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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Michael:

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

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

Items Mentioned in the Show

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Michael Bungay Stanier Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right, this is getting good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
And miss that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

Pete Mockaitis
I see.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that too, yeah.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oops.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

546: Choosing Better Words for Better Leadership with David Marquet

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About David:

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

Items Mentioned in the Show

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David Marquet Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, good work. Good work.

David Marquet
Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Does that make sense?

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

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

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

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

David Marquet
Yup.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s awesome.

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

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

David Marquet
Yeah, beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I see what you’re saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t argue with that.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Crickets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds like fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Marquet
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Tom:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tom Rath Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Rath
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

537: How to Develop and Multiply Leaders with John C. Maxwell

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John C. Maxwell says: "Any leader's greatest return is to develop other leaders."

John C. Maxwell shares powerful wisdom on how to develop and transform budding leaders.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three simple questions that encourage growth
  2. Why training programs don’t work–and what does
  3. What the most beloved leaders do differently

About John:

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 31 million books in fifty languages. He has been identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazine. He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and the John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, organizations that have trained millions of leaders from every country of the world. A recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, as well as the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network, Dr. Maxwell speaks each year to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders. He lives in South Florida.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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John C. Maxwell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
John, thanks so much for coming back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

John C. Maxwell
Hey, it’s great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting again. And, first, I’m curious, did you end up getting some corkscrews made associated with the wedding gift?

John C. Maxwell
I knew you were going to ask me that question. And, Pete, I flunked.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s okay.

John C. Maxwell
I loved the idea. I tell you what, I loved the idea. In fact, I told a couple of my team members, “I’m going to do this,” put it aside, and then just kind of forgot about it. Then you sent me, I don’t know, maybe a couple of months ago, an email and it jogged my mind, I thought, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” I sound like a procrastinator. I’m really not. But then I kind of forgot what we had on it. I knew it was from the wedding feast at Cana, and I forgot, “Well, now, what did he put on that?” I’m probably going to really ask you, could you get me one of those and I’ll pay you for it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. You don’t have to pay me for it. Thank you. I will and I’m happy to. And you did not flunk. I imagine that you had a lot of high-priority stuff beyond getting knickknacks engraved.

And so, you have written a bundle of leadership books, and you’re not done yet. You got another one here The Leader’s Greatest Return. Tells us, sort of what’s the big idea here and what made you think, “There’s something that I have not yet said that needs to be recorded”?

John C. Maxwell
Well, this is, I think, a kind of an amusing story, Pete. As you know, 25 years ago, I wrote the book Developing the Leader Within You. And that book is what really put me on the leadership track as far as people looking at me and saying, “This guy can teach me something about leadership.” It was the first leadership book that basically could’ve came out that says you can develop yourself.

Well, I followed that book up the next year with the book called Developing the Leaders Around You. Well, at the 25th anniversary at my publisher, Harper Collins, said, “John, could you do a kind of a revised edition of that?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I’d be glad to.” So, I went back and looked at Developing the Leaders Around You and I had written it 25 years earlier and, boy, Pete, I was so discouraged, to be honest with you. It wasn’t any good side.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a good sign if you look at your prior work and they’re kind of disgusting.

John C. Maxwell
The space of 25 years, you know what I’m saying, is kind of like, “Oh, there’s so little I knew back then, and I’ve learned so much more.” So, I started revising the book, and on chapter one, I didn’t take anything out of the first book to revise, so I wrote a new chapter. Then I went to chapter two and I think I took one story and a quote, and that’s it. The third chapter, nothing at all.

By the fourth chapter, I realized, “I’m not revising a book. I’m writing a new book,” because I’ve just learned so much more about, “How do you develop leaders and people around you to get on your leadership teams? And how do you really multiply yourself by this process?”

So, I called Harper Collins and I said, “Hey, let’s just do a new book,” and so we did. And I love the title The Leader’s Greatest Return. The reason I love that title is because I do believe that any leader’s greatest return is to develop other leaders. Because if you just have followers on your team, that’s good, and that adds, but if you really want to multiply, if you really want to compound, Pete, you’ve really got to develop leaders who can go out and then develop other people also. Leaders build the organization and grow it. And so, it is the leader’s greatest return.

And so, that’s how the book got written. It was supposed to be a revised edition, but my first edition didn’t make the cut for revision so I just wrote a new one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is fun, and the story of how the book came to be itself has some leadership lessons there in terms of the humility and the growing. And then I think, in many ways, that kind of puts you in a great maybe feedback-receptive mindset as a whole in terms of it just as it’s possible to look at something you’ve done yourself in the past and say, “Hmm, this could be a lot better.” So, too, is it possible to receive feedback from an outside source in the present and say, “Yes, indeed, it could be a lot better,” and you may well agree… your future self, I guess, looking back.

John C. Maxwell
Right. You know, Pete, you’re exactly right. It is a leadership lesson itself in the fact that, as I look back on my past, I tell people, “If you can look back even five years and be really thoroughly satisfied with what you accomplished or what you did, you just probably are not growing like you could or should be,” because, for me, the pages on a book never change.

Pete Mockaitis
And with that learning and growing, I’d love it if maybe you could highlight perhaps a lesson or two that you’ve done close to a 180 on in terms of, “You know, I said this, and I think maybe almost the opposite is closer to true.”

John C. Maxwell
Oh, sure. Well, it happens all the time. I was being interviewed recently, and somebody asked me what the greatest change in my leadership was, and I’ve gone through a lot of changes. Again, because if you’re growing, you’re just always changing. And so, as I said, as I thought about it for a moment, I thought, “Well, you know, I think the greatest change I’ve had in my life is that as a young leader, I was very directional, kind of top-down, and I always knew where I wanted to go, and I always had clarity and vision. So, I’d say, ‘Okay, here’s where we’re going to go. Let’s get on the team,’ and I’d rally the troops. And over the years, I realized that I was kind of leading by assumption. I was kind of assuming that everybody else kind of wanted to go where I was going and be on the team, which was not true at all.”

And so, I began to slowly be less directional and start to ask more questions. And, until today, it’s a total change. Whereas, I used to just kind of sit down and say, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing and here’s where we’re going, and let’s shake hands and let’s get going on it.” And, now, I just ask questions continually. I lead by asking questions. In fact, I wrote a book, I don’t know, that maybe six or seven years ago, called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. And, really, that was the catalyst for helping me and helping others know that, really, I lead now by sitting down with my team and finding out where they are.

In fact, the statement I say, “You have to find them before you can lead them.” For years I just led them or I wanted them to find me and then get on the team. And so, yeah, it’s a total change. But that’s what happens when you grow. Every day I learn something new that I didn’t know, but almost every day I’ve got to unlearn something that I embraced that just doesn’t work anymore. Maybe they didn’t even work when I raised it but I didn’t know any better. And then I re-learn.

And then one other quick thought of that, Pete, every person needs to have a sense of teachability and learn not only from life but to learn from others and let them speak into your heart, and not only have an open-door policy but have an open-ear policy. And through teachability and humility comes an awareness. And awareness is huge in a person’s life. I need to constantly be aware of what I do well, what I don’t do well, what I need to change.

A couple of weeks ago, I was playing golf with Ed Bastian, who’s the CEO of Delta, and so we’re having nice long leadership lunch afterward. And, Ed, here’s this incredible CEO of a major company, and very successful, had a long-term relationship with him, but Ed said, “You know, I’m always asking my people three things, ‘What do I need to stop doing? What do I need to keep doing? And what do I need to start doing?’” And he said, “Those three simple questions just allow me as a leader to be aware and hear from others who really do know more and sometimes just help me with my blind spots.” And I thought, “That’s just simple. Anybody can do that. What do I need to stop doing, start doing, and keep doing?” And I thought, “I just love that.”

But I think leaders, the great leaders, are continually growing and they’re continually growing because they want people to speak in their life and they have an acute awareness of what they don’t yet know and have a great hunker to learn and to get better, that’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m right with you there. I think that totally adds up and those are some handy simple questions. So, let’s talk about multiplying leaders and how that is done. Maybe could you kick us off by sharing a cool story of an organization that has done this supremely well, like you’ve gotten to witness a transformation there?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think that there are some companies that really have done this very well, Pete, and I think Chick-fil-A comes to mind right at the top. And the reason I think they’ve done it well is because they have a leadership culture. And I think developing leaders begins with an attitude and an environment that is conducive for leaders to grow, to learn, to practice leadership.

Now, the way that people are developed as leaders is they have to practice leadership, so there has to be a time in your organization or your life where you not only teach people how to lead but you give them an opportunity to lead, and you empower them, and you let them kind of run with the ball. So, I think Chick-fil-A just has such a leadership culture. They’re constantly pushing their people to grow, to learn, to take on more responsibility, to have leadership experiences in their life.

You know, it’s very interesting, one of my nonprofit organizations EQUIP, we really work hard on helping countries to be transformed through values. And we come in by the invitation of the president of the countries. We do it in little roundtables of about six to eight people.

So, we’re also doing it in schools, and we have about a million and a half kids in junior high there that are going through these values lessons in their curriculum. It’s not before school or after school, it’s right in their regular curriculum. So, one of the great things that’s happened out of this, teaching leaders how to lead and creating a leadership environment culture, is that we have the kids do the facilitating of the roundtables not the teachers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

John C. Maxwell
So, it’s very peer-led. It’s very peer-led. So, I’m sitting with five of my schoolmates and this lesson is mine. So, I facilitate it and help them go through the material that’s written there and ask the questions. And then next week, Susan does that. And every week, we go around the table and every student gets a chance to lead.

Well, what are we doing? We’re letting them practice leadership. And one of the side benefits I know that’s going to happen to all these countries that we’re doing these leadership teaching in a curriculum schools is that they’re going to find leaders. The leaders are going to find themselves. Kids in junior high are going to, all of a sudden, have a conscious awareness that, “I like facilitating. I like helping people and leading them through a lesson.”

And so, any time an environment lets people practice leadership, they are then creating leaders. And I think that’s a very important lesson because I think a lot of times, we give assignments out but we keep the leadership reins. And I think that’s not wise. I think this book The Leader’s Greatest Return is all about, “How do you empower people? How do you release them? How do you embrace them even in their mistakes as they learn to lead until they really do understand what it is to lead?” It’s not a theory in their life, it’s a practice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I totally buy that. That makes sense to me. And so then, I’d love to get your view then in terms of is it sort of just everybody all the time that we want to be engaging in leadership activities or are there some particular means by which you try to identify a sub-segment of folks that you want to invest more greatly into?

John C. Maxwell
Yeah, I have a chapter in the book called the basics that says Invite People to the Leadership Table which is the culture where leadership is discussed and you hear other leaders talk about leadership things and issues. And what I think on this, Pete, is that it’s very essential to let everybody have a shot. And it begins by giving them more empowerment than what they would normally have.

So, you take a receptionist, for example. I would sit with him or with her, and I would just sit and say, “Look, greeting people, coordinating appointments, etc., all this stuff is the key to this job. But I also want you to know that you probably have within yourself some leadership potential. And what that means is that you’re going to be able sometimes to go beyond what a request is and be aware of perhaps a need beyond what’s out there in that lobby. And it might come to the fact that you have to make some decisions.”

And what you do, as I found, that you teach a person how to do their job well, and then you start opening and broadening the parameters, such as, “Okay, now that you’ve been out there as a receptionist for a couple of months, let’s talk about the things that aren’t working and the frustrations.” And what I find is when they talk about that, almost always it’s their inability to maybe make a decision that they have to go wait on somebody else to make, or rely on someone else to make, or just some common sense thing that they could’ve or should’ve done.

And so, it’s out of what’s not working that you begin to get the playing ground for developing leaders. And so, when they say, “You know, this person that came for an appointment, they sat there for 30 minutes. And, obviously, there was a lateness to it.” “Okay, let’s talk about that. When somebody has to wait that long and we’re having a little bit of miss on our side, what can you do that would kind of make it better for that person during that time?” “Well, maybe I’ll go get them a cup of coffee,” solve this stuff. “And so, you do that. And I empower you. You go do that and it’s on the house.”

It’s that kind of leadership development of people that lets them practice leadership that lets them develop the leaders. Now, Pete, obviously there are some people that are just more gifted in this area than others. And so, what happens is this, if you let everybody practice leadership, you very quickly learn the ones who perhaps have the highest aptitude for it. And that crème rises to the top. And now you’re looking at somebody and you’re saying, “Okay, you’re a leader.”

Let me give you an example. One of the countries we’re working is in Guatemala, and so we did leadership training for the second largest bank in the country. They have about 10,000 employees and so we did these values roundtables for all the employees. The bank said, “All of our people will go through values roundtables.” So, I was recently down there, and the CEO asked me to speak to about 2,000 of their clients.

So, they bring in their business clients, and the CEO said, “Let me just share with you what’s happened since we’ve done these values roundtables.” He said, “Three things have happened. Number one, we developed a leadership culture.” And he said, “What’s happening is our employees facilitate the roundtable.” And he said, “One time we had to go looking for leaders. Now, they’re popping up all the time.” He said, “We don’t look for any leaders now. In fact, we have an excess of leaders because we’re seeing people that we didn’t even know have leadership ability, and they’re facilitating these roundtables really good, and it’s working.”

And they said, “Because in the values we talk about integrity, honesty, and hard work has become part of the values system of our bank, and so our bottom line is better.” And he said, “The third thing is they’re taking these values home to their families that they’re learning at work. And it’s changing their families.” And I thought how beautiful. But, again, leaders were beginning to arise on their own because they were given an opportunity to practice leadership. And that’s really essential in developing leaders. You just don’t develop a leadership culture without giving people that kind of empowerment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s so much in there that I really dig. It’s funny, when you talk about that story with the receptionist being empowered to get coffee and it’s on the house, like it can seem like a small thing. But I remember my first normal paycheck job in high school was working at Kmart in the pantry, they called me Pantry Pete, and I was so excited in the training videos when they talked about how, as Kmart employees, we’ve got the power to please. And so, if we were out of the 24 pack of Pepsi, I could give them two 12-packs at the sort of sale price. And I just thought that was so cool is that I had some leeway to do something to make someone’s life better, and they would be surprised and smile. It felt awesome. It was like my favorite thing to do when I was working at Kmart.

John C. Maxwell
That’s a great example right there. And it’s from there that you began. Leaders, they’ll surface themselves, really, but they don’t surface themselves if they don’t have an arena to practice that leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about these roundtables, I mean, we don’t need to go into every detail associated with how these are conducted. But I’d love it if you could give us just a bit of a rundown in terms of so we’ve got some values, we got some discussion questions, and different people are facilitating. What are some of the other kind of key things that are happening here that leaders might try to integrate in an organization?

John C. Maxwell
Well, it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting, Pete, because in my EQUIP organization, for a 19-year period, we just trained leaders around the world. And after 19 years, we had trained 6 million people, And when that was complete, sat there and said, “Well, let’s have a party and celebrate,” which we did. That’s a pretty big accomplishment.

And then I looked at them and I said, “We’re really not done yet. We taught these leaders how to lead but these trained leaders, there’s another level of helping them become transformational.” And transformational leaders bring positive change into people’s lives. It’s more than how to lead. There’s a positive transformation that happens in people’s lives and that comes through learning and living out good values. And so I said, “Let’s develop a transformational culture by teaching values, and let’s do it in small groups because, again, that’s where it happens where you can have interaction, where you can hear other people’s story. It’s highly experiential which is very contagious.”

And so, we developed a transformation, we call them transformation tables, a curriculum for adults. And we go into a country and we go to the top leaders, we go to what we call the eight streams of influence, which is government, education, media, arts, sports, health, religion, and business, and we get permission from the top of those areas in a country to do these roundtables, and we call it the waterfall effect. If the top buys into it, it just flows all the way down through the company or the country.

And so, that’s what we do, and our goal, as Malcolm Gladwell talks about The Tipping Point, so our goal is to get 10% of the people in a country in these transformation tables. And it’s just phenomenal what’s happened. We have, I think, what is it, 1.3 million now in roundtables, and it keeps just multiplying and growing. But when people learn good values and then they begin to live them, what happens is they become more valuable to themselves, they become more valuable to their family and to their community, and there begins to be what we call a values lift in that community and in that culture.

And so, that’s what we’re going for. And, again, it’s all about developing leaders and helping them to do more than how to lead, but to be people whose lives have been changed, which begins to create a contagiousness that other people want to have that also. So, that’s kind of what we do, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a values lift sounds like a great thing that I’d love to see all around me. So, could you maybe give us an example then of, “All right, so here’s what it might look, sound, feel like. Here’s a value and here’s some discussion questions, and here’s how that can really come to life for folks”?

John C. Maxwell
Well, for example, in Guatemala, that was the country we started first, and went to Paraguay, Costa Rica, and then we have two more countries we’ll launched into this year. But in these transformation tables, because the government is involved in also, so there was a table that the attorney general was involved in, so we’re talking about values and honesty and integrity are part of it.

And she, during the roundtable, felt that there was a lot of corruption and dishonesty in the government, so she went to one table, then she facilitated the second table. And while she was doing that, she said, “Why am I facilitating this table when I’m, as an attorney general, not doing something about the government?” So, make a long story short, she began to prosecute people in government that were corrupt and tried them in front of the Supreme Court. And, 18 months later, over 300 of them were in prison.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

John C. Maxwell
Including the president. It’s the only time a Latin American country has overthrown a leader because of corruption. And she has began to make a major change in the country. That’s a big example. A little example, a mother of a son who was in prison went to the training of the values table. And so, she went to the warden and asked if she could do that with her son and a few of the inmates. He said yes, so she started that transformation table with them.

There are 16 values that they go through over a period of time and it just changed the seven or eight inmates. And they were sharing with their other inmates about what they were doing. And to make a long story short, in two years, all the inmates in the prison plus the guards were in these transformation tables. It had come from a very kind of rowdy prison to kind of the model prison in the country because of what had happened.

And so, again, it’s a values lift. And, again, it’s creating a leadership culture which The Leader’s Greatest Return is that what’s it all about, “How do you and I create a leadership culture to raise up other leaders so that we can have a compounding return on the things that we’re trying to accomplish?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on so within these transformation tables and these values discussions, it seems noteworthy just how fruitful this is, and that things are really taking root. And I guess I’m thinking about Michael Scott and the TV Show The Office and how they had an ethics seminar. And I guess that’s just comedy but I think it’s quite common that these kinds of messages can go in one ear, out the other. What do you think makes it stick in terms of folks are really adopting it and doing some things differently in their lives?

John C. Maxwell
Well, what makes it stick is when it’s more than a training program.
It’s that sharing around a table that is experiential that brings life change.

And nothing happens in a company, Pete, unless the leaders are involved in the roundtable too, that’s why we say, “You have to be in. The presidents of these countries are in these transformation tables.” They’re all there, Pete, because nothing is worst than being in a company, and so my level where we’re having some training on leadership or whatever it is, and all the executives aren’t there. It’s kind of like, “Okay, it’s not that important or else they’d be in the meeting also.”

And so, you have to have what I call a connecting identifying factor to make it stick, and that’s why the tables do such a better job than a lecture. That’s why I devoted a whole chapter in The Leader’s Greatest Return on the leadership table. What’s it like to have people sit around the table and be able to get into leadership discussion and hear leaders ask questions, and hear leadership thought? This all is what allows people to be and to develop themselves as a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, that sounds perfect. It’s the connecting identifying factor. And so, when folks are sharing experiences over time, how big are these tables?

John C. Maxwell
Oh, six to eight.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, six to eight people. So, I guess a way I’m thinking about it there is like, “Okay, well, in your first session, maybe only one person is bought in and does something, and then they share it. And then, by the next session, folks go, ‘Huh, that’s kind of cool. Something happened there. All right. Maybe this is worth paying a little more attention to.’” And then you get this really get the juices flowing over time.

John C. Maxwell
Yeah, the buy-in is in the process. So, they sit around the table, their arms are folded the first time, say, “What are we doing here?” And then when people begin to share and ask questions, it begins to get them involved. I mean, there are six or eight. You can’t hide. If you’re in a lecture hall, you can hide. You can’t hide and so pretty soon it comes to you, and you kind of got to do something about it. And then when you begin to see people having improvement in their life, it begins to be contagious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned a concept, I think, is important, I want to make sure we give a few minutes to. So, you distinguished between influence and control. Can you tell us what is that distinction and why is it important?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think, first of all, I teach that leadership is influence and nothing more, really, nothing less.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I quoted you in an interview once. Someone made me define leadership. I was in college and I was doing it for the campus record department had some sort of leadership team-building roles, like, “I want that.” They said, “How would you define leadership?” I was like, “You know what, I’ll take John C. Maxwell’s.” And they’re like, “All right.” I got the job.

John C. Maxwell
Well, it’s such a simple little definition, but it’s so right on. Leadership is influence. And the difference is influence is, if I have influence with you, it can either be controlling or it can be voluntary. If it’s controlling, it’s kind of like I’m the boss, I have a leadership position, and to be honest with you, Pete, you don’t have any choice. You have to follow me. You follow me whether I can lead well or not. I mean, everybody listening to this podcast knows what it’s like to have a bad boss. I mean, we all go back and say, “Oh, that was a nightmare.” Well, why was it a nightmare? Because you had somebody in a leadership position that you had to follow that couldn’t lead but they had control.

And so, you never know if you can lead if people have to follow. I mean, it’s like prison where the warden gets up and says, “You know, there are a thousand people here that came to see me.” Well, they didn’t have any choice. In fact, they’d like to break out if they could. So, control is where I have no choice. The influence I’m talking about here is where I don’t follow you because I have to, but I follow you because I want to. And why do I want to? Because you’re a good leader, because you care for me, because you’re trustworthy, because you’re competent, and so, yeah, I want to be on your team because if I’m on your team, life is going to get a little bit better.

So, when I think of influence, in fact, sometimes I’m with companies and they’re saying, “I’ve got three or four really key executives, and I’m thinking about another leadership position and advancing one of the three.” And they’ll ask me, they’ll say, “What do you suggest as far as which of the three I pick?” And I say, “Why don’t you give all three of them a volunteer project? Have all three of them go do something in their community that’s pure volunteer and let them be in charge and just see how good they are with volunteers. Because if they can lead people who don’t have to follow them, you have a good leader.” And that’s influence. That’s not control at all. That’s not relying on titles or positions to get what I want.
I mean, how many times have we heard the boss say, “Yeah, you do it because I said so.” “Okay. Well, here we go. That’s a great reason to do something.” And so, the influence that we talk about in leadership and the influence we talk about in The Leader’s Greatest Return is influence based upon your ability to connect with people and make things better for them not because you have a title or a position which is control.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that is a nice distinction. And then, generally speaking, how do you recommend we go about being more influential in our colleagues’ lives?

John C. Maxwell
Well, because I teach that leadership is influence, people, many times will say, “Well, how do I…?” because, in fact, it is true and it is. The question is, “How do I increase my influence? Because the more influence I increase, the better I am at that, the more people I can lead.” And what I always say is very simple, there’s a very simple path to increasing influence, and that is, intentionally, every day, adding value to people. And I encourage people to have this kind of a lifestyle that every morning, for example, in my life, every morning, and I ask myself one simple question, “Okay, how can I add value to people today? And who am I going to see?”

I sat down early this morning and I went through the fact that I was going to be on a podcast with you, Pete, and outside of the question of the wine cork, outside of that, the question I wanted to ask myself is, “How can I add value to Pete?” because you’ve got a great podcast, you help an amazing amount of people, and you have a wonderful, wonderful work going on. Well, I just want to add value to you. So, that’s very intentional. What do I say? How do I add value to you?

Every morning, I just look at the people I’m going to meet and the schedule I’m going to have and what can I do to help people. In the evening, I ask myself the same question, “Who did I add value to today? How did I do that? And how can I do more of it?” And it’s being intentional in adding value to people that increases your influence. You show me any person in any person’s life that adds positive value in a continual basis for someone, and I promise you 100% that that person has great influence with that individual. Why? Because that person intentionally makes life better for them, and they become very endeared to you, and you want to be around them. So, that’s how you increase influence.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your view in terms of how can you add value. Now, in many ways, there are thousands of different answers and ways that one can do that during the course of a day with the people that you’re interacting with. Are there a few things that you noticed that people can do just about all the time and they often don’t? So, how about a start?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think it starts, Pete, it starts with valuing people. That’s the baseline. So, when I start talking about increasing influence by adding value to people, I don’t talk to them about, first of all, how to add value to people. I just ask them a very simple question, “Do you value people?” Because if you value people, now you’ll begin to have a leaning bet to adding value to them. If you don’t value people, you won’t add value to them. I mean, if you kind of value yourself and devalue other people, no one’s ever added value to somebody that they don’t value. It makes no sense at all.

So, we start with, “Do you value people?” And if the answer is yes there, then we help them become very intentional, and we teach them every day, first of all, think of ways to add value to people. Look at your calendar. First of all, think of, “Who do I have the chance to add value to?” I know I’d get a chance to add value to today, they’re on my schedule. So, think about ways to add value to people. Then when you’re with them, look for ways to add value to people. And then every day, those two things, every day, add value to people, make sure you do some tangible actions to where you can look and say, “You know, I made that day better for someone else. And then what I do is I encourage others to add value to people.” And it’s just to continue adding value cycle but foundational.

It’s foundational in leadership. It’s very foundational. I tell leaders all the time, “When you stop loving people, you stop leading them. Good Lord, you’re a disaster. You’re going to hurt a lot of people because everything rises and falls on leadership. And leaders that don’t value people can cause a lot of harm.” And so, it’s just very essential for that to be the core. If you truly value people, then you’re going to learn how to increase your influence by doing these things I just gave you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s interesting to think about that mindset. I think some might say, “Oh, my gosh, that sounds exhausting and I’m already overwhelmed with my own stuff.” But then, I think in practice, when I’ve been on a good hot streak of living that, it’s actually much less stressful and more uplifting energy-giving joy-fueling to live that way.

John C. Maxwell
Oh, of course. And it’s a simple relationship, of course, but it just works like this. I mean, I can teach relationships in one minute. It’s not complicated and it’s very simple. I’m either a plus in people’s lives or I’m a minus. It’s just that fact. I’m, every day, either adding value to people which puts me on the plus side, or every day I’m wanting people to add value to me, and I’m sucking energy and air from them. And if I’m constantly consumed about myself and making sure, “Hey, Pete, well, we’re going to be together, I hope you do something really good for me today. And, my gosh, you know,” and it’s all about me, almost always I’m subtracting value from people. And it’s a fact that I think most people who even are a minus and subtract value from people, I think most of them are even unaware or they’re just not aware of it, that they are more concerned about what they reap than what they sow.

Was it Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “I consider my day a success by the seeds that I’ve sown not by the harvest I reap.” That’s an added value statement. And, basically, he was saying, “Every day I just intentionally sow seeds.” Because, you see, what he knew was very true, and that is the harvest is automatic. But sowing seeds is not so you got to be intentional on the frontend to get the fruit on the backend. And many people, they get up every day, and they ask a simple question, “I wonder if something good is going to happen to me today. I wonder if somebody will be nice to me.” And it’s all about people adding value to them.

If I am wanting people to add value to me more than I’m wanting to add value to people, I become a minus in relationships. And if I want to add value to people more than have people add value to me, I become a plus. It’s that simple and you just have to be that intentional.

Pete Mockaitis
John, this is great stuff. I think we’re in our last couple of minutes. Tell me, anything else you want to mention before we hear about maybe one or two of your new favorite things?

John C. Maxwell
Well, in the book The Leader’s Greatest Return the reason I’m very excited about the book is there are a lot of leadership books out there but there are very, very, very few books on how to develop other leaders, and there’s a reason for that. Most people don’t do it, 95% of all leaders don’t develop other leaders. They just have followers. And the reason that they have followers instead of leaders is it’s not easy to develop leaders.

Leaders have a mind of their own, they’re already in the game, and they don’t just fall in line. And I wrote the book because the greatest return any person is going to have as a leader is not having a lot of followers, because every time I develop another leader, it just begins to multiply and compound. And so, I wrote a book, simple, practical, applicable, that a person can pick up, and they say, “Okay, leading leaders, developing leaders, isn’t the easiest thing I’m going to do but it’s the most worthwhile thing I can do.”

My good friend Art Williams who started Primerica, has a great statement. He told people when they would join his company, he said, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy but I am telling you it’s going to be worthwhile.” And this is what I wrote in The Leader’s Greatest Return. It’s not easy but it’s going to be worthwhile and it’s going to give you a huge return. I know that because for 50 years I’ve developed leaders, and the compounding I’m having in my life now is ridiculously off the chart, but it’s because I’ve consciously developed other people to lead and influence others.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your leadership development adventures, you know, nation to nation and group to group.

John C. Maxwell
Thank you, friend. I so value you and what you do for so many people. Pete, you’re a plus in people’s lives. Your podcast adds value to so many, millions of people, and so it’s always a pleasure to be with you and to, hopefully, add value to you and to your listeners. And thank you again for your help with my wine cork situation. But just thank you and blessings. And, hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to do it some more.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, you too.

470: How to Give and Receive Useful Feedback Every Month: Insider Tips on Making Performance Reviews Not Suck with Dr. Craig Dowden

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Craig Dowden says: "If we want to give appreciation, give only appreciation. The most common blunder is that we combine coaching and evaluation."

Craig Dowden exposes gaps in common performance review practices and presents an empowering alternative approach everybody can use–no matter where you work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the current performance review practice is broken
  2. The key thing NOT to do when giving feedback
  3. A different and better strategy for regular reviews

About Craig:

Craig Dowden (Ph.D.) is an inspiring and thought-provoking executive coach, Forbes author and keynote speaker who partners with leaders and executives to tackle their most important personal and organizational challenges. Craig holds a Doctorate in psychology, with a concentration in business and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach. In his role as a trusted advisor, he integrates the latest findings in the science of leadership, team, and organizational excellence into his coaching and consulting work. In 2009, Craig was recognized as one of Ottawa’s 40 under 40 business leaders by the Ottawa Business Journal.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

Craig Dowden Interview Transcript

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

Craig Dowden
Thanks so much for the invitation, Pete. Looking forward to chatting with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to it as well. But, first, I want to hear a quick tale about your nickname Egg in high school and how you used that to your advantage.

Craig Dowden
Nice. Well, good background searching and sleuthing there. When I was growing up, I was kind of an awkward gangly tall kid, and so we would have races around the neighborhood. And so, of course, the classic last one to Craig’s house is the rotten egg. And then, I was routinely last, so you can see how they quickly made the link between, “Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig is the egg.” And, thus, the legend of Egg was born.

And so, not to be thwarted by the nickname, I ran for Student Council President, and we actually had a very boisterous group of supporters, and we had a lot of different campaign slogans attached to them, like, “Vote for Egg. He won’t crack under pressure.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, zing.

Craig Dowden
Or, “Vote for Egg, or the yolk is on you.” So, we got a little playful. And, apparently, that worked, branding, won by a landslide, so it was quite the campaign. Very enjoyable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-done. Well, I’m going to go for an awkward for a segue, and I want to hear about how often people feel like there may be egg on their face on the giving and receiving of performance reviews out there.

Craig Dowden
Exactly, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was inspired. I enjoyed your incoming pitch and we’re getting more and more selective these days as we’re getting clearer and clearer on what listeners want. But you nailed it, you and your publicist got it going on. Performance reviews, that is a pain point for a lot of people. Can you orient us maybe what’s current practice in most organizations with performance reviews and how well is that working for us?

Craig Dowden
Well, thank you for the feedback. I’m glad the pitch was received well. And, yes, it’s one of those internal pain points. What’s really interesting is if you look at organizational research, in very few circumstances does management and employees agree on certain things. You talk about engagement levels, transparency, you name it, there often tends to be a disconnect between leadership and employees. And, yet, for performance reviews, this is one of those areas that are universally loathed.

Pete Mockaitis
Loathed with a T-H, not a V as in Valentine’s. T-H as in Thermopylae.

Craig Dowden
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
The first T-H word I thought. How about thumb?

Craig Dowden
Exactly. So, yes, they just absolutely, people just dislike them. So, managers really dislike giving the feedback, and employees really hate receiving the feedback. Oftentimes they’ll use a lot of ineffective strategies like the compliment sandwich, which, you know, say something nice and then you follow it up with something really critical, and then, of course, just to make sure they leave on a positive note, you end it with a positive.

And so, all of these tips and tricks just lead to a lot of disappointed participants in this process. There was a study done a couple of years ago where 55% of people said they didn’t feel that their annual performance review was fair or accurate representation of their performance. Two-thirds said there was surprising feedback in the review, which you would think that shouldn’t happen. And then three quarters of employees said there were no specific behavioral examples given to support the feedback.

So, this is a really broken process which many leading organizations are starting to realize and make changes as a result of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’ll tell you, this just fires me up. I just think feedback is so important.

Craig Dowden
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard it said that it’s the breakfast of champions.

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so powerful and useful as a tool for learning, growth, and development which I am big in, big on, and to hear that in some organizations this may be the only or the majority of the feedback they get, which is sad as well, and then to hear that it’s not working for people, and isn’t accurate, doesn’t have specific examples, it makes me sad because it could be a cause for celebration.

I actually enjoyed getting reviews because I viewed them, well, one at Bain, they gave very detailed and thorough reviews and lots of examples, and I like that. But, two, I thought I’m in this job largely for the learning, and a lot of the learning is happening during my performance review, for me. And, thusly, I was like excited to go into them because I thought, “This is part of my compensation. It’s like I’m getting a bonus.”

And I was a little bit odd in most of my college life, like, “Okay, Pete, I kind of liked it a little but you’re weird.” But organizations that are not advanced or in that domain, of which it sounds like they are a majority, leave a pretty crappy experience all the way around.

Craig Dowden
Well, for sure, and I think and I love your personal experience and being a bit of an outlier to say in terms of just loving the process. And when you look at the evidence, people are open to receiving feedback, and I think there’s just a lot of challenges. I think that if it’s constructed well, the conversation can go fantastic because it provides an opportunity for leaders to give some feedback to people in terms of where they are and where they need to be.

It also provides people in the organization an opportunity to learn and grow, which this is one of the keys when you look at the research around engagement, that’s one of the key indicators, “Do people, feel like they’re learning new skills, having an opportunity to challenge themselves and grow?” So, fundamentally, the process is a wonderful one to really drive and facilitate peak performance and learning, yet, unfortunately, the way in which we handle it just ends up leaving invariably to some really challenging circumstances because people either don’t deliver the feedback particularly well.

Doug Stone, out of Harvard, did some fabulous work around the different types of feedback so this is one huge challenge in terms of how some missteps that we make. So, he identified three primary forms of feedback. So, there’s appreciation, which is, “Hey, Pete, great job. Really love what you’re doing. Couldn’t achieve what we’re doing without you.”

Then there’s coaching, which is essentially bidirectional conversation where you’re exploring with someone different ways of approaching a particular challenge or opportunity. And then the last one is evaluation, which is essentially saying, “Hey, Pete, this is where you are based on what we initially projected, or what our end goals were, and so let’s discuss that.”

And so, based on Doug’s research, and I’ve spoken to him extensively around this, the difficulty is it’s almost like the movie “Ghostbusters,” right? Don’t cross the streams. And, unfortunately, we have this terrible habit of crossing the stream. So, according to his work, and he’s been at the Harvard Negotiation Project for well over 30 years, and what he’s found is we’ll combine those.

So, if we want to give appreciation, give appreciation. The most common blunder is, is that we combine coaching and evaluation. And as he shared with me a little while ago, he said, you know, Pete, you can deliver the best coaching advice anyone has ever received or the best coaching conversation anyone has ever experienced, and if you combine it with evaluation, guess what happens? They basically just totally lose all of the coaching and focus on the evaluation, “So, why did I score a three out of five on this?”

And so, he said for the maximum impact to ensure that feedback is received and is actionable, the best thing we can possibly do, focus on evaluation for one conversation, and then have the coaching conversation following up on that. So, don’t mix them. And, sometimes, again, in the interest of efficiency, we mix the two, we’re like, “Hey, we’ll do the evaluation and then spend time coaching so that the person can really put this into practice.” Unfortunately, even though it may intuitively make sense or feel like it makes sense, in practice it has an opposite effect and actually leads to real challenges in the development and adoption of new behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a very helpful rule of thumb, that I think that could take you far just following that forever. So, you were saying, “Let us not mingle the coaching and evaluation bits of feedback in the same conversation because we’re going to miss out on that coaching goodness.” Now, is it kosher to mingle appreciation and coaching, or are those too helpful to be separated?

Craig Dowden
Again, the safest route, based on the work that he has done, is to separate them. Keep them because, again, it’s going to be around, “Hey, great job. This is wonderful. Really appreciate your efforts on this.” So, it keeps the conversation focused on, “We want you to feel recognized and acknowledged for your contribution.” Once again, as soon as you throw coaching into the mix, the person may forget about the appreciation and then focus on, “What are different strategies I can use around this?”

So, keeping our focus on what kind of feedback do we want to deliver, and then keep or maintain that focus on delivering that message. And then, later, you can talk, again, have a coaching conversation. So, all of those pieces can be much more effective in terms of supporting behavioral change and/or maintenance in someone else by being cognizant of those three different pieces of feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, now, you have a particular approach you recommend when it comes to performance reviews. Tell us about this.

Craig Dowden
Well, I think it’s basically a do-it-yourself employee review, and Daniel Pink, an international bestselling author, talks about this in “Drive” around having do-it-yourself performance reviews. And there’s lots of fundamental reasons as to why this is so effective. So, number one is that so feedback becomes less threatening through familiarity.

So, every month, if you and I are going to sit down, Pete, and have a conversation about performance, then I’m going to basically hand the reins over to you and say, “Okay, tell me how you did. Tell me where you think you thrived. Tell me where there were some challenges.” And so, in that way, what it does is it empowers someone else to be able to deliver their own feedback conversation.

Also, there’s less kind of threat around it because it’s more familiar to them. And it also empowers the other person to highlight some things within their own performance. So, really, it enables someone else to take the lead.

One of the worst things around performance reviews, and how organizations typically do it, is that you’re going to deliver the feedback to me. So, it’s very unidirectional and you’ll essentially stand on high and essentially pronounce judgment on how I’ve done over the past 12 months. By making a do-it-yourself performance review, and do it on a monthly basis, it’s much more common, frequent, routine, and now the individual feels empowered around what they’re going to share with you.

And so, that provides a sense of autonomy. It provides a sense of input. It provides a sense of ownership. And it’s really framed as a learning conversation, which is so essential. And then the benefit to managers, one of the key benefits to leaders and executives and business owners that I worked with, that they’ll talk to me about in terms of their own practices, they’ll have a laundry list of feedback that they want to be able to provide to the person. Well, oftentimes, their employees will tick off the boxes of all the things that they want to share so it takes the pressure off them to deliver that message.

And, secondarily, in some cases, you will volunteer things that I don’t even have on my list. So, it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to get insight that you might not have captured with someone else and, again, without the pressure of trying to figure out, “How can I best frame that conversation?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s also really awesome is that if you are the manager, like you’ve reduced so much of your workload as well.

Craig Dowden
Right. I love that, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And the benefits are huge in terms of, okay, so you’re less defensive because you’re the one generating these things about yourself.

So, are there any kind of key particular prompts that you recommend to structure or to latch onto a DIY review, or is it just like, “Hey, how do you think you did? How about it?”

Craig Dowden
Yeah, great question and I think it’s important to explain to people. And this, again, a major gap around just feedback processes in general is that they’re rarely explained, the purpose is rarely explained. So, leaders, executives, business owners, that I’ve worked with, they’ll talk about. So, what we want to do is make feedback an ongoing part of our DNA. Feedback is not something every six months or 12 months. We want to get to a space where we want to have feedback as a regular part of our organization and our organizational DNA because the world moves in such a fast pace these days. We need to have information. We need to have it readily available.

And so, what we’re going to do is have a monthly performance review where you come in and tell me where you’ve done well and what your successes are as well as some of the challenge areas and even what some proposals around what you think you and I can do to be able to address them. And so, it’s a wonderful way within that prompt. And then once you have that discussion in the first month, you can a check in after the first conversation and ask your employee, “How did that go? What did you think about it? Is there anymore specific direction that I can provide and anything I can do differently?” so you really start to have, open up the dialogue around that space.

And I think another really powerful benefit of this is that by employee sharing their feedback with you, then at the end of the conversation you can say, “Hey, do you mind if I share a couple of components or a couple of observations that I have?” So, it really benefits from the reciprocity principle. If you ask someone how they’re doing, well, they’ll generally ask you how you’re doing. So, it’s a wonderful way to create a bidirectional conversation that really kind of lowers the anxiety on both levels because it’s seen as, “Well, this is cooperative. We need each other in order to paint an accurate picture here.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, how do we deal with, I don’t know, numbers, ratings, rankings, competencies, you know, raises, bonuses, like the numbery things of it all?

Craig Dowden
Well, I think this is where some of the performance review processes are really broken because, like a forced ranking system as an example, right? And this is where a lot of them lose credibility, which is, “Well, we’ve got to have a certain number of stars, and a certain number of average performances, and a certain number of low performances.” So, this is where a lot of organizations are just redefining how they do performance reviews.

Some of the larger more progressive organizations are just getting rid of them altogether and moving it to a more kind of check in type of process. Adobe is an example as one organization that just stopped doing them altogether. And so then, I think this is an opportunity for senior leadership in an organization to start talking about.

So, what is the purpose of feedback? Because if the purpose of feedback is going to be around performance metrics, as an example, well, now, what motivation is there for individuals to disclose what’s going on? So, I think the metrics are an important part of it and how do we achieve it. Now, the process is around, “Okay, so how do we have that feedback conversation so we maximally set people up for success so that they can attain the goals that they set out?”

So, again, fundamentally, so let’s go back to that standard kind of Bell curve example that so many organizations use from a metric standpoint, or a financial incentive standpoint, “Hey, if everybody is knocking the ball out of the park through terrific feedback conversations, isn’t that awesome?” So, I think this is where fundamentally we have to rethink how we deliver incentives and how the feedback system is connected to that and be much more thoughtful around its implementation.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’d be great to be more thoughtful around it, and so I’d like to hear then, you mentioned Adobe and some other. Let’s hear some more best practices with regard to is it kind of more separated with regard to how we’re thinking about raises and promotions and compensation things? It’s kind of a different set of conversations than is the performance reviews or how does that go? Because often, you’re right, I think that these things come together and that can be.

Pete Mockaitis
So, Craig, within this model, how do you think about raises and promotions and compensation sorts of things? Are those like completely different set of conversations, kind of separate from the performance review conversations?

Craig Dowden
Yeah, I think that’s a great question, and they are. They’re separate because you can talk about, “Have the objectives, the goals, what are we trying to achieve be it quarterly, monthly, yearly?” And then that’ll be a different discussion around, “So, how well did I do in terms of achieving those objectives?” And then when we talked about the do-it-yourself performance review, essentially, and that’s something that could be readily integrated into that framework, which is, “Okay, for my Q1 goals, if I’m doing this monthly, how do I think I’m doing? Why do I think that I’m doing as well or not as well as I’m doing?” And then be able to provide that as a counterbalance to that discussion. So, they are issues that would be dealt with separately.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. And so then, I’m curious, if we have individuals listening who are thinking, “Boy, DIY do sound really cool.” We have a broken review process that you sort of discussed already also operating. Have you seen just sort of like individual professionals and their managers say, “You know what, this is cool. We’re going to go do it even if nobody else in our organization is.” How does that work?

Craig Dowden
For sure, yeah. One of the challenges is that it can feel awkward, almost like doing a new exercise at the gym. It can feel awkward so I think what’s really important is for both the manager as well as their team can talk about, “Okay, this may be awkward and we may have some stops and starts, and so let’s raise our hand and learn through the process.”

And I think when they have done it, what’s another challenge is that the manager, in particular the leader, almost has a scorecard, and what they may feel is the “right answer.” And so, giving control over to the employee can feel daunting and what’s going to happen, so there’s an uneasiness. And it’s really interesting and almost, to me, the parallel is having a difficult conversation.

I do a lot of work with executives and executive teams. And, particularly, if someone is having conflict with another colleague or other members of the team, when they actually sit down and have the discussion, it’s not nearly as painful or as challenging as they thought. And it’s the exact same thing with do-it-yourself performance reviews. When it’s over, a lot of times I’ll hear the executives say, “Wow, you know what, my employee shared things that I didn’t see, I didn’t have on my list, I didn’t feel was as great of an issue,” or, “I found that the conversation was much more constructive and productive.”

Or, “If they didn’t raise something that I had on my list, it seemed like they appreciated that I didn’t have the same level of defensiveness sharing my feedback with them.” So, there are so many benefits from doing it. Once again, kind of acknowledging that awkwardness. And I think it’s interesting because it is a very different way of approaching things.

And I think the other pieces, too, is that I hear is that then feedback becomes more normalized. It’s part of day to day, so it’s less awkward, so you don’t raise your hand when you only have something to complain about or a bad thing. So, it just becomes a natural extension of the discussion that you have each day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so then, you have seen then those individuals who just decide, “Screw the broken corporate system that we’re in. We’re going to do this on top of it.” And it works just fine once they get past those kind of awkward adjustment bits.

Craig Dowden
Well, I love that you highlight that because, let’s say, you are working in an organization where they want to hold on to the standard performance review. Well, then there’s nothing that prevents a leader from adding that into the toolkit, and say, “You know what, we’re going to apply this within the traditional, or within our mandated performance review system.”

And what’s interesting, the benefits still translate because, “Now, I’m having regular conversations. You and I are having regular conversations, Pete, and so then we can talk about things. And then when the actual performance review comes up, we’ve laid so much of the groundwork that they’re really straightforward. Very little, if anything, is surprising,” which is the way it should be.

And so, fundamentally, whether or not your organization adopts it at large, or whether or not they resist and that you do it yourself, this strategy can be used regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, so I’d love it if we can maybe do a roleplay or a demonstration of a DIY performance review in action. I mean, I guess part of it is quiet reflective thought on your own before you engage in the conversation. So, let’s say that I did that.

Craig Dowden
Right. That’s right, assuming that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll make this like, okay, let’s just say you are the owner of my whole company, and I’m an employee who is in charge of making the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, and we’re having a monthly check-in here. How would we start?

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say, “Pete, thank you for taking the time to come in and meet with me today. As you know, we do do-it-yourself performance review on a monthly basis, really, so we can have an open and constructive dialogue around how things are going. And so, I appreciate you taking the time to go through the questions, reflection questions, and fundamentally what I want us to talk about this afternoon are a couple of things.”

“Number one, how do you feel things are going in terms of the goals that you set out this month? How do you feel that you’re performing? Then, also, what are the gaps? What are some areas where you feel there are possibilities to raise your level of performance? And then, also, what’s some feedback that you have for me? So, how can I do a better job of supporting you in terms of where you are and what you’re trying to achieve? And then, lastly, I would love to be able to share my insights, observations with you to close the conversation, and just talk about the next steps.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Okay, cool. Well, thank you, Craig. I really appreciate you investing the time to do this with all of your many direct reports and it could add up perhaps. And I feel that it’s going smashingly well with regard to the podcast having completed a huge listener survey. It gave me a clear idea of what people are into and seeking those folks out to deliver upon that.”

“I think in terms of the gaps, I think it’s that I’ve not yet sort of systematized an approach so that we can sort of take listener requests, write to guests like very quickly in terms of figuring out how to do that over and over again when it’s a lot harder to do that than to just snag an author who sounds relevant, who’s got a book coming out because they said yes immediately to invitations on the podcast.”

“And my feedback for you, Craig, is that we speak very rarely, and I’d love it if you could provide some more input more frequently into my performance there. So, that’s what I’m thinking right now.”

Craig Dowden
“That’s fabulous. Well, a couple of things, and I’ll certainly add that. That’s valuable feedback and I appreciate it and I agree that if we had an opportunity to speak more, have much more constructive conversations, so I definitely will commit to doing that.”

“A couple of things that I think you touched on in terms of what has been going awesomely well. I’m thrilled to hear that, so congratulations and that’s great news and great feedback. I really appreciate that you took your insights from customer feedback and client feedback that you have so that’s really compelling.”

“And so, what steps, what are some lessons that you’ve learned through the positive feedback you received in terms of what you’re going to continue to do, and then also ideas you may have from what they shared on the positive spectrum around how to potentially move the podcast to another level?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Certainly.” Well, I think we got the idea as far as demonstration goes.

Craig Dowden
And then just add to that, too, and back to systematize the approach, and then, on the flipside, then I would ask questions like, “Okay, that’s great. I think it’s really valuable that you looked at that. What are some ideas that you think could assist you in that? And then how might I be able to support you in systematizing? Do you have the resources that you need?”

So, you kind of counterbalance because sometimes, and the reason I started with the positive is sometimes people will kind of focus right in on the negative, you know, like where you would improve. And so, there can be lessons learned on both sides of the docket, and then you want to ask questions on each of those follow-up questions in each of those domains.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I hear what you’re saying with regard to the reduction and defensiveness because it’s totally like, “Well, hey, I brought it up.”

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And even if I didn’t bring it up, it’s like, “I’m already in the zone of having thoughtfully introspected on what are some things I might do better.” And so, it’s not like you’re giving me a jarring sort of state-shifting attack, like, “Here’s how you screwed it up.” “What?”

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “No, this is what we’re talking about.” And I’m already in that kind of place so it’s a lot easier.

Craig Dowden
And I love that you said that you brought it up. And I think that’s what’s really important is, well, because let’s say you bring it up, and then I reframe it or I probe a little, and then you get defensive. Then, as a leader, as a business owner, you can come back and say, “Well, Pete, just for a moment, appreciate the response and just I’m following up on something that you raised.” So, sometimes back to dealing with fear or dealing with a trigger, maybe I’m triggered by it. Then this can help raise, bring the discussion back on point, where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I did raise that, and so I wonder why, what triggered me on that.” So, there’s real richness to that discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I guess, certainly, if you want to go meta there for a moment with regard to what’s happening and then I don’t think that happen sometimes. It’s probably rare that folks start crying and sharing some deep historical therapy-type elements, but they might. And that might be just the thing for that particular conversation. But it could be just like, “Oh, you know, it’s always been a little bit of a sore spot for me ever since this happened that I’ve been quite conscientious about this sort of thing. It gets me going.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s really good to understand.”

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, and this is, as an example, I mean, this is what then can bring a conversation back versus if you raise it as the feedback provider versus operating as a feedback facilitator. So, if I get triggered defensively by something I’ve openly shared, that in of itself shows the complexity and complications attached to delivering a feedback, because hearing it from you might trigger me differently than if I’m talking about it myself.

Because if I’m self-anointing and self-identifying, that can feel safer than when you do it. Then it’s like, “Wow, okay, I’m reacting to this.” So, it can be a really powerful moment of self-insight for the individual because they can actually hold up a mirror and say, “Gee, even though this is something that I recognize within myself, if anyone else around here points it out, I can get defensive.”

And then through a conversation with the manager, now they can add that to, “Hey, you may want to be aware of that in terms of how you receive feedback.” So, it can be a really powerful learning mechanism in that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, we talked a bit about some of the emotions there with regard to removing some of the defensiveness in there. Do you have any other pro tips when it comes to handling some of the emotional bits if folks are scared to talk about stuff, they’re frustrated to revisit things again and again, they’re disappointed that they’re not, you know, maybe they heard some surprises, like, there’s a whole lot of emotion wrapped up in all of this? Any kind of overarching pro tips for working with that well?

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, a couple of things that you can have that as almost preparatory. So, when we have these, and that’s what’s beautiful about having this as a systematized approach where it’s monthly. You can say, “Okay, during our monthly do-it-yourself performance reviews, there may be times when you feel fearful, frustrated, disappointed in what we’re talking about. How can I best show up to minimize triggering those emotions within you?”

And so, it has, “And what are some things that may lead you to experience this poorly? So, before we even embark on this journey together, you can start to lay out the ground rules about, ‘Hey, if you say purple unicorn, that can tend to trigger me in a particular direction.’ So, then it’s like, “Okay, now, I can manage that.”

The other piece can be around saying, “Well, there may be times when I have to share constructive feedback, critical feedback, in terms of what I see. How can I best deliver that so it’s perceived with positive intent and so I can make it as constructive a message as possible? And then what are some things that I can do if I sense that you are reacting emotionally to be able to address that?”

And so, once again, same thing, where the person is actually sharing the answers to that exam. Now, when you bring that up, then you will already have a preordained conversation about, “Hey, Pete, we did talk about it, and I sense this happening. So, as we agreed, I’m doing X and now it’s, ‘Oh, okay.’” So, it softens that transition.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. That’s handy.

Craig Dowden
And I think for all of us, I mean, as a lifehack, it’s a wonderful opportunity, personally or professionally, to talk to the people in our lives about, “How do I best perceive feedback? How do I prefer to give feedback? What’s the best context? What’s the safest environment? And how can I best share those feelings?”

So, as another example, you can say, “If there’s anything that’s in my approach or what’s happening that’s provoking fear or frustration or disappointment, please raise your hand because to maximize the impact of this discussion and really leverage the power of what we’re doing here, we want to ensure that those emotions are minimized. They may not be eliminated entirely. Our job, collectively, is to figure out how to minimize those so we can have a safe discussion and really talk about what matters. So, in order for us both to get the most out of it, this is what we need. So, anything I can do to facilitate that, let me know.”

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

Craig Dowden
I’ve really appreciated the questions and the comments and the exploration. And I think, to me, the most important piece is the research shows that the vast majority of us desire feedback. We want to receive feedback. We want to figure out how we can stretch ourselves and grow. And so, for us, as feedback providers and receivers, it’s critical to develop both of those skills. And, again, I think, to me, the research in that is so important, that in order to be effective, we have to excel in both and be really committed to doing that and being curious explorers when we’re fulfilling both roles.

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

Craig Dowden
Favorite quote. I’m not sure if it’s a quote. Maybe it’s a practice. Something that I think is really powerful for me is around, “The answer is always no unless you ask the question.” So, it’s something that, for me, personally, as well as a lot of clients that I work with, sometimes we can put up artificial barriers and assume there’s going to be a negative, like, “No, this isn’t going to happen.”

And I feel like it’s so empowering for us to recognize that just by asking the question, asking someone to be a guest on a podcast, asking someone to interview, asking someone to have a coffee to discuss a business opportunity, if we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to play the game, then the answer is going to be no, and we’re going to have a losing hand. And so, to remind ourselves of the power in asking questions.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what I like about that is, it’s sort of like there’s a guaranteed zero percent chance if you don’t ask. And even if you’ve upgraded yourself to a 1% chance, you know, divided by zero it’s like an infinite increase.

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not like you’re ten times more likely to get a reply, or infinitely more likely to get a reply, in your favor even if you’re only going to like a half a percent or 1% chance. And I’m impressed. I think one guy, I did a big blogpost, I don’t know, on a different website. But he reached out to just tons of people, and say, “Hey, do you want to talk about consulting over coffee?” And he had a very detailed notebook about who to reach out to and what the results were. I was like, “Whoa! Tell me, how often do people say yes?”

And he had computed, because he reached to like more than a hundred people, it was like 28% of folks said yes to a total stranger to like chat with him about career stuff. And that was mind-blowing to me. Like, on average, if you ask four strangers, you’d expect one of them to say yes. That’s pretty cool.

Craig Dowden
It is. And I think, again, a wonderful piece of reflection for us around, “Okay, how much do I get in my own way of advancing the goals that are most important to me? So, if I’m okay with receiving a no, then that’s okay. Then I think that’s wonderful, and so why not, right?” And so, I would rather, I feel it’s important that we remind ourselves that it’s better for us to put it out there and then be told no, rather than not do it, and then you get zero percent, as you said, and 28% of people like to help. That’s the other really interesting thing.

When you ask people, “Do you like helping other people?” Most people say, “Yeah, it feels good and I try to do that as much as possible.” Yet, we can be really reluctant to ask other people just, again, to talk about consulting, or to talk about how to be an effective leader, or to build a great podcast, and then we’re eliminating particular potential resources for us to learn from and grow relationships with and thrive.

One quote that did come to mind, to be able to circle back to your question, I remember interviewing Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, and so they just finished, I think, the largest acquisition ever, multibillion dollars. And he talked about, during his time, he said, “People have an amazing capacity for forgiveness if you give them the opportunity to do so.” And I thought that was very powerful as well.

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

Craig Dowden
Oh, that’s so challenging. Every piece of research, to me, there’s just golden nuggets. I love the one which showed that empathy is the third strongest predictor of executive excellence. So, that was done by the Management Research Group. So, the third strongest predictor of executive excellence out of 22. And then it was the strongest predictor of ethical leadership out of the 22. And the top two were strategy and communication.

And so, I think what’s really fascinating about their research is not only is empathy the third strongest predictor of executive excellence, you can make a pretty compelling argument as to empathy informs our ability to think strategically as well as communicate effectively. So, I feel like the fact that empathy is either directly or indirectly related to what I call the holy trinity of executive excellence. I think that’s really, really powerful and, especially, considering how empathy is going down.

Our levels of empathy are reducing on a pretty substantial rate, and it’s been identified as a key competitive advantage for organizations and executives, so it’s this really powerful piece of research which I love to cite and talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Do you recall the author, journal, article?

Craig Dowden
So, it was out of the Management Research Group, so they’re in the northeastern U.S., and they had a whitepaper attached to it. So, they sent me some of their individual data as well. So, they have whitepapers on their website. It was over a half a million people contributed to that. I referenced a study in one of the articles I wrote for the Financial Post. So, they have one internal whitepaper, so they have hundreds of thousands of 360 feedbacks of paper on, and that was a really compelling study that they put together.

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

Craig Dowden
Wow! So tough. Anything by Dan Pink, Adam Grant, Marshall Goldsmith, I think is exceptional. One book that I love to refer because it’s relatively unknown is by William Ury who wrote “Getting To Yes.” So, a lot of people know that book. My favorite of the trilogy that he wrote was called “The Power of a Positive No.” And I just found the concept so really compelling in terms of its application and execution.

So, essentially, what his argument is, and he does a lot of the toughest international negotiations and crisis situations, and he talks about how people are generally awful at saying no. And because we’re so afraid of hurting someone else, and so either we do one of two things. We either avoid the other person, or ghost them altogether, or we just say yes to things we’re not prepared to do.

So, in his book, he provides this really awesome methodology to be able to deliver a positive no which basically goes, “Yes. No. Yes. Question mark.” So, essentially, “Hey, Pete, I appreciate that that’s really important to you. The timeline for me is not going to work because of these competing commitments. How about we do X?” So, it’s, affirm the other person, affirm my own position, and then propose a solution with a question mark, say, “Hey, I’m prepared to collaborate,” and it’s just absolutely golden.

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

Craig Dowden
Tool? I love StrengthsFinder. I find doing a StrengthsFinder is really powerful and I love having access, I subscribe to HBR, so I love, I have to say, I really enjoy getting the articles, blogposts that come through there.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Craig Dowden
Wow, a favorite habit. I would say there’s a great book called “The ONE Thing” that was written by Keller Williams, the real estate…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Craig Dowden
And it’s amazing. And so, I strive to, each day, say, “What’s that one thing that if I do it will move the needle more than anything else?” And so, really be focused on the one thing, making sure by the end of each day, I have done my one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks that they say, “Yes, Craig, that’s brilliant”?

Craig Dowden
I think the power of the positive no is really powerful. I think, really, the importance of letting go. So, the power of “I know.” So, when I have discussions with people and they have a conflict with someone, again, personally or professionally, I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you talked to Pete about this?” “No.” “Well, how come? Like, what was…?” And then they’ll say, “Well, I know how he’s going to respond.” And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, how do you know that?” They’ll say, “Well, I just know, okay?”

And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you tried to approach him about this topic and then he shut you down or a similar topic and he reacted this way?” “No.” “Have you ever been in a social setting where you’ve observed him react in that way?” “No.” “Have you heard third hand, like around the watercooler that he’s done this?” “No.” And then it’s, “Hey, you know what, are you sure that he’s going to…how do you know this?” And I think that’s really powerful in terms of challenging our own insights.

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

Craig Dowden
CraigDowden.com is the best way, and also @craigdowden on Twitter, and you can use my name on LinkedIn.

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

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say to think about the impact that you want to have on the world and each day, both in any organization or community that you serve, and be mindful of what your core values are. And at the end of every day, sit back and see the degree to which you’re living your core values. And a lot of my coaching clients, I do it as well, do a quick five-minute take on, “Hey, did I do today what I set out to do? Am I living my values every day?” And a lot of research shows the better we are at accomplishing that, the more effective we are and the more likely we are to achieve our goals.

Pete Mockaitis
And happier, too, I imagine.

Craig Dowden
And much happier, yeah, exactly. An added bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, Craig, this has been fun. Thank you and good luck in all your adventures.

Craig Dowden
Thanks. Well, I look forward to going back to our performance review and staying in touch. So, I’ll commit to that.