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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.

528: Building High-Performing Teams through Psychological Safety with Aaron Levy

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Aaron Levy says: "The right type of leader you can be is actually just being yourself."

Aaron Levy discusses how to encourage your team to give and receive more honest feedback.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The deciding factor of high-performing teams
  2. How to make feedback less intimidating
  3. Four ground rules that allow teams to thrive

About Aaron:

Aaron is the Founder and CEO of Raise The Bar, a firm focused on helping companies address the problem of millennial turnover.

Aaron is an ICF Associate Certified Coach, a Thrive Global contributor, an 1871 mentor, the Co-Director of Startup Grind Chicago and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. He has educated, coached, and consulted over 5,500 business leaders, helping them to define goals, create action plans, and achieve sustained success.

Aaron is on a mission to transform the manager role – by empowering each manager with the tools, skills, and training to be leaders of people who unlock the potential of their team.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Aaron Levy Interview Transcript

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

Aaron Levy
Thanks for having me on for a second time, Pete. I’m really happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m happy to have you. And another fun fact we learned about you is you take some cold-water plunges in the wintertime. What is the story here?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, it’s been the last couple of years. My coach for his 60th birthday said, “For my birthday, you’re going to come plunge with me in the lake.” And I swim with him probably May through August, September, early October. He said, “We’re going to go for a plunge in November-December.” I said, “What?” He said, “It’s for my birthday.” I said, “Okay. You only turn 60 once so we’ll do it.”

And we got in, and we plunged, and it became one of those things that is there’s not really much better way to start the day than plunging into Lake Michigan and getting this just cold but also really refreshing feeling. So, I try and do it a couple of times a week and go in for a couple of minutes so I don’t get hypothermic, and it’s just a really nice refreshing way to start the day.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny you used the word nice because it sounds like torture to me. Explain.

Aaron Levy
Well, it is a little bit painful and it’s a mental challenge, and I think that, also, what’s interesting about it, as someone who does triathlons and racing, that whole sport is a mental challenge, and so you kind of love once you get into the water, it’s all leading up to it, but then once you’re in and you’re shoulder deep in water, everything slows down, and you can slow down your heart rate and your breathing. You just calm down. And you don’t want too calm in there for too long but you definitely calm down for a minute or two. It’s the leadup that’s much more crazy, I think, than the actual plunge.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I was going to say, are you sure that sensation isn’t you dying?

Aaron Levy
No, I’m not entirely sure it’s not me dying. We’ve done it enough times where we’d play with that, like, “Okay, at two and a half minutes at this temperature, that’s too much time.” Like, your whole body chatters for 30 minutes afterwards, “Okay, I was in there a little too long.” So, we learned to figure that out on our own.

But it’s just one of those things that’s really refreshing. And people ask me, “Well, what’s the science behind it?” And I say, “You know, the science is hit and miss. There’s cryotherapy, professional athletes going in ice baths after sporting events or races, and so it’s kind of following along that path. It’s very similar to that, but I’m not going to claim I do this for science. The reason I do it because it’s exhilarating, it’s fun, and it’s refreshing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s intriguing and it’s come up before, so thanks for indulging us there. I want to say congrats. You have completed your book Open, Honest, and Direct: A Guide to Unlocking Your Teams Potential, so that’s cool. I think I want to go deep on a particular vein of it, but maybe you could give us sort of like the broad zoomed-out message, sort of what’s the main thesis of this opus here.

Aaron Levy
Yeah, the main thesis is that it takes work to lead people, and we are usually promoted into leadership roles because we’re good at doing what we’re doing, not because we’re good at leading people. And so, the path that this book takes is actually it takes all the steps we work with leaders on, is, “What does it take to be an open, honest, and direct leader? How do you listen? How do you ask powerful questions? How do you create this base for psychological safety to occur? And how do you ultimately realize…?”

I think one of the hardest messages of the book to realize is that feedback is a gift, and the act of giving it, even in a critical conversation, or sharing something that just might not feel good to share because you might be worried about hurting somebody else’s feelings, actually might be the best thing that that person needs or you and your team need, or all of the above need.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s lots to that and it certainly resonates and rings true. So, I want to talk in-depth about psychological safety, which is a theme that’s in the book and in your work. And so, first, how about, just so we’re all on the same page, can you define that term for us and why does it matter?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, the way I think about it when we think about psychological safety is it’s the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up, raising questions, concerns, or mistakes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Aaron Levy
I can give you more of an analogy though if that helps as another way to think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’ll take it.

Aaron Levy
So, the way I tend to think about it is imagine you’re walking through, you know, you’re trying to not be sure who you can say what to. Like, this person, if you say that to, they might blow up at you. This person you say that to, they’re going to respond to it in a different way. This person is going to be passive-aggressive, and it’s like you’re walking through a field where there’s a series of landmines all around you and you’re not quite sure where those landmines are.

And so, you’re walking through the field slowly, unsure of what you say, and if you do it the wrong way, or if you say it with this tone, or if you email it in that way, that you’re going to get punished, or humiliated, or put down. And it’s just not hyper-efficient. It’s actually the opposite of efficiency because you’re slowly walking through that field as opposed to, in business, what we really want to be doing is moving at a rapid pace together towards the same direction.

And so, the lack of psychological safety is like you’re walking through a series of landmines.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that is a nice, well, maybe not nice, it’s a clear and illustrative metaphor, maybe kind of a spooky one as you really put yourself in the position. And so, I hear you that the belief that you’re not going to be ridiculed, etc., that sounds like a pleasant thing to be going on. But there’s really some excellent science behind psychological safety and the results that that unlocks for teams. So, can you refresh us on that as well?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I think the most interesting thing about this came when I started to look at Google’s Project Aristotle. And when you look at Google’s Project Aristotle, it’s really a study where Google said, “Hey, we want to figure out what are the key ingredients for a high-performing team, what makes teams perform well.”

And their initial hypothesis was, “Well, it’s the right mix of people with this personality style and that personality style. We have the right mix of introverts and extroverts. We have the right mix of talent.” They thought that was the case. But when they did their research and they looked at teams within Google, but they also looked at meta analyses of other studies on teams, what they found was their hypothesis was totally wrong.

And two of the most important factors to drive high-performing teams had nothing to do with the people on the teams at all. Initially, I was baffled, and then after I had a chance to kind of absorb that and think about that concept, the performance of a team has nothing to do with the people on the team at all. The cool thing about that is that means that you, as a leader of a team, actually have the opportunity to impact the performance of any team that you’re working on immediately.

And the two factors that show up and came out of this Google Project Aristotle was the need for psychological safety in the workplace and also clarity. Both of those things combined, “Clarity on where we’re going, how we’re working together, and safety, and I feel comfortable in my ability to do what I need to do to work.” And that might mean asking a question without thinking it’s a stupid question, that might mean challenging my boss because we need to challenge his idea and not just accept the norms. That’s actually what drives team performance.

So, it’s not really a thing that we talk about in our leadership training, or with our clients, or in any of our work as a way to just feel good. The reason we talk about psychological safety is because it is one of the top factors which drives team performance and better outcomes within a business.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, it’s really interesting how I can really think about all kinds of conversations where there’s really some interrelationship there, which means psychological safety and clarity, because you might be afraid you’re going to be ridiculed and, thusly, you don’t ask the clarifying questions necessary to arrive at your clarity. And, in reverse, it’s like if you don’t feel clear about where you’re going, you’re feeling kind of anxious and edgy, like, “I hope this is maybe the right thing,” like the whole time that you’re engaging in conversation and hunker down and doing your work solo.

Aaron Levy
The balance and the play between the two are so, so important. And I say any great leader, their role is to provide context and clarity. Clarity on where we’re going, what we’re doing, how we’re going. And context as to why we’re doing it. But the underlying thing in that is, all along that way, people need to feel safe.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then let’s get into it. The psychological safety, how is it earned and gained and built? And how is it lost in terms of sort of real-life day-to-day exchanges, interactions?

Aaron Levy
Yeah. At the highest level, it is gained and lost through consistency. So, if you are not consistent in the way you show up, Pete, as a person with your family, with other people, they won’t know what to expect from you and, thus, psychological safety is lost. However, if you’re consistent in the way you show up, you are setting yourself up to say, “I know if I do this, I’m going to get this response.”

So, what you’re doing is you’re setting yourself up for psychological safety. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to guarantee you’d give it if you’re consistently yelling at people when they ask you a question. That’s not psychological safety, but it’s consistency in a few things. And so, I share consistency at the start because that’s probably the most important thing to remember. It’s not, “I just try, I’m going to share a couple of things that we talk about doing.” But it’s not trying to do one of those things or two of those things once in a while and seeing how it works. Psychological safety is created over a long period of time where you’re consistent in the actions that you do.

And so, one specific example of that is when you give feedback in person, right? And when I say in person, I don’t mean literally it has to be face-to-face with the other person. It could be over the phone or via a video chat. What I really mean is not giving feedback via Slack, via Instant Message, or text message, or email because it’s just not the highest fidelity mode of communication.

The best example I think about is, it’s like if you ever have that text message where you’re texting with somebody, and then you feel like they might be frustrated, and the text bubble comes up, and it seems like they’re about to text too but then it goes away?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Aaron Levy
And that’s the worst. “What’s happening is? Is he mad at me?” and then you go into the office and it’s your boss. So, you’re looking for your boss, and he walks in, and he walks right by you, you’re like, “Wait. He’s definitely mad at me. I’m in trouble. I did something wrong. I must’ve said something wrong in his email. What’s going on?” You build this whole story.

Little did you know, as you’re building that whole story, is you’re reading this feedback via text message, which isn’t a high-fidelity mode of communication, you’re building a story that he or she is mad at you for something that happened in the text message. But, really, they were just going from one meeting to another, and in between meetings, they really had to go to the bathroom, so they don’t even see you. They just walk straight to the bathroom.

And when we don’t give feedback in person, over the phone, or via a video chat, we’re losing that level of understanding the situation and we build a story around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, this reminds me. This has come up once before on the show. If you’ve seen the Key & Peele text message confusion sketch, it is priceless. It’s not quite safe at work because of the language, but it’s hilarious and illustrates that point, how we can sort of read things in and misinterpret, and when folks truly have completely different intentions and things that they’re trying to communicate there. Okay, that’s one practice then, is offering feedback in a live, real-time environment.

Aaron Levy
Here’s the tip around that, too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Aaron Levy
If an email or a text message is taking you more than five minutes to craft, like you’re typing it and then you delete because you’re like, “Oh, that sound passive-aggressive.” Typing it in again, deleting, you’re not really sure how to respond? Don’t send the email. It’s called the 5-minute rule. Just pick up the phone and call the person, or walk over their desk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And what I love about that, I guess the nuance to that 5-minute rule is it’s not so much you have a lot of content to share. I guess if that’s the case, I’d recommend Loom. I love that screen recording stuff. They need to sponsor the show one day. Anyway, I love Loom for screen recording instant videos, so sharp. But it’s taking you more than five minutes not because there’s a lot of in-depth content but because there’s some emotional stuff there, “Ooh, I don’t know if that’s going to land this way. Hmm.” Like, those are the things that are making it get stretched out.

Aaron Levy
And that emotional stuff isn’t going to be conveyed well via email.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Aaron Levy
So, don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you. I’m with you. Okay, so we got the sharing. That’s one consistent action you recommend for building the psychological safety is sharing those feedback points in real-time live environments, in person or in Skype or something, or phone. What are some of the other key consistent things that make all the difference in building up psychological safety?

Aaron Levy
Avoid using absolutes like “always,” “never,” “can’t,” “won’t,” “don’t.” The truth is when you use absolutes like that, it just adds a layer of judgment to a situation that likely isn’t true and will most often lead to someone else being defensive on the good side or the bad side, “Pete, you’re always late.” You might look at me and say, “Aaron, I wasn’t late for this meeting and I wasn’t late for last meeting.” And I’d have to say, “Oh, you’re right. Pete, three meetings this week that you’re a part of, you were late.” That you can’t deny, but always late? That’s just probably not true.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m right with you there. And so, it’s also a bit more honest. I’m thinking about the book Nonviolent Communication now.

Aaron Levy
Oh, amazing book.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of just it’s an observation as opposed to judgment, and there’s a huge distinction and ways that you can sort of drift on over into the judgment territory and be evaluative in use of one of those absolutes. It’s so funny, it’s tempting to use an absolute about absolutes, “Never use absolutes.” Oh, no, I just used an absolute.

Aaron Levy
I was about to say every time. Most of the time when I deliver this and share this with leaders, in my head I’m having this dialogue of, “Watch out for the absolutes, watch out for the absolutes. They’re going to catch you in an absolute.” Because it’s such a big part of our language and the way in which we communicate, we communicate through themes and stories that we see on TV and in the world, and we communicate through absolutes. And both of those actually limit the truth of what we’re trying to say.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, keep it coming. Keep it coming, Aaron. What else, career practices?

Aaron Levy
What else? One of my favorites is simply be specific. Share what actions worked or didn’t work when you’re giving someone feedback. So, don’t share who they are or who they aren’t, right? “You need to care more.” “What do you mean I need to care more? What tells you that I’m not caring enough?” And when we break this down with leaders as they start to share this in our trainings, and they say, “Well, what tells me that they don’t care is the last email that they sent to a client had three spelling errors in it.” Okay. So, instead of telling your employee to care more, which has a lot of judgment, has a lot of weight, just tell them that what you expect of them is to send client emails without grammatical errors in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that because, well, one it’s just very specific and actionable, and you can run with that and be enriched as a professional by hearing and adapting to that feedback. I would love to get your pro take on it in terms of do you want to share the context associated with the why behind that? Because, in a way, that might sound evaluative and judge-y.

So, I would say, “Hey, please make sure that you double-check your email so that you don’t have these sorts of typos go out. I noticed in this email these three typos. And my concern is that can create the impression that we are sloppy, or inattentive to detail, or rushing over on our side.” So, in a way, I’m giving you some context and some why behind my request. In another way, it sounds like I might be into evaluation, judging territory that they might trigger defensiveness. What’s your take?

Aaron Levy
“Well, so you did it twice unknowingly, so I’m going to give you a little bit of a reframe, take it or leave it. One of the things that you did, even at the start without noticing likely, was I want you to double-check your emails.” That’s assuming that whoever sent that email didn’t double or triple, quadruple-check it. I’m someone who can triple-check an email and still have plenty of grammatical errors in it. And so, I could look at that and hear what you say just from the start, and be like, “Well, I did.”

So, here’s a reframe of how to say it, “The expectation is, when you have a client email that goes out, it has zero grammatical errors. The impact of having grammatical errors is they think small errors means we have errors in other things that we do and it decreases our chance of working with them again.”

So, your ask was, “Hey, can I share this specific feedback and can I give a little bit of the impact of this specific impact?” Yes, you can totally give the impact of this specific feedback. I would just make it as insular as possible. What I mean by that is, as you and the experience focus, as opposed to saying, “When you do that, everybody on the team gets pissed at you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Aaron Levy
“When you send that email, the impact is I don’t trust that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do,” right? That is my judgment and evaluation, but, hey, I asked you to do something and send an email on time or send an email with no errors, and you sent an email late with errors. Now, I don’t trust that you can do what you say you’re going to do, as opposed to the rest of the team was pissed off at you. Because that is throwing too much judgment out there to the group.

And I know this sounds like nitty-gritty if you’re listening to it. As much as you can think of, “How can I just be specific about what actually didn’t work and the honest impact of it?” The honest impact is, “We’re worried that we might lose a client when we send them work like this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, I like that in terms of it’s clear, it’s like, “This is the expectation for these underlying reasons or philosophies,” and then it gets more personal in terms of, let’s take a look at this example email, and let’s hear that part of the conversation.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. And so, sometimes with feedback, you don’t need to give the impact because they get it. it’s just especially when you do it in the moment or timely. It doesn’t need to be spur of the moment but it should be within one to three days. That’s one of the other things that’s really important. If you give feedback a week, two, three, six weeks, a month later, the person might not even remember what it was about, “What email are you talking about? What did I say in that client call? What did I do in that meeting? I didn’t even notice.”

When you give it in the moment, or within a couple of days, people are able to observe, understand what they did, and change it. So, if someone on your team is a salesperson, and they made a mistake in a sales call, and you wait two weeks to tell them about the mistake, how many sales calls are they going on making the same mistake over and over and over again?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and it just doesn’t feel so great. I’m thinking about reviews in particular. It’s like surprises on the review that might happen nearly a year after the fact, it’s like, “What?”

Aaron Levy
Here’s the analogy I play with that just because it’s almost stupid-funny when you think about it. Think about Tom Brady and the Patriots, and I say Tom Brady not because I like Tom Brady but because he’s one of the more recognizable football players, athletes in the world. So, he gets into the huddle, there’s two minutes left in the game, and he’s getting the play calls into his helmet from his coach, and he’s talking to his teammates, and he’s hearing what’s going on, and he lets them know the play, and they all break and they spread out into the field, and he sees the defense, and they’re moving around, and his offense is looking at him.

And then he sees this wide receiver, and he’s not in the right spot. And he looks at him, he goes, “Oh, I don’t know. Should I? Well, we’re going to have a review of the game on Monday. Maybe I’ll tell him to move over on Monday. You know what, we’re almost at the end of the season, we’re going to do our annual reviews at the end of the season, so I’ll tell him that he’s not in the right, or I could just send him an email, too.” We would think that’s ridiculous. That just doesn’t happen. Tom looks at the guy, and he says, “Move over!” He might even say, “Move…” insert swear word “…over!” And the receiver doesn’t think twice of it, he needed to know how to be in the right spot so that they could move forward towards a common goal together efficiently and effectively.

Yet, in the workplace, we do that. In the workplace, we say, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just send him an email. Well, I waited too long to send that email, so I’ll tell him when he have a debrief on this client. Well, I didn’t do it then because we didn’t have time, so I’ll just do it at the annual performance review.” That’s not helping anybody grow. That’s not being consistent. And so, one of the really important things is actually just to be timely when you give feedback so they know when to expect it.

On our team, one of the things we do is we have a feedback debrief in between each workshop that we do. I actually have to send one out to the group on the last workshop that I did yesterday and the day before to say, “Here’s what worked. Here’s what didn’t.” If I only sent an email out when things were going really well, or when things were really bad, then people would be afraid when they got an email from me, and they’d say, “Oh, no. Is this…what did we do wrong?” But the consistency is each session that we have, each week that we do it, people will know, “Here’s the email. You know to expect something that worked, something that didn’t work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s huge and powerful. And I’m thinking about this football analogy in terms of, yeah, you’re right, that would be ridiculous to think about giving feedback in that way. I guess I’m also thinking about my experience of when I’m working with sort of creative types, like, “Hey, we’re making a logo, or we’re doing whatever,” I find it so interesting is when I share feedback in terms of, “You know what, that white space, it just seems like it’s so tight, it’s kind of uncomfortable, whatever.”

And it’s funny because sometimes I think that I sound kind of weird talking about design-type things, or art-type things, or I was talking to my audio people, it’s like, “I think my voice sounds a little robot-y at times. I don’t know if it’s being processed in a certain way.” And so, they appreciate it, like, “Oh, that’s great. Thank you. Yeah, I’m really going to dig into that.”

And so, as opposed to I guess that it’s just rare that I work with someone in my kind of creative capacity and they get really defensive or angry or irritated, like, “How dare you? You don’t sound robot-y. We mastered your voice perfectly,” or, “You don’t know jack about logos. What I made is excellent.” What do you think that’s about in terms of the mindset if it’s a football player or a logo designer versus an office professional? And why sort of feedback is often not given the same way and often not received the same way?

Aaron Levy
Well, I think you’d find it interesting if you go to that same logo designer and sit in in one of their internal meetings or discussion with a boss about a project, because I think it’s not that certain types of people do or don’t do it. I think, yes, that does happen. It’s also the culture and the team by which we operate and agree to do it. And so, it’s kind of part of the agreement with the client if you’re doing something creative with them that there’s going to be a bunch of iterations in the process, right? Iteration is part of the process.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go, yeah.

Aaron Levy
Yet, are we agreeing to iteration when we’re determining the next steps to go forward or the strategy as a business, or when we’re trying to figure out how to be better at sending client emails? Are we agreeing to iteration? And that iteration, that understanding that there’s a back and forth, that’s how you get to the best possible outcome that you need feedback from all points of view and different perspectives to get to the better outcome is something that is often missing.

And that’s also why when you’re able to create psychological safety, that’s one of the things that drives team performance. It’s what’s missing from a lot of teams, is the ability to feel like, “I can give that feedback and can say what needs to be said even if I’m a first-year person in this company, and I’m saying it to the senior director.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I like that a lot that it’s sort of, like, “Are we agreeing to have these iterations?” Like, “Is there an expectation of iteration?” Oh, is that trademarked yet, Aaron?

Aaron Levy
It’s not. It’s not. It’s a good one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s see, maybe it needs to be, one of us. Is there an expectation of iteration or is there not? And so, if someone is sharing something and they kind of think, “Well, hey, I’m a genius. I’ve got it figured out and this is the way forward and what we’re going to do, and you all need to respect that.” And then they get challenged, like, “Oh, hey, what if we did this?” Like, “No, Aaron, actually, I’d like to do it the way I said I wanted to do it,” like a little snippy there. It’s like, “Oh, okay. Note to self: Don’t speak up. I don’t feel psychological safety.”

And then, yeah, I think you’ve nailed it there. It’s, “Do we or do we not have an expectation of iteration?” And I think, for the most part, it’d behoove us to have that about most things. Is that fair to say in your view?

Aaron Levy
I’ll give you the way in which I think about it. I go on a daily basis to meet with new groups of people and do, we’d dive into trainings. And most of the time, they’re 20 or 40 hours over the course of 6 to 12 months, but sometimes it’s just a day, or a day and a half, or it’s an hour. And even in that amount of time with a group that I’m just working with the first time, I create a set of agreements with them and we establish agreements for how we’re going to work together in this room.

And one of the agreements, to what you said, Pete, is do the next hard thing. And what we mean by do the next hard thing is challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, speak up, try things out and make mistakes, challenge me. And so, in doing that, the expectation is someone to raise their hand and say, “You know what, Aaron, I disagree with you.” That’s what we look for because that’s how you breathe and grow great learning and great development. It’s how you process information. It’s not supposed to all be clean and logical. It’s supposed to be a little bit messy.

And so, when you ask, “Is that something that should happen all the time?” Yeah. Let me just extrapolate. If I’m doing that in an hour of session with a group that I’m meeting with once, imagine what you could benefit from if you’re doing that with people you work with on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so what I’m loving here is that you’re so gung-ho on these agreements. I’d love to hear what do you find are some of the top agreements that make a world of difference in unlocking high performance?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I think the number one agreement that makes the world of difference in high performance and also, in my mind, just the world a better place, and the way in which I describe it is it’s called embracing a beginner’s mind. And I go back to this quote by Gino Wickman from the book Traction where says, “The mind is like a parachute. It has to be opened for it to work.”

And if we’re not coming into a room, a situation, an environment with our minds open to different possibilities, then we really have a narrow perspective. And when you have that open perspective, it just creates so much more possibility, so much more growth, so much more learning, so much more development, so much more opportunity.

And so, that is the key indicator of success with employees on my company, with leaders that we work with, with clients that we work with. If they have that, which we seek out of all those different constituents, then success will be there, and high-performing teams will thrive if you have, at least, a beginner’s mind. So, a beginner’s mindset is the biggest one in my mind.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s a great one. And lay on another one or two for us.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Act with authenticity and humility. The way in which I describe this is it’s almost like you can sit back in your chair and you can finally take a breath. You don’t have to put on a mask of the work you. You don’t have to be the leader that has all the answers. You don’t have to be the Steve Jobs who is brash and rude, or the Bill Gates who is measure three times then cut once. The right type of leader and the right type of contributor you can be is actually just being yourself.

Trying to be somebody else, being inauthentic, people see through that. We’re trained at understanding and seeing facial expressions and emotions, whether we know we’re trained or not, we’ve been doing it since we’re little kids before we could even talk. We can understand facial expressions and body language.

And so, when we’re inauthentic, it feeds and it breathes to other people. And so, being authentic, and humble, too, not just braggadocious, but also humble and having some humility to how you show up in this world is one of those things that is just freeing. It kind of unlocks and releases this mask that a lot of us tend to put on when we go into work and want to be awesome by trying to be awesome, as opposed to being ourselves, embracing beginner’s mind, doing the next hard thing, and doing the work.

Pete Mockaitis
Good stuff. Aaron, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I would say one of the agreements that I constantly bring up is assume positive intent. Oftentimes, when we’re in the workplace, we can read an email or a text message, we go, “Oh, why did she…?” And think that somebody else is out there trying to hurt you, and we constantly go like it’s a battle, like people are trying to hurt us, that we’re working with.

The truth is that most people are just trying their best to do their best. And they might’ve made a mistake, they might’ve done something to really just figure something out, and if we can assume that everybody is doing their best, assume positive intent, it’s going to make the team that you work with a lot happier to be on.

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

Aaron Levy
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. And in that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.”

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

Aaron Levy
I’ve really enjoyed the Bloomer’s experiment. Do you want me to dive into it or just a high level?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear a sentence or two and the setup and the results.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. What they did was they looked at a group of students and they randomly assigned certain students to be high performers or bloomers, and another group of students to be non-high performers. They just picked them out of a hat basically. They didn’t tell the students that they were labeled as high performer or not but they did tell their teacher.

And as they looked at the course of the year and saw what happened, what they realized was the people labeled as high performers dramatically outperformed, statistically significantly outperformed, the non-high performers. And what’s interesting is, again, the students didn’t know. But who knew? The teachers.

And what the teachers did, subconsciously, is they gave more energy and attention and focus. They actually just spent more time listening and hearing those students that they thought were high performers. The coolest thing about this, to me, is the question that comes out of it, which is, “What if we treated everybody like a high performer? What would be possible then?”

And so, that’s something I keep in my mind and have our leaders think about, “What if instead of treating your high performers like high performers, what if you treated the other people in your team like they have the opportunity to be high performers? How much better would they do? How much more would they grow? How much better would your team do as a result?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, this reminds me of – what’s that educational teacher movie, Stand and Deliver?

Aaron Levy
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And Jaime Escalante, he says that students will rise to the level of expectations. And I think there really is some truth to that. Thank you.

Aaron Levy
You’re welcome. Totally. Yeah, thank you for asking that. That’s just a fun one that I’ve really enjoyed lately.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Aaron Levy
I’ll go with a recent book that I just really, really enjoyed, which is Give and Take by Adam Grant. I took a while to read it because I thought I knew what it was about, it’s about givers and takers. But it’s just diving into it more. It talks about, really, the way in which we show up with other people and what we get when we give.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, I like the way you said that. It took you a while to read because you thought you knew what was in it. I’m in the same boat. So, I’m putting you on the spot. Can you share with us an insight that you didn’t have until you actually read it as opposed to just thinking you already knew it?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I’ll share one insight. It’s actually from a study by Elliot Aronson, it’s called The Pratfall Effect. And in it, what came out of this was, as a giver, or just as a person, you don’t always have to have the right answer, you don’t always have to be perfect. Actually, what the studies show is you’re liked more if you make some mistakes, if you screw up a little bit. As long as you’re still seen as competent, if you screw up a little bit, you’re seen more as human and so people like you more.

So, if you’re a lawyer who has a stutter, that actually could improve your likelihood of winning a case. And so, that’s just something I wouldn’t have imagined was in Give and Take, and it was. And the way it was explained and shared and the stories behind it, Adam Grant is awesome. I’m just a really big fan of the way he thinks about the workplace, the way he thinks about people, and the way he shares stories.

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

Aaron Levy
So, I have been using, just lately, honestly, lately, the Google Tasks button. And so, Google Tasks is on my phone, Google Tasks is on my calendar and on my email, and it’s just really easy to just put things in a checklist. For a while, I would email myself, “Do this, do that,” and I’d had it come to my inbox after out for a day with 20 emails from Aaron to Aaron that just has a different task, and it was silly. And so, just compiling them in a simple to-do list. The thing I like about it is in the place I work so it comes up right in my email.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Aaron Levy
Meditating.

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

Aaron Levy
Feedback is a gift.

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

Aaron Levy
They can go to RaiseBar.co or the book website which is OpenHonestandDirect.com. On there is a whole toolkit of some of the tools we actually talked about today.

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

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Pick one thing from today’s conversation and practice it and aim for consistency over the next week. So, just one thing that you took away, whether it’s waiting five minutes and having a phone call as opposed to drafting an email, or it’s practicing avoiding using absolutes. Work on being consistent on just one thing, that’s my call to action for people listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Aaron, it’s been fun once again. Keep up the good work and keep raising the bar.

Aaron Levy
Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

515: Mastering Your Motivation with Susan Fowler

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Susan Fowler says: "You're always motivated. The question is, "What type of motivation do you have?"Susan Fowler explains what we get wrong about motivation and how to make the shifts to master it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Major misconceptions about motivation
  2. The three keys to mastering your motivation
  3. An overlooked leadership practice to improve engagement

About Susan

Susan Fowler is dedicated to helping others master their motivation and achieve their highest aspirations. A sought-after speaker, consultant, and motivation coach, she has shared her message on optimal motivation and thriving together in all fifty states and over forty countries. Susan is the bestselling author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does, and coauthor of Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard. Her latest book, Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals, released last June. Susan is also a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership program at the University of San Diego.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Susan Fowler Interview Transcript

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

Susan Fowler
Thanks, Pete. I’ve been trying for years to be awesome. I hope there’s something that I can help other people be awesome with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I definitely think there is. You’ve done some research in the realms of motivation. Maybe, for fun, could start by sharing a surprising or fascinating insight you picked up from your research into motivation?

Susan Fowler
You know, there are so many surprises. I’ve been studying motivation now for almost 25 years, been very involved in the research community, and there are thousands of amazing academicians and behavioral and neuroscience researchers out there. But what’s most surprising is, I think, that we’ve just had this totally wrong impression of what motivation is, and it’s hard to change our perspective because a lot of our notions about motivation that were developed during the B. F. Skinner days, where we did all the research on animals and operant conditioning, you know, carrots and sticks, it’s so prevalent in our society. It’s embedded into psyches that it’s hard to change our perspective because it’s literally built into our language.

So, for example, when we ask a question like, “Are you motivated?”, or if you ask yourself, “Am I motivated to do something?” that’s just the wrong question. That question literally sets up a paradigm that we now know is not true. So, I think what’s most surprising to me is how powerful, exciting, and valid, and applicable the new science of motivation is, and also how challenging it is to change people’s perspectives based on what they already know even if they know it doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
So, could you give us a short synopsis of what would be the current model of motivation and then how is that broken?

Susan Fowler
Thank you for asking that question. You know, there’s basically three prominent theories of motivation that are embedded, for example, in leadership competencies in the workplace, or that the workplace tends to use to reinforce their ideas of motivation. So, one is the one I just mentioned would be of Skinner when they did all this research on animals and realized they get, for example, they could get pigeons to do what they wanted them to do if they gave them a pellet and it was called operant conditioning.

And so, the rationale was, “Well, we can get pigeons to do whatever we want them to do. Maybe we’d get people to do whatever we want them to do if we just give them something.” And so, that’s where the carrots came in, and then people thought, “Well, the carrot is not working so let’s use a stick. Let’s give them pressure. Threaten them or make them fearful.”

And the thing is all those things do motivate us but it’s what’s called suboptimal motivation. It’s the kind of motivation, like the carrots, it’s like eating junk food. When you eat junk food, your blood sugar rises and you get a burst of energy, but then you crash. And when you’re eating all that junk food, it might give you that burst of energy but it’s not healthy, especially in the long run but even in the short run. It diminishes your creativity, your innovation. And so, that’s really prevalent in the workplace.

Another thing is like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that is the most popular idea of theory of motivation in the world, and Maslow didn’t even come up with that triangle, Maslow’s triangle, the hierarchy. He was writing about psychological needs and really started people thinking about psychological needs instead of biological drives. But the hierarchy has never been proven and even Maslow would be dismayed if he thought people were actually just using his theory that came out in the 1940s as their basis of motivation.

And then the other one is really prevalent, and I see it all the time in the workplace, is achievement motivation. This whole idea that what people really want is power and status and clout and money, and that leaders especially have this kind of special motivation to achieve without thinking about the implications or what’s behind the achievement and what they’re doing to themselves and others. So, what we really need, basically, I would say, Pete, we’ve been in the dark ages when it comes to motivation and yet there is a totally different way of perceiving and using motivational science and that’s what my purpose is to get my message out there so that people can do things differently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then what is the optimal theory as far as what we know now in terms of what really does motivate people?

Susan Fowler
Well, they’re operational but at a suboptimal level. Well, I think what is really basic is that people are not lazy, all right? So, we have this notion that people are disengaged at work, and oftentimes they’re disengaged because we’re not motivating them enough, or we’re not motivating ourselves enough, we don’t have enough perks or benefits, we have to make everything a game to make it fun because, otherwise, we wouldn’t do things.

But that’s just the opposite of what science says about our human nature. Our human nature is we want to thrive. We want to have meaningful challenges. We’re actually motivated by meaningful challenges. We want to make a contribution. We want to feel like we’re doing meaningful work and be connected to people.

And so, what the research has shown is that there are three psychological needs that when these three needs are satisfied, when we can create them, or when we’re experiencing them, especially in the workplace, but this goes for life, then we are going to thrive. And when we thrive, again we’re going to be more productive, more innovative, creative, we’re going to have a sense of wellbeing, and we’re going to generate positive energy that is sustainable.

So, the key to motivation is these three psychological needs that we can create because they’re real and they’re things that we can actually create in the workplace. If you’re a manager, you can help create it for others. And if you’re an individual, you can create it for yourself. And that’s really what my book Master Your Motivation is all about. It’s about how you do you create your own choice, connection, and competence. Those are the three psychological needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And the choice is where the key comes in, it’s like you choose what matters to you?

Susan Fowler
Well, actually, it’s interesting. Choice is what gives you a sense of autonomy. Otherwise, you feel that you’re being imposed on. You know, there’s a difference between getting up in the morning and saying, “Ugh, I have to go to work,” “I have to support my family,” or “I have to make money so I can live,” versus “I’m choosing to go to work. I’m choosing to make a living. I’m choosing to live a certain lifestyle.” 

You know, the reason that diets don’t work, think about this, as soon as you go on a diet, what do you say to yourself? You say, “Oh, I can’t eat certain things. I can’t eat that muffin, I’m on a diet.” So what happens is, immediately through your own language and through your own interpretation, you have just eroded your perception of choice. So, you’ve just eroded one of the three key psychological needs.

So, we think, “Oh, wow, I can’t have that muffin.” What’s the first thing you want? You want that muffin. And you think it’s about the muffin, but it’s not. It’s about your need for choice. It’s about your need for autonomy. And so, what we need to learn and part of the skill of motivation is to be able to say, “I can choose to eat this muffin or choose not to eat this muffin because I have a goal to lose weight,” and then we’ll talk about that in a minute, “I am choosing not to eat this muffin.”

It seems like just a reframing but it’s more. It’s literally creating a perception that stimulates a part of your brain that activates this psychological need that is absolutely necessary for what we call optimal motivation. So, choice is your interpretation or internalization that no matter what’s happening around you, you have choice about how you react to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like one great practical tip right there. You don’t even say, “I can’t do this,” or, “I must do that.” It’s like, “Well, hey, because of this, I’m choosing this.” And so, it keeps that choice factor alive and functioning for your motivation in that domain. So, that’s already very handy. Thank you.

Susan Fowler
Right. Well, yeah, think about this. It’s so funny because people will send out like a meeting invitation. They’ll call the meeting, send out an invitation, and then it pops up on their calendar a couple weeks later, and they go, “Oh, I can’t believe I have that meeting.” I mean, they called the meeting. But just the fact that it’s on their calendar can oftentimes trigger that thing of, “Oh, I don’t have a choice. I have to go to that meeting.” And so, we actually do it to ourselves all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you then maybe share a fun story that kind of illustrates there what’s really possible in terms of someone who felt unmotivated and then dug deep into the three needs and tapped into some great motivation to do great things?

Susan Fowler
Well, can I just point out, Pete, that just in your very question, which is a kind of question that would be normal to ask but it actually sets up the wrong paradigm of motivation? So, we use the term unmotivated. Well, the research shows is that you’re always motivated. You’re always motivated. The question is, “What type of motivation do you have?”

And so, if you’re motivated by money, or power, or status, or image, or even fear, or guilt, or shame, you’re motivated but you’re motivated, what we call, sub-optimally. And so, you’re either not going to take action or you’re going to take action but you’re not going to be persistent at it. So, that’s the first thing I really want people to maybe get in their heads is that we’re always motivated and it’s really important for us to think about the type of motivation that we have.

And then, the other thing is that we tend to think we need to have motivation to achieve great things. And so, I would just challenge, what is a great thing? What does that look like? And what the research will show is that just achieving small everyday goals is more satisfying than some big pie in the sky. I know we need to have those big hairy audacious goals, but what really gives us day-to-day satisfaction is seeing progress and sometimes it’s the mundane things in life.

I’d love just to share one example of myself that’s just a little thing. So, I travel a lot for my work. I do a lot of international travel and so I go through security at the airport a lot. And that’s something I will never be inherently motivated to do. In other words, I will never find that just naturally fun, or what people call intrinsically motivating to go through security.

So, one day, I’m at security and I get all tense. I feel really a lot of pressure because I’m usually in a hurry, and also, I hated going through there so I want to get through quickly. So, I’m looking at all the lines, and I’m thinking, “Which of these lines is moving fastest? I really need to get through the line fast.” So, I’m looking at the TSA agents to see which one lets you through best, and I’m looking for lines that are short, and I’m also looking for a line that doesn’t have like a family in it with a bunch of kids.

Pete Mockaitis
This reminded me of the movie Up in the Air where he’s analyzing and profiling all the different people in the airport, where he’s trying to figure out who’ll probably go faster. Okay, so you got your statistics and heuristics that you’re there, and you’re going. All right, I’m with you.

Susan Fowler
Yes, exactly. Exactly. So, I find a line that I’m going to get into, and then I stop, and I just have a mindful moment. And this whole concept of mindfulness is so powerful when it comes to motivation. Just to be aware in the moment, “What am I experiencing?” And then in that moment I thought, “Well, I’m feeling pressure and tension and stress and all this stuff.” And I think, “What am I doing? Susan, you talk about this stuff. This is what you write about. You research this. What are you doing to yourself?” And I thought, “Okay, I am obviously sub-optimally motivated to go through security. What do I need to do differently?” And I thought, “I need to shift my motivation.”

And this is where motivation as a skill comes in. So, I thought, “I’ve got to practice what I teach.” So, I started thinking, “Okay, one of the reasons I’m sub-optimally motivated is I don’t have choice.” I have to go through security, right? I have to go through that. And then I started thinking, “Well, I don’t really have to go through it. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to do this as a job. I could choose to do something at home, just stay home and write.” And I thought, “Well, I’m choosing to travel and I know how much I love it once I get there and I’m working with the people I’m working with, so I am actually choosing to go through security. Okay, I’ll give that one up.”

And then I thought, “I’m really competent,” that’s the third psychological need, “I’m really competent. I’ve been through a million times. I’m pretty well geared-up to do it.” But what was missing from me, really missing from me in that moment was connection. And connection means that you have some deeper meaning, you have a sense of the values that you hold, or that you’re making a contribution, or that you feel an affinity with the people you’re working with. And I realized I didn’t have any connection going through security. I’m not sure it really works. I’m kind of thinking sometimes that it’s just bureaucratic thing we have to do to make people feel safe but I’m not sure it really works.

Anyway, I have all these negative reasons not to go through security. And so I thought, “Okay, but how do I shift my motivation?” Well, in order to shift, what you can do, one of the ideas, is to align whatever you’re doing to a value that you have. And so I started thinking about my values. So, it means you have to have values and know what they are. And the first thing that popped into my mind as a value is learning. I love learning. I’ve always been a teacher, a learner. And I said, “Okay, what could I learn going through security?”

And I realized I could learn patience because I obviously am not a patient person. It’s just not my personality type, so it’d be something I would have to do consciously. And I said, “Wow, okay, I value learning. I’m going to learn patience.” So, I found the longest line and that had a family. It had a family with a father, a mother, and two kids, one was a toddler, one was a newborn. They had more stuff than I realized you could even take through security. And after standing behind them, they were just struggling, and I finally said, “Would it be okay if I held your baby? Maybe it would be helpful.” And they said, “Oh, would you? That’d be so great.”

So, I’m holding this baby, Pete, and I’m realizing, “Wow, I’m really having a wonderful moment here because I love babies. I love holding babies.” And so, they go through security and I’m going, “Excuse me, you want your baby?” “Oh, my gosh, yes.” So, they grabbed their baby and I helped them on the other side packing up and everything, and I go to my gate and I’m thinking, “Wow, that really worked out great because I love holding babies.” And I see the father coming towards me, and he says, “Oh, I’m so glad I found you.” He said, “We just feel terrible because we never even thanked you for your help.” He said, “This is the first time we’ve ever traveled with two kids. We had no idea how hard it would be. And we don’t think we could’ve even gotten through the security thing without your help and we never even thanked you. So, I just want you to know you made our day today, you really helped us.”

And I said, “Oh, no, no, no. Thank you. I love holding babies.” And so, we’re going back and forth, thank you, thank you, thank you. And I get on the plane and I’m reflecting, which is part of the skill of motivation. And I’m reflecting on what just happened, and I realized I not only have experienced what we call the inherent motivational outlook, is that I actually enjoyed holding the baby. That’s something I love to do. But I also had experienced what’s called integrated motivation. Because my life purpose is to be a catalyst for good, and in that moment, I had helped a young family and they told me that I did good. And that felt so satisfying, I can’t even tell like the joy I experienced in that moment, that sense of wellbeing. And I knew that, from then on, I would go through security differently.

Now, that’s been years that that happened, years ago that that happened. And anyone who travels with me or see me traveling will tell you that I enjoy going through security, not because it’s fun going through security but because I’m able to live my values, and I’m able to live my life purpose every time I go through security, so I’m always on the lookout for an elder couple that I can help, or a young couple that I can help, or a single mother traveling, or just being nice to the TSA agent who’s getting a lot of backtalk from people. So, that’s literally changed the quality of my travel experience, which is a huge part of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So then it seems like, in the terms of what we’ve discussed here, so we’ve got the choice element present in the story, “Hey, this is the career I’m choosing. I prefer fast and being with people in those places, and part of that is security.” And then for the connection, we’ve got, “Okay, what are my values?” And then you’ve come up with learning and, “What’s something I can learn here?” And patience is the thing you’re going to learn. You’re going to be patient in that context with the security line. And then forming connection with the folks who are there. And so, competence, did we touch on that?

Susan Fowler
Well, the competence, I already felt like I had because I’m really good at going through security, but I have to tell you I think that’s a really good question, Pete, because I actually feel more mastery now of going through security because I know how to do it, I’m able to help others. So, what the research shows about these three psychological needs of choice, connection, and competence is that they’re all totally interrelated. And I call it the domino effect.

If you are missing one, the others will fall. So, if I said, “Oh, I’m choosing to go through security,” but didn’t have the confidence to do it and didn’t feel like I was making progress, or if I was going through security and I was choosing to do it but I found no meaning, no connection with other people or to my values or to my life purpose, then all the choice in the world wouldn’t matter. And you’re not going to find connection if you don’t feel a sense of choice. You’re going to feel pressure and tension and stress, and you’re going to feel like people don’t care about you if they’re putting pressure on you. So, they’re all totally interrelated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Well, then I’d love it if we think about professional workplace here. Let’s say someone, they’ve got a project, and you know, they’re just not feeling it so much. They’re responsible for it, and so it seems like day after day, rather than to finding or making the time to proactively advance that project, they tend to, “Oh, what’s in my email? My desk needs to be tidied.” So they’re kind of procrastinating or putting it off. So they’re doing some of the less value work instead of pursuing this project which is important although doesn’t light their fire in terms of they’re just not feeling motivated with that over the course the days. So in that world, how would you recommend we apply some of these principles to summon or stir up or whatever you want to call it, to get those motivational juices flowing?

Susan Fowler
Yeah, when we’re sub-optimally motivated to do something, how do we shift into optimal motivation? And so, how do you apply the skill? And I’ve got so many examples, and especially in my book there’s one that I love, like filling out expense reports. I mean, who is actually “excited” to fill out expense reports? The only reason you might do it is you need your money back, but it’s drudgery.

And so, what I’m encouraging people to do to create choice, connection, and competence is to ask themselves, “Okay, what choices do you have?” And as soon as you ask that question, “What choices do you have?” just the idea that you have choices will often help you make the right one. But if you say, “What choices do I have?” And you say, “Well, I could choose not to submit my expense reports.” Or, if you’re working on a project like you were saying, “I could choose to not work on this project,” or, “I could choose to just do the minimum, put in the minimum amount of effort, and just get by, and hope that it’s okay, and that it doesn’t make me look bad.”

So, what you do is you just go through in your mind, and this takes a couple of seconds, to say, “Okay, what are my choices? And then, how do I feel about those choices?” And so, if you get in touch with the fact that you have choices, I mean, when you’re laying in bed in the morning, just get in the habit, and I do this every single morning, I go, “Okay, what choices do I have today? I could choose to lay in bed for another couple of hours or I could choose to get out, get up and write my blog that’s due this week. I have a choice of what to do.” So, that’s the first thing, no matter what the project is, no matter what you’re working on, is to ask, “What are my choices? How do I feel about those choices? What choices have I made that I’m glad I made? Or what choices do I wish I had made?” So, just to think about choice.

And then the second thing is to ask, “What connection do I have with this? And so, what I find meaningful.” So, in my book, Calla is writing about, “Okay, I’m choosing to do my expense reports,” but it was drudgery and she hated it. And then when she asked the question about connection, she realized that Jenny Luna is the gal that would receive the expense reports, and if Jenny doesn’t get them on time, and if they’re not completed correctly, Jenny is the one that suffers because, then, she can’t meet her deadlines that needs to go into accounting, etc. So, Calla said that she realized that, for her, doing it so that Jenny wouldn’t suffer because Calla has a sense of purpose around being a good friend, around being the kind of person that helps others not hurts people. And so, she said getting in touch with that connection was really important to her.

And then Calla realized that the company had gone through a new system and she didn’t have the competence she needed. So, she realized that she was missing two of the three psychological needs for doing expense reports. And once she got in touch with, she’s making the choice, she really wanted to do it because she cared about Jenny and she wanted to be a good organizational citizen, and she needed to learn more about how to do it. She actually got tutored and, in my book, she actually wrote about that experience, and how that transformed her expense reports. And I actually double-checked it with Jenny Luna, and Jenny confirms Calla does her expense reports correctly and on time every month.

So, that’s just it. It’s just asking ourselves, “What choices do I have? How can I have connection here? Where can I find meaning whether it’s to a person, to my values, through my sense of purpose, through making a contribution?” And then asking ourselves, “How did I learn? What did I learn? How did I grow?” And so, if we would just ask ourselves at the end of every day even, “What were the choices I made? How did I make connection? And how did I grow? How did I learn? How did I build competence?” If we could just learn to ask those questions around choice, connection, and competence, we literally would shift our motivation and it transforms the quality of that experience.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take here. So when you’re managing other people and you want them to experience motivation, what are some of those best practices we can take on so they’re getting connected to those drivers of motivation?

Susan Fowler
So, if you’re a leader, I think one of the things you need to do is start to think about the competing leadership competency. So, if you’re being held accountable, for example, to drive results, I think you need to realize that your method of driving results may actually be putting people into suboptimal motivation. If they’re feeling imposed on, if they’re feeling like they don’t have choice, if you’re using your power to get things done, like, “Do this because I told you to do it,” like a parent often says to a child, then you’re driving for results could undermine the very results that you’re trying to get.

And so, as leaders, what I am constantly teaching, and I’m just sharing with you that I just delivered this message to 300 leaders at the biggest bank in Russia, and basically asking them to, every day, ask people, “Okay, tell me about the choices you made today. Or, let’s talk about the choices you made. And what did you like or what didn’t you like?” Or, let’s say you’re saying to someone, I do a lot of work with pharmaceutical industry, and the FDA has real boundaries. You can’t do this and you can’t do that. What I’m trying to teach leaders is, “Okay, how do you have a conversation about, okay, here’s what you can’t do. But what can you do? What are the options you have within the boundaries? We don’t want you getting creative with the way you approach doctors then talk about research, but where can you be creative in terms of the way you interact with the doctors that you’re selling to?”

And so, we’re trying to teach leaders how to have conversations, or what I call motivation conversations, that really create choice, connection, and competence for people. And so, to ask people, “You know, here’s a goal, this is a goal that is required for your job. How do you feel about this goal? What’s meaningful to you about it? How can we align this goal with the values that you have? Not the values in our organization, although, hopefully, the goals align to organizational values, but your own values.” And what we found is that most leaders have never had a values conversation with the people they lead. We plaster the organization’s values all over the walls and make sure people memorizer them, but we’ve never asked individuals to actually think about, “What are your values? What is it that you bring to work every single day and make decisions with?”

So, I’m encouraging for leaders to have those values conversations to help create connection for people at work, and to ask them, “How do you feel like you’ve made a contribution no matter what your job is?” I was talking to a janitor at a high school the other day, and I asked him these questions about choice, connection, and competence. And you can’t believe how these man’s eyes lit up, and he said, “You know, there’s a lot of kids at this school that come from underprivileged families, and I’m like a surrogate father. I’m kind of like the wise sage or guru, and they come to me, and they tell me their problems, and we talk.”

Now, this is a janitor at a high school who works nights because he has a day job. And he is so optimally motivated in that janitorial job, and the primary reason is because he feels like he’s doing something good for the kids, and he also feels that when he creates the school that’s clean and pristine that he’s giving them an environment they might not have at home.

So, it’s just fascinating to me how, as a leader, you can have these conversations and reinforce the values that a person has that they might have but never thought about. Maybe they haven’t consciously chosen them and talked about them, so, yeah, those conversations are really important. And a leader can always ask at the end of every day, “What did you learn? How did you grow? Tell me about the progress that you’ve been making,” so that you’re reinforcing their sense of competence.

Pete Mockaitis
You also have a term I really want to touch upon for a moment. What is a fatal distraction? And how should we counteract that?

Susan Fowler
I love the concept of fatal distractions because it implies, for me, that we have a basic nature, and that what happens when we are acting lazy, when we are slacking, when we’re doing things that we’ve been held accountable for doing, what fatal distractions implies is that there are things that, outside of ourselves, or the way we’ve interpreted things, that pull us away from our basic nature of experiencing choice, connection, and competence.

So, a fatal distraction, for example, is, in a game, wanting to win, and wanting to win for ego purposes, or wanting to win because there’s a prize. This is why I’m so hesitant about gamification in the workplace. Research has shown, for example, that a lot of HR departments will say, “Hey, join our healthy contest. If you lose the most weight during our contest period, you’ll win an iPad.” And what the research says is that 12 weeks after the person wins the iPad, they revert back to their old habits and actually gain the weight back plus more weight. Plus, they then have this belief that, “Wow, I failed. I may have won the game but I’m never going to win in the long run,” and so they stop trying.

So, all of these fatal distractions, these games, these incentives, the rankings, all these stuff that we thought, because of the carrots and the sticks and the achievement motivation, all those theories that are out there, that counteract our true nature. So, a fatal distraction is the belief, for example, that, “People don’t care about us, and it’s not worth us caring about others.” Or, a fatal distraction is that, “I have to do this or I’m going to fail,” or, “I have to do this or I’m going to feel guilty.” It’s all of the negative self-talk is a fatal distraction, so are all the shiny objects and the junk food that entice us in the workplace every single day.

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

Susan Fowler
I think the thing that I really want people to hear is that motivation is a skill, that if you become aware of your choices, the connection you have or don’t have, and the competence you have or don’t have, that you literally can change the quality of your everyday experiences. And that’s what it takes to eventually achieve great things. You don’t achieve great things overnight. You achieve great things because you have day-to-day optimal motivation that keeps you doing one step, another step, another step. And so, that’s what I would encourage people, is just to really think about how they could create choice, connection, and competence in their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, now, could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Susan Fowler
I happen to see a young woman on the internet and she described herself as a self-quoter, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve always wanted to have the nerve to do that.” And so, she’s inspired me. And I wondered if you might permit me to just read the last paragraph in my new book because it really says in kind of a nutshell what I believe and it’s important to me. So, I’m going to do a self-quote, which is very audacious.

“A common thread of every great spiritual practice throughout history is the belief that human beings can raise their conscious awareness and live life at a higher level. The belief that change is possible entices you to greet a new day. Hope if a belief that things, and you, can change for the better. Not believing that you can and do change is to wonder what your human experience is about. We are beings with self-determination, and the ability to reflect and mindfully choose who we are, what we believe, and how we behave. The skill to master your motivation may be your greatest opportunity to evolve, grow in wisdom, and be the light of the world so desperately needs.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And do you have a favorite study or experiment or research?

Susan Fowler
Oh, a favorite. Oh, my gosh. You know what I have, Pete? No, I don’t. I have an entire book called Self-Determination Theory that is a handbook of thousands of research studier. And one of the reasons that I’m so, I guess, enamored with or have such a strong belief in the research basis for what I write about is that thousands of researchers have been doing very structured and progressive research for over 60 years, and it hasn’t been one big research study that proves it. What they’ve done is systematically and very consciously and with intent built these ideas on really solid, solid research. So, I think the message I’d like to get across is when somebody says, “Oh, there was a research study, and here’s what it proves,” I would never do that.

What I would say is, “You need to have meta studies, and you need to have years and years of validating the conceptual ideas and the theoretical framework.” And I’d like to think, I’ve been told, that I’m representing this volume of research in a way that honors the work that those researchers have done for over the past 60 years.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Susan Fowler
My favorite book is probably Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. He didn’t know about the three psychological needs but that is what helped him thrive. And if you read that book in light of what we talked about today, it’ll give it an entirely new meaning.

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

Susan Fowler
I can’t live without my iPad. The thing I love about my iPad is that I use it for news, I use it to keep in touch with people, I use it for social media, I use it for games, I use it to shop. I can’t think of hardly any aspect of my life that I don’t use my iPad for. And since I travel so much, I would say that if there was an iPad chip in my forehead, I probably would be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Susan Fowler
I think I have an issue with the whole concept of habits, and so what I would rather say is that I have a ritual. And my morning ritual is, before I put my feet on the floor, I say a prayer, and then I also ask myself, I remind myself, “How am I going to create choice, connection, and competence today?” So, you might call it a habit but habits are subconscious, and a ritual is something that I consciously do because I know it improves the quality of my life.

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

Susan Fowler
I hope people will take the “What’s your MO?” for motivational outlook, “What’s your MO?” survey. It’s free. You get immediate results. It’s on my website at www. SusanFowler.com.

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

Susan Fowler
One of the things that I would challenge people to do, my life motto is that I teach what I most need to learn. And so, when I realized that there’s something lacking in my life, I delved into it as if I would need to teach it to someone else, not because I want to show them up or because I want to use my expertise power or whatever. But I feel that when you can turn around and teach someone else what it is you’re learning that that’s a form of mastery. So, go through life and think, “What is it that I really need to learn? And maybe if I taught it to others, it would reinforce it in myself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Susan, thanks so much for sharing the good word. I wish you lots of luck and motivation in all your adventures.

Susan Fowler
Thank you so much, Pete. Same to you. I appreciate it so much.

509: How to Become the Manager Your Team Needs with FranklinCovey’s Todd Davis

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Todd Davis of FranklinCovey says: Everyone deserves a great manager.

Todd Davis explains why people are bad at managing—and what to do about it. 

You’ll Learn:

  1. Where most managers fail
  2. How to overcome the fear of feedback
  3. A productivity hack to keep your week from spiraling

About Todd

Todd Davis has been with FranklinCovey for more than two decades and serves as the chief people officer. As the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, Todd has delivered keynote presentations and speeches around the globe, including at the renowned World Business Forum. Todd has been featured in Inc. magazine, Fast Company, and the Harvard Business Review. He and his family reside in Holladay, Utah.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Todd Davis Interview Transcript

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

Todd Davis
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m such a big admirer of FranklinCovey and the work you guys do and several of your folks over there who’ve appeared in the podcast. I’d love to hear, what’s some of the newest, latest, coolest insights coming out of FranklinCovey over the last year or two?

Todd Davis
Wow! That’s a loaded question. Well, FranklinCovey, I’ve been here for, going on 24 years now, so lots of great things during that time. Most recently, and this has been maybe a little bit longer than two years but we’re still involved in it, a big business model change where we now have what’s called an all-access-pass model.

So, previously people that would engage with FranklinCovey would purchase our solutions or have our consultants come in for a specific solution, and we still do that, but now it’s more of a subscription model where people have access to everything and anything that FranklinCovey does. And we have, well, we call them implementation specialists that come into your organization or your team and help create these learning journeys. So, that’s probably the biggest, one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my career here.

On a more recent change, the book that I believe we’re going to talk about, Everyone Deserves A Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team just hit the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list today, it just came out today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent.

Todd Davis
So, very excited about that. That was not why we wrote the book but it’s nice to see that validation of how it’s resonating with leaders and managers and others all around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s dig into that. I think that’s a beautiful vision statement put out there, everyone deserves a great manager. So, what do you say is sort of how well the world is doing right now, or maybe the U.S. in particular, that’s easier, in terms of what proportion of folks do, in fact, have a great manager and how are we defining that?

Todd Davis
Well, yeah, it’s such a great question. You know, I was talking with my group as part of our book launch last week, and we made the analogy, if you get on an airplane, you sit down in the seat, and you’re ready to relax for a minute, then the pilot comes on and she or he says, “Thanks for flying with us. I’m not really a trained pilot but I have an interest in flying and I may get my license one day. But, relax, welcome to Good Luck Airlines.”

Your immediate response, at least mine is, “I got to get off this plane.” And while that’s kind of an overly-dramatic analogy, this is what happens in the real world. We have good people, really good people, and according to a Harvard Business Review study, they’re put in their first manager role, on average, at about age 30 and yet don’t receive any management or leadership training until age 42, if ever, so there’s this 12-year gap where they’re like this pilot trying to do the best job they can but it’s kind of like, “Welcome to Good Luck Leadership.”

[03:02]

And our instincts, and what happens in reality, is we leave that company, we leave that manager. Yes, people need to be paid fair, they need to have benefits, they need to do challenging work, but study after study shows that people leave because of their leader, because of their manager, or they join or they stay because of that leader. So, not only does everyone deserve a great manager, if you’re going to have a successful team organization, you got to invest in and be one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m sold. I’m convinced. And so then, I’d like to hear maybe just to orient kind of what that looks like when someone goes from not so great, haven’t been trained, to making that transformation, what’s that kind of look like in terms of the starting line, and then the transformation, and then what it looks like on the other side? And if there’s a particular client or manager that comes to mind, feel free to share that story.

Todd Davis
Absolutely. Well, when I asked groups around the world, “Who’s ever had a bad manager?” every hand goes up. And, again, I want to distinguish between a bad person and a bad manager, but a manager who really wasn’t qualified to lead people. And then I talked to them about why they felt this person, what was the person lacking, or what was the gap. Many different things, of course, but a large majority of them center around the person’s ability to really empathize and communicate. Communication is like the number one thing that comes up.

And so, I’m not just saying that, well, if you can become a great communicator, then you’ll be a great manager. But that seems to be where it all starts, or most of the time. And so, to your question, “What is it like to go from a bad leadership or management situation, where I don’t really have a lot of respect or appreciation for a manager, to a great one?” It starts there with someone who is real with me, communicates with me, and the feeling, as you asked, “What is the feeling?” it’s a feeling of validation, of acknowledgement.

Not that I’m perfect, but that the work I do matters, that you care about me as a person, not just as the project leader or the frontline person or whatever my role is, but you care about me as a person. You’re looking through a lens of a leader’s mindset versus an individual contributor’s mindset. So, I got to be careful because I’m very passionate about this, and I want to make sure we get all your question answered. But mindset is where it really starts. In fact, that’s the person we talked about in the book, is the importance of having a leader’s mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that piece about they really communicate, I saw, it was a Harvard Business Review study another guest brought up, it said that the majority of managers are uncomfortable communicating about anything.

[06:01]

Todd Davis
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I just couldn’t even wrap my brain around this study. I got to understand, hey, there’s some hard conversations, difficult to give some feedback or corrective, but it’s just like across the board. So, can you maybe paint a fuller picture in terms of not communicating? I mean, words are exchanged surely. So, what’s kind of the base level of communication that doesn’t really count, doesn’t get the job done, versus kind of an example of great communication, like, “Wow! Okay, this is what a great manager sounds like”?

Todd Davis
Great. Great question. I’ve been in leadership roles for about 25 years. I’ve been observing and coaching leaders during that time as well. And I think, to start with, there are many reasons why the communication is poor, we don’t communicate at all as managers, but those that I’ve worked with, well, I wouldn’t say the number one reason, but the top two reasons are they’re very busy, they’ve got a lot to do as a manager, and that’s caused by the fact that they don’t have the right lenses on, they don’t have the right mindset. And so, they view themselves as too busy to spend the time necessary with their team. That’s one of the first barriers to communication.

The other, and it’s really a close runner up, is when you say they’re uncomfortable communicating it’s because they feel like they have to have all the answers, “I don’t want to open up a conversation, and then my team member that I’m leading ask me something and I don’t know what to do.” And both of those are incorrect ways to look at things.

Number one, if I’m in a leadership role and I don’t have time to meet with my people, I need to get out of that leadership role. That’s what I’m thinking about. My number one job as a leader is to get results with and through others. And so, to have that kind of be a mental barrier, talking about communicating, is really what I need to address.

The second issue of having to have all the answers, again, wrong way to think about it. I don’t have credibility with you because I have all the answers. I have or intend to have credibility with you because I know how to facilitate an engaging discussion, I know how to go and find and pull in people who will help so together we can find the right answers.

So, “I’m afraid to discuss with someone because I don’t have the right answers or maybe I need to give them some feedback, and I’m uncomfortable with how to give them a feedback. I don’t want to offend them, or I just want the problem, if it’s a problem, to go away.” These are all things that get in the way of effective communication. And we can certainly go into some examples and some actual dialogue of what a communication should look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think we may well do that. And so, when you say too busy to spend the time necessary, I guess there’s probably a lot of flexibility on that range, like just how much time is necessary. But do you have a sense in terms of, “Hey, this much time is not enough time”? Like, what’s sort of the minimum recommended daily allowance that we’re talking about here?

[09:15]

Todd Davis
Yeah. Well, it’s certainly varies with the industry we’re in, with the roles we’re in in those industries, with the number of people we have reporting to us. Practice number two of the book that we’ll get into is to hold regular one-on-ones. And so, specific to your question, whether I’m holding a 30-minute one-on-one with each team member every week, or every other week, or even once a month. While the frequency is somewhat important, it’s the consistency.

If I commit to say, “Hey, Pete, I’d like us to…we’ll see each other and work together on many things throughout the month, but I’d like us to meet once a month with the sole purpose of finding out what’s working for you, what’s not working for you, what can I do to help remove barriers. So, could you have that in mind? And as we get close to that time each month, I’ll send you a little form that I use, and you just…I want to make sure we get all of your topics addressed.” You make the meeting about them.

So, the frequency and the amount of time will vary with the number of reports you have, the direct reports you have, but the most important thing is the consistency. Once you made that commitment, if you cancel on that or you continually reschedule or move it back, it unintentionally, and I hope it’s unintentional, it sends a message to that person that I say I value you but I really don’t value you as much as I do this other thing that came up.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yes. That completely resonates. And that’s, I think, reassuring in terms of there’s some flexibility there with regard to the scheduling. And if someone is frightened by the notion of, “I have 18 direct reports,” it’s like, well, 30 minutes once a month, mathematically speaking, it results in nine hours per month out of maybe a 160 work-hours. Doing real-time math here. Five or six percent of your day is one-on-one conversations. And that doesn’t sound so outrageous. As I imagine, you probably get some pushback, like just that, “I don’t have time for all these, Todd.”

Todd Davis
A lot of pushback. And, again, I go back to, “Are you really ready to be in a leadership role?” Again, going back to practice number one of the book “Develop a leader’s mindset,” I like to ask leaders and those that I coach, “Do you want to be a great leader or do you want your team led by a great leader?” And people will pause, and I’ve had a few people say, “Well, okay, help me understand the difference. Do I want to be a great leader or do I want my team led by a great leader?” And it is a very subtle difference.

And in my experience, if you want to be a great leader, you probably do a lot of really good things during the day. You add value to your company and all that, that’s fine. If you shift that mindset a little bit and, every morning, you wake up and you have the mindset of, “I want my team led by a great leader,” then I’m looking at everything through their lens. “What do they need? How can I help Aaron reach his full potential? What does Blair need to complete this project?”

[12:28]

And so, again, it sounds subtle but then it makes it not just easier, much more meaningful to say, “Gosh, nine hours out of my month, or 10 hours out of my month…” based on the numbers you gave me, “…to spend investing in making sure I understand what my team needs because I want them led by a great leader, I’m going to be much more effective, they’re going to be that much more effective and engaged. And time and time again, I’ve seen it. Our team is going to produce much better results and much more meaningful to the bottom line.” So, it’s not just a nice to have and it’s not just that everyone deserves a great manager, you’ve got to be a great manager to help your organization and your team stay in business.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I just think about retention, I think that’s sort of been my philosophy when it came to some of my early career decisions. It’s like, “I don’t…” I think it’s a fair statement to say that we cannot count on, in the vast majority of cases, a single employer being your source of income for a lifetime. Generally speaking, that is not the case for the majority of folks.

And, thusly, in a world where, hey, economic downturns often do result in layoffs, and where loyalty is not as strong on both sides of the table, that’s kind of was my takeaway, it’s like, “Well, I need to be in environments where I am maximizing my learning and skills development and growth in order to be employable over a lifetime. And if I’m not, then I’m kind of flirting with some risky business.”

And so that I think from a business strategic perspective, hey maybe you’ve done a study on this, I think there’d be just a gargantuan difference in retention and turnover stats for organizations that do this versus that don’t do this.

Todd Davis
And that’s so true. There was a recent study by Deloitte, it’s called their Global Human Capital Trends Report, cited that 30% of workers today are engaged, 52% are disengaged, and then the remaining 18% are actively disengaged. I like to ask people, “So, what’s the difference between actively disengaged and disengaged?” And it’s those actively disengaged, they are really a cancer within the organization, they’re going down bringing everybody else down with them.

[15:01]

But the main thing, and to your point, Pete, 30% are engaged, are excited about what they do, come to work with this creative, innovative mindset, adding real value. And so, if we, as leaders, aren’t focused on, “How do we keep those folks engaged? How do we raise the level of engagement of others?” they are going to go elsewhere, and we are not going to succeed.

I like to coach managers on thinking about their superstars, their top performers, and making sure that they know the answer to three questions on a regular basis, like at least once a year, maybe every six months, “What’s working for you? What’s not working for you? What would you like to do next?” And I’ll have managers push back and say, “Okay, well, I’ll ask what’s working for them but I don’t want to ask them what’s not working for them. What if it’s something I can’t fix?” I joke back and say, “Well, okay, so let’s ignore it and wait until the company down the street is able to provide that or fix that, and then we lose them.” Let’s address “What’s not working for you?”

Often, they’ll bring up something that you can actually influence or maybe do something about. And if it’s something you can’t, if it’s something you can’t fix that’s not working for that superstar employee, if you have been asking sincerely, and they know your intent really is to try and have a great career for them, or help them create a great career, just by asking that question will be a huge deposit with them and add a lot of value.

And then I really get pushback on the last question, “What would you like to do next?” And people say to me, “Well, I don’t want to plant that idea in my superstar’s mind ‘What do you want to do next?’ I want them to keep doing the exact thing they’re doing right now because they’re so valuable.” And, again, I would just share and remind people, superstars, talented people, they want to be challenged. You just referenced this. They want to keep learning and growing.

And so, if you don’t ask them what they’d like to do next, and they don’t have that opportunity, they’re going to go to an organization that offers it, so let’s find out what they want to do next, and maybe there’s a way to have them continue doing their excellent work in their current role, but also adding new learnings and dimensions onto what they can learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love those three questions, and you piqued my interest earlier when you said, “Fill out this form for our one-on-ones.” What are some the things that go into the form?

Todd Davis
Well, I say it’s more symbolic. It’s a very usable form. There’s a copy of it in the book. But we just want to create the idea of, look, your regular one-on-ones manager or leader, they aren’t a status check of how these people are doing on their projects. Yes, you need to have that, and maybe that can be a small portion of the one-on-ones or preferably in another meeting. The one-on-ones are their meetings.

So, the form is to get them thinking about the types of things they’d like to bring up with you as their leader. Now, leaders are hesitant to do this. They want to be able to control the conversation, where things go. And while that’s understandable and human nature, that’s not how you’re going to attract and retain top talents.

[18:15]

So, you make the one-on-one about them, they fill out the things they’d like to talk about, you fill out a couple of things that you want to see get covered in the meeting but make sure that theirs are the priority, and you tell them that, “We’re going to go through your list of things first, and then if we have time for mine, great. But this is about you.” And then you share those lists before the meeting.

And, really, what that does symbolically and practically is it shows the value that you are placing on them and their time and how important what their thoughts and their opinions are to you. That it’s not just, “Let’s get together. We’ll talk about whatever comes up,” but, “No, I, as your leader, am going to put some thought into some of the things that you want to discuss, and that’s why I’d like to know what they are in advance so that I can be really well-prepared to make the most, the best use of your time, and have given a lot of thought to the things you’d like to discuss.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. So, we talked about one of the practices, which is having the one-on-ones. Could you give us an overview of the other five, and then we’ll sort of see where we care to take deeper?

Todd Davis
Absolutely. So, just to kind of keep things in order in my head, practice one is develop a leader’s mindset, everything starts there, it’s the foundation of the way you think about your role as a leader. Practice number two, that we just talked a little bit more about, holding regular one-on-ones. Practice number three, setup your team to get results. Practice number four, create a culture of feedback. Practice number five is to lead your team through change. And then practice number six, manage your time and your energy. And I’m happy to talk about any or all of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, let’s talk about the culture of feedback.

Todd Davis
Great.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you do that?

Todd Davis
So, yeah. Well, let me ask you this, Pete, and I can’t see you but I see a picture of you. When someone says to you, some colleague or boss says, “Hey, Pete, have you got a few minutes? I’ve got some feedback for you.” What kind of goes on internally?

Pete Mockaitis
For me it’s like, oh, boy, all right, they’re going to bring it. Okay, and so I’m just like I’m already a little freaked out so I’m trying to calm down a little bit. It’s like, “All right, Pete, there’s probably some merits in what they say, even if they enrage you, be ready with your magical phrase, ‘Tell me more about that,’ when your brain comes reeling associated with what they have to say.”

Usually, if it’s unexpected, that’s it. If it’s sort of like the regular time we have where feedback lives, maybe this is where you’re going, it’s like, “Okay, it’s just what we do here. All right, it’s all good.” As opposed to, it’s like, “So, to be more succinct,” I’ve had a listener correct me on that a couple of times, “It’s pronounced succinct,” now I know. Thank you. It’s probably, “Uh-oh, I hope I didn’t screw something up too bad.”

[21:16]

Todd Davis
Well, thank you for your transparency and honesty. And I’m wondering if you could travel the country with me as I give keynotes on this because you just described what is going on in every one of us. I had a person in a presentation the other day and I said, “When someone says to you, ‘I’ve got some feedback for you…’” and this person said, “Oh, I love feedback.” And I said, “Great. And that’s what you tell everybody, and I’m sure you do. And what’s really going on inside?” And I wasn’t trying to embarrass, but they said, “Well, I am thinking, ‘Okay, I wonder what I did wrong?’” And that’s human nature. That’s what we all think.

We hear this word feedback and we think, “Oh, crap. What have I messed up?” And when I say it, when other people say it that, “Gosh, feedback really helps us.” Our initial reaction is, “I’ve messed up.” Well, feedback, if we think about, this is very elementary, but feed means to nourish or to sustain or to foster, and back means to support. Just that reminder, first off, is, “Oh, wait a minute. Feedback is here to help.”

So, creating that culture of feedback, where you said towards the end of what you were sharing, is the norm is really the goal here because we all have blind spots. Everyone. The most accomplished human being on the planet has blind spots. And if we don’t have a systematic approach to feedback, getting feedback all the time, well, then we go through life and through our careers being less effective than we could’ve been.

Now the way we go about creating that culture of feedback is really important. In the book, we talk about the importance of giving reinforcing feedback or redirecting feedback, and we’re not avoiding the word positive or negative feedback to tiptoe around something or not call something what it is. In fact, we’re trying to do just that.

Reinforcing feedback, I mean, for people who have raised children or nieces or nephews or whatever, the first day they can tie their shoe or they remember the word pants to school, and you say, “Johnny, way to go. You got dressed all by yourself.” And, honestly, not to sound condescending, we don’t change much as we become adults. That reinforcing feedback tied to a behavior continues to cement in our minds, “Oh, that was a good thing and that felt good having that recognized. I want to do more of that.”

So, I guess the first thing I want to say here is let’s remember that reinforcing feedback of great behaviors, great results, is equally as important as redirecting feedback, when the behaviors are not where they need to be. So, reinforcing feedback is critical. And something, just to dive a little deeper on this, while some people will think, “Well, reinforcing feedback will be, ‘Oh, gosh, Adam, you’re so awesome. We’re so glad you’re here at the company. You do a great job.’”

[24:07]

That’s nice and I’m sure that’s well-intended but, quite frankly, it means nothing. Versus, “Adam, I’m so glad you’re on our team. That report you delivered yesterday in the meeting, the level of detail you went to, it shifted the whole conversation. And I have noticed over the last couple of months that we’ve worked together how detail-oriented you are. And, boy, did that play out well yesterday. So, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate that.”

Adam is going to remember that feedback for a long, long time. And, more importantly, Adam is going to continue to even strengthen his strength of attention to detail. So, reinforcing feedback tied to a behavior. I had a very wise manage many years ago who taught me that, and just said, “Todd, remember you’re always very positive with people and that’s a great thing. Remember when you’re giving feedback that, number one, it’s sincere and that it’s tied to a behavior not just that it’s, ‘You’re awesome.’” So, that has stuck with me for a long time till forever.

Okay. Redirecting feedback, things aren’t going so well. This is where a lot of managers, “Gosh, I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to offend them,” and they wait and wait and wait, hoping the bad behavior will just disappear or the person will disappear. Redirecting feedback, when given with the right intent, declaring your intent upfront, can be just the most helpful thing you can do as someone’s manager.

“Joan, I really appreciate you taking time to meet with me today. I want you to know how much I value your contribution on the team. I had, and I’ve had in my career managers and other people point out things to me that I maybe wasn’t seeing or wasn’t aware of, and it’s been hard to hear for me but it’s been a huge help in my endeavors to be a strong contributor. I want you to know my only intent as your leader is to do the same for you. You have so many good things going for you. There are a couple things I want to talk to you about that I believe are hindering your complete and total success. So, please know it’s with that intent that I share this with you.”

That’s how I begin every redirecting conversation. It’s got to be sincere. These aren’t scripts. This just comes from doing it a lot and it comes from the heart. It’s important to lower the person’s defenses. When someone feels defensive, they have a hard time hearing anything you’re saying. And I have found the most effective way to do that in a feedback situation, redirecting feedback, is to let them know I’ve received redirecting feedback before so that they’re not embarrassed or humiliated thinking, “Oh, I messed up.” “Well, no, we all mess up. We all need or benefit from this kind of feedback. And I’ve certainly been there before so I can really empathize with you.”

That helps lower defenses. And then making sure they know your intent, “Joan, my only intent is to help you be as successful as you can be. And I see great potential for you, and that’s the only reason I’m sharing these things.” So, that’s the way, the effective way, to receive redirecting feedback.

[27:10]

Now, a third thing, and I hope I’m not rambling too long here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, go for it.

Todd Davis
Okay. The third thing is some managers think, “Oh, I’ve reached my manager status, now I give feedback. That’s what I do. I give reinforcing/redirecting feedback.” Well, great, but you want to have a team that just reaches great heights and does wonderful things. It works both ways. You’ve got to seek feedback. “You’ve got to make it safe for your team to tell you the truth” is the phrase I like to use. Make it safe. Do you make it safe for others to tell you the truth?

And know this, by your title alone as manager or director, whatever it is, you, it’s not your fault, but it’s already a little unsafe to tell you the truth. And so, great managers realize that and so they go out of their way to seek feedback. And let me tell you a bad way to seek feedback is to show up in somebody’s office and say, “Hey, Pete, what did you think of the meeting this morning? How do you think I’m writing the meetings?” Well, what are you going to say, Pete, when you walk …?

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re doing great, Todd.”

Todd Davis
Exactly. And when put on the spot like that, we’re all going to say the exact same thing. Whatever she or he wants to hear, “Oh, awesome. You do an awesome job.” But a little bit differently, if I say to Pete, “Hey, Pete, I wonder if I could ask you a favor. I’m really trying to make sure our meetings are super effective. In tomorrow’s meeting…” so I’m doing this the day before, “…would you mind taking some notes, making some observations of things that you think I could do better as the leader in facilitating the discussion in the meeting? I mean, yeah, I’d love to hear what you think I’m doing well, if anything, but I really want to focus on those things that you think I could do better. Then maybe the next day or two after the meeting, we can get together and you could share your thoughts with me.”

That’s how a manager, a wise manager, asks for sincere feedback and makes it safe for others to tell her the truth or in the truth. And managers who do this and make this commonplace, the next time Todd or Pete hears, “Hey, do you have a few minutes? I’ve got some feedback for you,” we think, “Oh, great. I’ve got another opportunity here to learn something I might not be seeing.” And it becomes the norm, and nobody has that hair on the back of their neck stand up like we usually do.

Pete Mockaitis
I love those words, and it reminds me of there’s a speaker, we had him on the show, Justin Jones-Fosu, and at one time we both were doing a lot of speaking on college campuses. That’s how we got to know each other and so he’s a great speaker. And then I said, “Oh, hey, that was really awesome.” I saw him present in a conference. And he said, he was so sincere, and I love it, he said, “Hey, Pete, I really appreciate that. What I appreciate even more is if you could identify a couple of things that you think that I could do better because that really helps me grow as a speaker.”

And so, I was like, “Oh,” and first of all I was struck that I told many speakers, I told many people that they’re awesome in many ways, but it’s very rare that someone said, “Hey, thank you for that. What would be even more helpful for me is this.” I’m like, “Whoa!” And so, then I said, “All right. Well, this is one part where you’re telling this really emotional story about someone who is ill and then you actually had this music go, which is kind of emotional. And while I think that made it more emotional, it also felt a little manipulative.

[30:27]

And I don’t know if that’s everybody or just me but I think that it would seem all the more authentic if that just wasn’t there. And it’s like we’re not in sort of a TV drama, if you will.” He said, “Thank you. Actually, a couple people brought that up and I’m wrestling with that right now so it’s good to have sort of one more datapoint. And it’s awesome.”

Todd Davis
That is such a great example. I appreciate you sharing that because you just remind me. One reason why I’ve seen leaders and others hesitant to ask for feedback is they think they have to incorporate all of it. And I love what you said that his response was, “You know, a few people has mentioned that and so I’m thinking about that.” You don’t have to incorporate all of it. But, boy, I’m telling you, I get a lot of that feedback. I’m thinking I might want to tweak this so it doesn’t feel so manipulative.

So, I’m just glad you brought that up because, boy, don’t not ask for feedback because you think, “Well, if I don’t incorporate it then I’m disingenuous.” That’s not true. But you can always follow up with a person, say, “Gosh, Pete, I so appreciate that feedback you gave me. I’m going to be thinking through that. And I wonder if you’d allow me to come to you again in the future for feedback because I really appreciate you taking the time to share that with me.” That’s what you need to do when you get feedback is the follow up and the acting on it, but not incorporating every piece of feedback you receive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And just to close the circle on that, Justin happened to be, for several years, sort of the top-booked speaker at the agency so, I mean, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. One thing he did very differently than the other speakers was this, and he was number one.

Todd Davis
Great example.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I think that is more than a winky-dink. So awesome. So, the culture of feedback. I also want to get to you talked about managing your time and energy. So, I think about this a lot when it comes to sort of, hey, I got my day, I got the impact I want to make from an individual workload perspective. How do you think about this in the management context?

Todd Davis
Well, and this is not news to anyone, burnout and burnout in the workplace is just certainly not going away and it’s increasing more and more. And with all of our wonderful technology options and bells and buzzers and whistles, it allows us to be working — allows us, I say — 24 hours a day. In fact, I remember when I was promoted to a certain position here at FranklinCovey, gosh, 20 years ago…

[33:04]

And I remember saying, “Well, if I did this, could I have a laptop and maybe work from home once in a while when the situation permitted?” thinking that would be such a luxury. And I just laugh now thinking how the very thing that we were thinking was kind of a nice treat has become this thing that has chained us to our work responsibilities 24 hours a day.

And so, burnout, because of our ability to stay connected and, again, it’s a choice we all make, and I can’t really complain about it because it’s a choice I make, but we are connected all the time. And so, because we choose to do that, if we choose to do that, we’ve got to really manage that time and that energy or we will burn out, and what we model gets modeled by our team. What the leader values gets valued.

And so, again, we could talk, I do talk all day on this, but managing my time, first of all, managing my time, I liken it to a pinball machine. If I don’t have a plan for the week, I show up Monday morning or whenever your week begins, and it’s like the pinball machine. The plunger is pulled back and I’m like that ball in the machine, bouncing from bells to buzzers to whistles, and I get to the end of the day or the end of the week, and I think, “Man, I’m tired. I have been busy.”

And when I look back and say, “What have I really accomplished of value this week? Maybe a few things but not certainly all that I could have.” Whereas, when I take, and it takes me about 30 minutes on a Sunday night, sometimes less, I look through my week, I go through my appointments, I go through all the things that I really hope to get accomplished that week, and then I force myself to think through, “Okay, if I could only get two or three things done this week, what would they be?” And I choose those things with the intention of getting 20 or 15 or whatever done, but I choose the top two or three things. And then I have this plan on how to get that done.

And then Monday begins, and the pinball game starts, and so we all get caught up in it, urgencies happens, nobody’s week goes as planned, but if I have a plan to come back to after taking care of this urgency, if I have a plan, a centerline to come back to, I can get back on track several times throughout the week. And I will tell you from years of experience, and I certainly had some weeks better than others, but I get much more accomplished. And if I model that for my team, well, I’ll get even much more accomplished. So, that’s what I’ve learned in time management and how to try and create and adhere to a plan for the week.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say a plan, I guess to what extent, what sort of details or key things are identified with that plan?

Todd Davis
Well, and, again, I don’t want to have any emotional music playing while I say this, but I have written what we call a mission statement here that kind of identifies my values, what’s most important to me, and I reflect. On Sunday night, I’ll look at that just to kind of reconnect with what’s most important to me, both in my professional and my personal life, and the relationships in both professional and personal life that are tied to that. And that just kind of gets my mind around, “Don’t get too far off the path, Todd, of what really why you’re doing the work you’re doing and what’s important to you.”

[36:20]

And then with that mindset, I look through the week and I look through appointments that I’ve already committed to that are fixed in the week and then I think about, based on last week and the previous weeks, the urgencies that have come up — and I’m called the Chief People Officer, I have kind of a triage role — and have a lot of unintended or unplanned things come up, and I honestly try and block out time for those, don’t know what they are, but I think, “Okay, you’re being pretty unrealistic here, Todd. You’ve got these dates of back-to-back meetings. First of all, how are you going to get from one meeting to the next without any time in between? And as the urgencies come up, have you blocked…?”

So, I’ll block out some other time that’s not specific for a meeting, but because I know by this time of the day, I’ll have two or three things present themselves that I need to get answers back for people on. And so, maybe I’m getting too detailed, but that’s the level of detail I try and get to, to have a realistic week in front of me. And then I will look at, “Oh, that’s right. I told my daughter, Sydney, we’re going to plan this trip. I’m going to block out this hour that afternoon and see if she could talk then, and will schedule some time around that.” So, that’s just kind of an idea or a glimpse into my mind as I’m planning out the week.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, rather than your calendar having, hey, a few meetings and then some space that you’ve got to fill it in with whatever in the moment, you’ve sort of pre-allocated those spaces to what’s important.

Todd Davis
That’s right. And at FranklinCovey, we use a tool in 7 Habits called the time matrix, and there’s these four quadrants and there are different names for these. There are other models that are similar where you have these four quadrants, those things that are urgent and important, those things that are important but not urgent, and that’s what I was just talking about and you’re talking about where scheduling this vacation with my daughter is going to help me schedule. It’s important but because it’s not urgent, it keeps getting pushed off week after week. So, I make sure I’ve blocked time for those things that are important but not necessarily urgent.

The other two quadrants are urgent but not important, these are time robbers, these are other people’s urgencies. And then there’s the time wasters which are not urgent, not important. And you think, “Well, who would spend time there?” Well, I have, unfortunately. When I go home and turn on a sitcom thinking I’m going to watch it for half hour, and four hours later I get up off the sofa.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, it must have been a good one, Todd. What were you watching?

Todd Davis
Yeah. Well, one after another, the damage done by a remote control. So, anyway, of these four quadrants, just really making sure, if I could summarize anything in the week, “Have I blocked out time for those things that are important but not urgent?” And because they haven’t been urgent, they haven’t got my attention.

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

[39:05]

Todd Davis
Just summarizing, I guess, this principle or this idea or this important fact that everyone deserves a great manager. For those who are in or will be in a leadership position, just remembering the influence you can have in that role. I’ll never forget my 35th day of employment at what was then called The Covey Leadership Center, now FranklinCovey, it was 24 years ago. I don’t know what happened on day 34 or day 36, but on day 35, my boss at that time, her name was Pam, she walked me up to a senior leader in the company whom I have not met during the interview process and his name is Bob. And she said, “Bob, I’d like you to meet Todd Davis. He’s our recruitment manager.” That was what I was hired at 24 years ago.

And then she said, “Let me tell you what Todd has accomplished during his first 35 days of employment.” And I’m shaking this man’s hand, Pete, and my mind goes blank, and I felt like I’m going to throw up. I’m thinking, “I can’t think of what she’s going to say. I couldn’t think of one thing I had done in 35 days,” and it was really this uncomfortable feeling. And then Pam went on to say, “He filled this position in Chicago that was vacant for the last six months. He’s got a recruitment strategy for the next year. He’s got a relocation policy in place.” And this list went on.

And, please, I’m not sharing that to say, “Aren’t you impressed with what I did in 35 days?” I’m sharing this to tell you I remember that moment even as I’m retelling it to you right now, it feels like it was yesterday and it was 24 years ago. This leader, Pam Walsh, believed in me more than I believed in myself. A very famous quote from Dr. Stephen Covey, the bestselling author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said, “Leadership is seeing in people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”

And so, I guess if I could just wrap on this topic with that thought, it is just that, to remind all the leaders, whether in a formal leadership position or an informal one, whether you have the title or not, that true leadership is seeing the potential in others so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you.

Todd Davis
And I did that with no music playing in the background.

Pete Mockaitis
We might add it later. We’ll see.

Todd Davis
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like it might already be your favorite quote. But do you have a favorite quote you’d mention?

Todd Davis
That is probably one of my favorite quotes. I’ve got another one. Can I share two of them with you?

Pete Mockaitis
Go for it, yeah.

Todd Davis
Okay. One is from Abraham Lincoln. John Wooden, the basketball coach, used it a lot but it was from Abraham Lincoln, and he said, “It is better to trust and be disappointed once in a while than to distrust and be miserable all of the time.” And just that quote motivates me to see the goodness in others, to see the potential in others, to trust and not be so suspicious.

[42:12]

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Thank you.

Todd Davis
Another quote, because you said I could have two, and this one I’ve had, gosh, probably 30 years. And it was from an old actress by the name of Fanny Brice, and I don’t know that she was a mentor or anything, but the words have stuck with me. And the words she said were, “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be because sooner or later, if you are posing, you’re going to forget the pose and then, where are you?” And I think in the realm of being authentic and really being who you are, those are things that I try and remember.

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

Todd Davis
Well, this is an old one but people are very familiar with it. There was the marshmallow study with the kids that were observed in the room when they were told if they didn’t eat the marshmallow. Do you know the study?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed. Yeah, by Walter Mischel.

Todd Davis
Exactly. Very, very familiar. But I guess why it just came to mind when you said favorite study, I haven’t been asked that question before, but when you asked me that, it’s just a daily reminder, I think, for all of us. While I don’t think about the study exactly, I think about, “Todd, what do you want now versus what you want long term?” And just that quick fix and, of course, we’ve become, with technology and everything else that “I want everything right now” mentality, and it’s important for all of us, but certainly for me to remember, “What is it that I really want the long-term result to be versus the quick high or the quick fix?”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, and tying that together with trust, I had a previous guest who shared another layer to that study which I thought fascinating, which was that the study was meant to sort of assess your ability as a child to sort of delay gratification.

Todd Davis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But what they discovered was one of the big drivers associated with whether or not the child waited was their historical experience of being able to trust the word of people’s promises.

Todd Davis
Saying you’ll get more if you wait.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. Instead of like, “You know what, I don’t buy it. I would take this now because I know it’s there. You may or may not be there.”

Todd Davis
You’re right. I remember reading that and, boy, isn’t that true.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we talked about sort of trust in leadership and investing in people, I think that’s huge right there with regard to they can do more of that…

Todd Davis
Such a great point.

Pete Mockaitis
…if they have great experiences with you and, thus, multiplying all the more leaders. Ooh, good stuff. And how about a favorite book?

[45:00]

Todd Davis
Hmm, lots of favorite books. And did I mention that Everyone Deserves A Great Manager just hit the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list?

Pete Mockaitis
I think that came up.

Todd Davis
A favorite book, right? I’ll tell you one that I refer back to both open and thinking back is Linchpin by Seth Godin. I don’t know if you’ve read Linchpin.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think I’ve read the Blinkist summary.

Todd Davis
Yeah. It was life-changing, sounds dramatic. I probably need music again by what I’m saying. But it really caused me to think about why I do what I do. The book is about…Linchpin is that thing that slips in to hold the pulley together.

And he likens it to just the linchpin at work, the linchpin in the workplace. And are you a linchpin? And why do you what you do? And those people, and we all know them in teams and organizations, who are really the linchpin, sometimes I just think of the heart of the team or organization that really keeps the team going.

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

Todd Davis
Wow! A favorite tool. I mean, when I say my phone, that’s nothing new for me, the iPhone…it’s really not a tool, it’s the plan that’s within it. We’ve already talked about this, but it’s how I plan out my week, how I try and live my life intentionally through the week with a plan, and I’m able to do that because of the technology. So, I’ll put my plan together on my computer, my Outlook, and then it syncs with my phone. Just to have to that plan, including my mission statement and all those things with me all the time, so the portability of that.

Don’t laugh at this but another favorite tool that comes to my mind. My kids tease me relentlessly because of I got a battery-operated leaf blower last year. It’s like the favorite thing I have. I used to take forever to rake the lawn. So, anyway, thinking of tools, that’s what first came to mind, and I wasn’t going to share it, and now I just did.

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

[48:03]

Todd Davis
The one, and this may or may not be helpful for people, I think, again, back to communication, I have found that we put off important conversations because we’re afraid we’re going to say it wrong, not just in the realm of giving feedback, like we were talking earlier, but whatever. If I have a difference of opinion with one of my colleagues, or a family member, whatever, we sometimes put off that conversation, not sometimes, a lot, because we want to just get the right words, we want it perfect, we’re so worried about the outcome.

So, one thing that I’ve had people tell me time and time again was, “I really appreciated you being in a conversation by saying…” and this is what I say, “Hey, Pete, I need to talk to you about something or I’d like to talk to you about something, and I will probably use the wrong words. So, could I have a do-over? If I say something offensive or if I don’t say it exactly how I mean it, just know that my intent is to get this topic out on the table. And then if I could have a do-over, if I say it wrong, would that be okay?”

And that’s not scripted. I just said that from the heart. For many years, I’ve had many people say that kind helps set the tone for the whole conversation. So, maybe it’s back to the notion I have of you’ve got to lower defenses. If people feel defensive, it’s really hard to communicate. So, let’s make sure my defenses and their defenses are lowered so we can really get to the heart of an issue. So, I guess that would be the nugget, as you call it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so great because, then, if in fact, if it says, “Well, it kind of feels like you’re telling me that, I don’t know, ‘I’m a terrible provider’ or ‘I can’t be trusted with responsibilities.’” You can say, “Yes, see, that’s kind of what I was concerned about, but I really don’t mean that at all.”

Todd Davis
“Yeah, I’m sorry.” Exactly, Pete. Yeah, I would say, “Boy, if that’s what you heard, I really need a do-over because I want to say you are a phenomenal provider. But I have noticed, in my opinion, I’ve noticed that sometimes you put a priority on this thing, and it’s unintentionally, I think, offending some other people.” So, you’re exactly right. It gives you the language then to use in the conversation so that it doesn’t blow into something it shouldn’t be.

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

Todd Davis
Well, FranklinCovey.com, and the book launched last week, Everyone Deserves A Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. You can purchase it at all major bookstores, but the easiest way to purchase it is on Amazon.com. And, again, they can go to learn more about our company or about me on FranklinCovey.com.

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

Todd Davis
Just, “Why do you do what you do?” I remind myself of it or I think about it all the time, “What’s my real intention?” You’re the only one that knows what your real motivations are. And I think those of us and those of you that check in with them regularly will have just that much more of a positive influence on yourself, on your teams, and ultimately on the world.

[51:02]

Pete Mockaitis
Todd, thank you. This has been fantastic. I wish you all the best in making more and more people have great managers.

Todd Davis
Well, I really appreciate you and I appreciate the time, Pete.

478: The Simple Secret To Better Trust and Culture with Randy Grieser

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Randy Grieser says: "Shift judgment to curiosity."

Randy Grieser offers actionable pointers to keep a workplace culture healthy and thriving.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How trust is built in the workplace
  2. The 6 key elements of a healthy workplace culture
  3. Do’s and don’ts for effective conflict management

About Randy:

Randy Grieser is the founder and CEO of ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance. He is the author of The Ordinary Leader, and co-author of The Culture Question. Randy is passionate about sharing the importance of creating healthy workplace cultures, and believes leadership requires us to always be intentional about what we do and how we do it.

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Randy Grieser Interview Transcript

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

Randy Grieser
Yeah, thanks for having me on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, could we start by hearing about some of your mountain biking escapades?

Randy Grieser
Yeah. well, it’s all about having fun and being happy. I think all of us need at least one thing that just really gets us going. I was in Canmore, Canada which is just a beautiful mountain biking area, and I hadn’t been on my bike for about a week, and we flew in. My wife and I grabbed our bikes, went to the hills and we were having supper that night, and I said, “Oh, that just made me happy,” right?

So, yeah, I like to get out as much as I can. I’m not like top of the world-class athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a great way to explore the wilderness. We’re also headed into the Isle of Skye in Scotland in September which is going to be super cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, another thing I find super cool, other than forced segues, is you did a huge study on workplace cultures. Can you tell me what was sort of some of your most striking discoveries there?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, absolutely. When we started to put some work into our book “The Culture Question” we also put together kind of a survey of things we’d like to know about. And the fascinating thing with that, of course, is you don’t know what you’re going to get. So, we had some ideas about what we might find but probably the most exciting thing we found was the secret to having your employees trust you as a leader.

And so, we correlated 20 questions to the question of, “I like where I work.” And for everyone who said, “I like,” where they worked, the two strongest questions that correlated was this, “I trust my direct supervisor.” And for any of you listening who is a manager, is a supervisor, you know how important that is. Trust is the holy grail.

When your employees trust you, they’re going to move mountains with you. You’re not going to have to beat them or to use the saying “the carrot and the stick,” right? You’re not going to have to beat them or give them a reward. They’re going to work towards your mission and vision because they want to and because they’re inspired by you.

And so, the statement that most correlated with “I trust my direct supervisor” was this, “My supervisor cares about me as a person.” Think about that, Pete. To us that was just like, “Wow, we didn’t expect to find that.” But the secret to trust is simply just caring about your staff at a human level.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, we’ve heard that theme come up a few times from places like a Navy Seal and more. So, yeah, let’s dig into that. So, caring, what are some ways that supervisors do a great job of caring and some ways that they frequently fall short and maybe just totally overlook it?

Randy Grieser
Absolutely. Well, first of all, I should have full disclosure here because when people attend my presentations or go to my workshops, they see that I’m actually a clinically-trained social worker, and so they roll their eyes, and say, “Well, of course, a clinically-trained social worker would talk about caring leadership.” It’s like the C word is this very scary word for people.

But I always tell people, “I’m a social worker. I don’t do therapy with my employees but I just ask them questions. I just care about them at a human level.” Like, right now, one of our employees, a partner, is in palliative care, and we’ve been really thoughtful about, “How do we support someone who’s going through something like that?” I have another staff member who has a child that has special needs, and, “How do we support an employee who periodically needs to leave the office to go care for the child?”

Probably my favorite story I like to tell though that really gets at the heart of caring leadership is I was giving this presentation and speaking about this, and someone came up to me afterwards and said, “Randy, this is so important to have a caring leadership. I’ve worked in my organization for two years, and my supervisor doesn’t know I have children.” And I said, “Well, you know, you should be asking someone if they have children the first day of the job.”

But, Pete, anybody you know who’s got children between the age of 5 and 15, on a Friday at the end of the day, if you say to them, “Hey, weekend is coming up. What are you doing this weekend?” What do they say, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
It depends with the kids.

Randy Grieser
Yeah, I’m taking my kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, at a fundamental level, caring is not about doing therapy, it’s just like care about your staff, “What did you do this weekend? You’re going away to a vacation. We’re in the midst of the summer. You’re taking a week off. Where are you going?” “Oh, I’m going with my kids,” right? So, it’s really just about caring about people at a human level.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is quite illustrative in terms of maybe a wakeup call, and it’s like, “Oh, I guess I’m not in a habit of asking. If someone says I’m in the habit of asking those questions,” then you may very well find yourself in that boat where you don’t even know about them having kids.

Randy Grieser
Yeah. And even at just a practical level, I mean, you said, “What more can you do?” Like, one of the things that I meet so many managers, is they’re so busy working that they never eat with anybody else, right? And I don’t spend an hour eating with my staff. I don’t even spend half an hour eating with staff, but I’ve consciously chosen for that 10 minutes where I’m going to scarf down food, I mean, you can’t really work on the computer while you’re scarfing down food, right? So, I might as well spend it with people and just chat with them a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’d like to hear some more of that. So, asking basic questions, spending some time with food. Other key ways that supervisor show care and fail to show care?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, really, we just need to spend time with people, build relationships. One of the core tenets of a healthy workplace culture that we talk about in the book is building meaningful relationships. And it’s not just with managers and employees, but with everybody. What are we doing as an organization where we are fostering genuine connections?

And one of the things we found in our interviews with people, and we found even just in our work as consultants when we go into organizations, is organizations that are healthy, people like each other and people laugh, people smile, people spend time together. It’s just so clear when you walk into an organization, you feel that, right?

My wife and I, when we were in Canmore this weekend, we went to a couple different restaurants. And there was one restaurant where it was just striking that people hated being there. The service was terrible, people weren’t smiling, people weren’t connecting. And then you go to another restaurant, and it’s like the waiter staff, they’re having fun with each other, right? They’re bumping into each other, they’re chitchatting.

And so, if you think about that, even in just your daily interactions, you go to the coffee shop, you go to the grocery store, you can see a healthy culture at work and people caring about each other. And so, when we build workplaces where people genuinely enjoy each other’s company, we’re knocking one of the things that we need to do out of the park right away. And, again, I’ve yet to come into a healthy organization where people don’t like each other and don’t have a little fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Like each other, having fun, makes total sense. Are there maybe some common workplace, I don’t know, practices or policies that get in the way of that, that maybe should go?

Randy Grieser
Well, yeah, I’ll name a few things here. One is the obvious which is in the spirit of trying to improve workplace culture, people focus on perks, right? And so, nothing drives me up the wall more than when I see some national publication release, “Our best places to work” And, inevitably, we have things like, you know, free beer on Friday nights, “Yay, let’s all go get drunk with our friends.” Really? Like, that’s what makes a great place to work? And the proverbial foosball table, right?

Exactly. Or bring your pet to work day or free yoga. And there’s nothing wrong with those perks but in a lot of time, management will check or tick off the list, and say, “Listen, we’ve done what we needed to do to create a healthy workplace culture.” And many organizations just can’t even afford these things, right, to be frank. We work with a lot of not-for-profit agencies, I’m doing education systems. They can’t afford perks and so you’ve got to do stuff beyond that as well.

Some policies and practice I’ve seen that have gone the wrong way is mentorship programs. I love mentorship programs, mentoring people. My most important task as a leader is to mentor people. And some formalized mentor programs get it wrong because they only mentor some people, “And, Pete, you’re special, you’re one of the few. Aren’t you lucky you get to be mentored by me?” And what does that do to everybody else, is it demotivates them, right?

And so, our approach with mentorship is like everybody should be motivated, everyone should be growing and working towards. And so, we really don’t like those mentorship programs where there’s the kind of like, “You’re special.”

Awards, right? You know, for achievements, for doing things, right? Awards have that kind of counterintuitive effect where for anybody with young children, you’ve always promised that you were never going to say, “I need you to clean your room, and if you clean your room, I’m going to give you something,” right? And the moment you break down and you do that, and you say, “Son or daughter, if you clean your room, I’m going to give you an award.” What happens the next time you need them to clean their room?

Pete Mockaitis
They want the award.

Randy Grieser
They want the award, right? And so, then award becomes kind of this expectation as opposed to a way to actually motivate people. And so, there’s nothing wrong with perks for the sake of perks and within reason, but when we only focus on perks at the expense of those other things that really help us make healthy workplace cultures, we don’t do ourselves well in terms of helping us create that culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you laid out six key elements of a healthy workplace culture: communicating purpose and values, providing meaningful work, focusing leadership team on people, building meaningful relationships, creating peak-performing teams, and practicing constructive conflict management. I want to talk about the last one because I think there are many organizations where there’s just a whole lot of fear going on. It’s like, “I can’t really tell you what I’m thinking, so I’m just going to say nothing,” or, “Boy, if we argue, we’re not arguing well. There’s like collateral damage.” So, how do we pull that off?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, absolutely right. I always say you can do a lot of things well but the moment people hate each other, the moment people are living in fear, it’s going to be very difficult for you to be a successful organization and to function effectively, right? And so, when it comes to practicing conflict management, a few things that we really want to focus on is we want to start with leaders.

Interestingly, the second highest correlated statement that we found was that when leaders practice conflict management effectively, employees also do as well. We teach conflict resolution skills in one of the trainings that we offer. And one of the common themes we get from participants is, “I wish my manager would’ve been here,” right?

And managers think they’ve got it all figured out, but there’s a lot of managers that don’t. They tend to avoid and even I sometimes, I’m like, “Are we five years old? You got two kids in a sandbox, like, you’re not five. Learn to figure it out.”

So, one of the most important things is to just be aware of how detrimental on manage conflict. Conflict is inevitable. It’s going to happen, right? It’s natural. We’re human beings. In and of itself it’s not bad. It’s how we manage it. Ironically, one of the ways that we build a culture that manages conflict effectively is we actually have to have some experiences of conflict and some experiences of getting to the other side, and going like, “Oh, you’re not a terrible human being. Like, we had a disagreement, but then we had a natural human conversation and we resolved this issue.”

So, it’s kind of counterintuitive but you do need to experience some level of conflict to actually learn to deal with it effectively. And so, absolutely, I run a training organization so I believe in training. One of the problems we get, Pete, is often we get requests for training like conflict resolution skills or respect for workplace training too late. It’s when we hate each other, you know.

And then it’s like, “Well, the training was actually meant to be before we hate each other so that we can actually work through these things. Now that we hate each other here, you might need to do some things like mediation, or some assessments, and group conflict mediation-type work, but a simple training is a band-aid effect when we’re really not doing well.” So, right away from the get-go we want to be establishing a culture that manages conflict effectively.

For those of you in leadership, that means holding people accountable. It doesn’t mean jumping in and saving the day, right, and being the hero for everybody. Sometimes it means meeting with people and coaching people, “Hey, I noticed that you and Susan aren’t talking anymore. What’s that about?” And holding people accountable and saying, “You need to figure this out because this isn’t going to be healthy in the long run.”

I’ll tell you one of the worst experiences I had with conflict and not being managed effectively, in our own organization, that’s one of the things I want to note, Pete, is a lot of our insights that we talk about in our book and that we teach in our presentations as training has come out of when we weren’t doing well, right? There’s been periods where we’ve learned the hard way.

And one of the worst experiences I had with conflict was with when someone was withholding information because they wanted someone else to look bad. And then when a mistake happened and it made us look bad, he gloated and said, “I knew that was going to happen. I just wanted you to see for yourself.” And I was like, “Oh, my, this conflict has gotten too far.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so, okay, that’s something clearly to not do. Don’t hold information and look to make people embarrass themselves and fail. Check. What are some of the other key do’s and don’ts for effective conflict management?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, you know, really from an employee-to-employee perspective, it’s creating the culture of honest mutual feedback, giving people feedback, being sensitive about it, not being a jerk about it. But when you see something, say something. If something bothers you, don’t wait for it to fester, right?

And so, one of the things that I do, within our organization, is we partner people up. We say, “Listen, if you have to have a difficult conversation with someone, we have a lot of people here who have experienced doing that, get together with someone and roleplay.” Earlier on in my career as a manager, one time I did the classic, you know, the appropriate coaching someone, “Well, instead of me saving the day, why don’t you go have that conversation with that person?” Well, the person went ahead and had a conversation with this person, it was like, “You know, you swear words, swear swords, swear words. “If you ever do this again, I’m going to knock your head off.”

And I went back to the other person and say, “I told you to go talk to him.”

“Well, you told me to go talk to the person and I went and talked to him my way.” And I’m like, “Oh, so when I’m coaching you to actually have the conversation, I had assumed you knew how to have an appropriate conversation but I actually need to walk you through that.”

I’m a big believer in roleplay as a leader. When I used to have difficult conversations, I roleplay with some of my peer leaders to just kind of practice it and get it out there. One of the most important things we encourage our staff is to not to see the other person as a terrible person. Most people genuinely are reasonable people. 95% of us are pretty good human beings, we don’t really actually want to hurt people’s feelings, but we do stupid stuff sometimes, right?

And so, the first thing is just to shift. You know, we have a T-shirt actually, Pete, and I should send it to you actually. And it’s a great T-shirt that says, “Shift judgment to curiosity.” And, really, what that’s about is, like, when you think that someone is being a jerk, actually just be thoughtful for a second, and go, “Well, maybe they don’t mean that.” So, instead of judging them, be curious, “Why are they acting in this way?” It doesn’t mean how they were acting is right but it kind of humanizes our relationship a little bit more. So, it’s one of our favorite sayings, “Shift judgment to curiosity.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And so, I’m curious, so screening the swear words is not the way to go, and doing some roleplay in advance can be super valuable. Any other pro tips for the actual conversation?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, really, one of the things that we try to stay away from is the emotion when we have a difficult conversation and focus on the problem and the task at hand, right? So, don’t make it about what your intent was but actually just focus on, “This is how it made me feel.” And so, we go back to the classic communication 101 I-statements, right? “When you do this, this is how it makes me feel.”

Most of the time that person didn’t know that. Most of the time that person wasn’t aware that your intent, right? We have a little diagram we have, it’s called Action, Intent, and Effect, right? And the action is what’s out in the public for people to see, but the intent is hidden, and the effect is hidden. So, sometimes even I will do something I have no clue how it would’ve landed on you. And so, we really encourage our staff to focus on the intent and the effect of people.

First of all, we just want to build a culture that has low levels of conflict to begin with, right? And, again, that’s where we start to get into some of our other areas. When we hire people, that’s one of the things we focus on. Like, one of our core values is that we want people to embody what we teach. We teach people to be respectful in the workplace. We teach people to manage conflict effectively so we expect people to do that.

And so, we’ve crafted our interviewing questions to hire for people who fit our culture. And so right away, when we have new people come in into the organization, if we sense that they’re fit in our culture, we nip things in the bud right away. So, in general, when it comes to implementing some of these six principles and elements of healthy workplace cultures, when it comes to the people effect, we need to start right from when we hire people.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And so, if you’re talking to a professional who is not in control, they’re not sort of leading the organization, shaping the culture from the top, are there some basic things you recommend that all people can do to contribute to oozing the culture and fun and liking each other vibes?

Randy Grieser
You know, absolutely. I mean, first of all, I’ll say that clearly leadership sets the tone of healthy workplace cultures, right? And time and time again I run into employees who really want to improve that healthy culture but leadership is not on board. And so, one of the first tasks that you have to do as an employee is try to influence leadership.

And I use the experience, when we go back to the point about negative conflict, because I say, “This is not just about the wellbeing of employees in the workplace. This is about your financial wellbeing as well.” And so, sometimes I use that approach to senior leaders, right? By the fact that we don’t have a healthy workplace culture, people aren’t sharing information, we’re not communicating well, people are not engaged because they’re just putting in their time for a paycheck, and so they’re not being as innovative. Like, this is affecting our ability to be successful as an organization.

So, one of the reasons that we need to care about this as leaders is because it’s actually going to help us, if you’re a business, it’s going to help you financially. If you’re a social service agency or not-for-profit, it’s just about being an effective contributor to whatever role you’re doing. And so, when I’m giving this talk to C-suite professionals who sometimes need a little bit more grease to get them to think and care about the wellness of their employees, I really hammer home this point about, “When you have a healthy workplace culture, this is your competitive advantage.”

And one of the persons interviewed, he clearly said to me, “Randy, I could’ve jumped ship to a competitor, it would’ve increased my salary.” He was already making a six-figure salary, and he said, “I could’ve made 50% more, but I didn’t go because I love the place I work. And a couple of years ago I went to this Angelina and Brad Pitt divorce scenario where it was just like all over. It was terrible. Like, I was in the courts all the time. And my senior staff, they had my back. They knew that this was important to me, they didn’t make me feel bad. So, why would I leave this place? They’ve been great to me. Why would I?”

And so, one of the things we talk about is money matters at the lowest end of the level, but for many people, I mean, there are some professions, I think of the sales profession as an exception there, but for many people, man, when they have a great place to work, they don’t want to leave that environment, right, because they worked in places that aren’t a great place to work.

And so, when you get senior leadership, as an employee if you kind of get senior leadership to talk and do that, I’ve had frontline employees grab this book and just show it to their leader, and say, “You know, it would really be great if you could read this and we can talk about this,” right? And there’s been slowly, you know, people begin to change.

One of the most exciting things that I’ve seen within healthy organizations is, time and time again, when I talk to leaders and managers, they say one of their biggest issues is access and retention to key talent, right? Well, the secret to access and retention of key talent is be a great place to work and your employees will bring in people for you. When there’s job openings, they’ll say, “Hey, you should come work here because we’re a great place to work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Randy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Randy Grieser
Well, it depends on what else you’re going to ask me. You know, absolutely. I like to just kind of review the six key elements, if I may. I’ll do kind of a quick summary. We’ve talked about the importance of conflict management. Communicating your purpose and values, like most employees want to work in an organization that matters, that makes a difference. Most in organizations want to be guided and connected to that purpose.

Meaningful work. Most people don’t want to do work that is just boring and irrelevant. And so, making sure that people’s interest and ability and purpose all align together. There’s things that you could do there. Focusing your leadership team on people. Really, that caring about people we’ve talked about. Building meaningful relationships, people want to like who they work with. We’ve spent the vast majority of our waking hours at work. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually liked each other?

And one of the kind of unique things that we’ve focused on in our book was the importance of creating peak performance teams. It’s really hard to know that we have a culture if we literally don’t work together. And I’ve walked into organizations that’s, true, they don’t work together. We have a bunch of individuals who show up, they don’t even say hi to each other, they go to their little cubicle, they do whatever they do all day, and they leave. So, it’s really difficult to establish a culture when we’re not working together in teams.

So, those were kind of the six key things that, really, we want to focus on. And, again, instead of perks, focus on these six things then you’re going to have your healthy culture.

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

Randy Grieser
You know, I don’t memorize things well, but I’ll be honest, my daughter inspires me. She’s 16 years old. She’s super ambitious. Last weekend, we climbed a mountain together and we spent seven hours. It was seven hours and it was quite the slug. And there were several things that she said on the trip that I thought, “This is so cool that my 16-year old daughter can think this way.”

And one of the things that we talked about was sustained effort. We’ve been hiking up this mountain for four hours and it got really steep, and it was she said it’s like two steps forward, one step back. And we had a conversation about sustained effort. What was kind of funny is we lost my partner and her mom, right, along the way. When I say we lost, she just stopped climbing because she got scared. And my daughter had said to her, my daughter was trying to be encouraging her, and this is a great quote from a 16-year old, right, “Don’t let fear stop you from living life.”

And I thought, “How brilliant is that?” I’m super inspired by my daughter for thinking that way and for persevering and continuing on.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Randy Grieser
You know, I pick this book up probably six, seven years ago, and I just can’t help but always going back to it. Can I give you two books, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Randy Grieser
You know, one, I love stories of other people. I love stories of people building things unique. And one of my favorite books, it seems a bit odd, but it’s the biography of Warren Buffett “Tap Dancing to Work.” I believe passion is so important in how we work and if we want to inspire other people to be excited about their job. I love the fact that Warren Buffett is, what, 87, 88 years old now, literally still runs the business, not like a fake corner office but actually is doing real work. And, yet, he’s given away everything.

And even the title of the book “Tap Dancing to Work” so, he really taps into, man, we got to like what we do, right? I mean, my son has graduated from high school, and he’s torn about what he does, and I’m like, “I don’t care what you do, but you better like it. Be excited about it. Be passionate about it because it’s a long 40 years if you’re not passionate about work.” So, I just love some of Warren’s thoughts and quotes. And everyone thinks of him as a finance person, but he’s a great manager and a great leader as well.

Another shout-out is to who we really resonate when it comes to how to motivate people is Daniel Pink and his book “Drive.” I really, really kind of pinpointed in the three core areas of autonomy, mastery, purpose. We touched on even some of those in our six areas, right? So, really, he was a pioneer in kind of shifting the way we think about motivation and employee engagement.

So, those are my two big books.

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

Randy Grieser
Well, come to our website Achieve Centre. We are based in Canada. We do work in the US as well. So, Centre is spelled with an R-E. It makes it unique. So, AchieveCentre.com.

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

Randy Grieser
Yeah. You know, you want to be awesome at your job, just be nice, be a nice person, be kind, right? Somebody the other day asked me, “What do you look for when you’re hiring people?” I’m like, “We want to work with nice people. Like, at the end of the day, I want to like you as a human being.” So, you know what, if we’re all a little bit nice to each other, we’re going to be awesome at our job, and we’re going to make awesome workplaces.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Randy, thanks for this, and keep on caring.

Randy Grieser
Yeah, thanks for having me on your show, Pete.