareness, we got to give the reason.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I guess it’s sort of like in that situation, your fears about what could be were brought into a narrow scope in terms of, “The reason I share this, Joe, is because this is one of many signs that I need to fire you.” So, it’s just like, “Oh, okay.” It helps contextualize in terms of, “The reason I share this is because you care about our team and our values and people are feeling good and having a good vibe, and I want to help you accomplish that,” as opposed to, “And the reason I’m sharing this is because, as you know, layoffs are coming and this quadruples the odds that you’re going to be out of here.”

Joe Hirsch
I might not add that part but I love everything you said at first.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I’m saying is some people freak out, I think, because we talked about certainty and how spooky it is because it can be anything, “Can I give you some feedback?” It can be anything from “You’re fired” to “You’re the new CEO.” And so, when you give that reason, it situates us quite nicely in terms of, “Okay, this is really what’s at stake here.” It might be big, it might be small but at least I know.

Joe Hirsch
And I care enough about you to tell you what that is and I want you to understand where I’m coming from and I want to make my intentions clear. So, that’s good to start but a lot of feedback operates with those two assumptions in mind. Let’s give a location and let’s talk about the context. Where feed forward really starts to show its magic with this wrap approach is in the final two stages – the affect and the prompt.

So, here’s a universal human truth. People can argue with what we say but they’re less likely to challenge how we feel. And so, when I shift the dynamic of the conversation from blame to emotion, or from judgment to description, that is the moment when you feel a little less assaulted by my feedback.

And so, if I were to say, “Look, the reason why I want to have this conversation with you and the reason why it’s important is because I felt badly for Paige and Sam who, in that moment, kind of just…they looked a little defeated and a little frustrated because when you cut in like that, Joe, it was really hard for them to retrack and recoup, and they had a hard time resuming where they were. So, I felt bad in that moment because that’s where they kind of lost their train of thought and the meeting kind of took a dip.”

Now, that’s a different statement than, “You’re rude. You’re a jerk. And you’re insensitive to the needs and feelings of your colleagues.” So, by moving this away from judgment, you-statements, “You didn’t do this,” or, “You did this and you really shouldn’t have,” we move it into I-statements, “I felt bad. I noticed this and I felt bad for these people who were affected by this.” And, again, here’s where we’re really moving it out of the high-stakes context and we’re shifting ground to a place where people can approach more humanly, and they can say, “Oh, I wasn’t even necessarily aware of that. I’m really sorry. Like, that wasn’t my intention.”

And then, finally, you get to the prompt. After all this has happened, you’ve talked about what’s happening, where it’s happening, the reason, the affect and the impact that was brought about, the emotional toll, here’s where feed forward is so powerful, Pete, because this is where we operationalize that mirror-holding that we talked about before, that listening and learning, and we give the control of the conversation to the other person, and we say, “Okay. So, what are your thoughts on where we go from here? What do you think? What do you think we should do?”

And it’s in that moment when people feel like they have the agency and the opportunity to be a partner, that’s when they’re going to do one of two things. They’re either going to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what you want me to do. I don’t know.” And that’s okay. Some people will say that, and that’s when you can say, “All right. Well, I want you to think about it. I realize right now, it’s maybe a lot, you’re processing, you’re taking it in. Let’s pick this up in a day, or in a few hours, or whatever your cadence is for this.”

But still with the assumption that, “I want to hear from you. I want to know what your thoughts are.” Or, the more likely scenario that I’ve observed and I’ve workshopped this in real time with teams, and I’ve seen this almost all the time, people will have an answer at the ready because we are closest to the problem which means we’re also closest to the solution. And that’s when we can come up with an idea.

And, by the way, the ideas that others will come up with are very close to, if not the same, as the ones we would’ve proposed ourselves, except now they belong to the person who suggested them, which means they own them, which means they’re going to act on them, which means they’re going to feel a greater sense of responsibility towards them. So, we’ve built commitment where there could’ve been concern. We’ve created partnership where there once was power. We’ve created agency where there might’ve just been accountability. And we’ve shifted the whole dynamic from “I know better than you” to “You can do better for yourself. Let me just try to help you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, that’s some good powerful stuff. And so, I’m curious, with the prompt, you said, “What are your thoughts on where we should go from here?” Is the idea that the prompt should nudge in a future-oriented direction as opposed to, “So, what do you think?” or, “Do you think I’m full of malarkey?” Is it that the prompt is a prompt that is forward-pointing, future-pointing?

Joe Hirsch
I think it’s both. You’re making a great point. It’s very nuanced. When you ask that question, you’re really asking for two things, “Do you accept my premise?” and “Do you have ideas?” So, one really neat thing that has happened a lot is when managers ask this question, a lot of times they’ll skip step one, which is, “Does the person accept my premise?” Usually, the person will because it’s presented in a way that is non-judgmental and very descriptive and it’s focused.

But sometimes people do get stuck on that first point, they’re like, “Well, actually, I want to just push back a little on what you just said.” Or, worse, they get their hands crossed, the ears turn red, and the smokes starts to come out of the ears, and they’re like, “Hell, no, I don’t agree with what you just said,” but that’s useful data because, now, you know that there’s something else going on here. It’s not just, “Joe is talking over other people in the meeting,” there’s a fundamental problem that lies beneath the surface that you’ve now uncovered because you’ve given me the opportunity to weigh in.

So, that’s good data, but, yes, it is about looking towards a future action that, ultimately, that person can control and one that they’re going to set on their own terms and timetable, again, with some nudging from you. It doesn’t mean that you, as a manager, now abandon your responsibilities to help move this person or this project forward.

A lot of managers will ask me, “This is nice but aren’t you actually like taking away my power? Aren’t you actually making me weaker?” And I say, “No. No, no, no. If you do this right, you become more powerful because, ultimately, you’re activating the real job of management, of leadership, and that’s to empower other people.” We have the power, as leaders, every day to empower others to find and to feel their best selves.

And when we start to do that, Pete, with these small shifts and how we shape the conversation, how we allow it to be received more impactfully, we’re increasing our power because we’re sharing it. And that’s the fundamental assumption here that we become more powerful and more impactful, we have more influence as managers when we help others become better practitioners, better contributors, better members of our organization, and that’s the real secret. By giving that control to others, it’s not what we give up. It’s what we give that really matters.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking here, when it comes to the prompt, and they might say, “Oh, I think that’s ridiculous,” and then, you do, you learn some things, you’re like, “Well, Paige has been running her mouth about this ridiculous idea that derails us every meeting and it’s wasting our time,” blah, blah, blah. Okay. Well, now, you’re right. You’ve learned something that, “I didn’t know you felt that way about Paige.”

Well, then there’s something to respond to, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, and now that you mentioned it, Paige really does do that all the time.” It’s like maybe there’s another conversation that needs to be had, or it can be like, “Whoa, this person is so kind of, I don’t know, self-absorbed or focused on the wrong stuff to really…this how this person sees the world. Wow, we’re going to have to do some more work to,” I guess I don’t want to fix people, right? We talked about that earlier. But we have to do some more work to get an understanding of where we need to move forward optimally here given that’s where they’re coming from.

Joe Hirsch
And, really, the job of leaders is to unlock those insights for people. And feed forward is one tool in a leader’s toolkit that allows him or her to set those conditions for positive and lasting change. And one of the things that’s been gratifying to see is that this works regardless of one’s experience levels as a leader, background or training. It works in every industry, and I’ve spoken to, I think, just about every single one, that people can do this with just a few tweaks in how they approach these conversations.

It’s not an overhaul of the system. It’s about making small incrementally positive changes in the way we look at people and performance so that we’re, ultimately, doing the real work of leading others, and that’s to lead them closer to who they actually are and can still become.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose we can do this wrap thing not just when we’re “correcting” something but also when we notice something that was awesome, it’s like, “Hey, I noticed in this document, in the questions you prepared for Joe, my Joe interview, that it was very thorough in terms of sub-bullets there, and I bring this up because I love it so much I want to see that every time if possible because it’s filled me with delight knowing that I am not going to look like a fool in having this conversation. I was very well prepared.”

“And so, I’m just curious, what did you think about? Did you do anything different when you were preparing this? Or, is there any way we might be able to go forward so this happens every time?” In all that, we’re saying, “I like the thing you did. Let’s have more of that.” And you could use the same wrap format just fine.

Joe Hirsch
A hundred percent. In fact, there’s a variation of that that I’ve helped leaders use in these formal conversations they’re having around existing cadence of performance management on a quarterly or annual basis. And one of the things that they’ll do is they’ll open the conversation by saying, “Tell me about a time when you felt like you were just at your best, whether it’s over the last quarter or the last project, or even the last year, and you start with strengths.”

And, again, that’s what feed forward is about. It’s about activating people’s best selves, not dwelling on their worst selves, and people will say, “Well, actually, my numbers were great but you know what really was wonderful for me the last quarter? I felt like, as we shifted to a work-from-home environment, I was able to really be connected in a different and more substantial way to my colleagues. It was weird. We weren’t together but I felt more connected to them. I guess we just felt like we were in each other’s lives. And that sense of being right up close and personal to people just made me feel more close to them, and that was a big high for me over the last three months.”

Now, that’s not something you might have expected to hear as the leader but now it’s intel that you have. So, you start with that strength and say, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that was so amazing for you. Like, what did you learn in that process?” You start to uncover the conditions or the factors that played a role in that. And as people start to lay the groundwork and talk about that trek towards the summit of their success, that’s the moment when it becomes clear to you but also to them who and what made this possible.

And that activates a sense of collective success, which researchers have shown is a much more powerful driver of scalable success than simply just focusing on individual achievement. So, that when I realize that I did something well or I achieved something great, and it’s with the support of Paige over there, and Sam over there, or Pete over here, and you as my leader, that’s the moment I become encouraged, empowered, and excited about doing this again because I’ve got the support of others, and that’s what leads to the scalable success.

I’ve done it before, I have people by my side who are ready to help me do it again, and now you’ve prompted me by talking about those conditions and then talking about the coordinates of where I can go from here, and you’ve said, “All right, where do you go from this? This is amazing. This is awesome. How can we build upon that? And tell me what your ideas for continuing this and scaling that.” And, again, you’re leaving it with me. You’re leaving the conversation with me for me to suggest the next move.

And rather than just dump and run, I sit and I strategize with you. We talk about it. It’s a dialogue. We’re having a person-to-person conversation. Feed forward is now a more human enterprise and it allows everyone to feel like they’re actually able to be actively involved in their own story of success. And that agency is what makes people feel so empowered, so committed, and so excited to make these positive changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful. Well, tell us then, if we’re not the manager but the individual contributor, or even if you are leading people but you want your boss to share some of this good stuff that you’re not getting, how do you recommend we encourage and ask for useful feedback or feed forward so we continue learning, growing, and becoming all we could be?

Joe Hirsch
I think it starts with becoming a feedback magnet, making sure that you are asking for feedback, but more importantly…

Pete Mockaitis
And just like asking feedback, is there some magical way to do that or words or…?

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, I definitely think it starts with knowing what kind of feedback. So, it’s not just, “Can I have feedback?” but knowing the type of feedback that you want. Is it corrective? Do I need guidance from you on how to fix something? Am I doing this right? Is it coaching or developmental in its nature? “I’m having a problem with Paige. Can you give me some advice on how I can navigate that relationship?” Or, sometimes you’re just looking for an atta-boy, like, “Hey, look what I did and I want some praise. And even it is a sandwich, I don’t care.”

So, knowing what kind of feedback you’re after will help the person who’s giving you the feedback know what kind of feedback you want. So, be clear on your expectations and they’ll be clear on what they give you.

I think the other thing is to really be careful about separating the signal from the noise. So, you asked for feedback, and maybe you get the feedback you weren’t expecting. Maybe it’s a little more negative or corrective in nature, and you’re like, “Ooh, that’s a downer. I was coming to Pete for praise and, instead, I got a lecture.” So, what do you do then?

So, that’s the point where you want to put aside the emotion. It’s hard. So, if it can’t happen in the moment, you maybe schedule another time to talk it out, but you say, “Look, I’d like to learn more about this.” Start to ask what I call lightbulb questions, things that give you more insight into what the person was telling you or meaning to tell you when they said it.

So, a good example of a lightbulb question would be like, “How often are you seeing that?” “Have you noticed this before?” “Am I doing this a lot?” Just gather information about that so that the lightbulb starts to go off for you so that you know what’s going on. But then you want to funnel a little bit with these funnel questions. And I love funnel questions because it allows the person who’s giving you the feedback to be more specific about it.

The problem with traditional feedback, we talked about a bunch of issues, but a big issue for a lot of managers is that they either feel it’s an all-or-nothing proposition, “I either have to throw everything at you at once and unleash a torrent of feedback and information or I’m going to be very selective and even a little bit stingy with the feedback that I give you. I don’t want to give too much because I’m worried about rocking the boat or saying something that’s going to upset you.”

So, we have to try to help them size and shape the feedback just right, and that’s where the funnel questions come in. Asking, and this is my favorite one, “Okay, so you’ve kind of told me what’s going on. What’s one thing that I can do to change the situation or to improve, or to get better at this?” Now, by asking that question, “What’s the one thing…?” you’ve made it easier for them to tell you what to do. That takes the chances of them of dumping and running and really reduces that by a major order of magnitude. But, more importantly, it’s given you now just one thing to do.

And we can do one thing. We can act on one suggestion. We can make one shift in how we interact with our colleagues or how we think about our work. And so, asking that funnel question is critical because it allows us to become more aware of what’s happening and what to do with it next. And then, finally, widening that feedback loop, because even when we have clarity, it can still cause a lot of pain. We know what has to be done but we’re still nagged by the problem of, “I don’t like the person who gave me the feedback or trust that person,” and so immediately I’m discounting what that person said.

So, going outside that conversation to a trusted friend, a colleague, a spouse, your mom, whoever it is, is going to help you process this information with more objectivity and less emotion. That’s going to help you separate facts from feelings, tone from truth, and baggage from opportunities, and that’s really where we want to go with that. So, become a feedback magnet and do those things, and it will become a little bit easier to get the feedback you need at a time when you need it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like some of the wordings you’ve provided. I suppose what I think what I often wanted to know in terms of feedback, but I didn’t quite know how to say it without sounding off. I wanted to know, basically, what do I need to do differently to blow your mind and think I am an exceptionally awesome employee who absolutely deserves to be promoted soon? That’s what I wanted to know. But I didn’t know if I could ask it like that.

Okay, Joe, feedback master, how would you recommend I ask a question like that? Basically, I want to know, hey, this show is called How to be Awesome at Your Job. I want to know, from the manager’s perspective and for progression and promotion, how do I become more awesome?

Joe Hirsch
So, the first thing to do is to bring some good data with you to that conversation and to help your manager see from an objective point of view why you feel this conversation should happen in the first place. So, I’m a big fan of collecting small wins, and it’s not an act of self-congratulation. It’s an act of self-preservation. It’s what we need to do to continue to grow and evolve in our work.

So, keep a little list of wins, maybe some email folder, maybe it’s an app you use, but just track your wins whether that’s a work win, or whether that’s relationship win, something you’ve done to contribute to the values of the organization. Keep those because you’ll want to bring that data.

And you’ll say to your manager, “Look, I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been able to work in this organization with the support of wonderful people who’ve allowed me to be successful but I’m really hungry to grow. I have goals for myself and I want to find ways that I can deepen my connections, and increase my contributions, and build on my competencies. And how can I do that? What are your ideas for me?”

And your manager will be like, “Wow. First of all, I agree with you, those are great wins,” because you’ve now reminded your manager about those things that he or she may have forgotten. Remember, forgetting curves, so it’s good to bring that back to the surface. So, now that you’ve kind of sort of warmed the conversation with that data, that’s when I think you’ll impress your manager by saying, “Look, I’m all about…I’m all in on the contribution. I’m all in on the development. I want more than anything for you to help me reach that next level of success so I can continue to feel like I’m deepening my contributions to our organization and to our team. So, what are your ideas for that?”

Again, you prompt. Don’t tell your manager, “I want a 5% raise.” Now that may be what you want but don’t tell that to your manager because, you want to know something crazy? What if you just bring this out into the open, leave it with your manager, and your manager is like, “You know, Joe actually did a great job this last quarter. Three other people of our team have recently left. I don’t want to lose him. I’m going to offer him 10%.” Why would you already limit yourself by telling your manager what you want when your manager may come back with an offer that exceeds your expectations?

So, start with the data, frame it in the context of collective success, let the manager know that you’re aligned, you’re all in, you’re committed, you want to grow. This is music to every manager’s ears. Like, what does a manager not want to do? Put out fires, worry about retaining high-performing employees, dealing with office drama. And here’s a person who has demonstrated a record of success, is all about the team, has demonstrated some very clear and measurable indicators of his value. So, now, what can we do as an organization?

Maybe it’s offering Joe opportunities for continuous education. Maybe it’s new project assignments. Maybe it’s leading up another project that we’re going to do soon. And, again, that may not be your 5% but over the long term, that could have a return of 20%, 30%, open up opportunities that advance things you wouldn’t even have foreseen.

So, if you’re the employee, don’t limit yourself with your first thought. Have that in the back of your mind and you can always come back to that as a point of negotiation. But as an anchoring principle, don’t limit your potential or your profitability by telling the manager what you want. Let the manager tell you what he or she is ready to give.

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

Joe Hirsch
I think that every leader listening to this, or every employee, or every parent, every teacher, should realize that they have the power to empower other people. And feedback doesn’t have to be a cause for fear. It really can be a cause for joy when we change the mindset, when we shift the message, when we stop looking back on a past that people can’t change and out towards a future they can.

We deliver the promise of feedback which is to help people become the best versions of themselves, the people they could always become but maybe aren’t yet at. And with the small changes, we give them more power, more possibility, more potential. And we shouldn’t play small with people’s potential.

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

Joe Hirsch
So, I should probably have this tattooed somewhere on my body. I quote it all the time. C.S. Lewis said, and it captures everything we talked about today, “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Joe Hirsch
So, there’s a management professor at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern by the name of Loran Nordgren, who did some great work on what he calls the Perspective Gap. And what he uncovered with his colleagues is that we tend to underestimate the effect of something on others when we are not going through it ourselves.

So, he brought a bunch of people into a room and have them stick their arms in warm water, and said, “Imagine what it would be like to be in a freezing cold room for five hours. How would it feel?” And they would describe what they thought that intensity of pain might be like, and it was rather low. He brought another group of people in, this time arms soaking in cold water, and said, “What do you think it would be like to be in a freezing cold room?” as they soaked their arms in cold water, and the intensity was greater as you might expect.

But here is what was the surprising part. He then, third group, brought them into the room, had them soak their arms in warm water, take it out, and then describe what it was like. And the intensity of that pain was less than what it was before even for the cold group. Because once we experience something, and then we forget about what that experience is like, we then underestimate the impact of that experience on other people.

And that’s why, when I asked the question, “What’s it like to get feedback?” and they come back with words like caution and anxiety and worry and pain, I then say to them, “Okay. So, how do you think it feels to the other person who’s getting your feedback? Do you think they’re experiencing some of that?” And this Perspective Gap plays an important role in the conversation as we shift our mindset around feedback because it’s not just about approaching with inquiry and humility. It’s also about exercising greater empathy.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Joe Hirsch
I love Team Genius by two authors, Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone. And the book is great because it talks about the power of teams, and how we can’t really do as much on our own as we can with the support of other people. And I love the message they bring.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, so this actually, somebody tweeted this out the other day, and they attended a talk that I gave. And I never quite know what’s going to land with people so I love Twitter for this. You can see what really resonates. And they said, and I guess I had said this, it makes sense, I say it a lot, “We can’t choose the feedback we get but we always get to choose where it goes.”

And it’s so true. When we give people the opportunity to become agents of change, when we give them the possibility and the power to shape that future that’s still unfolding rather than locking them to a past that they can’t change, that’s the moment when people feel energized, activated, and empowered by our feedback, and it’s more likely it’ll go somewhere, and, ultimately, lead to positive and lasting change.

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

Joe Hirsch
So, I would love to connect with folks on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, that’s kind of like where I live online. You can read more about my work and research at JoeHirsch.me. I’d love to catch you as part of our growing international audience of listeners on I Wish They Knew, Big Ideas, Small Conversations. Get that wherever your podcasts are played. And I look forward to helping you find a little more joy in your feedback because we can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Joe, this has been a treat. I wish you all the joy in your feedback and elsewhere.

Joe Hirsch
Thanks, Pete. It’s been real.

750: How to Inspire Growth Amidst Discomfort with Bill Eckstrom

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Bill Eckstrom discusses how top coaches inspire and challenge their teams to grow.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The six things effective coaches do differently 
  2. The wrong and right way to challenge your team to grow
  3. Three morning habits to make every day a great day 

About Bill

Bill Eckstrom is the CEO and founder of Ecsell Institute. Bill’s robust professional career path has encompassed sales, sales leadership, executive leadership with both private and publicly traded companies, as a founder of start-ups, and even as an athletic coach. In 2008, he established Ecsell Institute to fill a void he witnessed and personally experienced in the coaching and leadership profession within businesses. Since then, EcSell’s research and improvement programming has been utilized in the athletic and academic worlds, spawning his new start-ups Ecsell Sports and Ecsell Education in 2019.  

Resources Mentioned

 

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Athletic Greens. Support your health with my favorite greens supplement. Free 1-year supply of Vitamin D and 5 travel packs when you purchase from athleticgreens.com/awesome.
  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow

Bill Eckstrom Interview Transcript

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

Bill Eckstrom
Thanks, Pete. It’s fun to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. You’ve done a lot of coaching when it comes to leaders and sales folks and athletes, and even some training of your own therapy dog named Aspen. What’s the story here?

Bill Eckstrom
Oh, Aspen is, as I say her name, she’s about two feet from me. We’ve always had a lot of dogs, and, specifically, Labradors, and when she came along, which was my daughter’s, youngest daughter’s choice to keep her because we had a litter of puppies, her behaviors were just unique. She could turn things on and off just without any training.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, a light switch or…?

Bill Eckstrom
You pull out a training dummy for throw and she turns it off. She just is aggressive. And then you bring her inside and all she wants to do is put her head on your lap. So, she’s very compliant, very well-mannered, and so my youngest daughter and I said, “Well, let’s start training for therapy dog work.” So, we did the training ourselves, got her certified with a couple different therapy dog agencies in Nebraska, and about the time my daughter headed off to school is when I started to do then a lot of work with her. So, we’ve worked in hospitals and nursing homes and, actually, some athletic teams. She’s done a lot of therapy work with young student athletes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard a little bit about therapy dogs, but what does a typical engagement with a therapy dog look, sound, feel like in practice?

Bill Eckstrom
That’s a good question, actually. So, if we use a hospital setting as a backdrop, we were allowed to work in two areas: geriatric and pediatric. And the geriatric, so you walk down a hall, let the nurses know you’re there, they all want to come out and say hi first, and then you just kind of go room to room, and you stick your head in, and a lot of times the nurses will say, “Hey, don’t go into room four, but, man, rooms eight and nine, I think they like dogs.”

And so, you just walk down the hall, and you stick your head in without even showing your dog, and you say, “My name is Bill. Would you like a visit from a therapy dog?” Most of the time, nine out of ten times, they say, “Yes, that would be nice,” and you just walk in, and then Aspen would either sit next to their bed or, if they’re in a chair, she’ll sit next to them in the chair, and they, literally, just run their hands through her head and her chest.

This kind of same was done on a pediatric ward where this time, there’s usually parents. But there’s one particular time, Pete, that was forever memorable, and, as a matter of fact, there’s a clip of this in my TED Talk. But when we walked in there, the nurses were giddy, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, you’ve got to go to room three. Her whole bed is stuffed with toy dogs.”

So, we walked to room three, and I stuck my head around the corner, and I said, “Hey, my name is Bill. Would you like a visit from a therapy dog?” And the little four-year old girl is in bed, very conscious and alert, and her mother was just almost is like, “Oh, my gosh, are you kidding me? Yes, please come in.” So, we walked in, and you could hear the little girl in bed gasp audibly, so I knew it was a hit right away.

But here’s what was really cool and, keep in mind, Aspen is not allowed on furniture. She doesn’t sleep in bed with us. She’s not allowed on sofas or chairs at our home. She has her own beds and rugs and everything. But, anyway, we walk in the room, and the little girl is now frantically trying to sit up, and I reached up and I put my hand on her bed, kind of to just say, “Hey, I’ll get Aspen in a position to…” And the second I touched her bed with my hand, Aspen jumped on her bed, laid down next to her in bed.

And I was just aghast as her mom was, I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ll get her down.” Her mom is like, “No, please, please let her stay. Let her stay.” And that’s where the photograph of that was in my TED Talk came from. So, Aspen and the little girl forever bonded.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Cool. Cool. Well, I don’t have a great segue.

Bill Eckstrom
I’m not sure there’s one for that.

Pete Mockaitis
But maybe you do when it comes to coaching and performance, the metaphorical therapy dog.

Bill Eckstrom
Well, I think the segue I used in the TED Talk is, “If I didn’t make Aspen’s life uncomfortable at times, she wouldn’t have grown into that,” because her preference would be to sit around and lay around, play fetch all day, not learn new things, not to learn how to not pick up a pill if it falls on the floor, how to not get alarmed when somebody drops a bed pan behind you. So, it’s that discomfort, and it’s the same discomfort that coaches and leaders have to create in business to create growth in people and teams. How’s that for a segue?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s well done. Thank you, Bill. Well, I want to hear all about your book The Coaching Effect: What Great Leaders Do to Increase Sales, Enhance Performance, and Sustain Growth. But maybe before we get into the particulars of the book, could you maybe, just reflecting back on your own career, share kind of what’s one of the most kind of noteworthy, counterintuitive, surprising discoveries you’ve made when it comes to people and performance over your long career of coaching folks?

Bill Eckstrom
Two things, and they kind of blend into each other. One is getting an event, and, again, I’d mentioned this in our book and I’m very open with it in my TED Talk, which is getting fired. That happened in 2008. What goes then alongside of that is the vulnerability that comes with telling people you got fired. That’s how I started my TED Talk is with that story, but the only reason I started my talk with that story is because some people, very close colleagues at work, talked me into that. That’s not a fun story to relive. It’s humiliating but yet I did it, and the impact of having the vulnerability to share a story like that has been profound.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, yeah. And so, you think there’s a takeaway for folks in terms of their own vulnerability and sharing with others and the impact that has.

Bill Eckstrom
Yeah, clearly, there is and it just makes you a better leader. You become human. So, the idea of doing a TED Talk or writing a book for whatever reason, and I understand it, and please don’t take this the wrong way, Pete, but people might put you a little higher on a pedestal than what we see ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Bill Eckstrom
And what helped get there is that vulnerability, is the idea that when you start off just the idea of being able to do a TED Talk is great. But when you start off a TED Talk saying, “Hey, I was on a roll, baby. I had things going in my favor and then I get called into a conference room by the president of the company, and next thing I know I’m jobless. I got one kid starting college. I got two more at home ready not far off. I don’t have a job.”

And then, all of a sudden, everybody is like, “Oh, my gosh, I’d been there. I can empathize with that guy.” It just makes us more effective as coaches and leaders when they look at your life, and say, “His life wasn’t perfect either.”

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then, tell us, when it comes to the book itself The Coaching Effect, what’s sort of the main idea here?

Bill Eckstrom
The main idea is that leaders need to behave more like an athletic coach to truly maximize their ability to help teams grow and become…or really hit peak performance. And the little subplot to that is that, as a coach, all the things that we used to think were perhaps soft skills, like my ability to create connections based on trust, my ability to create psychologically safe environments, that items like that are no longer a soft skill because we can measure them and correlate your ability to create trust.

How about this? Your ability to create strong relationships has a straight and direct tie to growth and performance. So, we talk through in the book what the most effective leaders, or I will refer to as coaches, what do they do, what are their activities, and how do they do them well. So, it’s kind of like a quantity of a coaching and the quality of the coaching. And so, we have quantified all that and we put it in within the chapters of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Okay. Well, then, tell us how do you recommend we get better at creating relationships and making them great?

Bill Eckstrom
Well, we don’t have enough time to go through all of them, but if we use this one, and you picked a good example, Pete, because in the world of sports, of the six things we measure, relationships, specifically how coaches connect with student athletes, and we see the same in the business, too, how a manager connects with their employees, is not good. Of the six themes we measured, it’s the second lowest.

How they do it well is going to be so commonsensical to some people but, yet, it may not be to others. And even the people for whom it’s common sense, they have to question whether or not they’re doing it. So, for example, we know that the highest performing coaches, they do consistent one-on-one meetings. They have career discussions with people on their team. They hold regular team meetings. They provide written…consistent written feedback, not just oral feedback but written feedback.

So, in terms of activities, those are the things that they’re doing. And, while I’m sure nobody who’s listening to this podcast, Pete, is going, “Hey, Bill, let me take notes on that because, man, I’ve never heard of those things before.” That obviously is not the case. At most, people will do one-on-one meetings with people on their team. But how often and how long? And what are they talking about in those one-on-one meetings?

Because to do them well, now we’re back to quality, to do them well, you and I, Pete, when you’re my coach, my boss, my mentor, whatever you want to call me, my manager, if we have a one-on-one meeting and you don’t start off just asking me about me, you might come into the meeting, which is what people complain most about, and say, “Hey, we got a lot to do. God, we’re sitting down here in an hour. Give me some metrics on your goal today.”

Now, all of a sudden, you just care about the numbers. You don’t care about me as a person. I want you to ask me about my new puppy. I want you to ask me about what I did over the weekend. I want you to ask me about my kid’s soccer game. And if you’re not doing that, I don’t perceive that we have a connection. I don’t trust you because you’re not asking me about me. All you’re asking is about the business which benefits you, and maybe, to some degree, might not even benefit me. So, that’s an example of how we connect with people in the workplace or whether it’s on an athletic field.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that clear distinction there. Could you maybe walk us through the six things you measure and share real clear contrast in terms of “Hey, this is common practice which isn’t so great, and here’s a best practice”?

Bill Eckstrom
Wow, let me see here. So, in connection, I gave you an example. The other component of relationship, one being connection, the other being psychological safety, which is really a hot topic in the workplace today. And one of the most simplistic methods for creating psychological safety as a leader, as a coach, is to ask questions. We think our ability as a leader, as a coach, correlates to my ability to come up with a great idea, or a great suggestion, or an answer to a great question. When the reality is my value is based not just on my ability to ask questions of the people around me, but also to get them to ask questions. So, that’s one.

Structure is another theme that we measure, and that you set up the processes and the disciplines to create a predictable outcome, or are there no expectations? Do I not understand what my goals are, is there a method to set goals and detract goals? Communication is another thing, well, common sense communication but it comes back to things like, “Do you communicate vision, not just you communicate in the way that I find effective?” In other words, “Do you know if I’d rather have you text me versus email me versus, say, Slack me within my company?” So, it’s customizing communication that’s best for the person.

Then when we get into what we call the complexity themes, and the first one that we measure is called skill development, which kind of speaks for itself. But as my leader, as my coach, “Pete, can you help me,” if I’m in sales as an example, “can you help me improve my skillset as a salesperson?” If I’m a programmer, “Can you help me be a better programmer?” So, developing the skills that are critical for success in my role.

And then the final theme that we measure is challenge, and this is where kind of what my TED Talk was themed around. It’s really what made the book so successful is… while we have all these soft skills that are so important, if you don’t challenge in a healthy way, you’re not creating growth. So, your ability as a leader to make people uncomfortable is something we measure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s dig into this. How, generally speaking, do we make people uncomfortable in the best possible way?

Bill Eckstrom
Well, if I may, Pete, I’ll, first of all, talk about the worst possible way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bill Eckstrom
And that is through fear. All these things, when you take all these things together, they create what we call discretionary effort, if they’re done well. That means, Pete, if I’m on your team, and you really show a lot of acumen within all these themes, man, I’m giving you more effort. I am going to work an extra hour. I’m going to be more engaged. When that recruiter calls me, I’m not taking that call, Pete, because I like being on your team, and I love what we do. I love everything about this team.

And if you’re a fear-based leader, you can still get my discretionary effort, Pete, but you’re not going to get it for long because I’m probably going to leave you, which is timely, we can segue down the road here of the great…all the turnover that’s happening in the world today. And we have some research on that too.

So, to create challenge in unhealthy ways is through fear, and that eventually turns into chaos. To do it in a good way is to question, “So, tell me about this goal, Pete, that you gave me. Tell me how you came about to the conclusion of that end objective. Tell me what’s going on in your mind. Okay, great. Tell me if I wasn’t here right now, would you have provided the same goal to someone else? Okay, what would it take, Pete, if you were to add 10% on top of that? Is that something that you could do?” So, that’s an example.

It could be, “Hey, you know what, Pete, I’ve been watching your work, and here’s what I see you do well, A, B, and C. Because you do that so well, I’m going to add D to your plate just to see how you might respond to this added thing.” So, it’s understanding you to where once you have something kind of mastered, think of the world of sports. We’re going to do a drill over and over and over again. But if we just never elevate that drill, eventually, people will plateau, they’ll peak. And the same applies to the business.

And when that happens, how do we amp it up a little bit more? What is one more thing I can put on your plate, one more thing I can challenge you, in a way that I know is specific to you? That’s healthy challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That sounds good. And so then, when you talk about those challenges, like I’m imagining myself being on the receiving end of each of those questions, and it’s a good vibe in terms of it’s not like kick off your shoes and put on pajamas and chill out but it’s also not terrifying or threatening. It’s just like, “Oh, okay, I kind of got to be a little bit on my toes here, and then share how I did come up with that goal, and why I do or don’t think that an extra 10% is feasible.”

And, in a way, it makes me think, I guess if we interacted this way repeatedly, it would make me realize that it’s not acceptable for me to go in halfway prepared when I chat with Bill about my goals and what I’m up to. That won’t quite work.

Bill Eckstrom
Right. And you bring up an interesting point, and this ties back to one-on-one meetings, for example. So, one-on-one meeting is an activity, but what do I do within that activity to make it a growth event? So, let’s say, a real example, a young woman in our office, and we’re talking about entering the collegiate marketplace. And I happen to mention this because of her background and everything, I thought she might be a good fit. So, I mentioned, “Well, have you ever thought about the collegiate marketplace, college coaches?” And she’s like, “Wow, yeah, that would be pretty cool.” And so, we talked about that a little bit.

And then if I don’t follow up with that in our one-on-one meetings, if I say something, like, “Okay, tell you what, why don’t you create a plan around how you would approach that market if you took on that market?” and then I don’t bring that up at our next one-on-one meeting, then, all of a sudden, the challenge isn’t worth anything, the fact that I challenged her to do something different.

If I go to the one-on-one meeting, “So, why don’t you share with me where you’re at now on that plan so far? Tell me what you’ve been thinking about and talk to me, or show me if you’ve got something written down.” And then she’s got to think, to your point, “Oh, my gosh, Bill, now he’s following up with it. Yeah, okay, I’ve got to be prepared. I got to bring my A-game.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. All right. Well, then it seems like each of those questions I liked. I imagine, even if you have good intentions, you’re not trying to rule out of fear, it could be possible to challenge people in ways that don’t go according to your hopes and plans. Could you give us some examples of “Hey, your heart is in the right place, but your word choice is working against you, so fix it”?

Bill Eckstrom
Well, it makes me, right away, think of an interview, the little documentary I saw done with Doc Rivers where he says “Every team, every year in basketball in the NBA, I walk in the locker room, I say the same thing every year. It doesn’t matter if it played for me, before or not, my name is Doc Rivers and I’m human, and I’m going to make mistakes.”

And I think that’s part of what we have to do as leaders in business, is, “Hey, my name is Bill Eckstrom, and I’ve been doing this a long time. And you know what? I’m still going to screw it up.” So, back to your question, “How do we screw it up?” Well, first of all, we could screw anything up, but usually screwups are the result of not knowing somebody.

If I ever crawled into your life, Pete, and I’m your manager, I’m your leader at work, and I don’t know all the things about you, if I don’t know what your goals are, I don’t know what your objectives are, and then I come up with some random challenge, you’re going to be looking at me like, “How does this tie into what I do, who I want to be, here at work?” It just won’t ever click.

But if I can sit down with you and say, “Hey, based on your strengths, which are A and B, based on what you’ve been doing here, based on the direction the company wants to go, I’m wondering if you’d be at all curious into looking at this marketplace?” So, I showed you an example of how to get it right, not screw up, but it could be the opposite of that.

I don’t mention your strengths, I don’t talk about direction, and, all of a sudden, I bring up, “Hey, we’re always thinking about checking out this marketplace.” You’d be, “Okay, why? Why would I take time away from what I do, put me on this task, it’s going to take hours and time away from my successes here because you see I tied it together for you?” So, that’s how we do it ineffectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. You’ve got another concept which is intriguing in terms of the growth rings. Can you expand upon this?

Bill Eckstrom
So, the six themes I mentioned, those are what we call subthemes, and they roll up in a larger theme. So, there are three primary themes that have to do with the way one leads or coaches that lead to growth or no growth. And the themes are: my ability to develop relationships; my ability to create order, which are systems and processes and tools; and my ability to create an environment, a complex environment which is an environment of challenge.

So, the growth rings depict living environments that either promote or hinder growth. There’s four environments total, two I haven’t talked about. One is chaos and the one is stagnation but we don’t need to spend time on those because those aren’t good places. Just by the words themselves, you don’t want to be there because one creates negative growth, the other can create negative growth or no growth.

So, that leaves us with an ordered environment and a complex environment. And a complex environment is an environment, the only environment where growth occurs because that means I’m being challenged, that means inputs have changed, that means I’m going to be uncomfortable, and growth only occurs in a state of discomfort.

Tying that back to the themes, challenge and skill development are themes that are part of complex environments. Now, I know this is getting pretty heady stuff, but in an order, those themes are structure and communication, providing me predictable outcomes, and that creates comfort. It’s the opposite of discomfort. Predictability correlates to comfort. Unpredictability correlates to discomfort.

The challenge, then, Pete, is that people don’t want to be in discomfort. That’s who we are as humans. But unfortunately, it’s the only environment where growth occurs, so it’s quite a quandary that, “Bill, you’re saying I, as a leader, have to get people in a state of discomfort to grow, but that’s not a place they want to be.” Yes, that is correct, so we better be really good at it.

Relationship comes into play because that allows me to know what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable, when is it a good time for you to be in a state of order or comfort, and when do I know you, and what do I know about you to know when it’s a good time to push you into a state of discomfort.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And so, we’ve covered a number of pointers. Any other sort of top do’s and don’ts in that zone?

Bill Eckstrom
Make your mood predictable if you’re in a leadership role. Don’t ever make your people guess what kind of mood you’re in when you come to work. You don’t want your team, when you walk into the office or wherever it may be, kind of murmur, murmur, “Oh, my gosh, what kind of mood is Pete in today? Oh, gee, I hope he’s in a good mood,” eliminate that.

Pete Mockaitis
Just by being in a good mood always or how do you bring that?

Bill Eckstrom
Well, yeah, being consistent, “I know when Bill comes to work, I know what to expect from Bill. He’s in a consistent mood all the time. He’s never down. He’s never pissed off when he walks in. He comes into the office, he’s always in a positive mode. That’s predictability. That makes me comfortable.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, tell us, how does one be always in a positive mood? That seems nice.

Bill Eckstrom
I wasn’t always this way, Pete. I worked hard. I’m very intentional about trying to be in a positive mood. And I was just having a conversation about this this morning with a gentleman. I follow three things very habitually every morning. I have a very strong order that leads to a very predictable outcome.

The first thing I do every single morning is journal, and that clears the mind. It clears the brain. It clears space. I get any challenging things that are mushy in my head, I’d put it down on my computer, on just a Word document. I just shut my eyes and I just begin to, what my coach would call, brain download is what I do. So, every Monday through Friday, I do that. I follow that up with gratitude. So, I open a new document, and that right now is 165 pages long.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful.

Bill Eckstrom
And every day, I write a minimum of three things I am grateful for or that make me smile. One of those two things, that’s filling one of those two boxes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And it could just be totally random, like La Croix, or like that happened to you in the last 24 hours.

Bill Eckstrom
Right. Exactly. Here’s an example. The taste of my first sip of coffee in the morning. I’m thankful for that. Grateful for that. When I walked out this morning, the moon and the clouds. Ooh, for how the moon looks in the early morning with partial cloud cover. The smell of a pine tree. Boom. Done. So, that’s part of the equation.

So, I list three gratitudes or things I’m thankful or grateful for or that make me smile every day. Then I go back, say, a hundred pages ago, and I just randomly scroll up the Word document, and I open a page that say, could’ve been 18 months ago, and I read what I wrote then, and here’s what happens. Inevitably, I’ll come across a gratitude or something that made me smile that hits me again.

So, hatching a baby finch is one of the things I wrote 18 months ago that I happen to look at this morning, and I had a memory of they had this little nest outside of our kitchen window, these little finches, and then they had eggs, and then the eggs hatched. They had these baby finches for like 30 days one summer. And just thinking back to that made me smile.

Now, all of a sudden, I’ve done my brain download, I’ve listed three gratitudes, I roll back and look and have other things I’ve been thankful for in the past, and, man, I’m in a good mood. I am ready to get to work. So, then work begins, I get about an hour and a half, two hours work in, and then I go straight to meditation, and this is all before I’ve seen a single person. So, those three things combined – the journaling, the gratitudes, and the meditation – I can’t say never but I could tell you, with 90% accuracy, I start every day on the same level.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. All right. So, not only do your folks have some predictability but you’re feeling good, so that’s awesome. Beautiful. And we had Hal Elrod on talking about some of these habits, and here you are, living them out and it’s rocking for you. That’s cool.

Bill Eckstrom
It’s been life changing.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, then I guess I’m curious, any final thoughts in terms of when it comes to coaching, growth, leadership, making sure folks are continuing to go up and up and up, before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Bill Eckstrom
Don’t ever dismiss the power of connecting with people in your leadership role. I know that may sound cliché and easy but we tell people that all the time, and you’d be surprised. Even people that think they’ve got great connections with the people on their team, assume you don’t. Go crawl into the lives of the people on your team.

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

Bill Eckstrom
One I shared in my TED Talk and continually, I can’t ever get rid of it, and it’s not my quote. It is Dr. Serene Jones is who wrote this. And my oldest daughter brought this to my attention and it ties right into the growth rings concept you mentioned. It is, “The constant façade of order hides the wilderness that is craving to seep out and teach us that life wasn’t created to be what we think it is. Beyond words, we must experience the wilderness to be taught what cannot be otherwise known.” So, I have that memorized.

And the other quote that is part of my life today is from Dr. Viktor Frankl. Are you familiar with him, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yup.

Bill Eckstrom
So, the Austrian psychiatrist that survived two years in a concentration camp. Anyway, a favorite quote from him is, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response. And in our response, lies our growth and our freedom.” Those hang with me every day.

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

Bill Eckstrom
What we’re doing now on the Great Resignation. Really interesting work. Too long to get into, we don’t have enough time. But, yeah, some really fascinating work on the Great Resignation right now, and a manager’s, leader’s role in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you give me one startling insight?

Bill Eckstrom
Yeah, those powerful insights I shared in terms of what great leaders are doing to create high-performing teams, they’re doing a lot less of them post-pandemic. The one-on-one meetings which great leaders, the number of them holding, the frequency has dropped about like 20%. The career development discussions have dropped. Team meetings have dropped. So, all the things that created these high-performing teams, they’re doing much less of them, and they wonder why people leave.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh, interesting. And a favorite book?

Bill Eckstrom
Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl.

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

Bill Eckstrom
Mindfulness.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that people tend to quote back to you often?

Bill Eckstrom
Growth only occurs in a state of discomfort. My kids say they’re going to put that on my tombstone.

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

Bill Eckstrom
BillEckstrom.com. EcSellInstitute.com. Our book is The Coaching Effect and that’s the only promotional thing I’ll do is to go get that at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, all the great bookstores. And the TED Talk is just…I get nothing from that. Of course, TED owns it but it went viral and it’s a fun talk. It’s called “Why comfort will ruin your life.”

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

Bill Eckstrom
If you want a better performing team, start by looking in the mirror. Because how your teams perform, if you’re in a leadership role, how your teams perform is simply a reflection of you. So, if you want to a higher-performing team, it all starts with you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bill, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much joy and keep up the happy mood.

Bill Eckstrom
Thanks, Pete. I do my best. Sometimes it’s hard to do all day long but I always start the day the same way.

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.

Resources Mentioned

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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.