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KF #2. Action Oriented

356: Living Out the Wisdom of Napoleon Hill with Jeffrey Gitomer

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“King of Sales” Jeffrey Gitomer discusses his new book Truthful Living, a compilation if the wisdom of Napoleon Hill. He also hashes out his tips for persuasion and personal development.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why Napoleon Hill is still worth listening to 100 years later
  2. The number one thing people don’t do that will benefit them
  3. The five most important words in the English language according to Napoleon Hill

About Jeffrey

Jeffrey Gitomer is the New York Times bestselling author of some 15 books on personal development, attitude, and sales, including The Sales Bible, The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude, 21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling, and award-winning The Little Red Book of Selling, which has sold more than five million copies worldwide and is cited as an essential work in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. Widely known as the King of Sales, Gitomer is a dynamic keynote speaker whose social media footprint reaches millions. He is based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jeffrey Gitomer Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jeffrey, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Jeffrey Gitomer

It is my pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, mine too. And I want to get us started by orienting a little bit. You have the title or nickname “The King of Sales”.

Jeffrey Gitomer

That’s a great orientation at the beginning.

Pete Mockaitis

How did that come about?

Jeffrey Gitomer

That’ll make everyone angry. I grew up in a business household. My father was a businessman, my grandfather was a businessman, and I define them as non-entrepreneurs because it’s from a lineage of business people. And entrepreneur is somebody whose dad worked for General Electric for 40 years and his mom is a teacher, and he bought a franchise. And that’s how I look at entrepreneurship.
But I started my own businesses at the age of 21 and I began cold calling in Manhattan, and I made very large sales, literally millions of dollars’ worth of sales by either cold calling or by being pre-prepared for a sale. And when I left that, I started to do consulting to companies and I realized that they didn’t know how to sell. So I began to teach them my strategies, and then in 1992 I began to write them. I wrote for the Charlotte Business Journal and about 50 other business journals around the country every Friday for about 15 years.
And when you do that you develop what’s known as “a body of work”, and that has been the fuel for many of the books that I’ve written. I’ve written 13 books to date, and two more on the way before the end of the year. And it’s been a very hard challenge. I wake up every morning and I write. I do what I say, and then I go out or talk to companies. I was just in Chicago yesterday, giving a talk to leaders and giving a talk to salespeople, and I’ll do that probably 20 times between now and the end of 2019 in public. And then I do corporate ones as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Three months. There you go.

Jeffrey Gitomer

I’m pretty booked.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, certainly. We’re going to talk about your latest, Truthful Living. But before we get there, I’d love it…so, since you have generated and codified and written and published so much sales wisdom, I can’t let this opportunity slide to put you on the spot. If you had to give me your single most critical recommendation or the two, three or four and a half most critical recommendations for selling more effectively, what would they be?

Jeffrey Gitomer

My number one rule of sales is, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” You have never gone to a car dealership to get sold a car. You have never gone to a department store to get sold a suit or a television. You go to buy one. Salespeople don’t quite get that, and when you get there, they want to tell you stuff rather than ask you stuff. So, people don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.
Ask before you tell. Find out why they want to buy before you start to talk about what it is that you do, because they may not be interested in it. All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not quite so equal, people still want to do business with their friends. And so, the challenge for the salesperson is, become friendly and likeable and trustworthy before you start. It ain’t that tough.
But actually there’s a caveat to this now, because in today’s business world, you have to engage people socially. You attract them, then you engage them, and then you connect with them. So I challenge people to attract with some value message, and then you engage with by being real, and something that I can actually use – my content. And then I connect with them because you perceive a future value of some kind, then at some point they may be willing to buy something. But don’t try to attract me with a sales message; attract me with something that I want.
So I’ll give you an example. If I’m wanting to be on your podcast, I might send you “25 Things That People Do to Have a Great Podcast”, and then a week later “25 Things That People Screw Up to Have a Lousy Podcast”. Then I call you up and say, “Would you like to know the five things I didn’t tell you?” And if my 25 things were valuable, you’d say, “Hell, yeah.”

Pete Mockaitis

Totally.

Jeffrey Gitomer

But if I call you up, if I email you, LinkedIn you, whatever, and say, ”I’m the greatest guy on the planet. I’ve written a lot of books that are really interesting. I’m a great guy. I think I’d make a great guest for your people and I think I could create a lot more listeners.” You don’t give a sh*t about that. You’ve heard that from everybody, haven’t you?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true, yes. Many, many messages like that have come my way.

Jeffrey Gitomer

So, I would challenge you that if there’s not a perception of value, then there’s no real reason to connect. I’m not going to buy your television set because you’re the cheapest. I’m not going to buy your car… In fact, when you’re the cheapest, it makes me doubt. How could you possibly be $500 cheaper than somebody else?

Pete Mockaitis

“What’s wrong with it? What’s missing? What am I overlooking? Are you lying to me?”

Jeffrey Gitomer

Yeah. They use the words “just like”. “Well, it’s just like an iPad.” “Okay, then I’ll take an iPad.” I don’t understand, why would you compare yourself to something that’s clearly marketed better and branded better?

Pete Mockaitis

Gotcha. Well, thank you.

Jeffrey Gitomer

No problem.

Pete Mockaitis

I appreciate getting the overview of that. Now I want to dig into a bit of the book here. It’s called Truthful Living, and you are featuring some goodies from the classic writer Napoleon Hill. Could you orient those who don’t know who that is? Who is this guy and why is his old stuff worthwhile?

Jeffrey Gitomer

He has written more words on personal development and achievement and wealth than any other human being on the planet.

Pete Mockaitis

No kidding!

Jeffrey Gitomer

Yeah, that’s number one. Number two, he wrote his opus, Think and Grow Rich. It was published in 1937. And the foundation and I’ve had a relationship for more than a decade. They unearthed his earliest writings, his earliest lessons that he gave at the George Washington Institute in Chicago, lesson by lesson in a course called Truthful Advertising. And at the end of each one of the lessons, he had an “after the lesson visit with Mr. Hill”. And those “after the lesson visits” were the foundation of Think and Grow Rich.
So when I saw what they had, I edited out all of the sales advertising stuff and was left with the fundamental elements of what went into Hill’s life’s work. And it was phenomenal, because it was raw and real. Never published, never edited. I compiled all of the documentation, and all I did was I added a beginning to each chapter so people could understand what they were about to read. I would occasionally put an annotation in each of the chapters to clarify some of the things, because the book is 100 years old. There may be some lexicon clarification that’s needed. And then I ended the chapter with how to put this into your life. All the rest of the words in there are 100% Napoleon Hill authentic.

Pete Mockaitis

Very cool, yeah.

Jeffrey Gitomer

It’s way cool. And it was a labor of love for me. It took me a couple of years to do, and when it was completed I knew that this was going to be major. I just knew it.
And it’s fun for me. I’ve been writing and publishing books for 25 years. This is by far the best experience I’ve ever had.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great to hear. Then let’s hear a little bit about some of the content here. So, any sort of surprises or particularly potent takeaways from Napoleon Hill? I’d say particularly in the context of suggestions that would help professionals be more awesome at their jobs.

Jeffrey Gitomer

It starts out with Chapter 1: Success Is Up to You. It’s like a warm slap in the face. Not a cold slap in the face; just a warm slap in the face. And then Lesson 2 is Finish What You Start. How obvious can that be? No one’s going to go, “Wow, finish what I started? Never heard that before.” But Hill shows you and tells you the importance of it. Why is it important to become known as someone who finishes what they start, and how does that help build your wealth?
And in each one of these cases, whether it’s chapters like How to Think or The Value of Self-Confidence, and then his cool chapters like, The Law of Harmonious Attraction. Come on, dude. That’s so cool. What he’s saying is, hang around people that you can get along with well, and together you’ll achieve more. The book just makes sense, and I think that’s probably the most eloquent thing that I can say about it. It is an easy book to read, and even easier to apply. But it takes work. And my statement has always been, most people are not willing to do the hard work that it takes to make success easy.

Pete Mockaitis

And could you give us some examples in terms of some of the hard work that is not done by many folks?

Jeffrey Gitomer

Well, I wake up every morning, as you do… Do you have a morning routine?

Pete Mockaitis

Right, yes.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Does it involve writing?

Pete Mockaitis

No.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Does it involve reading?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Think about it. My morning routine has been the same five things for 25 years. I read, I write, I prepare – one of those three things, or all three – and that causes me to do the other two things – think and create. So I’m a thinker and a creator. I’m not an email reader, I’m not a news watcher, I’m not a time-waster. I’m going to be productive for my first hour of the day. And I don’t want to hear whiny people telling me that they have a kid, because I have a 9-year-old every other week. She gets up at 6:30 so I had better be rolling at 5:30.
And people say, “I’m not a morning person.” Well, there’s a reason. Actually everyone is a morning person, except for the people that drink beer and watch television until 2:00 in the morning. Those are not morning people. Those are people that drag their butt out of bed and make some excuse about having a headache or a bad day. And blame the weather for their day.
And this is a book about taking responsibility, not blaming. Success is up to you. Now, any one of your listeners can get a free chapter of the book. We’ll send you the URL. Do you have the URL for the free chapter? I’ll get it to you. You can download a free chapter, the first chapter, which is Success Is Up to You, so that any one of your listeners can have access to that information so they can see it for themselves. It’s in an e-book. Just put your email address in there, done. I’ll get that to you later today or first thing tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis

Got it. So then, I’d be curious to hear maybe in your own experience, what were some of the most transformative elements in this that you found really made a world of difference in terms of, you learned it, you latched on and it did the trick in great effect?

Jeffrey Gitomer

Keep in mind, I’ve been a student of Napoleon Hill for 45 years. And not only did I have to edit it, but I had to read it. And then I had to record it, which means I had to read it aloud. It was, for me, an additional transformation. It’s not going to change your life, but it will supplement everything you do in your life. And there’s a full-page quote: “Ambition is a contagious thing.” Okie-dokie. How ambitious are you? Because people that have been in the same job for 20 years have lost a lot of their ambition.
And he has laws and words. There are five words that he considers the most important words in the English language – imagination, desire, enthusiasm, self-confidence, and concentration. There is a chapter in here called The Magic Key, which later on became a book called The Magic Key by Napoleon Hill, 30 years later. And it’s all about the word “concentration”. How well can you focus? They call it “mindfulness” now; I don’t know why. And then he has something which I think is really, really cool. Let me see if I can find it here real quick. It’s called the “5-point rule”. Can I read it?

Pete Mockaitis

Sure, yeah.

Jeffrey Gitomer

“Success may be had by those who are willing to pay the price. And most of those who crave a $10,000 a year position…” Now remember, this is 100 years ago, so that would be about $250,000 in today’s money. “Who crave a $10,000 a year position, especially if they are engaged in business, may realize it if they are willing to pay the price. And the price is eternal vigilance in the development of self-confidence, enthusiasm, working with a chief aim, performing more service than you are paid for, and concentration. With these qualities well-developed, you will be sure to succeed. Let’s name these qualities the ‘5-point rule’.”
Now, think about that. First of all, concentration is in the five most important words, and the 5-point rule. So, he is making certain that every reader understands. Repetition leads to mastery. So he’s playing the word “concentration” as much as he possibly can because he defines it… Let me see if I can find the definition real quick.
“Concentration is your contractor and builder, the overseer of the boss carpenter and all the other forces, the purchaser of materials and supplies.” In other words, if you’re building a house, you need that one person to make sure the focus remains intact and that everything gets built. Otherwise, stuff stands around, people are late for the job, you’re missing this, you’re missing that. Somebody has to keep everything together, and that’s what Hill wants you to do. He wants you to focus in on everything that’s important to you. That’s where we’re at.
There’s nothing in here where you guys say, “Oh my gosh. Concentration? I never heard that before.” No, everything in here has been heard about before. The question is, or the challenge is, how do you put it all together to be able to turn it into money? And that’s what this book does – it creates a game plan for wealth, not just success.

Pete Mockaitis

I’d love to hear some of these points then, in terms of, these are the five points. How does one rapidly go about developing each of these – the self-confidence, the enthusiasm, the concentration?

Jeffrey Gitomer

Well, the word “rapid” is a tough word, because things don’t happen like a Domino’s Pizza delivery. You don’t get great at success in a day. You become successful day by day. People go, “Jeffrey, how did you do that?” I say, “Well, I worked my ass off for 20 years and then all of a sudden I became an overnight success.” So, people don’t see the ”work your ass off” part; they only see the success part. Or I’ll say, “Well, I’ve got 112,000 Twitter followers.” And they say, “That’s easy for you to do.” I said, “No, it’s not easy for me to do.” I started with one, like everybody else. I have 28,000 LinkedIn connections. I started with one in 2008. So, I’m relatively late to the game. I fought it for a while, and then realized that I could develop a community and help even more people by recording things for YouTube, by going on LinkedIn.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. So, we’ll sort of strike the word “rapidly” I guess from the prior question. So then, what are some of the optimal practices, activities, behaviors day-by-day to build up the self-confidence, the enthusiasm, the concentration?

Jeffrey Gitomer

Well, if I tell you success is up to you, and then I tell you you have to believe in yourself, and then I tell you that you have to develop self-confidence – those are qualities that happen on a day-by-day basis, especially in sales, when you make sales. You can’t always develop that quality if you’re in some kind of a managerial position, because it’s very difficult to measure. Sales you can measure in a heartbeat. “What did you do today?” “$100.” “What did you do today?” “$1,000.” “What did you today?” “$50,000.” It’s measurable. And it’s further measurable by how many referrals did you get and how many reorders did you get. I’m pretty confident that as a salesperson I can measure my own success.
And when Hills says “Success is up to you”, then you as a person, regardless of what kind of job you’re in, you have to determine, write down what it’s going to take for you to succeed, because it may be that you just want to be the best teacher of all time. Okay, great. Can you win the “Best Teacher” award this year? That’s some indicator that you’re on the right path, because if somebody else wins it, you can’t go and say it was political. That’s sour grapes. Either you’re the best or you’re second best. And second best doesn’t win the prize. There’s no participation medal in sales.

Pete Mockaitis

Gotcha, yeah.

Jeffrey Gitomer

So, I’m looking at it as, it has to be a daily thing. What are you doing every day to be enthusiastic on a regular basis, to be self-confident on a regular basis? And you practice. If you want to practice being a great communicator, just join Toastmasters. So, take lessons in what it is that you’re trying to achieve, but do it consistently.

Pete Mockaitis

And what would be the analogous or equivalent lessons or activities or practices when it comes to the enthusiasm and the concentration, for instance?

Jeffrey Gitomer

Well, when you wake up in the morning, you have a choice. You can have a crappy day, a good day, or a great day. It is a clear choice. “I’m going to have a great day.” You tell yourself that in the morning and then everything you do has some kind of positive response to it. If you hate your job, today is the day you’ve got to quit. What are you miserable for? If you have a bad boss, go get another boss. The best part about America is, you’re free to choose.
So I’m free to choose my attitude, and I’m going to read something on attitude every morning to get me going, or I’m going to watch something on attitude every morning to get me going. I’m going to write something about how I feel, I might tweet something. There are all kinds of things that I’ll do. I’m going to prepare, like I had to prepare yesterday for my seminar in Chicago. And that’s going to cause me to think and create. And if I think in the positive, then the answers will be in the positive, the words will be in the positive, and I will create my own outcomes. I’m here to create an outcome for me. And it’s a selfish thing, but if I want to be the best dad on the planet, the first thing I have to do is be the best person. Otherwise I’m going to have, quote, an “attitude” about it.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m curious, are there particular resources that you go to time and time again to spark the positive attitude? You said you’re going to watch something or read something or look at something.

Jeffrey Gitomer

I don’t have a consistent resource. I’ll read something 100 years old. I’ll write down what I’m thinking about. I have a book called The Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude. There are 220 pages on attitude that it took me 60 years to figure out. So, I’ve created a book that sold 300,000-400,000 copies in America, millions of copies around the world. And I’m happy with that. But if I want more information, then I’ll go back and read Samuel Smiles, a paragraph or two, or a page or two on character or self-help. Or I’ll read something by Orison Swett Marden, a page or two, from Every Man a King. Or I’ll read something by Dale Carnegie on how to win friends and influence people. I go to my library and I can pick out anything. I don’t go to the library, I have a library. Books are not just for reading; they’re also for reference. So, I have a massive library that I call on, and I’ll maybe only read five pages, but it’s enough. And if you are doing it for 25 years and you read five pages a day, you’ve read a lot of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely, adding up.

Jeffrey Gitomer

That’s why I said “day by day”. I achieved my positive attitude in 1972 by listening to Earl Nightingale, The Strangest Secret, watching a movie called Challenge to America by Glenn Turner, and reading one chapter per day of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich for one year. And there are only 15 chapters in the book.

Pete Mockaitis

Mathematically, yes, over 20 times then.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Bingo. Well, I took the weekends off.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, gotcha. I also want to get your take on, one thing about your writing that I’ve always found intriguing is that in your lists you will have a decimal. For example, one of your books, 21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling. What’s your thought process behind this practice?

Jeffrey Gitomer

I did consulting early on in Charlotte before I was writing anything. And one of my clients wanted to do a leadership course, because he’d already been doing time management. And I created a list of things for him. I literally created a speech for him about the qualities of a great leader. And I got to the end of the list and I go, “The glue that puts this together is the word ‘commitment’.” So I made it 0.5 – “8.5 Qualities of a Leader”. And I showed it to him. I was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t stand it, about what I’d done. And the guy said, “I don’t like it.” I said, “Okay, I’ll use it myself.” You can go on Google right now and look at the “8.5 Qualities of a Leader”. I guarantee it’ll pop up someplace, because I wrote it.
And I’ve been using 0.5 ever since. I trademarked another 0.5 list from Jeffrey Gitomer. I have been using 0.5 as the glue piece for whatever it is that I’m trying to put a list together for, so that I can tie the whole list together with one point, whether it’s as simple as “Have fun” or “Do the right thing”, or more complex, in the case of 21.5, or in the Little Red Book of Selling 12.5 was “Resign your position as General Manager of the universe”. You don’t have time to manage the world. Just manage your own closet and your backyard and your kids and your family.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. So with a trademark, the 0.5, does that mean I can’t make a list with 0.5? I’m stepping on your intellectual property?

Jeffrey Gitomer

You can, but I will sue you.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, will you? But we’re friends now.

Jeffrey Gitomer

I’ll call you first and say, “Please remove that.” Some people violate that. I’m not the world’s policeman. If they want to do it, that’s their karma. But people know me by that and have known me by that since the first thing I wrote.

Pete Mockaitis

Gotcha. Well, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some your favorite things?

Jeffrey Gitomer

I would. Just from a standpoint of the book, I’ll just say a couple of things. You can pre-buy it right now. Is Jen there? What’s the URL that I’ve got to send people to? I think it’s HillsFirstWritings.com. And that will take you to a landing page, and if you enter your email you’ll get the first chapter free.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Jeffrey Gitomer

You could stick that in the show notes. We’ll email it to you anyway. You might want to consider talking to people about our podcast, Sell Or Die. We have gone daily, because the podcast is so popular, it’s unbelievable. Jennifer Gluckow and I do it; she’s my partner. And it’s engaging and it’s fun. It’s not over the top. It’s expletive-rated; they call E-rated or something. Say what you want to say, sometimes the guests are a little bit explicit, and sometimes I am. But Jennifer, never. She’s a pristine, first-class New York City babe. But I think that there is an ability for your listeners or your fans to take another look at a podcast that I think can affect them, if they’re in sales or they’re in business, because we have really good guests. And you can be one of them if you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I’m honored. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Jeffrey Gitomer

We get a lot, a lot of action. We’re over 100,000 downloads a month now and we’re shooting for the moon.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. Kudos and congrats, and good luck!

Jeffrey Gitomer

Thanks. Luck. There’s another thing in one of the chapters.

Pete Mockaitis

Luck or Pluck.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Exactly. You either work hard and create your luck, or you are buying lottery and wanting to win and hoping and scratching your number off and going, “Oh, crap, I lost again.”

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, understood.

Jeffrey Gitomer

I don’t know why people play the lottery.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s not a great investment, in terms of your ticket.

Jeffrey Gitomer

No. From what I’ve seen of it, if you have all your teeth, you can never win.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s fun. There’s one tidbit I want to share. So, you know Dan Kennedy.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Of course. I love him, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis

I thought you would.

Jeffrey Gitomer

He has brass balls, and he’s accurate.

Pete Mockaitis

He had a great bit; I think it was factual. Someone had the winning lottery ticket, and he was anticipating that everyone was going to start asking him for money. So, after he got the winning lottery ticket, he called up all sorts of friends and family and said, “Hey, I’m in a tight spot. I can’t really explain it, but I need to borrow $1,000 right away.” So, just about nobody helped him out. So, the next day it’s announced that he has the winning lottery ticket, and sure enough he dramatically cut down on his inbound requests for money.

Jeffrey Gitomer

That’s incredible. I love that.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. So now, let’s hear about some of your favorite things. How about a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Jeffrey Gitomer

One of the quotes I wrote is, “People will rain on your parade because they have no parade of their own.” That is time immemorial, not just in business, but in politics. That’s number one. That’s my best- written quote, other than “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.” But quotes that I love: “You become what you think about all day long” by Earl Nightingale is probably the best of the personal development quotes that I’ve ever, ever read. The Zig Ziglar quote of, “Make every day is productive as the day before you go on vacation”, if you’re looking for a productivity mantra. I live by quotes; I have thousands of them. In fact, any of your listeners the want my Retweetables book, there are 365 140- character quotes that they can use in a heartbeat. Not just by me, but by lots of people.

Pete Mockaitis

Sure thing. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Jeffrey Gitomer

I wrote The Patterson Principles of Selling, based on the life and times of John Patterson, who is known as the Grandfather of Salesmanship in America. Because he didn’t sell anything, he created pull-through marketing by advertising for women to go demand a receipt when they bought stuff. And the merchant would say, “We don’t have a receipt.” And then three days later a cash register sales guy would come by and go, “Do you guys need receipts?” And literally sold a million cash registers between 1900 and 1911.
I’m in awe of him the same way I’m in awe of Steve Jobs, who created things that we don’t know we need and now we can’t do without. He created the redistribution of music, he created the laptop that everyone tries to… I had a T-shirt that said, “Windows 95, Macintosh 85”, and that was pretty much what the deal was. So, I like the innovator, I like the person who’s trying to be first at anything, whether it’s Roger Bannister running the 4-minute mile, or Neil Armstrong being the first guy on the moon, although that’s a little controversial as well.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jeffrey Gitomer

Everybody in our place uses Asana. We’ve graduated from Slack, although we still slack one another. I use Microsoft Word. I love Google Docs, because I can share some of my stuff with other people, but when I’m writing myself, I find Word is the most comfortable thing for me to create in. The best tool that I’ve ever found in my technical life is Dragon for Mac.

Pete Mockaitis

For Mac? I’ve heard people say that Dragon for PC rocks, and Dragon for Mac breaks all the time and it’s super annoying and they hate it. But you’re saying you’re loving it. It’s getting it done. It has 100% delivered for you.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Yes, and it’s only about 97% accurate. But I use it and I’m very successful at it and I love it, because I’m not a good keyboard person. So, my last three books have been done with Mac.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, cool. Good to know.

Jeffrey Gitomer

It’s Dragon for Mac. And if you like the subtlety of it, I think it’s very important to understand this as a writer. If I’m talking into the screen and it’s taking my words and I take a few minutes to edit it when I’m done, I don’t have to think about anything with my fingers. I don’t have to think where the P key is, where the Return key is, none of that. I’m concentrating on my words, not on the keyboard. And that’s a significant part when you’re writing with a stream of conscious.

Pete Mockaitis

And as I’m thinking about it, you even have the ability to jot down a quick note. It’s like, I’m saying one idea and I’ve already got another. And so, I’m going to write that down and that’s going to be there for me next.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Jeffrey Gitomer

I think my favorite habit is probably hanging out with my family.

Pete Mockaitis

Right on.

Jeffrey Gitomer

That’s the best habit I could get. My fiancée and I are going to have dinner tonight that she doesn’t know about yet. And that’s becoming a habit. It’s a wonderful time to just sort of clear the air and talk about life in the big city, or life in Paris, which is even a bigger city.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and get retweeted over and over again?

Jeffrey Gitomer

If you go to my Twitter feed you’ll see a bunch of them. But the one I just tweeted, which I think is going to be a pretty important one: “Don’t give your children advice you don’t take yourself.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s a command. “Don’t give your children advice you don’t take yourself.” [laugh] I’m sorry, I’m just thinking, I keep saying, “Johnny, don’t poop on the new carpet.” [laugh]

Jeffrey Gitomer

But here’s the deal – make a friend. “If you make a sale, you make it commission. You make a friend, you earn a fortune.” And that has been a real lifelong retweetable for me. I’ll tweet it out once a month or so and I still get tons of response.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jeffrey Gitomer

Easy. Go to Amazon to get the book. Just go Truthful Living and it’ll pop up. And go to my website, Gitomer.com. And listen to the podcast Sell Or Die and you’ll get all kinds of information on a daily basis for free.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. And thanks so much for the invitation. That’s very kind. I’m excited.

Jeffrey Gitomer

My people will reach out to your people.

Pete Mockaitis

Wheeling and dealing. Cool. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking be awesome at their jobs?

Jeffrey Gitomer

If you don’t love it, make tomorrow your last day. Go find something you love, and you’ll make 10 times more money, even though you have to sacrifice something in order to make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis

Gotcha. Awesome, thank you. Well Jeffrey, this has been a treat. I wish you tons of luck in your Kingship of Sales and with Truthful Living.

Jeffrey Gitomer

Pleasure for me.

346: Seizing Career Opportunities with AstroLabs’ Muhammed Mekki

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Muhammed Mekki lays out how to optimize your career opportunities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why NOT to over-plan your career
  2. How to identify and capitalize on each career opportunity
  3. The nobility of management

About Muhammed

Muhammed is a Founding Partner at AstroLabs, a startup hub and training academy for tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East. AstroLabs Dubai is a specialized coworking space that hosts high potential digital technology companies, assisting founders to establish their startups and providing them with a platform to scale globally. AstroLabs Academy delivers a variety of practical training courses on topics related to digital business.

Prior to AstroLabs, Muhammed co-founded Dubai-based Namshi, now one of the largest ecommerce companies in the MENA region. He built and led the operations teams and helped raise venture capital funding to fuel the company’s growth. Muhammed is a former McKinsey & Company strategy consultant with clients across the GCC.

Muhammed received an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He was selected for a full academic scholarship as a Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Fellow based on professional achievements as well as a demonstrated commitment to the development of the Arab World. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania as a member of the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Muhammed Mekki Interview Transcript

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

Muhammed Mekki
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so fun. We’re doing this in person, which happens very rarely, but it’s awesome to have you here.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s great to be here and see where it all happens.

Pete Mockaitis
The magic enclosed porch in Chicago. It’s really fun because, so we’ve known each other for a good long time. I think you’ve known me longer than almost every other guest, maybe Kate Roche is in the running as I also knew her in high school. But if I can put you on the spot a bit, can you share a fun Muhammed/Pete memory or anecdote.

Muhammed Mekki
Yes, so many. I guess we’ve been through quite a bit. You’re right, since high school I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you. Pete’s the kind of guy, when he puts his mind to something, he just makes it happen. That’s one of the things that I really admire about Pete.

Let me think back actually one that’s not too far away. It’s a road trip that we took together down to Olney, Illinois. We packed our car and took a four and a half hour trip/drive down to southern Illinois in pursuit of a business that we were trying to get off the ground together in tutoring. We found a first potential customer. We were excited.

We got in the car, drove all the way down for a meeting basically, to sit down with that school and figure things out, and then drove all the way back all in one day. We spent over, I think it was about nine hours in the car that day.

During that time we had a lot of fun. We were joking about things. But in the end it was about both of our passion for getting that company off the ground and trying to make things happen. In the end we weren’t really able to.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Muhammed Mekki
We learned a lot from the experience I think. Both of us have started different ventures and tried things ourselves and this is one that we can chalk up in the category of experiences that we learned a lot from, where we just didn’t – we didn’t understand our target market enough. We didn’t understand how the product that we were building connected to the consumer.

But I’ll always remember that trip and our passion to kind of go out there and find a customer and get the thing going and what that took and rolling up our sleeves to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
That was fun. I was thinking, man, I remember telling people, “Yeah, I think we’re going to sort of eliminate the Tutor Trail,” it was called, “business after all.” And they said, “Oh, why is that?” I said, “Well, we didn’t get any revenue.”

Muhammed Mekki
Yes, exactly. Oops.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Oh, you mean profits?” Like, “No, I mean revenue.”

Muhammed Mekki
No. But we tried really hard. We even drove all the way down to the other side of the state to try to find a paying customer, but in the end it was a sign I guess. Yeah. We were smart enough at least at that point to just heed that sign and move on.

Pete Mockaitis
One of my favorite moments from that trip actually was when you were driving. It was getting kind of toasty and you wanted to take off your jacket. I don’t know if you remember this. It cracked me up. I still think about this sometimes.

You’re like, “Okay, could you hold the steering wheel?” I was like, “Okay,” so I’m in the passenger seat kind of reaching over for the steering wheel. I’m kind of uncomfortable. It’s sort of 65-ish miles per hour and a little bit of curviness. I was like, “I don’t really feel like I’ve got the best angle or control here,” and so I’m sweating a little and I think you perceived that. After you finished removing your jacket, you just said to me, “Continue.”

Muhammed Mekki
This was before the days of driverless cars. Yeah, I was on that-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s right. It’s going to be dated in five years.

Muhammed Mekki
Indeed. Indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
They were driving themselves, huh? I think one of the first things that drew me to you was that when we were in high school and I was kind of a weird kid who read business books and all of that stuff.

Then when I encountered you, I was like whoa, here’s a guy who’s putting some proactive thought into his life, his career, his goals right up front. You were like the only person who I think I knew who was doing that as much as I was. I was like, I like him and I’m just going to clamp on to him.

Maybe you could give us some perspective in terms of how do you think about just general goal setting or life and career planning because it seems like it’s worked out for you in terms of your path here?

Muhammed Mekki
I think one of the things that I’ve learned over time from my own personal experience has been trying actually not to over plan. I see that coming up with people that I talk to all the time like try to lay out a five-, six-step path and trying to follow that path.

For me at least, I’ve always tried to optimize for the next step. If I think back on all of the steps that I’ve taken, never have I been able to see two steps ahead. Always the next step had just a core affect on what would happen in the step that followed.

Let me give you some examples. When I – for instance, in thinking about where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to study, I had a feeling that something called business and international business, specifically, was something that really was interesting to me. This was before the day I even knew what consulting was or what being an entrepreneur really was, back in the days of high school.

But I just decided to take that leap and just went and tried to find what’s the best international business program that I can find and just put all my effort toward applying for that and trying to get into the program. While there, I was able to figure out a lot of things that kind of led to me setting the next step, setting the next goal.

In fact, it wasn’t even jumping into the job market. I ended up learning about something called the Fulbright, which is a research fellowship that I had no idea existed at the time that I did the step prior, but once I learned about that, I thought wow, it’s a great opportunity to spend a year off of the career track and actually just doing research in another country and expanding my skillsets in ways that I never thought about.

I suddenly made that into my passion, my next goal. In that kind of a way I found that even in a career standpoint, now if you fast forward, in making some of the steps that I did, I would have never imagined for instance, jumping out to the – I jumped out to the Middle East. I started consulting there. I never thought that that would then lead to me going into an entrepreneurial venture.

But one step always led to the other in ways that I could have never predicted is my point. Trying to think too much about two steps ahead, has never been useful for me. It’s always, if I just channel that energy into the next step and just really try to put everything, my presence, and all that I have into the next step, then the next door will open.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a pretty cool reframe there or distinction. If you’re thinking just about the very next step, what are kind of the criteria or rules of thumb or values you’re using to kind of evaluate a given opportunity and say, “Yup, that is good stuff?”

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think that’s changed over time. I used to be optimizing for what’s the most outside perceived highest-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve done that well. It’s your impressive looking resume bio.

Muhammed Mekki
Well, that used to be an obsession, so I’m trying to figure out what’s the – how can I place myself in a position to be successful and try to get the right stamps, if you will, on the resume. That does have its benefits in terms of opening up some doors and maybe even in retrospect, most importantly, just giving myself confidence to just eventually step out.

But eventually, okay, so you go to a great school and then you get a great first job and then you get these accolades and you do all this stuff and you get promoted and you do all the right things, but then what? There comes a point at which there’s no next most impressive step to take unless you’re just going up a corporate ladder specifically within the same company going up one step after the other, after the other.

In our day and age a lot of people are shifting around to different jobs, different paths, all these types of things. At a certain point you’re like well, should I – when do I jump, when do I actually say, “I’m just going to try to think about what will make me happy and what I’d like to just do given all this stuff from before.”

Yeah, there was phase one, which yes, I was definitely unabashedly chasing after a lot of those stamps, if you will, which gave me the cushion and the background and the experience. Then phase two I would say started from when I cofounded an ecommerce company, was when I jumped off of a very stable and reputable job as a consultant at McKinsey. It was a fantastic job actually. I was enjoying it.

But at a certain point I decided, you know what, I’m going to go ahead and jump off and just take a big risk and try to start something.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really cool perspective there in terms of stopping to think okay, so rather than perusing the next cool big prestigious thing, at some point you’re going to run out of it. It’s like, “I guess I’m going to run for Senate. Is that what I should do next? I guess that would be about-“ You sort of say it’s cool in terms of being pro-active, like, “Well, now is the time I’m going to choose to prioritize this.”

I think I even experienced that in college a bit in terms of I was always trying to do the impressive thing and then once I got my job offer, early on in senior year for a great job at Bain, I was like “Okay, well, now I’ve got this time here. I guess I’ll just do what I want to do.” I wrote a book just because I wanted to write a book. That was really fun.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool to think about when to jump. We had an author who wrote that book called When to Jump.

Muhammed Mekki
When to Jump. Yeah, I mean it’s not even just about going off and doing an entrepreneurial adventure or whatever the case might be, but it’s jumping off of the tried and trodden path of just going from one step to the next step to the next step. Say okay, I’m going to take a left turn and it’s going to be a risk, but let’s see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, if we could just stop for a moment at the stamps collection phase. I’m curious to hear, you’ve done a fine job with your stamp collecting. We talk about Penn Huntsman, Stanford, McKinsey, Fulbright. That is all the things a VC or a hiring manager might like to see in a compact little presentation.

Any pro tips when it comes to the applications or the interviews or how you manage to nail those again and again?

Muhammed Mekki
I think that for a lot of different prestigious programs or schools, they’re blessed with actually having way more applicants that actually qualify than they have space for. The challenge always is that even if you are qualified for a particular program or for entry into an opportunity, differentiating yourself and distinguishing yourself from the rest of the applicant pool is the challenge.

I think the aspect of these applications that I spent a lot of time on and almost obsessed about was actually the essays and the story behind why I wanted to do something. It comes back to your first question about kind of taking the step – how to decide on what is the next step.

Once I had decided, for instance, that I really wanted to after university go and do some research as a Fulbright fellow, I spent a lot of time in introspection actually and thinking about why is that and how will I apply it. I channeled a lot of that into the application and into the process. I think the challenge is differentiating yourself from the pool based on your personal story.

Similarly, when I was applying for an MBA, there are a lot of very well qualified consultants that apply to go to the top MBA programs. You risk being just put into the pool of, “Oh, another consultant that’s applying to go to a top MBA program.”

I tried to choose my stories based on one, my own personal experience and background of what can I bring to the table given my background that’s a bit different from everybody else. Kind of thinking about what distinguishes you outside of work.

For me, I have my cultural and religious background that kind of played a role as well in how I think about and how I interact with the world. I wasn’t shy in bringing that kind of stuff up in the application saying, “Yes, I am a Muslim and I have these – this is how it informs who I am. This is how I can make the class actually a richer class,” and bringing in examples of that.

Whereas some people might shy away from some of these types of topics, I feel like why not bring them to the table and show what makes you a full person that’s going to really distinguish you from just the pool of everybody else that’s there. I think that’s probably if I were to extract one learning from these different applications, that’s what I’ve tried to make happen throughout.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, but it’s funny. I’m looking at the study Quran that you recommend that I get and it is ample with its notations. This is maybe sort of random, but I remember you had an award for reciting or having memorized is it the whole Quran or large portions of it?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, that was something that I did when I was actually out in – on the Fulbright. It was again, something I would have never predicted would have happened, but while I was out there I found a classical teacher. I was able to explore this other side and learn things that I hadn’t expected I would do when I first went out there.

But I just – if you keep yourself open to what you might – who you might intersect with. That was an example where I started something. I’m like, “I’m going to take this all the way to the conclusion,” and actually try to get basically a – what’s equivalent to kind of a diploma or certification actually the recitation. It became something really important to me. I did take that on.

Pete Mockaitis
How does one – those are huge chunks-

Muhammed Mekki
It’s not memorization. It’s actually recitation of the – yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so it’s sort of like pronouncing it perfectly.

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Much easier, much easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well now I’m clear there. Thank you.

Muhammed Mekki
No worries.

Pete Mockaitis
I have so much I want to hear from you in terms of generally, it seems that you kind of think and operate a little bit differently than others, in the best possible way. Not that you’re a freak or a weirdo.

I think that a couple of things that come to mind there is at one point I recall you were at a workplace and you earned a triple bump, not a single or double bump as one might get at the end of year or a review cycle, but a triple bump, which happens I guess maybe never or super rarely there. How is that done?

Muhammed Mekki
It was actually the context was that – it was early on in my career. I decided to just really just pour myself into this job and try to find – what was a slower start basically in the first projects that I was doing, I ended up finding an opportunity where I’d be working on a really small team.

The exposure – it was a combination, as a lot of things are in life, between luck and being prepared and rolling up your sleeves. The luck element of this experience was actually getting assigned to a project where I did have a chance to shine in front of a senior client.

I think as a very junior member kind of out of under grad, you don’t usually get the opportunity to be the client-facing person on the ground, but just because our team was – it was smaller than perhaps it should have been, and there was just too much work to get done, and I had built up some rapport and trust with the partner. He just sent me off. It was kind of scary, but also exciting.

I was like “Oh wow, I’m the one who’s representing this firm in front of the client in a couple of the different locations or the offices.” Once I had that – I think that’s the luck element. You have that sort of window or that opportunity.

Then it’s like “Okay, well, if I hit this one out of the park and I really show that I’m able to do much more, this is my chance.”

I think this one experience was actually what led to – it was probably the most important factor in that review cycle when we’re looking back at how I perform is actually the fact that the feedback from the client being that “Wow, Muhammed was somebody that I felt like I could – that was really adding a lot of value and was representing the firm.”

I got a lot of good feedback from the client side, so that made the partners happy. We were able to actually make a demonstrative positive impact on their business.

These things I think when you see those openings, that’s – a lot of times you’re just in a job and you’re just kind of doing the day-to-day, but every once in a while you get that chance. When that chance comes, you’ve just got to have your eagle eyes open and just read to just jump on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. I love that – see here we go talking about you thinking differently. I hope you’d find some gold here of perusing this line of inquiry.

Yeah, when it comes to the opportunity because you might view that opportunity in a completely different mindset in terms of “Oh my gosh, I’m already overworked. There’s no way I can take on this extra thing. I’m exhausted,” or it’s like, “Oh crap, I’m in over my head. I’m just going to try to not screw anything up, so what are the key things that could go very badly. I’m just going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

As opposed to “How can I just super knock it out of the park?” and identifying that opportunity when it emerges. This … is I remember I guess it was – again, hey, I’ve known you since high school, so high school memories are coming back.

Muhammed Mekki
That was a long time ago.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember I was in National Honor Society. We did very little in National Honor Society because we were being honored. We were at a meeting. They said, “Okay, so, oh yeah, a clothing drive is a great service idea. Yeah.” There was a little bit of agreement behind that, like, “Yeah, yeah, that should be the thing we should do.”

Muhammed Mekki
Somebody should do that. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Then the advisor asked, “Okay, so who would like to head up the clothing drive?” I thought, well, I’m just a sophomore or junior. I don’t know. It seemed like it should be something a senior does, but I was like a sophomore or maybe a junior. There was a pause for a couple seconds and then no one raised their hand.

I thought that was really funny because what I heard her say was, “Who wants to be the National Honor Society president next year?”

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. It’s like-

Pete Mockaitis
We do just about nothing, so if this is the one thing we do and you do it-

Muhammed Mekki
That’s basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Then we say who should lead us, it should be that person.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Again, I guess I was in some of that prestige stamp collecting phase myself in high school and in college a bit. But yeah, I think that’s cool. It’s like how do you view that in terms of “Oh, that seems like a burden and exhausting,” versus “Oh, this is my window to really make some things happen.”

Muhammed Mekki
And I think the point that you brought up about risk limiting is also an important one. It’s not just the burden, it’s also like “Oh wow, I’m – things could go wrong. What if I just do the – cover the basics, I’ll be okay.” Versus going in there, what I tried to do consciously in this example, I was like, “Let’s just go and just try to just go with this. Let’s see what we can do here.”

Going in and having senior meetings with people and sitting down and really trying to uncover, we’re trying to figure out in this particular project how to really optimize a loan process, how to make it much more efficient and how to remove a lot of the problems out of the process. It involved a lot of interviewing and figuring out what people are currently doing and really doing some research into best practices.

But I took all of that on and just said I’m going to talk to everybody and really kind of uncovered a lot. Then just went into a cave and just kind of wrote a lot of that stuff out, did a lot of research, came back, presented, got the blessing of the partner, and then went to some senior people on the client side and gave them my recommendations. They liked them and they were interested and they started implementing them.

Even that was an example of just saying, you got that chance, so just go for – go all in. What’s the worst case scenario what’s going to happen? Something might go wrong. You’re a junior anyway, whatever. It’s not going to be the end of the world. I think that’s the end of the story is that it will be a learning experience. It’s fine. It’s not a big deal. But the upside is potentially really big because you’re proving yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s good. Well, hey, let’s keep going in terms of you thinking differently and digging into some of your early career moments.

You were at another workplace and you spotted some inappropriate behavior, kind of just really meanness on the part of a somewhat senior leader. Tell us a little bit about what was going on and trying to preserve as much confidentiality and integrity as possible. Kind of what was going on and how were people reacting? How did you react a little bit differently?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, it’s surprising sometimes you find yourself in an environment that purports to be a really positive one and of high caliber and you still have these bad apples that are inside. They’ve somehow survived and even thrived within this environment. You just don’t know how that happened.

For me it was stark because I started on day one on this team that had just been assembled and it was like from the very beginning I felt something was off of this manager and the team dynamic. Something was a bit off. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but it didn’t take very long.

It was within that same day, hours later, you had a manager basically hurling personal insults, kind of telling this more junior member of the team that they’re just – they’re not worth as much as he is, this is why they pay him less. Things that you just – really horrible things to say, especially to a junior person. It wasn’t done in a jest or joking kind of way. This was kind of like I’m trying to get you.

It was – I remember the feeling – I remember feeling awful that I didn’t immediately stand up to this person as it happened. But then I was playing back excuses in my – oh, I just started that day and it kind of took me by surprise and blah, blah, blah. I would hope that now if that happened and I was around I would just take that person to task immediately, but I was a bit junior and it was a bit just jarring and sort of surprising.

I kind of just was – I just sort of took that in. I thought about it and decided after seeing more behavior from him in a similar way, I think none of it was directed directly at me, but I saw it happening. I decided somebody’s got to say something, so I just said, okay, I’m just going to go in and report this guy to HR, to the senior manager.

I started with a trusted senior manager within the company, telling him the story, being like, “Listen, this is what’s happening and I don’t feel comfortable working in that environment, so I’d either like to get off of this project or to figure what can we do basically.”

He opened up the door then to an inquiry that ended up happening, HR-led. It turned out the really sad thing about it was that – and this was just a lesson to learn – is that this person – they interviewed a bunch of people he had managed over the last couple of years and the stories came out at that stage where he was just repeatedly doing this over – and abusing basically his people on his team.

Nobody had stood up to him. Nobody had said anything. He had just kind of continued. That’s how people like that just kind of continue along. But I think the conclusion was a very – actually it ended on a positive note. I think I gained a lot of respect for this company because based on these findings, even though this was a very strategic project with a – and one that he was leading.

Pete Mockaitis
Plenty of dollars.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. That they pulled him off the project. He was basically reprimanded. They reconfigured the team very soon thereafter. I think it also shows that even a junior member of the team can have that kind of an impact and somebody’s got to stand up.

That was kind of a scary moment for me because it was just like – even though I hadn’t done anything wrong or anything, but it’s just always difficult to be the person kind of the whistleblower if you will to kind of stand up and say, “This shouldn’t be happening here. This is against our values. This is not the kind of place that I want to be working in.”

Pete Mockaitis
You see it on the news all the time, these scandals, whether it’s molestation or harassment or verbal abuse. It can persist for many, many victims and many years. It does take some courage to go there.

I think it’s awesome that you did do that and a cool reminder that the first step doesn’t necessarily need to be crazy, “I’m going to get on CNN and I’m going to shout to the mountain tops,” like, “This seems pretty off to me. I’m going to see if there’s a leader that I trust. I’m going to run it by him and we’re going to see how that goes.”

Muhammed Mekki
That’s exactly it. I didn’t know what to do, so I said let’s start there and then test that out and then when it really – thankfully, for that person it really resonated and said “Okay, we need to do something.” That support from a senior manager I think makes all the difference in the world. Had he shut it down, I think it would have been really hard for me to go and escalate. It reinforced the fact that this off. This is not the way things should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Think a little bit now in terms of how things should be. You’ve learned some lessons and now you’re co-owning a business and managing folks and being all grown up. What are some of the best practices that you’re seeing and implementing when you get to run things your way?

Muhammed Mekki
It’s interesting because I come from a family – my parents are both physicians. We have a lot of doctors in the family. There’s a lot of – maybe that immigrant generation coming in with high degrees and have a passion for doing good also, really wanting to – you can’t argue with a doctor healing people. That’s just good.

Sometimes when you look at – you look at somebody who’s in management or somebody’s who’s in business. It’s like, okay, this guy’s – person’s out to kind of make more money or it’s – it doesn’t seem like-

Pete Mockaitis
Cash is king. Greed is good.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. It’s not the most noble of callings on the surface when you look at it. I think this is something that I’ve thought about. What I found over time is that actually management can be quite a noble calling. It depends a lot about how the perspective that you bring to the table.

This is particularly for those who are embarking on the path of managing your first employee or starting on a small team or later on when you have a bunch of people that report into you, to think about just the impact that you can have as a manager on that person, not just their career, but their life.

It really puts a different perspective on the table because the small things that you do to develop and to help push and develop your team really can have a huge impact.

I was managing a team in a previous role and then seeing some of the team members actually go off and get amazing opportunities in other jobs and really upgrading and going –

We pulled in somebody from a completely different industry who took a leap of faith and jumped into tech and ecommerce. Then she ended up kind of continuing along that path and jumping into a couple of other companies that are well-regarded and continuing to improve her position and getting a lot more opportunities.

You kind of think like wow, that interview and convincing her to kind of actually jump off from the hospitality industry into sort of the tech and ecommerce industry actually did have a big impact on her life in the end because that ended up changing the way – changing her path.

That’s a responsibility for sure, but also it’s exciting because then it opened up a lot more doors and hopefully the skills and lessons learned from the experience being on the team. It will be something to be able to take with you for the rest of your life. That’s something I – that’s the element of management that is I think something which makes it a really important and meaningful path.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. I’m curious then – that’s a great reframe in terms of its – your responsibility is big in terms of where you kind of end up leading people in the lives that they get to have as well as sort of the day in/day out sort of skills development, and coaching, and growing that can either happen or not happen based upon your willingness to invest time and candor into your relationship.

Any other kind of things that you swear by in terms of effective teaming or productivity or making it happen?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, that was big picture stuff. Then if we get down into the more smaller details, I think a few things that we at AstroLabs now, the company that I’m currently managing, are quite passionate about.

I think one is always closing the loop. We’re always – whether – if you’ve opened up something with somebody or somebody’s expecting something from you to make sure that you’re getting back to that person as quickly and as kind of comprehensively as possible. It makes a big difference.

I think whether that’s within your own team or with outside partners or people that you’re dealing with, I think that’s something that distinguishes our organization.

We on a very tactical path, we’re big proponents of inbox zero, zero inbox basically, which is to make sure that you’re on top of everything that’s coming into your email, into your inbox. Once you’ve cleared something out, once you’ve dealt with it, you’re archiving it, you’re getting it out of your inbox.

The things that are in your inbox, and now even in Gmail there’s a new snooze feature, which used to be something that was a plugin called Boomerang. But you could just say “I don’t need to deal with this right now. I’m going to get back to it in another couple weeks or in another week or so.”

You can have it leave your inbox and have it come back in after a week just to make sure you’re not letting things fall off of your radar. We – that’s one of the things that we’re quite – we value a lot within the context of our company.

At the same time we’re against face time and just being there for the sake of being there and doing things – but I think there is an importance to actually making sure that you’re following through on your commitments and you’re closing the loop with people and you’re on top and not letting things just fall through the cracks and being proactive. These are some of the ways in which we achieve that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s funny. We’ve had some guests who say, “Don’t look at your email first thing in the morning. You’re being reactive. Are you really productive if you just answered all of your emails? Is that what it’s about?” How do you kind of balance the perspective associated with, “Oh, you’ve got to have that deep work, that quiet focused time, the maker time,” versus crushing every email.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s a really good point. I think you can get into this trap of just letting other people put a bunch of stuff on your to-do list if you’re just reactive and that’s all you do.

I think closing the loop only applies, in my perspective, on things that you’ve started or where there is already a relationship. I’m not saying that any message that comes into your inbox you have to reply to or deal with. You get inbound that you just decide I never asked for this. This person reached out to me out of nowhere. I’m just going to archive it.

That was a change for me because I’m so – I need to deal with everything. It’s like, well no, actually I don’t need to deal with this because I don’t have time and this person’s taking my time. But if it’s something where I’ve opened up that thread or there is an expectation of getting back, I sure make sure – I do make sure that I do that.

What balances it out is making sure that there is a weekly and maybe longer term sort of goals for juicy things to achieve and actually blocking off some time on a calendar to say “I’m going to go dive deep into drafting X, Y, or Z,” or “I’m going to make sure that I’m getting the brain time in order to structure this project that I want to do” versus just being on the email and just replying to everything in lightning speed.

I think it – yes, there is a balance. I’m just passionate about making sure that you are – that things don’t fall through the cracks as my – that’s a pet peeve of mine, if you will.

But the way we balance it out is saying, “Okay, as a team what is everybody planning to achieve besides the day-to-day stuff?” Everybody knows, okay, you’ve got to do your day-to-day job, but what are the bigger, juicier things that as a team we want to achieve this week. When we set those – we have those discussions. From there we can see if there’s ways that the team can collaborate and work together on some of the points.

Then we can keep each other honest, like “Okay, which of these bigger projects have we gotten done? If we haven’t, why? If we have, what else can we do?” That’s a good mechanism that we use internally to make sure that we’re not just running through the hamster wheel of answering emails.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. As we discuss this, it reminded me that I owe you an email about the lead generation thing we talked about, so I’m ashamed.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s good brainstorming and working together. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention or highlight before we shift gears into talk about some of your favorite things?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think the – I’d say that one of the things that I try to do – took the opportunity in a transition point, which was business school, was to really shift things up a bit. In my case I wanted to jump into the tech sector and I wanted to jump to a new geography.

I decided that I couldn’t do both at one time so that was one thing that I thought about. I was like well, I tried but I couldn’t really figure out this new sector that I never worked in and all this and in a new geography.

I went ahead and just decided to – that actually going to business school is a great chance to do – to change something big and it’s a good post or sign post. I went ahead and jumped out to Dubai, to the Middle East, and continued doing the kind of work that I was doing in the past.

That wasn’t as big of a change, but I had my eye open to the new sector that I was hoping to get into and eventually was able to make that jump.

Didn’t know exactly how it was going to happen, so, again, going back to the earlier point about not over planning. I did have an idea of where I wanted to go, but I let that opportunity kind of emerge as I had kind of – as I was settling in as I was understanding the landscape. Then the chance to be able to get some funding and actually start a company happened in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.

I think that’s one of the other learnings that I’ve had is just taking that risk and jumping out, whether it’s an international assignment within company or a chance just to experience something different. Earlier on in the career, it’s a lot easier to do. You kind of just jump on those opportunities would be a piece of advice is just whatever sounds a little bit crazy, a little bit different, just try it.

It will just – a) it will give you those stories that we talked about it in the past. We go back to the applications and being able to distinguish yourself. If you’re just in the same job, doing the same thing, kind of going up, it’s harder to distinguish yourself. You’re going to have to dig deeper.

But if you really had a – even a short term experience that’s a bit different, but you kind of took a leap, took a risk, it’s something that you can anchor a really cool story about and really distinguish yourself when you’re trying to get to the next step or the step after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Muhammed Mekki
The one that I use often is “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.” I think it’s something that I’ve learned that it doesn’t hurt to ask in any context. It just doesn’t hurt to ask. Nobody’s going to give you something unless you’re going to ask for it.

If – whether it’s in a professional environment and you’re thinking about taking on more responsibility or you want to do something a bit different or you want to stretch yourself, yes, an excellent manager will say – will see the potential and place you perfectly, but a lot of times you’re not going to get that chance without asking for it.

Or even in a much more mundane situation. If you’re travelling somewhere and you’re trying to get an extra perk or you’re trying to – you just – nobody’s going to give you something unless you actually make that request.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Muhammed Mekki
I think Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School did – there was a study – it’s like an article on how will you measure your life basically. It kind of comes back to the point that we talked about earlier about management being a higher calling.

You’re not going to measure your life based on how many widgets you sell. “I’m going to sell 5% more widgets, then I’ve got 15% week-on-week growth” or “I was able to get this project approved by senior management.”

These are not the things that you’re going to remember or that will make an impact on your life long term, but making an impact on people and the people around you, your team, and all these types, … and they’re more meaningful. He delves into that. I believe it even turned into a book. But that’s an interesting one to kind of take a look at.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Muhammed Mekki
In this theme, in this spirit, I think, there’s a book called Rework. It’s a little bit more entrepreneurial sort of focused, but it does have lessons across the board on just how to be efficient and productive in a work environment. They kind of challenge some of the traditional assumptions about what is an effective work environment.

It’s done by founders of 37signals, which is a distributed tech company that everybody was working at a different environment, wherever they wanted to work from, that they bootstrapped, they didn’t take funding. It was kind of a unique context and had some really interesting juicy insights to take you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite tool?

Muhammed Mekki
Probably LinkedIn. I find myself using LinkedIn a lot. I think it’s – as I’ve used social media less and less, I think the utility of and the power of that tool in a business context has been quite powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Muhammed Mekki
I don’t know if it’s a habit, but it’s something that my wife and I have been talking more purposefully about. Being out in Dubai, I think making a habit out of – it’s not easy with two little kids now – but spending some quality time out in – out here in the US or making sure that we are staying connected with our friends and our family and everything.

I think – we just spent a couple weeks out actually in the Bay Area, where I went to school and have a lot of classmates and everything. Keeping in touch in a face-to-face kind of a way, beyond the emails, beyond this, but actually just meeting up, seeing the kids and keeping those relationships.

Even though we’re a 16-hour plane ride away from San Francisco and it does take an extra effort, I think it’s something that’s well worth it and it’s something that is important to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Speaking of kids, Jonathan has probably woken up since we’ve been speaking.

Muhammed Mekki
I can’t wait.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, is there a particular nugget that you find that you share it often and people kind of quote it back to you, like, “Oh yeah, Muhammed says this.”

Muhammed Mekki
I don’t know if I’ve reached this kind of level of – but I think probably the joke internally at AstroLabs is definitely – even this – the quote that I mentioned is “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” is sometimes “You don’t get,” dot, dot, dot. You kind of – that’s probably the one that I would bring up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Muhammed Mekki
They can reach out on LinkedIn actually. I’d be happy to connect. Just drop me a little note and connect.

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

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think if we just tie together a few of the things we were talking about. Keep your eye open for these opportunities to outperform and to do something fantastic. That’s kind of like your lucky opening. Just jump on it and outperform and go above and beyond.

Look for chances to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack. That might mean taking an international assignment or jumping on – doing something a bit different with your career that’s outside – taking that left turn as opposed to everybody else going up a ladder.

Think about chances to be able to do that, which will position you really well whether you’re trying to apply for something or you’re looking for your next opportunity. You have something a little bit different and deeper to be able to talk about and to show that you’re willing to take a risk and willing to do something new and different.

Then yeah, I would love to connect and challenge people to come on over to Dubai and see what’s happening in the tech sector. We’ve got lots of companies now that are from all over the world actually setting up their presence in Dubai and scaling up there to emerging markets around the region. Happy to connect with your listeners who might be passing through and are interested in technology and in the region.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. That’s a fun – I would just encourage folks to take Muhammed up on that. He’s a gracious host, sliced watermelon and more, often-

Muhammed Mekki
Watermelon is key. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Muhammed, I’m glad we finally got to do this. It’s been a blast.

Muhammed Mekki
Thanks for having me. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep on rocking.

Muhammed Mekki
This was great.

293: Body Language Insights that Get You Promoted with Dr. Denise Dudley

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Denise Dudley goes deep on the science and practice of optimizing your body language for making a powerful impression at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to smile more genuinely
  2. Postures for enhanced communication
  3. The powerful impact of speaking with a lower pitch

About Denise

Denise Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world, which provides 18,000 seminars per year, and has trained over 12 million people in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Denise holds a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, a hospital administrator’s license, a preceptor for administrators-in-training license, and is licensed to provide training to medical professionals in the United States and Canada. She’s also a certified AIDS educator, a licensed field therapist for individuals with agoraphobia, and a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities across the US, and the author of Simon and Schuster’s best-selling audio series, “Making Relationships Last.”  Denise speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, communication, personal relationships, interviewing skills, and career readiness.  Denise’s latest book, “Work it! Get in, Get noticed, Get promoted,” is currently available on Amazon.com, and is receiving all 5-star customer reviews.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Denise Dudley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Denise, thanks for joining us.

Denise Dudley

I’m delighted to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I think we’re going to have a ton of fun. You have taught many people many skills, but I want to talk about one of your skills from back in the day and that is your ability to catch snakes. What’s the story here?

Denise Dudley

Well, I will tell you first of all that of the many interviews I have done in my life, no one has ever asked me this on air.

Pete Mockaitis

I love hearing that. Thank you.

Denise Dudley

It’s a brand new question. I love new questions.

I really am a tomboy. As much as I’m dressed up in front of audiences all the time and all these sorts of things, in my real life, my real Denise is somebody without makeup on, with my hair tied up in a knot, outside looking under rocks, having fun, looking at frogs, playing, swimming in lakes. That’s who I really am.

As a kid I had a great father. My father is passed away now, but he was an adventurer, actually a jeweler. By trade, he was simply a jeweler/watchmaker, but he knew everything about the out of doors and everything that did everything. He knew how ducks flew and how things swam. He taught me how to catch snakes because we just found every creature on the earth to be interesting.

I learned how to be a really good snake catcher. I can dazzle my friends because a lot of my friends really don’t like snakes. I can actually catch snakes very well and hold them for a while and tame them and then pet them and share them with people, pass them around. My one rule though, of course, is that-

Pete Mockaitis

They appreciate that.

Denise Dudley

Oh yeah, they love that. Yes. Some people won’t even go near the snakes I catch, but they’re kind of interesting creatures.

My one big rule which I’ve taught – I have two boys who are now in their early 20s. Of course, I’ve passed on the trade so they know how to catch snakes well as well, but I’ve always said “But whatever we catch and look at, we must put back exactly where we found it,” so everyone gets to go back unharmed no matter what it is we examine.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Could you tell us are there a couple pro tips to bear in mind should we want to go catch snakes after this conversation?

Denise Dudley

Yeah, so let me teach everybody how to catch a snake. There are a couple methods but the best way is to make sure that you are wearing first of all long pants and shoes because snakes really don’t want to be caught. They don’t seem to enjoy it so to speak.

When you’re first running up to them, getting ready to catch them, they will sometimes turn around and snap at you. But of course, I don’t catch poisonous snakes, obviously. I’m not a crazy person. It’s not really going to hurt you if they bite at you, but you still don’t want to be bitten.

If you’re wearing long pants and shoes, what you do is you get up and just gently, and I mean really gently, just lay your foot down on top of the snake as close to its head as you can get so that you’ve trapped it. You’ve got your foot not on it in any harsh way, but just kind of gently keeping it from moving and then you’ve got to get in there and get your fingers, your thumb and forefinger, right behind the snake’s head, right behind its jaws. At that point it can’t turn.

There’s a point where the snake’s head, because of its skull, is fixed. If you catch a snake farther back on its body, it is perfectly capable of whipping around and biting you and you don’t like that. It doesn’t feel good. But if you catch it right behind the head, you can hold into it.

Then all snakes, it’s very strange, if you hold them long enough, they finally just decide that you’re okay. Then you can let go from behind their head and then they just kind of crawl around on your – I guess they don’t crawl, do they? They slither around on your arm and just seem to be quite happy to be with you. It just takes about usually three to five minutes and then they just decide that it’s okay to be captured. That’s how you catch a snake.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that you went there. It’s thorough.

Denise Dudley

Yes, yes. Well, I’m a teacher, right?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I practically feel like I can do it.

Denise Dudley

I think you should try it.

Pete Mockaitis

I don’t think my wife will like it, but I’m intrigued to try it.

Denise Dudley

Give it a whirl and call me if you have any problems.

Pete Mockaitis

Can do, can do. Now, your most recent book is called Work It. I’d like to hear a little bit about – what’s the primary idea of this one?

Denise Dudley

Absolutely. Sure. This is my most recent book. It actually is an act of love. I’ve been working with a population recently that is not the population I’ve worked with for most of my adult life. Mostly I’ve worked with adult learners teaching assertiveness training and management, communication skills. I really work mostly with communication skills in my career.

But I’ve worked most recently now just because of a few invitations I’ve had to come into high schools and colleges, I’ve worked with a lot of people who are graduating from both high school and college and heading out on their first, I’m going to call it, career job.

I always try to say your career job is to be distinguished from when you delivered pizza in high school or whatever it was you did back then. This is the job that you really think might become the thing that you could do for a very long time and hopefully aligns with your interests and passions.

I’ve been working a lot with that population of students and loving it, by the way, so a lot of times at the end of the talks I’ve been giving about how to put your best foot forward in an interview or how to discover what your passions are and people will come up and ask me for some kind of a reading resource and I didn’t find one that I thought really fit all of what I believe, so I wrote one.

It’s one of those, there didn’t seem to be one, so I wrote it. I wrote Work It. It’s called Work It: Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted for young people who are just entering the career market. It is a gift of love because I’m donating all of my royalties to youth organizations throughout the country. It’s my latest little passion right now.

[6:00]

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool. We have listeners often say, “Hey, how do I stand out? How do I do the get noticed part of this?” I’d love to get your perspectives here and feel free to not be limited to folks who are in their very first career job, but those that are some years in. What are some of the top principles when it comes to getting noticed and standing out?

Denise Dudley

Absolutely and I would want to point out just as you’re sort of implying, that really when I wrote this book, a lot of people came to me who were well into their careers and said, “I needed this book just because I’m changing careers and I wanted to really learn what I needed to do to polish up my resume and do all the things that you need to do if you’re going to get out there even in your mid-career point.”

Here are the things that I usually talk about. For one thing, I think that it’s important to – I believe that almost everything in the world actually stems from excellent communication skills. I could talk about this for hours and hours, but I believe that the way that we stand out, the way that we can get noticed and the best way is to make sure that we have command of all of the vehicles that we use to communicate ourselves to other people.

When I talk about communication, I don’t just mean sitting here talking. I mean facial expression, eye contact, what you’re doing with your hands, your actual vocal tone and loudness. I like to go into details about all of those things and make sure that I do my best when I’m working with people to bring all of the communication components into alignment so that someone really is an excellent, I always call it a walking, talking, audio/visual representation of who you are.

To master those sorts of skills, I think helps just about anyone to stand out. Good communication skills, being able to say what I want, to be positive, to be willing to take on projects that I’m asked to  do, that kind of moves over into having a positive attitude, having a can-do attitude. I think that helps us to get noticed, if we’re going to be hired to be promoted within the jobs we already have.

A lot of it has to do with our intentions I guess I would say. When I approach a job, when I approach a task that I’ve been assigned by my employer, do I approach it with a “Sure I’ll do that. I’ll take care of that,” sort of an attitude? Do I look like I am someone you want to be around? I think that has a lot to do with it too.

Even the crabbiest of employers and supervisors do prefer to have people around them who have more of a positive personality. Showing our positive sides I think also helps us to get noticed .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I’d love it if you could maybe unpack in a little bit of detail here. When it comes to folks doing it wrong, what are some things that I would say show up frequently and are easy to overlook and what are the fixes for it?

Denise Dudley

Oh great, that’s a great question.

There are few things that I think that people initially do wrong. Again, going back to communication. Let me just break down communication for a second and then I’ll address this.

When I talk about you, your overall you-ness, as I would call it, I like to talk about, as I’ve mentioned a couple of these already, but I want to mention all of them. I like to talk about your facial expression, what it’s doing; you’re eye-contact, what’s happening with eye-contact. I like to talk about your posture, where your posture is; your use of hands, your hand gestures. Those are your visual representations.

Then there are three auditory ones: your voice tone, what the tone sounds like; your voice loudness, how loud you’re being; then finally, your verbal content, the actual words you’re using when you go to talk to people. Within those seven components, there are things that people do right and wrong within each of those. Let me just start with facial expressions .

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, let’s do them all. A wrong and a right for all seven.

Denise Dudley

With facial expression, what we want to do is we want to start with what’s called, technically there’s a word for everything, what’s called a neutral to positive open-facial expression. Now what does that mean?

It means that when you first look at me, I’m looking open. I look approachable. I have a neutral toward positive expression on my face, which means I’m not scowling but I’m also not smiling wildly because if I smile too soon and too much I look kind of scary in a way, like you might not want to approach me. I work toward neutral toward positive, skewing slightly toward positive when I first see you, when I first approach you .

When you first look at me, we know from a bunch of research here about first impressions. There are really two important first impressions.

There is a first impression that’s been really chronicled very recently, which now apparently occurs within about one second, actually under one second, a flicker of a first impression. Of course, a first impression that is found within one second can be only your facial expression. It can’t be anything else because I haven’t talked to you yet, I haven’t opened my mouth. You don’t know what I’m going to say.

Facial expression is the first first impression. It’s important to make sure that it looks open and not closed, not unfriendly, and not wildly smiling because that, as I mentioned, looks a little weird.

The things that we do wrong are sometimes we don’t pay attention to that very, very first facial expression moment when I have the opportunity to impress you toward the positive.

We know another thing about first impressions and that is that once you’ve made a first impression, it is almost impossible to alter it, almost impossible the research shows.

I mentioned that there are two first impressions, that one second first impression and then another first impression occurs within about, we believe, five to fifteen seconds of meeting someone. I personally think it’s within about ten to fifteen seconds that we’re making that first impression, which is now based on a little bit more.

I can see your face moving. It’s a little more plastic. I can see you smiling at me, which is the next thing I think is important to make sure after I presented that initial neutral to positive open facial expression, that I immediately go into a smile.

A smile is a very, very important personal trait to have. I usually spend a lot of time talking to people about the importance of smiles. We know from all sorts of research, which gets reported quite a bit in Forbes magazine and every other place.

We know that smiling does all kinds of things for our bodies, lowers cortisol, brings up serotonin, lowers blood pressure, lowers our body temperature actually, lowers heart rate, does all kinds of things for us, the people who are smiling, but it also transmits to the person we are smiling at. It actually allows the other person to experience those positive sorts of effects as well.

That smile is an important thing to cultivate. I sometimes come across people who decide that their personal shtick is that I’m too cool to smile. Have you ever met somebody like that? Like, “I’m just not going to smile. I’m not smiling.”

Pete Mockaitis

It’s like they’re brooding and they’re sipping a latte. They’re thinking some deep thoughts.

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Exactly. They’re deep and they’re edgy, so smiling doesn’t really fit in. I try to tell people, “Look, really, smiling is one of the best things you can possibly do.”

Also, research shows there’s a lot of crazy research out there on smiling, research actually shows that people who smile, rather than seeming less intelligent or less with it, we actually – we receive the benefit of the doubt, that we probably are smiling because we are intelligent, we are in control, and we do know what we’re talking about. Smiling is an important thing.

The next mistake I want to talk about, of course, is the reverse of that, just thinking I’m not going to smile because it’s not worth it. I’m too busy or I’m too cool.” I think that’s a big mistake. Facial expression, very, very important .

Pete Mockaitis

I’d love to talk, if I could at first.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, please.

Pete Mockaitis

About when it comes to smile, I think some people would say, “Hey, I’m not anti-smile, but it just doesn’t seem authentic or genuine and can’t you kind of tell when a smile is real or if it’s fake based on wrinkles elsewhere in the face that appear or don’t appear.” What are your thoughts in terms of smiling naturally and cultivating a more sort of natural smile that is real?

Denise Dudley

Good question. Of course, I don’t know if you’re referring to this or if you know about it, but there have been a bunch of studies out there that talk about real versus fake smiles and that technically when we put subjects in a room and show them smiling faces, they’re pretty much able to tell whether it’s a fake smile or a real smile on the photograph of the person they’re being shown.

This is where I go with that. We do know that fake smiles, fake smiling is better than not smiling at all.

Pete Mockaitis

No kidding.

Denise Dudley

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, insight

Denise Dudley

Yeah. For a couple of reasons. One of them is that such cool stuff by the way. I don’t want to get all geeky on you.

Pete Mockaitis

Please do.

Denise Dudley

But we know – here’s some cool things. We know that there is a brain-body connection. There just is. We know it from lots of ways.

For instance, if I were to sit here right now and tense up every muscle in my body and I held it, and held it, and held it, and held it. Pretty soon my brain would start to assess what my body was doing and think “Something must be wrong. We’re all tensed up.” I can actually talk my brain into experiencing anxiety simply by tensing my muscles up.

Conversely, we know through meditation, deep relaxation that if I meditate or if I think of a relaxing thought, I sit in a room, I quiet my mind, I can actually do things like relieve muscle pain and actually lower heart rate because my body is basically listening to what my brain is thinking and saying, “All must be well. I guess I can relax. I guess there’s no danger here.”

This brain-body connection is quite real and verifiable. We know that smiling, when we smile, what happens is that our brain is monitoring what our body is doing. Our brain actually senses the muscles of our face coming back in a smile and it senses that those muscles are coming back to smile and says, “Something nice must be happening. We’re smiling.”

That brain actually releases serotonin, the feel good hormone, simply by sensing that the smile muscles are being pulled back.

There is a very interesting study that was done. This was by a man at Stanford. He’s passed away now. But he actually did a study. This was a while back actually. Then there were several others that have been done since then using other methods.

But what he did was he had people, he had subjects at Stanford actually make two different sounds. He just simply had them make these sounds. One group of people was asked to make the sound of e, eee, a long e, eee, which mimics a smile, eee. Then the other people-

Pete Mockaitis

Eee. It’s like you’re talking to a baby.

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Eee, eee. And it pulls your mouth back. Then he had another group of people make a u sound, uuu.

Pete Mockaitis

Uuu.

Denise Dudley

When you do a u, your mouth turns down, uuu. It looks like it’s sort of a downward turned mouth. So eee versus uuu.

Based on what they were making, the sound they were making, they were asked to rate their moods. The people who were making the e sounds were actually rating themselves as much happier. They felt good after making that sound and not so much with the people who were pursing their lips. They didn’t feel as good doing that. That was just simply with making sounds.

This man, by the way, if anybody wants to look up cool research projects, this man’s name was Robert – if I say his name, I’ll have to spell it for everybody because I believe it was pronounced Zajonc, but he was – I think he was Yugoslavian or something. It’s actually spelled Z-A-J-O-N-C, believe it – it looks like Zajonc, I think, but it’s pronounced Zajonc. Don’t ask-

Pete Mockaitis

That makes me smile saying it.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, I know.

Pete Mockaitis

Zajonc.

Denise Dudley

Zajonc, yeah. He did all kinds of interesting research projects with how people feel based on body language.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s intriguing. It sounds like part of the equation is, so a fake smile beats a no smile, but a real smile is even better.

Denise Dudley

Much better.

Pete Mockaitis

And we can get there by sort of just naturally putting our body in the spot, whether that’s meditating or having some quiet time or saying eee. Are there other sort of quick hit tactics that just kind of put you in a naturally smiley place?

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Good question. One thing that I suggest is that when you first meet somebody, in order to think of a genuine smile, I happen to be a really smiley person. I like to smile. I think I must know the benefits of smiling because I do feel good when I smile and I do smile genuinely at people, but for people who are thinking, “Eh, humanity. Eh, not another person I have to smile at.”

If you’re just not feeling it or if it’s not inside of you to smile, I always try to suggest to people, well, as you’re meeting somebody just think of something about them, if you know anything about them or you’re even looking at them, think about the most positive thing you either know or see about that person.

Just go ahead and as you walk up to someone, it’s just a good way to focus. It’s what I suggest to people. Just to say as I walk up to someone just think, “Beautiful red hair,” or just something, just track on whatever you can. Or, “This person just received an award,” so whatever it is I know about this person that makes me like them or feel good toward them.

It could be superficial like red hair or significant like something that they achieved, but one way or another if I can track on some truly personal thing about that person I’m about to smile at, it will certainly make my smile more genuine .

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hm. I like that. Thank you. Alright, we talked smiles in depth and I love it. Maybe we won’t get through the seven and that’s fine.

Denise Dudley

We may not.

Pete Mockaitis

But let’s hear about eye contact.

Denise Dudley

Eye contact, very, very important. There are a couple things that people do wrong with eye contact, things that we do right with it. I spend time talking about eye contact even though it’s in a sense part of facial expression because it has its own personal set of important rules.

For one thing, it’s very important, no matter how shy we are or reluctant we might be to do so, it’s very important that we make eye contact with people we’re interacting with, very important, whether that’s our boss, our coworkers, our children, our spouses, people we’re interacting with in the subway, whatever it is we’re doing. If we’re going to interact with someone, we want to make that eye contact.

There are a couple of times when it’s absolutely imperative and that’s when you’re either giving information, sharing some information with someone like, here are directions on how to do something or when you are giving instructions.

If you have a position at work where you need to orient someone to a job or tell them how to do something, very important that you make eye contact with the person at that point. It just helps lock in, “Here’s what I’m telling you. Please pay attention.” Eye contact, very, very important.

But the other part of eye contact is sort of a rule of eye contact, is that we make it, but we also break it. We mostly make it and then we look away for a little flicker of a moment and then look back again. We want to make direct eye contact, but that we break eye contact as well.

Now some people will ask me, “Well, when I look away, where do I look?” Well, anywhere. It won’t matter, just look away for a second and then look back. If you don’t break eye contact whatsoever, you’re going to appear one of two ways. There are two types of people who don’t break eye contact.

The first would be an aggressive person, someone who is intimidating me. If you think about somebody, whoever it is you might be thinking of right now who might have made eye contact with you and never looked away, just looked at you, and looked at you, and looked at you, it starts to get intense and it starts to become uncomfortable unless you just look away for a second, just break it and come back.

The other set of people who don’t break eye contact are people who are in love. If you’re in love with someone or you’re romantically inclined. Just think back to if you’re in love right now or if you’ve been in love, how you just don’t want to look away from that person’s eyes.

That’s a good thing. It’s an energy exchange. But when we’re first meeting people out there in the world or working with people at work, we want to break that eye contact so as to not appear either romantic or aggressive. Now, I believe that there are some people who use eye contact quite deliberately to be aggressive and know that they are showing you that they are in a position of power by not breaking it .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I believe there was a – maybe an Office episode about this. Don’t break eye contact and don’t break the handshake-

Denise Dudley

Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

As a means of showing your power and your authority there.

I guess I look away maybe more than is optimal just because I’m thinking hard about like what they’ve said or what is the implication of this stuff. Any thoughts associated with the ratio? It sounds like you’re saying you pretty much want to be on eye contact with brief breaks. How do we think about thinking when it comes to conversing with someone while also making eye contact?

Denise Dudley

Well, if you’re someone who looks away a lot, one of my suggestions – because some people do that. Some people want to close their eyes in fact while they’re thinking. I suggest that if it’s a really important conversation that’s going to continue for a while, that you do what I call pre-calling it.

I always suggest to people that if you have some kind of thing that you really want to do that steps slightly outside the norm of what a normal interaction might look like, that you just pre-call it.

That you say, as Pete, you say, “You know I really want to focus hard on what we’re about to discuss this afternoon and I want to tell you that sometimes if I’m not looking at you and I’m looking down it’s because I’m thinking very hard about what you’re saying to me. I just want to let you know that that’s just something I do in order to truly absorb what it is you’re saying.”

I think it’s okay to say that sort of thing. Then the person goes, “Oh, alright. Okay,” and they kind of get it.

Because a lot of times if we look away, one of the things that if I’m talking and you look away for a long period of time, it tends to make the speaker run out of energy. I start to lose my energy because I’m thinking – I sort of trail off a little bit like, “Well, okay, is he still here. Is he not?” I’m not getting that feedback loop.

Continuing that eye contact with the person we’re speaking with is actually completing a communication feedback loop which is telling me as you look at me, I am with you. I am with you in this conversation. If you tend to break it a lot, I would just pre-call it and say, “This is what I do in order to concentrate.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. When it comes to making the eye contact, are you looking right at one eyeball, you’re shifting two eyeballs?

Denise Dudley

Sure, so good.

Pete Mockaitis

Which eyeball should we look at? Eyebrow? Nose?

Denise Dudley

You’re so good. I love your questions. Okay. This is going to take hours. Let’s have like a five hour interview because I love these questions.

There are a lot of things about where we look. For one thing, we want to try to look at both eyes. Now, the closer we are to someone, if I’m sitting very, very close to you, you can tell that I’m shifting from eye to eye. If we’re eight feet away, we’re not really actually shifting eyeball to eyeball. We’re just looking at the person’s eye area.

If we’re way, way, way back, like 50 feet away, then actually eye contact gets perceived in the upper third of the face. We know that from research. Anything in the upper third of the face is perceived as eye contact, but the farther away we are from someone, the more it seems like eye contact, the closer we are to someone, the more important it is to look directly in the eyeballs.

We do our best to move back and forth between the two eyes. However, I always suggest to someone, this happened to me the other day. I was talking to someone who had one eye that was impaired. It was clearly not a functioning eyeball, so I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious.

We were standing very closely together in an art gallery actually, an art museum. This was a guard and he was telling me stories about the art work. I wanted to make sure that I just focused on the eye that was working because I didn’t want him to actually think I was assessing the other eye, so I stayed on that eyeball really out of politeness plus it’s the only one that’s functioning. If he wants to see me as looking at him, I’m going to need to look at that eyeball.

I actually tailor it to what’s happening with someone if they have any kind of a visual impairment. Otherwise, looking back and forth at both eyes is probably the best idea. I love that question.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Thank you. All right, we’ve got the facial expressions. We’ve got the eye contact. How about posture?

Denise Dudley

Posture. Posture says a lot about us and there’s some weirdly interesting studies about posture.

Posture says a whole bunch of things that we might or might not expect. A lot of times we might assume that posture might tell others that we are attentive or that we are organized. It also, for some reason, makes people decide whether we’re intelligent or not. Good posture is associated with intelligence, which is not a bad thing to have is that kind of association.

Posture tells us everything. You have posture whether you’re seated or standing or walking. You always have posture .

A few things about posture. One of the things is that sometimes I like to talk to women just for a moment and then I’ll bring men back in.

But a lot of times women got taught, especially older generations of women, far older than you or I are, a lot of older generations of women got taught to stand somewhat sideways in what was called in the 1950s, model’s pose. Model’s pose said that we put our feet together very closely and then we turn slightly sideways in order to show off the most pleasant and slender aspects of our figure. How’s that? Boy, a little bit of sexism from the ‘50s here.

That is not a powerful posture however. If I were to stand kind of sideways while I talk to you, it would look weird in modern day world.

But what we want to do instead is to stand, I like to call it architecturally, so that my feet are slightly apart. My most powerful position for posture is to stand with my feel slightly apart, so I don’t look like a big tall thing that comes down to a tiny little point, so feet slightly apart.

Then I want to make my upper body match my lower point, so I bring my shoulders back and into position so that I’m standing in a very comfortable but we’ll call it spread out sort of way so that I’m not deliberately trying to look tiny.

Now with that shoulders back suggestion there, a lot of times women like to wrinkle their noses at me if I say that because women become self-conscious about their chests.

I generally like to tell women it doesn’t matter if your chest is big or small, you like it or you don’t, no matter what it is you think about it, I promise that you will look better, more powerful, more assertive, more in charge of yourself with your shoulders back than if you’re slumping forward and trying to cover up your chest. You will simply just look better.

Taking that position is very, very important. Taking that position of I am here. I am no bigger or smaller than I really am and I own my own space. It helps you to assume that everyone in the room understands that you’re here and you’re here to stay.

Back to the brain body thing for a moment because I think this is interesting stuff too. A very interesting study was done with shy people. Shy people were asked, in this case, to sit in a meeting. You know how a shy person might sit, kind of folded over, minimizing themselves so that they don’t appear to really be present.

They were told by the researchers to sit in this meeting, you don’t even have to talk, just sit there, but in this case spread yourself out, just spread out a little bit. Spread your legs out, put your arms on the arms of the chair, put your shoulders back, own your space in the meeting. You don’t have to do anything but that.

Then they were asked after this meeting to self-rate their own ability to be assertive and when they actually spread their bodies out, their brains basically listening to what the body was doing, the brain thought, “Wow, you’re sitting there as if you own you space. You’re sitting there as if you’re a person who knows what he or she is talking about. You must be feeling good about yourself.”

They rated themselves completely more in control and more assertive just by spreading out their bodies.

Pete Mockaitis

Very good. All right, so shoulders back, own your space.

Denise Dudley

Shoulders back.

Pete Mockaitis

Anything else on posture?

Denise Dudley

Sure. You have posture when you’re seated as well, so when you’re seated you want to make sure you unfold your legs if at all possible and put your feet on the floor. That’s the most positive and powerful position to sit in when you are seated.

Making sure you do all those things, arms at your side when you’re standing or arms on your lap or on the top of the table or on the arms of your chair if you’re seated, not fidgeting, not playing with your cuticles, not doing any of those sorts of things, but making sure that you look like you are comfortable and calm with your arms and your hands .

Pete Mockaitis

Anything else associated with hands?

Denise Dudley

Oh yeah, we can talk about hands next. Your hands are saying tons of things about you.

Generally speaking I would say that you probably, all your listeners out there, are probably using their hand motions perfectly correctly unless you’ve received some kind of feedback to the contrary, which could be that somebody says to you, “Whoa, you sure use your hands a lot,” or if they just start watching your hands while you’re talking and it looks like there’s a bumblebee between the two of you, then you’re probably using your hands in excess.

What we want to do with our hands is to make our hands match our message. We do want to definitely use our hands because hands help to describe what we’re talking about. They actually help our brains to continue thinking right.

For instance, if I were describing to you a beautiful park with a lake and swans on it, even as I’m sitting here talking to you right now, I’m actually moving my hands because I’m thinking about a park and a lake and swans. It actually helps my brain to visualize what I want to describe. Hands actually help guide our words in ways.

But we want to use our hands because it also helps the listener if they’re looking at us to know what we’re talking about. If I kept my hands right at my sides and I never ever moved them it would look stiff and rigid and it would look like I wasn’t coming across in a natural way.

Another thing about hands is that we like to take a tip from newscasters. Newscasters know to use their hands, but they keep their hands within a fairly small area because they really are in a box basically. When we view a newscaster on television, we see a talking head, as we call it, sitting in a box. If they were to gesture way, way, way outside of that box area, we would lose their hands, so they stay within a small area.

I always suggest to people that you do the same, that you keep your gestures within about we’ll call it a foot and a half area outside of your own body.

Pete Mockaitis

This is so good. Thank you. I’d love to talk about voice, but I’m also watching the time. Maybe you tell me is there anything else you really want to make sure to emphasize before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Denise Dudley

I would like to mention, if possible, voice tone because I think it’s very important. Again, just knowing what I know about working with people and doing so much work in communication, it’s a very good idea for all of us, men and women both, to stay in the lower ranges of our voice tone .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, okay, I’ll do this. That’s the problem. I don’t want everybody to now start walking around talking like a truck driver who smokes a cigar, but we want to stay in that lower range because that’s our power range. That’s where we sound more like we know what we’re talking about.

Speaking very quickly to women, women have something that’s called a widely varying intonational pitch pattern. Isn’t that something? It means that we go up and down and up – it’s very, very musical, very melodic, but that upper most pitch pattern is where we lose our power, where we go, “Well, hello,” and it’s really high.

We want to stay in that lower range because it lends more credibility to what we’re talking about. Cultivating a lower pitch pattern is a good idea for men and women both .

Pete Mockaitis

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

Denise Dudley

Okay. Gosh, I have so many. The most obvious one is really a quote that comes from Mahatma Gandhi because it is really what I believe and it’s one that gets quoted a lot. Then I’d love to give you a second one which is really my voice. It’s something that I say that has helped me so much in life.

But the one that is really in my soul is the idea that we should all be the change we want to see in the world. I think that says so much because sometimes, even I, I get out there all the time and I’m working with people, I work with young people all the time, and sometimes I’m even in my hotel room and I’m thinking, “I’m just one person. Maybe I did talk to 100 people tonight, but that’s just 100 people and how many millions of people are there.”

I start to think about one little tiny drop of water in the ocean. Then I think, “No, no, by behaving this way, by being the change I want to see, if we all did that, we would create an amazing movement of change.” I’ve always loved that particular quote. I would want the world to know that that’s what I would love to live by is that idea.

But I also want to tell you another quote because it’s something that is really my quote. It comes from my life experience and I’ve told so many people this. It’s actually in the book too that I wrote.

That what I believe is that there are definitely times in your life when you cannot tell the bad news from the good, especially when you’re stuck right in the middle of a situation. And you could think that the worst thing in the world was happening to you and lo and behold, it’s about to become the best thing that ever happened to you.

I like to encourage people to know that you don’t know the bad news from the good until you get down the road a little bit and figure out what the repercussions are from whatever it is you’re experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Thank you. Now you’ve said a lot of studies. Do you have a favorite?

Denise Dudley

I was kind of a study junkie because of what I teach.

We’ve already talked a lot about the smiling studies and there are a lot of them about lowering blood pressure and I even know – these are legitimate studies, so I don’t ever quote studies that I can’t really find the abstracts on.

But recently, since we’ve already covered smiling, I have been enjoying so many studies out there on walking. I’m talking to lots of audiences about walking. We kind of know intrinsically how walking works. It’s just a great thing to do, but it’s a mood enhancer and it’s a creativity enhancer. It does all kinds of things. There are some great studies.

There’s one that came from – well, from the Midwest, not so far from Chicago, from Iowa State University. There was a study that they did of getting people to walk, subjects to walk. All they needed to do was walk for 12 minutes, so this isn’t very long. It’s just getting up and moving.

They called it – in the study it’s called incidental ambulation. Don’t you love that? Incidental ambulation, which means walking without a purpose I believe, but they just got people to get up and walk.

In this study they even told the people in the study, “Okay, we want you to get up and move around for a little bit before you come back to the task at hand,” which was really a fake task. They were testing walking, of course.

They even told them, “When you come from walking, we’re sorry, you’ll probably be tired and you might not really be in the mood to finish this test, but we just want you to get up and take a walk for a moment,” so they even negatively biased the experience of the walkers.

But, of course, when the walkers came back, their mood was improved, they were better able to focus on the test they were taking. All good things happened from that in a mere – in 12 minutes basically.

There are a whole bunch of other ones. Walking tests recently – walking research is amazing. Stanford University figured out that walking for just five to fifteen minutes increases what’s called divergent thinking which is what they mean is creativity. It also helps with plasticity of the brain. Cognitive performance improves while you’re walking.

Max Planck Institute did a whole bunch of studies on it and found out that cognitive – basically just thinking, the ability to think improves while you’re walking. The only caveat there is you need to walk at you own preferred speed. It creates a rhythm in your brain that your brain enjoys, which facilitates thinking.

I’m loving studies recently on walking because they are reminding me to get up and walk every now and then.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely, thank you. Now, how about a book?

Denise Dudley

Well, I probably could be quoting business books, since this is a business, but my favorite books are really not business books because sometimes I just need to get out of my own head.

One of my favorite all time books is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. It’s reportage at its best. It’s before Tom Wolfe ventured over into novels and fiction. He was really one of the best reportage writers in the world.

The Right Stuff
actually reviews our space program in the United States. A brilliantly written book, just a fun book to read and so interesting, just about what astronauts had to go through. I’m loving that book.

Another one I want to give a shout out about I read two summers ago and it’s Bill Bryson. I happen to love Bill Bryson’s writing. He wrote a book called One Summer: America, 1927. It’s a factual book about all the things that happened in America in 1927 and it is a crazy good read. It’s exciting all the things that happened back then. I recommend that book as just a great book to relax with.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Denise Dudley

I’m an article reader. I know that there’s the movement out there, what they call the TL;DR, which stands for too long, didn’t read world, where “Oh, that’s too long. I’m not going to read it.” That’s not why I like articles, although articles really are quick as opposed to books.

I like articles because I can sample a lot of different ideas in a short period of time. If I have an hour to read before I go to bed, I can read articles and learn ten different things about science and about dinosaurs and about human emotion and whatever else if I just read the right article.

For me, since I’m an article reader, I happen to like Pocket. I subscribe to Pocket. Pocket sends me all great kinds of suggestions. I don’t read them all, but I like it.

I love Reddit. There’s no doubt I like Reddit even though people kind of laugh and yes, sometimes I click on the funny tab for Reddit to look at funny things because I think that’s good for my soul.

I also like to read outside of the United States about the United States because it’s a very interesting perspective. I discovered it when I have to travel a lot for work and so sometimes I’m reading about the US while I’m sitting in London, so there’s a different perspective when you’re not the US, talking about the US.

One of the newspapers I like to read is called the Globe and Mail. It’s Canadian, so it’s very close to us but it has very interesting US perspectives. I like the Globe and Mail.

Then finally I like something called The Browser. In this case it costs money, whereas Reddit and Pocket and StumbleUpon are all free. I think The Browser is about 35 bucks a year or something, but they send me really good suggestions for articles to read as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Very cool. Thank you.

Denise Dudley

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences?

Denise Dudley

Yeah, when I am working with audiences, the thing that I say that I think most people resonate with, and it’s usually after of course I’ve been talking to them for a while, is this.

I tell people “In human relations, in communication, in your life as you walk around and illustrate who you are, everything counts.” I even have a slide at the end of most things that says everything counts: how you talk, what you do, what you look like, how you interact with people, how you think, your work product, your actions, your thoughts. Everything counts. Everything is you.

You don’t ever get to get away from you. You don’t really ever get to do something that doesn’t represent you even if you wish you could. Whatever it is you’re doing, it counts. I think that that’s good news. I would say that if everything counts, from my facial expression to how I treat people, then why wouldn’t I want everything to count in a direction that makes me the very best possible person I could be.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, thank you. Denise, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Denise Dudley

I’ve got a website. It’s DeniseMDudley.com, like for my middle initial, M, so DeniseMDudley.com. Of course, I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook, and Twitter, the usual.

I’m also the founder of a very big training company called SkillPath Seminars, which is a very big company. I’ve sold it, but I’m still quite involved in it all the time. If there were no other way that you could remember to reach me, you could call SkillPath and they could put me right through. Those would be good ways to reach me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Do you have a final challenge or a call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Denise Dudley

Yup, I do. I thought about what I’d want to say and it’s this. I’m a huge believer in this.

I want to strive for myself and my call to action for everyone else is that I guess I’ll describe it this way, that there are times when you meet somebody and you’ll think of someone right now. When you meet somebody and it could be in the grocery store checkout line, it’s somebody you work with, it’s someone you’re related to, but when you walk away from them, you feel better about yourself or you feel better about the world or you feel like it’s not such a bad place or something.

I call it being expanded, that somehow I feel expanded because of having been in the presence of a certain person.

Then there’s the other type of person where when I walk away from then and, again, it could be an incidental interaction in a grocery store, I feel, what I call, contracted. I feel like my energy has been sucked out of me and I have to sort of tuck in and make myself small for a while in order to protect what energy I have left.

Expanded or contracted is what I call it because it feels like that to me. My call to action for everyone is to be that person who expands others, that by the time you finish an interaction with someone, no matter what that interaction is, that they walk away feeling better about themselves or the situation.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Denise, this has been so fun, so helpful. Thanks for going into the depths with the research and the goodies. I wish you tons of luck with your book, Work It, and all you’re doing.

Denise Dudley

Thank you so very much. Gosh, I hope everybody gets out there and catches snakes and does everything else as a result of this.

280: How to Become the CEO Next Door with Kimberly Powell

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Kim Powell of ghSMART shares research insights from her book, The CEO Next Door, and misconceptions, patterns, and best practices in improving your odds of ascent.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Where likability can help you–and hurt you.
  2. The 4 critical behaviors linked to successful CEOs
  3. Brilliant CEO tactics to accelerate your decision-making

About Kim

Kim Powell is a Principal at ghSMART. She serves leading Fortune 500 senior executives, private equity firms and non-profit leaders in the areas of management assessment, leadership coaching and organizational change. She co-leads ghSMART’s research on first time CEOs and is passionate about supporting leaders in accelerating their effectiveness in new roles.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Kim Powell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kim, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Kim Powell

Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I learned a little bit about you and that you one time played a championship football game in the Notre Dame Stadium. What’s the story behind this?

Kim Powell

Yeah, strange factoid, right? Most people are familiar with Notre Dame’s obsession, if you will, with American football, but it may be less well-known that the participation rate in intramural football on campus is extremely high. So, I didn’t know how to catch a ball before I started college, and got roped into my intramural team, and we had a fabulous team. So the championships were at the Notre Dame Stadium, we played like the regular football team, we had a mascot and cheerleaders. And three out of my four years won the championship, and I have a bag of grass before they moved the turf somewhere, somewhere in a box in the back of my closet. But yeah, it was a fun experience.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that is cool, yes. Well, my wife went to Notre Dame, and that’s always a little bit of a joke – it’s like, “How do you know if someone went to Notre Dame?”

Kim Powell

They probably have it plastered on their clothing, they are watching football every Saturday, yeah. Something that was a surprise to me, but certainly the collegiality of the game and the willingness to take someone who couldn’t catch and turn them into a wide receiver and a kicker – that was fun. It was a good experience.

Pete Mockaitis

That is cool. And so, speaking of experience, you’ve got loads of it over at ghSMART. And we interviewed a colleague of yours, Randy Street, from there, way back in episode 30. So for those who are newer listeners and didn’t catch that one, what is your company all about?

Kim Powell

Yes, ghSMART is a leadership advisory business. So, the core of what we do is assessing senior leaders. And in an assessment what we are doing is looking for the fit of a given leader to a particular job experience or job situation. I personally spend most of my time supporting boards and selecting CEOs, as well as CEOs and selecting their teams.
And we’ve branched out probably since you spoke with Randy, so a good, I would say half, 60% of our business is that core helping on key talent decisions. And the rest we branched out to do more broader leadership development, CEO succession, I do quite a bit of my work in the private equity space, supporting on human capital diligence prior to deal close. So we’ve certainly grown a little bit, I think, since episode 30.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Well, that’s so cool. And so have we. And I always love it when there is a rich, rich research base behind the stuff that you’re doing. So first maybe, while we’re talking about fit, I would love to hear in broad strokes how you think about that onto the macro-level, because I imagine you can break it down into numerous competencies and indicators and cultural parameters. But how do you think about a fit, because sometimes the word “fit” is really just a euphemism for “He or she didn’t do a good job. It wasn’t a good fit.” But you mean something different.

Kim Powell

Yes, yes. So, critical and I guess core to our methodology is what we call “first developing a score card”. And this is really sitting down with the board of directors, or the CEO, or the hiring manager in some cases, and stepping back to say, “What are the critical, call it 5 to 10 key outcomes that absolutely have to be delivered for you to have a smile on your face, that this role was successful?” And we get pretty granular to articulate what those outcomes are. Ideally a good chunk of them are measurable in quantitative ways, and we also get into how those outcomes need to be delivered.
And in that way we get into some of culturally what things work, what things don’t work, what are most likely the biggest reasons why someone might fail at a given role. And then what we do is, in that 4 to 5-hour behaviorally-based assessment we sit down and go through the entire career history, including education in the early years for the various candidates, and we’re looking for behavioral patterns. What we want to see is an individual who has operated in similar context and delivered a similar rate, size, pace of outcomes that this particular role is expecting, to define success.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, understood.

Kim Powell

Yeah, and obviously to your comment, it’s not just, “Hey, they just didn’t work out” or, “I didn’t enjoy working with them.” It’s we’re really looking for somebody who has a high probability of delivering – if it’s expanding international growth by 30% by opening the doors to two new countries, for example. We would be looking for behavioral patterns and underpinnings where they’ve done that in the past in different contexts, they have exhibited the agility, call it cross-culturally – those types of things.
To sit down with then the hiring manager and say, “Look, in these contexts they’ve successfully done it, or in these contexts they haven’t”, and guide them towards making choices where you’re putting people in situations where their strengths can come to life, and you’re identifying early potential developmental areas that could hinder them from success. And a lot of the conversations, what can you do to put the right supports in place, whether that be other people and their team, whether that be types of measurements, whether that be development, coaching, on-the-job training, that will help this individual increase the probability of delivering on those outcomes?

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. Well, that sounds like a ton of fun. That just sounds like a cool job to have.

Kim Powell

I was going to say, the best part is I get to hear these fascinating stories. And it’s really incredible to be a witness to people’s amazing accomplishments and how they address setbacks and how they bounce back from that. And you do really quickly start to see some patterns of success, which the reality is, we gather things that go really well, we gather a lot of things that don’t go well, and we hear how people talk and internalize and approach that.
And for me stepping in almost five years ago, it was fascinating that we had not adequately, in my opinion, taken full advantage of this amazing assessment dataset. So, I’d done writing and research in my background in strategy consulting, and I stepped in and said, “This is a rich, rich opportunity to mine this data in a way that could be really useful for aspiring leaders, managers out in the world.”
And teamed up with one of my colleagues who had that same intention, and started supporting a research effort, which we call the CEO Genome Project – how do we decode what makes a CEO. And conducted a bunch of research over a number of years, and ultimately delivered some insights that we thought were worthwhile, telling on a broader stage. So hence the idea of, maybe we should write a book. But it was really after already uncovering some interesting nuggets that we thought would really be useful for aspiring leaders, and only then did we decide to embark on the marathon of putting it to paper.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, and put it to paper you did, and the book is called The CEO Next Door. And by the way, excellent title. It harkens to The Millionaire Next Door, which is one of my favorite books – full of insights and counter-intuitive, data-driven goodies. And you delivered some of these within this work. So can you share, what are some of your central findings here?

Kim Powell

Yeah. And before I go there – to the title. Actually one of the things that sparked the desire to write this book was, in our assessment work over the years, we realized what we were seeing in amazing leaders didn’t necessarily match up with if you pull your latest Fortune, Forbes, name, your article about leadership and you get this portrait publicly in the media of this pantheon of charisma, amazing strategist, flitting from Davos to the next multi-cultural summit of talent. You just get this picture that they’re larger than life, and an iconic, kind of heroic set of leadership skills and capabilities.
And that does not match up with what we’ve seen or what I’ve experienced, what we’ve experienced as a firm. And when you dig into the covers and you get closer to these real CEOs, the CEOs if go beyond the Fortune 500, which usually is what’s profiled out there, and look at the 2 million CEOs over, call it a size of over 5, 10-people companies – you realize they’re real humans that make mistakes, that do also amazing things, but they feel much more accessible.
And the closer you get, the more it opens that possibility for more of us to aspire to larger platforms of leadership, or we can amplify our positive impact on the world. And that was really the kind of purpose-driven, I guess, motivator for the book for me, was unlocking that. If I could transmit that opportunity to more people, I think we would have a larger base of leaders out there wanting to change the world. And I feel like we could use that right now.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I love that. That is inspiring, and it’s so true when you talk about the myth, or the kind of picture of what you think of when you see a CEO. I just chuckle a little bit whenever I see those magazine or Shark Tank. It’s like all of them, they love to fold their arms in front of them, I’ve noticed. That’s like the CEO super powerful, “This is what I look like”, ooh, like you’re a superhero.
And yet I remember when I was at Bain, the very first time I was in a meeting with a CEO of a billion plus dollar company, I thought, “Oh my gosh, it’s the CEO. I’m going to be in the same room.” I was so sort of excited and nervous and curious what this sort of mythical person would be like. And then he just listened very well and carefully to all the things we were sharing, and just asked the most fundamental of questions like, “Does this number include the benefits or just salary? The benefits, okay.” It was like, “Oh, he’s just a normal guy.” [laugh]

Kim Powell

It’s so true. In our research what we found is… We interviewed about 100 CEOs, just to compliment the quantitative research that we did, and to bring the stories to life. And what we found is 70% of them did not know they wanted to be CEO until typically the role just before, or potentially two roles before CEO. When they got close enough to work directly with the CEO and see what it is actually like when you start to break down those myths a little bit and see reality, and they realized, “Huh, maybe I could do this. And maybe this is something I would be interested in.”
And so, yeah, it’s something where you think people are destined for these roles, and the reality is, it’s not true. Back to your original question on the main themes – one of the main themes is the behaviors we saw that differentiated high-performing CEOs were all buildable. I mean they’re all buildable muscles. The things that popped out of the exploratory, quantitative research were not intrinsic things that you are born with; they’re things that these leaders honed over time, and they’re muscles that you can build. They’re not easy – it’s not like it’s a walk in the park – but I was really encouraged to see that these are things that you can practice and get better at. So that was one of the key themes or key findings.
The second is what gets you hired is not necessarily what drives performance. I guess it’s not surprising; we know there are biases in the hiring process – that’s certainly well-chronicled. But it came through in our research as well. And obviously the last thing we’ve talked about is just this – the role is more accessible if you kind of increase the aperture and look at a broader representation of CEOs. And our data said it extends across sizes, across industry sectors, it is much more representative of the CEO next door, as opposed to the Fortune 500. And so in that you do see that the myth isn’t necessarily reality, when you get closer to the C.

Pete Mockaitis

This is intriguing. So, let’s talk about each of those a bit. You mentioned they’re all buildable muscles. And recently we had Gary Burnison from Korn Ferry on the show, and I was so intrigued to get his take as I’m a kind of dork who will plum through their For Your Improvement competency matrix, and note that I’m so intrigued by how they’ve cataloged some competencies are much harder to develop than others. And I asked Gary to put a little bit of a context on that, and he said perhaps 200 times harder than others to develop. And so, I’d love to get your take on, when you talk about they’re buildable, but it’s challenging – just how challenging?

Kim Powell

Yeah, these fall into the middle set, I would say. The things that are really immutable that are hard to change are obviously the stuff like basic IQ capabilities. I mean, there is work out there that says that’s shapeable at some level, but man, that’s really hard to fundamentally change that. And again, some of this is how much are we looking to change, and how much do you need to change to be effective for what you want to do.
In this conversation we’re going to define success as growing in your role, but success doesn’t have to be CEO. They’re plenty of successful people who are not in that role that I admire. So, I do think it also depends on how much you need to improve to be effective. And I would say the four behaviors, just to call them out, that were statistically significantly different for high-performing CEOs compared to low-performing CEOs, were decisiveness – and this was all around the speed and conviction at which you make decisions, not necessarily be perfect or right or fully correct on all of your decisions.
The second was adaptiveness – your ability to change personally, as well as drive change and adapt your organization to the needs of the market and the shifting consumer or competitive context. The third is reliable delivery – so this is the ability to consistently deliver against expectations. And the last is engaging for results – and this is really about your ability to manage a very diverse and increasingly diverse stakeholder set, and moving them in an aligned fashion towards a common goal, which is really obviously tricky and gets more tricky as you grow in an organization.
So those are the four. These four behaviors all fall in the spectrum of changeable, and you can certainly improve, but it requires a significant focus. It’s like the Ben Franklin, pick a given trait, work on it relentlessly, build a new habit – and there’s plenty of work out there about how you build a new habit. But it takes that level of focus. It’s not something technical; for example communication skills – you get some guidance on how to structure a presentation, get video, get some feedback, you can improve more easily. I would put that as the “easy” category.
These are things that I think because of the nature of them, require very discreet focus because you’re making decisions at every moment. And you can practice and build better behaviors at every moment, but it’s not as simple as going to a training class, if that makes sense. I don’t know how that meshes with what you’ve heard before, but that’s why I would describe them as “changeable”, which is really encouraging. But it’s not easy; you’ve got to really focus on it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So let’s talk about each of the four there. Now, let’s kind of fast forward a bit.

Kim Powell

Yeah, sure.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, very cool. So I’d love to chat about each of those four. But first, Kim, can you tell us a bit about that point that what gets you hired doesn’t drive performance?

Kim Powell

Yeah, of course. So we gathered outcome data around who was hired and not hired. We also gathered, did they exceed performance expectations, meet or not meet. And what we found is those buildable muscles, those four behaviors that matter, were all correlated with high performance, but only one of them was actually correlated with what gets you hired, interestingly. And that was reliable delivery.
In our conversations we also talked to board members; we reviewed a suite of 70 CEO firings, so we spoke with the board to get underneath what drove that. And really what you hear is, reliable delivery clearly is important in delivering performance, but it’s also something that exudes safety in the process of hiring. If you’re someone who has met or exceeded expectations across your career, managed that effectively, put in rhythms, cadences, etcetera for your organization to deliver – you are someone who’s going to make the board feel very safe. And they feel very nervous in that critical decision around who should lead the company. And so safety is something that you can play to by ensuring reliable delivery.
The thing that did pop out that is a big driver of getting you hired, but is not correlated with high performance, is likeability. So the warmth and energy you exude in the interviews really matters. And if you combine that with the safety of reliable delivery, you end up as an individual that the board wants to back. So, while being likeable doesn’t help you deliver results – we have to do a little HBR – a little piece around being too nice can get you in trouble. Being very likeable in an interview does work to your advantage; at least that’s what the data would say.

Pete Mockaitis

Now that’s so intriguing, Kim. And I’m trying to be nice and I think I’m often likeable, and so I’m wondering, is it sort of no correlation or a negative correlation, like I’d be better off if I’m a little meaner?

Kim Powell

Well, it depends if you want to get hired or if you want to perform.

Pete Mockaitis

Perform.

Kim Powell

I would say the trick… There’s nothing right or wrong about being nice. The trick is… I think what we’ve seen and what we wrote about in that piece was, individuals who prioritize affiliation, who are motivated to affiliate, who define success as being liked by all, are unlikely to make the difficult calls when you are by definition going to disappoint a given stakeholder, group or individual.
There are natural tensions in a business always, between manufacturing and sales, I mean you could fill them in. There are always natural tensions and you as a leader of an organization are having to make difficult calls that won’t make everyone happy. And by definition humans don’t like to change. If you’re trying to improve your organization – again, there’s going to be resistance to that. And you cannot have as your primary goal affiliation and achieve the level of progress that is likely demanded by your shareholders, or whatever your governing structure.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, noted. Point taken, thank you. So, I think we hit the point about the role is more accessible pretty well. So let’s talk a bit about these buildable muscles. So, decisiveness, adaptiveness, reliable delivery and engaging for results – could you give us maybe a picture for, first of all, what does “great” look like, versus “okay”? Because I think sometimes many people would say, “Yeah, I’m decisive, sure. I deliver reliably.” And so, I have a feeling though you’ve got a clearer picture on what “great” really looks like here.

Kim Powell

Yeah, yeah. Fundamentally – and I can’t underscore this enough, because this was the real insight and surprise for us – decisiveness is about speed and not about perfectionism and ensuring you have gathered the nth degree of data, that you are 99.5% sure that this is the right direction. The really good decisiveness looks like willingness to move with 60% of the data. It looks like willingness to push decisions down when you recognize they are not a CEO-level decision, or fill in your level of leader decision. You streamline what you are deciding so that others in your organization can speed up, make quicker decisions, and not everything is being elevated, for example.
The other litmus test that you see in really decisive leaders is, they really have a way of cutting through the noise, which helps them speed up their decision-making. And the way that they do this is really having a very crystal-clear picture of value drives in their business and they have almost like an inherent formula in their head: “These things matter, these other things don’t.” They’re very relentless about focusing on what matters and they understand the things that will move the needle, and they focus their decisions there.
A couple of leaders I really loved speaking with, they talked about continuously asking certain questions of themselves. One of the leaders of a tech business told me, she said, “Look, if I sensed that I was struggling with a call, if I had to make it in the next 30 seconds, what would it be? And 9 times out of 10 I would push myself to just do it.”
Another leader said, he’s like, “I tested myself with two questions. The first is articulating what is the downside of getting this decision wrong? And weighing that with, how much am I going to slow others down by delaying my decision here?” And he’s like, “By thinking about those two dimensions, I was able to push myself to move forward, even if it made me uncomfortable that I wasn’t 100% sure.”
And I think they recognized that they were setting the pace and the cadence of the organization. So if they’re slow, if they’re asking for their 100-page analysis – the reality is the organization is going to adapt those behaviors. And so it’s not just yourself; it’s actually the signal and the ripple effect that you’re sending throughout your organization.

Pete Mockaitis

Kim, that’s dead on, thank you. Please, unpack the others just like this.

Kim Powell

Yeah, yeah. So, let’s tackle “adapt”. This one’s really.. I was least surprised about this, just given the amount of writing out there. And I should have noted when we did the exploratory research with SaaS, they actually unleashed text-based analytics on our data, as our data’s text, which frankly we couldn’t have done 10 years ago, because they’ve progressed so much.
But what we did is said, “Here’s the outcome data, here’s the text-based data. Have at it, apply your models.” They do all the predictive fraud analytics for credit card companies, they have really fascinating, for a separate conversation, tools that they can apply. But they did exploratory research. We did not say, “Hey, go prove that adaptive behaviors are important.” They actually came back to us, and that’s why we were so surprised with some of these things.
But of those surprises this was least surprising. I think his name is Richard Foster of Yale, he did a piece of work that showed the lifespan of leading companies has shrunk to less than half. I think it was from 60-something years to 20-something years over the last couple of decades. Just the pace of what is happening in the market right now demands a level of adaptation that just wasn’t there for the prior generation.
So this I don’t think is very surprising, but really two elements, or two litmus tests, I would say, that I saw in very adaptive leaders. The first is that they had an openness, self-awareness and willingness to change personally. They were really humble to recognize that they do not know what they need to know, almost across the board. And so what you found is a willingness to let go of past behaviors and practices, even if they had been successful.
They were really good about proactively thinking about “What can destroy my business?” What about personally my behaviors that have led me to this place but may not lead me to the next ambitious goal?” And so they’re willing to let go of… … the book, “What got you here won’t get you there.” These leaders practice that, and it’s a really difficult thing to do. So that’s one litmus test, is willing to let go of what got you to the seat, essentially, and relentlessly question that.
The second is, they adapt more of a future-orientation. So you see these leaders really embodying… There’s no one else thinking 10 to 15 years in the future, most likely, other than the CEO. And so they don’t give up time with the customers; they double the amount of time they are thinking one, two, five years out, compared to the amount of time they spent looking out to the future in the role before CEO. So you see them shifting their attention to a longer
timeframe when they get into the C. So those are a couple of things to call out on adaptiveness.

Pete Mockaitis

Got it, thanks.

Kim Powell

Yeah. And then reliable delivery – this is the most boring one; however it is actually I think the most important – if you look at leaders who did this were 15 times more likely to be in the high-performance group. So it was a really strong behavior and it also helps you get hired. So, it’s boring but it’s important.
And essentially to deliver reliably, there’s a couple of things I’d unpack here. The first is these leaders are really good about setting expectations, as opposed to letting expectations get set for them. So they are actually very proactive and front foot around anticipating and setting expectations of those around you. And that’s important to note because as a CEO you have a board – call it, I don’t know, somewhere between 4 and 15, some public boards are way more – individuals coming from a different seat, with a different set of goals, a different set of expectations. And the CEOs who are successful really actively spend time setting an aligned set of expectations for performance, in a way that allows them to deliver. And this is not a one-and-done; they do it over time as the context changes.
So I remember talking with a board member who was really frustrated with his CEO, and I was like, “Wait, I saw the original value-creation plan – he hit that.” And the board member said, “Yeah, but the market changed. It actually opened up and this happened to this competitor, they went away. It actually should have been bigger.”
And that dissonance between changing expectations created friction and frankly sucked up time and was unproductive for the CEO to deal with on the board. And had they been ahead of that and proactively shaped that, they could have minimized the friction and transaction cost.
The other element to reliable delivery is, I think more the mundane one, which is these leaders try to show up consistently and build consistent expectations into their organization, and this removes ambiguity. So for people who are operating day-to-day, if you are working for a leader who you don’t know, “Is Jekyll or Hyde is going to show up today?, “Is your expectation to the questions you ask of my P&L going to be different than they have been the last month?” – it is hard to operate affectively. You’re constantly guessing, you’re in a world of ambiguity, it does not lead to your highest performance.
And so these leaders recognized showing up consistently removes some of that ambiguity for the team, and the clearer they can set expectations – they use score cards, they use metrics, they give clear feedback, they hold people accountable – and if that’s consistent, the organization operates at a higher performance level and a higher capacity than they would otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, makes sense.

Kim Powell

So a couple of things there, yeah. And the last one is engaging for results, and as I mentioned this is really around, “How do I herd the cats to a given bowl of food?”, in the simplest way. And the cats all want to go in different directions, and some like mice and some like chicken – I’m making this up. But basically you do need to spend the time with the important stakeholders, whether that be key leaders, key regulators, key industry titans, key board members, to really gain their perspective.
And often times there’s a lot out there around how you empathize, you imagine what it’s like in someone’s shoes. Actually these leaders are actively asking questions and getting the perspective directly from the individuals at hand. They’re not imagining; they’re asking smart questions and listening, and they’re using that intelligence and understanding of that individual or a group of individuals’ goals to harness that knowledge and move them towards a given intent.
They have a goal for most interactions, they know what they’re trying to get or where they’re trying to get to or where they’re trying to move this group or individual to, and they’re very deliberate about using the individual’s motivations and ambitions, knowing very clearly what the intent is, and then putting rhythms into the business or into those relationships that move those stakeholders forward in an aligned fashion.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And you mentioned a part of that in the book there is that there’s some conflict, some differences of opinion about what’s best in what stakeholder over another, and how do they navigate that well?

Kim Powell

Yeah. Well, sometimes they don’t – we could talk about a bunch of examples of that. But when they do, they are very good at… Again, it kind of links back to expectation-setting. They’re very good at listening, gathering input, understanding goals and finding other ways to move individuals towards that goal, and logically explain why this is best for the enterprise overall. They have an ability to link it to, “What’s in it for me”, me being the person sitting across the table from them. And they have an ability to make it relevant to that individual or group’s context.
And that requires really listening, not just imagining the goals, imagining the context. They have to really understand that stakeholder group or individual and find a way to translate the goals into something that’s meaningful, that’s in it for that party. And that does not mean not being disappointed, but it does mean being logical, transparent, setting expectations and delivering, and linking it to some sort of objective of that party.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. Well, that’s a nice lineup there. And so, in addition to these keys, you mention some handicaps and career catapults. Could you maybe comment on one of each of those?

Kim Powell

Yeah, yeah. There are some other fun analytics we did on the data. The hidden handicaps are really around what can stop you from getting the job that you want, and there’s some basic… I would call these “linguistic” or “superficial” factors that we saw, that have little or nothing to do with what it takes to perform as a CEO, but can trigger biases in the interview process.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sounds like a quick win. What are they?

Kim Powell

Yeah, so a couple that I’ll call out – one is using pretentious language or kind of ivory tower, elevated affectation, like using too big a word, not being down to earth – actually hinders you and hurts you in the hiring process. So, the more snooty you sound, the less likely you are to be hired. The other one we saw, which I took to heart, being a former management consultant – the more platitudes, consultantese and acronyms you use, the less likely you are to be hired. So, all those consultants out there – be wary of the consultantese when you are going for CEO roles.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, noted. So we can just cut those out. And it’s funny because people kind of become attached to them; it’s like the platitudes are their friends, or sort of comforting. And in a way – that’s a whole another conversation – I think they’re comforting because they give a little bit of an umbrella of ambiguity. So they’re less kind of conflicted.

Kim Powell

Precise. They’re not specific. And exactly – they play it safe and as a result they’re not precise or specific, and that I think is what really triggers the reaction. The more precise and specific and down to earth you can be, the more safety you exude. The more ambiguous, amorphous, hard to pin down – that does not elicit a sense of safety by your interviewer, if that makes sense. They’re not sure what they’re going to get, I guess, is the way to say it.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, and I love it when it’s dirt simple, like, “Customers don’t like this. We need to change that.” There it is!

Kim Powell

Yeah, versus the, “Well, we leveraged this and created amplitude in that.” What? What did you do? [laugh] Yeah, and then some of the basics came through that I think everybody is aware of, but the more meaningful numbers you can use, the better. You want to be memorable and relevant, was what we found.
And so, if you’re coming from an organization that’s not well-known, you don’t have it in with the organization to the extent that you have what we call “bona-fides”, but if there are ways to articulate a stamp of approval from somebody who’s respected by the organization you’re hiring or interviewing for, finding those connections and then being memorable and relevant, and numeric where you can, in terms of your impact and what you’ve done in the past, are all good things to file away for your next job interview.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I completely agree and I see that. I’ve coached many people on their resumes and it makes a world of difference between just saying “improved” to “cut $20 million improved”. It’s like, “Oh, okay.” It’s sort of night and day. And I even see that myself. I was buying paper today and it’s like, “I don’t know what paper to get. Give me the numbers that show it’s great – the thickness, the brightness, the whiteness. Okay, that’s a good paper.” And I think it’s the same for humans – even though we’re hard to quantify, we want something that gives us that comfort, like, “This person has what it takes.”

Kim Powell

Yes. And even better, cutting 20 million in cost off a base of 100 million, versus off a base of a billion – actually means something different to me. And I want to see that you can cut it out of 100 million, ideally in a sustainable way, or in a way that predecessors haven’t done. So I also think sharing some of that context, like why do these numbers actually matter, why are they great, is also really important.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Well, Kim, tell me – is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Kim Powell

Well, I think I would just say, for everybody who wants to be awesome at their job, don’t just accept any role. Pick the right role for your strengths and your skills and your values. One of the myths that we bust in here in this book is, there’s really no, we call it the “all-weather” CEO. The reality is I’ve met fabulous, really great leaders, that wouldn’t be great in the context for which we were making a hiring decision. And it doesn’t mean they are not a great leader; it just means that that wouldn’t be a good fit for them, for what the job needed relative to their skillset. So, be choosy and be thoughtful about where you can be at your best.

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

Kim Powell

Ooh, I’ve got one actually from my 10-year old daughter, if that’s okay. Her quote is, “You can still taste when you take small bites”, which has been a philosophical quote – it became philosophical for me around how much do I bite off career-wise, how much do I bite off in terms of my calendar and schedule? And the reality is I can still taste performance, success, impact, even if I take small bites.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it, thank you.

Kim Powell

So, not a famous quote, but it’s important to me.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s fun, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Kim Powell

Oh, I’ve got a lot. I think I saw somewhere that maybe you’ve had your first child.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes.

Kim Powell

So I’ll call out two. One is called NurtureShock – I think it’s by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman – data-based research on parenting – so that could be up your alley. The other one, I have a 10-year old girl… There’s a great book called Untangled by Lisa Damour, who again – data-based research on how to navigate the teen years. And then I would say from a business perspective, I love (Growth) Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Kim Powell

So, I use an app called Strides, which is I think originally an exercise app, but you can customize your goals. I’m very goal-driven and I use it to track nights away from my family. So, if a particular week is horrible I can zoom out and look at it by month, by quarter, by year, and realize I’m actually still on track.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that’s helpful?

Kim Powell

A personal practice is about every two to three years I actually try to take a recharge period, and I find that I am a much more effective leader and advisor and coach when I have a chance to catch my breath. And that’s a pattern actually than extends across my career.

Pete Mockaitis

And how long is a recharge period?

Kim Powell

It’s varied, but sizeable. So anywhere from four to six weeks, to four to six months.

Pete Mockaitis

And so you’re just not working during that time?

Kim Powell

Yeah, I’m just not working.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome.

Kim Powell

I’m gearing up for one this summer actually, in late summer, to again, just unplug. I do a lot of fiction-reading, I tend to have a few personal goals in that time, whether it’s reconnecting with family or exercise, athletic-type goals. And then I come back kind of a new human. It’s hard to do in some roles, but at a point of change – if I’m changing roles, changing companies – I always try to build that in to the process.

Pete Mockaitis

Very cool, thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share with some of this work that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, getting them maybe quoting yourself back to you?

Kim Powell

Two I would call out: “Engage for impact rather than affinity”, which we talked about earlier. The second is: “Connect before you correct”. When you’re providing feedback to your team, connect before you correct. It’s also applicable on the home front with your kids actually.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I think we could have a whole episode on this, but now I’m thinking that’s true kind of on the macro scale – hey, you want to have a deep, solid, firm foundation, relationship before you provide constructive feedback, otherwise it’ll often be sort of rejected, like, “Well, screw that jerk. They don’t know anything.”

Kim Powell

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

But is it also… How are you thinking about it in the micro context, like, “I’m about to deliver a correction. What should I do beforehand, in this very hour?”

Kim Powell

In the micro – understanding what’s going on in their world. So often times they’ve had a terrible shock to their life and they’ve had a bad performance for the last couple of weeks, and someone passed away, or their dog died, or fill in the blank. Take the time to see what’s going on with them. Assume positive intent before you jump on the critical feedback.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And Kim, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kim Powell

So I’d point them to CEONextDoorBook.com for more information about the book.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Kim Powell

I would say the whole notion of, “You’re destined to be a great leader”, is false. And so, my challenge or call to action is while there’s no perfectly planned or carved plan, there are ways to get stronger and make better choices. So, it’s really just an inspirational, evaluate the opportunities ahead and put yourself in positions where you can excel.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Kim, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you for sharing these research insights, and good luck with all you’re up to, and have fun over the next recharge period!

Kim Powell

Thank you, I will.

273: Taking Control of your Career with Korn Ferry’s Gary Burnison

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Korn Ferry’s CEO Gary Burnison talks about the importance of learning agility and areas to consider when evaluating a potential job offer.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Which skills predict success–and which are 200X harder to develop than others
  2. New rules of thumb on timelines that suggest “job hopping” vs “getting stale”
  3. Why happiness is central to your career strategy

About Gary

Gary D. Burnison is the Chief Executive Officer of Korn Ferry, the preeminent global people, and organizational advisory firm. Korn Ferry helps leaders, organizations, and societies succeed by releasing the full power and potential of people. Its nearly 7,000 colleagues deliver services through Korn Ferry and its Hay Group and Futurestep divisions. Mr. Burnison is also a member of the Firm’s Board of Directors.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gary Burnison Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to start if we can hear a little bit about you and surfing. I understand you use that as a metaphor for many things. Are you also an active surfer in the literal sense?

Gary Burnison

In the literal sense for sure, dude. [laugh] Look, I was raised in Kansas – a long way from where you can actually surf, but in Los Angeles it is… Yeah, you can surf. And it’s kind of my philosophy on life that people get a certain number of waves – maybe some big, some small – and the whole trick is figuring out which ones you ride, how long you stay on, when you bail. And I think life and careers are much like that.

Pete Mockaitis

I hear you, yeah. And so, just to orient listeners here – I’ve been a fan of Korn Ferry for a good while, and fun fact – the birth of the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast came from me just shamelessly looking at the bibliography of the book For Your Improvement, and cold out reaching to hundreds of those authors. And then some said “Yes”, and now – well, they say “Yes” more easily and they come to me, which is a cool situation. So thank you for the great work you do in the organization. But could you orient those unfamiliar what’s your company all about?

Gary Burnison

We’re a global organizational consulting firm, so our purpose is to help organizations and people exceed their potential. We’re couple of billion dollars in revenue, we’re all over the world, we’ve got 8,000 employees. And the sole purpose of the company is to improve other companies through their people, through their organizational strategies, how they develop people, how they motivate people, how they pay people. That’s what we’re about.

Pete Mockaitis

Very good. And so, I want to talk most of the time about your book Lose the Resume, Land the Job. But first, I’ve got a couple of tricky ones I want to make sure we’ve got a moment to hit right upfront. And one of them is something I’ve been wrestling with, and others in the Learning and Development industry. I’ve got the Korn Ferry book For Your Improvement open, there’s an appendix called A Developmental Difficulty Matrix, which is a cool graphical representation that shows a number of competencies ranked from hardest to develop to easiest to develop.
And so, I had a buddy of mine in the Learning and Development industry get into a little bit of a scuffle with someone who said, “Hey, wait a minute. That sounds a little bit like a fixed mindset. That’s blasphemous”, to say that some competencies are super hard to develop and thusly you should just hire for them upfront. So how do you square the notions of, you want to be a learner, which is awesome, and a growth mindset is helpful, versus your hard resource that shows some competencies are harder to develop than others.

Gary Burnison

Look, it’s nature versus nurture, right? So it’s an age-old question: Were you born to be a great baseball player, or did you do the right kinds of things, to coaching along the way? It’s one of those things that it’s kind of like, does God exist? To find the ultimate answer is very, very hard. We have a ton of research behind it, but I will tell you that just my practical experience – I’m CEO of a public company, I’ve been the CEO for 11 years. Korn Ferry has done decades of research on this.
It is absolutely true that some skills are much harder to develop than others. And what I would tell you is that in my simple world there’s a left brain and there’s a right brain. And the left brain, for purpose of our conversation, is very analytical, it’s very kind of black and white. The right brain is a whole different world. And as you move up an organization, I would say the number one predictor of success that Korn Ferry has studied in CEOs all over the world, is learning agility. But as you move up, you have to make that transition from your left brain to your right brain, and it is not easy.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so a couple of things. What precisely do you mean by “learning agility”?

Gary Burnison

Knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. And so the more situations that you’re in where you have failed, the better are your chances for success in the future. And so what happens is as a CEO, as a leader – doesn’t have to be a CEO – but you’re always going to be in situations that you’ve never been in before. And that could range the whole gamut of possibilities, from being personally sued to dealing with the things that you read about in the papers today around a workplace environment – all of those things you’ve probably never experienced. And guess what? As the leader you can’t say, “I don’t know.”
And so you have to inspire confidence to the organization about where it’s headed and how it’s going to punch through that opening in the sky when it’s a very, very cloudy day. So the right brain is really all around how you connect with others, how you inspire others, how do you get people to wake up without the alarm clock? That is something that has to be learned over time.
And so as we’ve studied people, and you’ve referenced the research that we’ve done – when you start out, and it could be out of high school or out of college, you’re basically a follower. And what you’re going to be doing is going to be very repetitive, and it’s going to be very action-oriented. You’re going to be making rapid, quick, repetitive decisions. But as you progress – and this is the question you were asking – as you progress, that becomes totally reversed. And so you do not, as a CEO or a leader, you don’t want to make rapid decisions. You want to be reflective, you want to be a complex thinker, you want to have Plan C for Plan B for Plan A – almost the polar opposite of somebody starting out in the workforce.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I’ve got a Marshall Goldsmith book title leaping to mind here – What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. So that’s helpful to lay that out. And so, when we talk about some competencies being harder to develop than others, is it like they’re twice as difficult to develop, or is it like 200 times as difficult?

Gary Burnison

Like 200, yeah. So it is this very, very easy to motivate yourself. I shouldn’t say it’s very, very easy. It’s not easy for everybody, but it’s relatively easier to motivate yourself. Now, if you have to do that to five other people, if you’ve got to do that to 50 other people, if you’ve got to do that to 5,000 other people – becomes much, much harder.
Take a simple task, like let’s say you’ve got five friends over and you’re going to go to dinner. And one likes Mexican food, one loves Chinese food, Indian food. You’ve got a whole range of gamuts, and as the leader you’ve got people that have different motivations, they have different self-interest, and they’ve got different tastes in where they want to go to dinner. And so what you’ve got to do is anchor that discussion on where you’re going to dinner in a common purpose and get everybody to agree that we’re going to go have the Happy Meal at McDonald’s.
That is not an easy thing, just with five people figuring out where they’re going to go to dinner. But if you then expand that range of thinking and possibilities to 50 people, 500 people, around strategies to enable a company to succeed, or an organization to succeed, just think about how much harder that actually is.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, certainly. So the feat is certainly way, way more challenging. And I guess I’m wondering from a competency-development perspective, are you saying that some competencies such as managing conflict, that are in the hardest area, as compared to being tech-savvy or action-oriented on the easiest area – those are 200 times as hard to develop, the harder ones?

Gary Burnison

Oh, for sure. There’s no question about that.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Gary Burnison

And it’s something that, again, a textbook can help, but there’s no substitute for… I can remember the first time my dad pushed me on the bicycle. And so I remember the exact moment as clear as day, and that feeling – there’s nothing like it in the world. And so at Korn Ferry, what we found again through research is when it comes to development, we believe in 70/20/10. In other words, only 10% of your development once you leave your college is actually going to come from the classroom; but 90% is going to be on your assignment or assignments and who you’re working with, and who you’re working for.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah. And I want to go there next. We recently had a guest, Carter Cast from Kellogg Business School, and he was a lot of fun, had some great thoughts about career derailers. And he cited a Korn Ferry study, in which managers ranked their own level of skill at competencies, and they had ranked dead last the competency of developing talent, or developing direct reports in others. So, I thought that was pretty striking, and I’m wondering in a world where 90% of learning is kind of happening right there on the spot, on the job, with interactions with boss and others – how do you become, as you say, a learn-it-all effectively, in that undesirable context?

Gary Burnison

I think the other thing is you want to mirror it all. So it is true that most people in all the research we’ve done would not describe themselves as high in terms of developing others. And I think that’s the responsibility of any great manager or leader. It’s much like raising your kids. And I think it’s so much easier to mirror the behavior that you want to see in others, rather than telling people what to do. And so I think that developing others is a little bit like networking. Networking, which we talk about in the book, is really about the other person. It really starts with the other person. And I think that the concept of developing others is not a “tell me” type situation, it’s a “show me” type environment.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so then, if you’re on the more junior side of things, I suppose that’s great advice for those who are doing the mentoring and trying to grow and develop those they’re leading. I guess I’m wondering if you are the leadee, the follower in this relationship and you’ve got a boss who fits right in there, in terms of being on the lower side of being able to develop the direct reports in others, what are some of your best options and career moves to keep that learning going?

Gary Burnison

I think in this… Look, the world is changing, and so Millennials today are probably going to work for 30-35 companies. I’m a Baby Boomer, I will have worked for five. So, the reality of today’s world is it’s not hierarchical anymore; it’s very lateral, and you will be making many, many job moves. When I was younger that was a big negative – you were called a “job hopper”. Now actually we look at resumes and we actually have the opposite view. If you’ve been at one company for a long time, the question is are you stale, can you adapt to new cultures? So it’s going to be very common for people to work for different companies.
I would also say that a truth is that people leave bosses, they don’t necessarily leave companies. And one of the mistakes, even in Millennials and people that are going to have many more career experiences and employers, is that they automatically jump for the wrong reason, and they think the grass is greener, maybe they hate their boss. The truth is, you can actually learn more from bad bosses than you can from great bosses.
And we can all think about our mom or dad, or aunt or uncle, or elders in our life. And how many times have we said to ourselves when we were a kid, “I’m never going to do that to my kid. I’m never going…” And so that very, very basic kind of instinct in human nature is the same one that actually applies in work. And so I believe you can actually learn from a bad boss. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take control, but I would first say embrace it and learn from it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s helpful. And I want to follow up quickly on the point about job hopping, and now it’s sort of the opposite. So you have a unique vantage point, and I’d love to get your view for what is the amount of time… I guess it varies a lot, but in terms of how many years you think, “Huh, that’s kind of short and concerning”, versus how many years you say, “Ooh, that’s kind of long and it’s concerning”?

Gary Burnison

Yeah. Look, I’m going to back to happiness. And we can talk more about this as we get into it, but I think it’s got to be paced by your happiness. However, when you put a clinical view of it, perception over reality view of it, today if I look at a resume and the person is there a year, less than a year, maybe slightly over a year – I’m going to raise questions. If they’ve been there kind of two years, two years plus – I’m cool. And so that’s kind of I think a pretty good rule of thumb today. In today’s world it’s very lateral – not ladder, not very hierarchical.

Pete Mockaitis

And on the flipside you mentioned if they’re there too long, you wonder are they stale and maybe not as adaptable.

Gary Burnison

Yeah, isn’t that amazing? It’s so amazing how that switched in my career. Absolutely true. And so, when I start to look at it and I’m kind of like 10, 15 years, kind of plus, those questions are coming into my mind. Ten years I’m okay, but kind of when it gets into the 15 I start to wonder, can they adapt to a new culture?

Pete Mockaitis

And that’s 15 years at the same company.

Gary Burnison

Job. Same company. They’re not the same position, but the same company.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, then I think maybe there’s another point, like if you’re in the same position… I come from strategy consulting Bain & Company, where it’s up or out, but I guess in quote-unquote “normal” industries…

Gary Burnison

See, that’s the other thing that people don’t necessarily recognize, is that… So when I look at a resume I’m going to spend literally, I bet I spend 20 seconds. And what I look at is a couple of things. I look at career progression, and I think most people, whether it’s overt or covert, that’s what they’re looking for.
So in other words, they want to see that from the time of college to the most recent, that you’re actually progressing, in terms of scale, scope and size – what I would call “the three S’s”. And it very much is an S-curve. So we’re going to want to see that you’ve taken on more scale, bigger teams, more complexity, in other words you’re being promoted. So it could be the same company, but if you’re in the same position for that whole time at that company, that’s probably going to be viewed as a negative.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, yeah. So when you say “that amount of time”, it’s like 10 years?

Gary Burnison

Yeah, if you’re kind of in the same position… Because again, we’re going to come back to say the number one predictor of success that Korn Ferry would say, is learning agility. It’s just curiosity, right? Curiosity in terms of music, in terms of what you read, the whole deal. And we actually test for that.
And then if you believe that you’re learning through others and you’re learning on the job – well, if you’re doing the same thing you’re just exercising the same muscle. So it’s a little bit like going down to the gym – well, if you keep doing pull-ups and that’s all you do – well, one part of your body is going to be disproportionate to the other part. So in terms of a more holistic exercise routine you’re going to want to exercise many more muscles than just your arms. It’s the same thing in a job and a career.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Understood, thank you. So now let’s talk about the book here. It’s called Lose the Resume, Land the Job. What’s the big idea behind it?

Gary Burnison

The big idea is most people are clueless; that most people do more research in terms of buying a washing machine than actually thinking about their career and their next job. And it’s blowing me away, from college students to Fortune 100 board members. And there’s this kind of view that, “Okay, I’m like miserable. I can’t wait for jury duty. I just can’t go into this place anymore. My boss is a jerk. I’m not going anywhere. He or she’s promised a performance review six times over the last six months. I finally got one last week, and it was five minutes.”
We’ve all, all been there. The problem is, all of us, what we do – the first thing is we get out a piece of paper or we get out a computer and we start updating this little thing called the resume. And what happens is we sit there, we start to agonize over verbs or adjectives. We think we’re Hemingway.

Pete Mockaitis

The font. The font, Gary!

Gary Burnison

Yeah, the font, the size, the space. And three hours go by, you’re so frustrated that you just go back to that miserable boss again. Or you complete the exercise and you blindly send resumes. And my view is, if that’s what you’re doing, you just as well go down to 7-Eleven and buy a lottery ticket. Because your chances of getting hired cold through that resume are just as good as playing the lotto.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, understood. Okay, and I want to dig into the sort of thoughtlessness piece you mentioned. I love it, it was well-stated – the unspoken truths there, when it comes to the amount of time spent researching a washing machine or a TV. I love numbers. I couldn’t help it, I had to look it up. An Ipsos survey put research of a TV purchase at four hours. And I don’t know if you were sort of being cheeky or data-driven with that assertion, but I’m wondering, have you done some research or studies in terms of how much time, energy, thought, attention, folks on quote-unquote “average” are putting into their career planning and path and next move?

Gary Burnison

Very little. Again, I just see it. I can’t tell you how many thousands of resumes I’ve received, and guess where those go? Nowhere.

Pete Mockaitis

In the recycling bin.

Gary Burnison

Yeah, they do. They do. And that’s just the unvarnished truth. And I’m not speaking just for myself; I can tell you that’s what happens. And so there’s this naive view on the part of everybody that, “I can just kind of blindly send out this resume and it’s going to work” or, “I’m going to be plucked out of the ocean like I’m this fabulous fish, and I’m going to get discovered.” It just doesn’t happen. It’s not reality. And so my view is, like you would do with other things in your life, take control.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And one way you recommend taking that control is you have a handy acronym – to showcase your ACT. Can you unpack that a little bit for us?

Gary Burnison

Yes, absolutely. And that’s really in the context of meeting a company, doing an interview. Before that if you want to take control of your career, I think you have to first start with purpose and you have to first start with happiness, because if you’re happy you’re probably motivated, if you’re motivated you’re probably going to outperform, and you’re going to love what you’re doing.
So I think the first step, rather than updating the resume, which everybody goes to – that’s the first thing people do – I would say don’t do that. I would say actually look at yourself, in terms of strengths, weaknesses, blind spots. What does that tell you about yourself? What is your life’s purpose? What do you like doing? And from that I would sit there and say, “Okay, what industries, sectors, then companies actually kind of line up against that purpose and what I love doing?” And that includes, by the way, cities – where I want to live.
Then what you want to do is you want to do the whole six degrees of separation thing. You absolutely want to update the resume, and in the book we’ve got ways to do it the right way, but you want to get that warm introduction. So my view is, don’t just look and see if there’s an opening at a job; actually take control and proactively target the places you want to work, and get a warm introduction into those companies.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, very good. And how is that done well, in terms of really making that work for you?

Gary Burnison

The whole effort around networking does require work. I mean you have to roll up your sleeves; you have to actually research who really works at this company, where did they go to school, what are their backgrounds, what are they involved in the community? You have to do it the good old-fashioned way, offline as well. You’ve got to ask somebody who maybe knows somebody who knows somebody who works at the company. I will tell you that if you just do a random sample and ask people how they got their job, I think what you’re going to find five times out of 10, is that one way or another, they knew somebody at the company, that they somehow, someway got turned on to it.
And so I go back to when we were kids, what happened? Well, there was the ice cream shop, there was the grocery store, there was the bike shop, but you went down to that store and you filled out an application. Well, what actually happened before that? Well, probably somebody had told you that that’s a really cool place to work, or you shopped there.
But the point is, you proactively targeted where you wanted to work. And what happens then over a span of 10, 20, 50 years later – we forget that. And that most basic principle of taking control and targeting opportunities – you just forget, and you automatically go to the resume. And the resume, trust me, is only 10% of it. People think it’s 90%; it’s actually only 10%.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so you’re doing the networking, and then the principles here are you’re thinking clearly about knowing yourself and your interests, your values, your passions, your strengths, your weaknesses and all that stuff. And then you’re doing your research on folks. And then any other key tips to share to round out the networking perspective and being focused on the other person, etcetera?

Gary Burnison

You had talked about… So I do have tips, in terms of the resume and how you should do a resume. There’s tips, and you asked the question about ACT. That’s in the context of interviewing. So when I think about interviewing, I do think of ACT; and even in the resume preparation. “A” for being authentic, “C” for connecting, and “T” for giving somebody a taste of who you are.
And here’s the deal, is that we each make judgments, whether you like it or not, on another human being within the first seven seconds of meeting that person. So if you assume for a moment that it’s true that that happens – and you may not believe it’s seven seconds; you may believe it’s two seconds, you may believe it’s two minutes – but the reality is it’s sooner rather than later, and we all have preconceived… Our brain works in very mysterious ways.
So what that means is, you’re going to have to do your homework ahead of time, and you’re going to have to find those immediate connection points, because most people think of an interview like, “I’m going to go have a root canal.” It’s this cross between the root canal and Disneyland, and it’s a terrifying experience. And I think that part of the book is to kind of change people’s thinking around, quote, “the interview”, and don’t treat it like an interrogation or you’re having your tooth pulled, but rather make it a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so then, dig into that a little bit. You lay out some deadly sins of interviewing. Could you share perhaps some of the deadliest and the most commonly occurring?

Gary Burnison

Oh man, I’ve seen it all. Listen, don’t confuse community service and prison. And I’ve actually had that. I once interviewed somebody… I’ll tell you two sides of it – I interviewed somebody, and there was this “Friends of the Freeway”. And I started to probe a little bit and it turned out it really wasn’t “Friends of the Freeway”; it was actually prison time. And the other side of that is somebody who was completely honest, and they had actually been convicted of manslaughter. A very, very sad story, but the person was dead honest. And abusive relationship, the whole thing. The person got hired.
And so, these deadly sins of interviewing – number one, never lie. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t claim success for all of humanity, that it rested on your shoulders. So, that’s number one – don’t lie, don’t inflate, don’t exaggerate. Number two – don’t be late, be on time. Number three – don’t dress like you’re going on Dancing with the Stars. So in other words, you’ve got to do your homework, which is kind of like another sin of interviewing. You have to do your homework ahead of time. So, those are a few thought starters.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s good. I got a real kick out of, in the book you mentioned, don’t eat during your interview, and don’t shout out “Lunch!”, even if it is your lunch hour and you have to get right back to your other job afterwards. And it just made me chuckle.

Gary Burnison

Look, I’ve seen it all, I’ve got to tell you. And we’ve seen it all. We’ve seen people interviewing at Pepsi and asking for a Coke. We’ve seen people interviewing at a fast food place and the candidate actually asked the question, “Do you really eat this crap?” But I think the biggest thing is just not being prepared, not doing your homework. You’ve got to actually know what you’re going to wear, go there ahead of time, know what the commute’s like, Google the person, go on LinkedIn, make sure you’re dressed appropriately for the gig, for the culture, that you bring your resume, that you bring a notepad, but don’t bring your mom. And I’m telling you, we’ve also seen people bringing their mom. Not a good idea.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that opens up so many new topics for another podcast – sort of the mindset that could lead to that sense that that was acceptable is intriguing. But you tell me, Gary – before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things, any other key points you really want to make sure to share with this group first?

Gary Burnison

Take control. I just hate to see people that they actually don’t plan their careers, that it’s more kind of by happenstance. And I think it’s becoming more common for people to have worked for different employers. Job hopping is not a stigma anymore; that’s actually how you learn. You learn through who you’re working for, and people ignore that. People focus on the money, which I get. Look, I was the first one to go to college, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like, I’ve been there, trust me.
But what people ignore is their boss. They ignore the fact of who they’re going to work for. The boss is actually going to have a gigantic determinant of your happiness and success. Culture. People now focus on the title and the money and the ring, but they won’t focus on the culture. Well, the truth is, most people won’t fail or succeed based on whether they were technically competent; they’re going to fail or succeed because there wasn’t that culture fit. And people totally ignore that.
And so a company is no different than a house or a family. People coming into my house don’t have to take off their shoes – that’s kind of customary. Well, in another person’s house maybe they do need to take off their shoes. Well, that person’s not right or wrong, and I’m not right or wrong. But the reality is, each company has a very, very unique culture and you have to spend as much time thinking about whether that culture is going to invigorate you and keep you motivated. And most people just don’t focus on culture; they focus on money.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’d love to get your quick take – maybe could you drop for us three rapid-fire, hard-hitting cultural mismatches you see that are destructive, like, “Hey, the candidate loves this but the company is that”, and sadness ensues?

Gary Burnison

I see all the time companies have these great job descriptions, they’re so long, and they seem so strategic and so lofty, and yet when you ask, “Okay, but what am I really going to do on Monday?”, there’s this huge gap between what the job description says versus what you’re actually going to do. So make sure you actually know what you’re going to do. It may sound stupid but, “What do you want me to accomplish in the first month? What do you want me to accomplish in the first six months?” That’s number one.
Number two is around culture. I think one of the easiest ways to tell that is how people dress. So, what’s that like? Or people’s offices, if it’s offices. Is it open door, closed door, do families get together, do they not get together, are there virtual employees or they’re not virtual, do you have to go in the office? Dress and kind of everyday stuff reveals a multitude around culture.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s intriguing. And so could you share, “Hey, if you see this, it tends to mean that” kinds of quick rules of thumb there?

Gary Burnison

If you walk into an office and it seems like… And I’ve gone into places, trust me, and I thought I was at a mortuary. Now, that may be great for some people; I’m not saying that that’s not great. I mean some people may love hardwood, dark wood panel, shag carpet, drop a needle, everybody hears it. That could be great; it’s not me. So, you just have to make sure that you know what’s you, and I can’t tell you what’s you.
But those very, very basic things, man – open your eyes. I’ll never forget this company – the people would put “Stop” signs on their door, that you couldn’t come in. And that’s just not me. I’ve been in companies where the office doors are closed all the time. That’s not me, but it could be somebody else. So you just have to look at those – they seem pedestrian, they seem rudimentary, but I guarantee you they are probably the most important.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. Well now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gary Burnison

What’s on my mind these days is, “Don’t talk about it; be about it.” And the world is at an interesting place, and the left is further left and the right’s further right. And there’s obviously a lot of conversations from socio-economic to the workplace environment. And for me personally right now, that’s kind of my motto, is that, “Let’s not just talk about it; let’s be about it.”

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Gary Burnison

Well, I’ll only talk about right now – probably Mao Tse-Tung, The Little Red Book. China – I’ve lived in China. It’s a very mysterious place, and you think you know it and in fact you don’t know anything. So that’s actually what I’m turned on by these days, that’s kind of what I’m reading. And I’m trying to gather from that – even though very communist and you might find it counter-intuitive – but I’m trying to glean kind of humanity. What the overall theme right now for me is really just, don’t talk about it; be about it.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Gary Burnison

I read, read, read. And so I wake up in the morning before anybody, and I go to bed at night doing the same thing. And it’s not so much novels; it’s just kind of being in the world and current events. So I’d say that probably helps me because again, a big part of what I do is trying to connect with others. And we are in 60 different countries, many different cultures, 8,000 people. I think that to the extent that I am broader, I’m going to have a better chance of connecting with others. And as a leader it’s really not about the leader; it’s about whether you can create followership, which is not easy to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And is there a particular nugget that you share that you find is often quoted back to you or really seems to be connecting, resonating with folks, retweeting and taking notes?

Gary Burnison

Yeah, it gets thrown back at me all the time because we’re all human beings and we’re all flawed. But I’ve always tried to have an orientation of, does somebody feel better after the conversation than before? And I fail at that all the time. Absolutely fail at that all the time. But I try to hold that out and I check myself against the glass. I think that’s a pretty good yardstick for a leader, that you want people to feel better no matter the situation, after than before.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And Gary, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Gary Burnison

LoseTheResume.com. We’ve got the book there, we’ve got a whole business of Korn Ferry around helping people with their careers – KFAdvance.com, books on Amazon. So that’s where to find out more.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Gary Burnison

Be indispensable to somebody else, and find your purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. Well Gary, thanks so much for taking this time; I know it is in high demand. And for all the work you do in leading Korn Ferry and the cool stuff that comes out of it, I’ve been a longtime admirer and this was a lot of fun for me.

Gary Burnison

Thank you very much. It’s great.