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

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Denise Dudley says: "Be that person who expands others, [so] that... they walk away feeling better about themselves or the situation."

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 says: "Engage for impact rather than affinity."

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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Gary Burnison says: "Be indispensable to somebody else, and find your purpose."

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.

249: Leading When You’re Not in Charge with Clay Scroggins

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Clay Scroggins says: "We feel like we've got to be in charge in order to lead, and it's just not true."

Clay Scroggins discusses how to lead without being in the top position.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three simple questions to help you collaborate better
  2. The equation for powerful leadership
  3. How to have difficult conversations with your boss

About Clay 

Clay Scroggins is the lead pastor of North Point Community Church, providing visionary and directional leadership for all the local church staff and congregation. Clay understands firsthand how to manage the tension of leading when you’re not in charge. Clay holds a degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech, as well as a master’s degree and doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary. Clay and his wife Jenny live in Forsyth County, Georgia, with their four children.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Clay Scroggins Interview Transcript

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

Clay Scroggins
Oh, Pete, I am excited and honored to be a part of this. I have listened to a few episodes and I’m a big fan, so thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, I’m so glad to have you. I think we’re really going to enjoy this chat because one episode we had before, Dodie, Gomer, talked about leading without authority. It was a hit. And you had a whole book on this subject so I think we’ll have some fun digging into it. But, first, I want to hear, we had to reschedule you because you had a new baby to welcome into the family. How is that going?

Clay Scroggins
Oh, my goodness. I should’ve asked you earlier. Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, we are expecting our first in a couple of weeks.

Clay Scroggins
No kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, or maybe he’ll already be here by the time this airs. We’ll see. It’s any day now, yeah.

Clay Scroggins
Well, it is our fifth, and so I don’t know. How is it going? I know the drill and it is, I’ll be honest with you, I love kids. I don’t really like infants.

Pete Mockaitis
Speaking about men, in general, because they don’t do anything.

Clay Scroggins
That does feel like, I don’t know, more of a guy thing to say, but I’m not against infants. Yeah, kind of like, like you said, they don’t do a lot. And then they’re just kind of you just kind of get through the first three months, so I’m trying not do that. I’m trying to be present and enjoy the little moments. And the great news is he’s healthy and everything is great, I mean, that’s a huge deal. And birth really is like this crazy amazing miracle to get to experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah. What is the name of your newest addition?

Clay Scroggins
His name is Whit.

Pete Mockaitis
Wit? Nice. How do we spell Wit?

Clay Scroggins
Whit Aries Scroggins, and at some point I’ll stop enunciating Whit so strongly but for now like it’s appropriate.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it W-I-T?

Clay Scroggins
W-H-I-T.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, yeah, like Whitman or Whitney, okay.

Clay Scroggins
Or Whitney, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I got you.

Clay Scroggins
Or Whitney, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, and you said your name is a little bit fun. So, tell us, what is Clay short for? And what’s the origin of this?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I’m Robert Clayton Scroggins, Jr. and, yeah, my parents grabbed the middle name and they call me Clay. My wife is so funny because when we had our first child, Regus, the first child was a girl, second child boy. I said, “Okay, we’re going to go Robert Clayton Scroggins, III,” and she was like, “I’m carrying this child for nine months. I really would like to have a say in the name of this child,” which I loved, and so we don’t have a third.

But, anyway, yeah, she’s also a big fan of naming the child what you’re going to call the child. And so, it does create some complications but it helps me. Whenever someone calls me, and they say, “Hey, is Robert there,” I realize, “Oh, this is a person that doesn’t know me.” So, it helps me screen the call.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I had read that somewhere online that it was short for Claytonius.

Clay Scroggins
Oh, my gosh. So, I had this guy write some copy for this website I did. He’s a good friend of mine, he’s very funny, and he did make that joke. Or, in college, I’m a big OutKast fan there in Atlanta, rap, going to college in Atlanta. They had an album.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright Alright Alright.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. Alright Alright Alright Alright. They had an album that were released called Stankonia and they called me Claytonia in college quite a bit, but, no, it’s just short for Clayton.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I thought you’d say, “Yes, it’s short for Claytonius,” so, yeah, I thought it was going to go into an interesting Roman emperor sort of vibe. It’s just a gag.

Clay Scroggins
Like, I’ve never been asked that. I wonder what it means by that, but, yeah, it does say Claytonius or something. I don’t know. That was a joke.

Pete Mockaitis
Claytonius Maximus Claudius Brusus, you know.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now we know. Now that’s settled, to set the record straight once and for all. So, I want to chat about your book How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge. But maybe, first, we could get sort of the quicker version of your backstory. You know a thing or two about leading when you’re not in charge. So, could you give us a quick overview of that tale?

Clay Scroggins
Sure. I moved to Atlanta in 1998. I grew up in Alabama – Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the University of Alabama, they play a lot of football there, and I went to Georgia Tech in Atlanta to major in industrial engineering. I studied engineering there. It’s a great engineering school and it made me realize very quickly that I am not cut out to be an engineer, but I stuck with it, finished school.

While I was in Atlanta, I got connected to this church called North Point Community Church which is in kind of the northern suburbs of Atlanta, and I volunteered there while I was in college. I was kind of a mentor to high school students, and just found a lot of purpose in that, really enjoyed it. It was really a great way for me to try to give back and try to help some people in a way that I felt like I had been helped in my life.

And so, anyway, I graduated from school with this engineering degree, and committed to never use it because I really felt like I wanted to find, I don’t know, purpose is a big deal to me. I really want to be able to find what I do to have a lot of meaning. Anyway, so I went to seminary to get a Masters in Theology, and ended up becoming a pastor at this same church in Atlanta called North Point Community Church.

So, now I lead, we’re a multisite church, so we have six campuses or six churches in the Atlanta area, and I lead our original campus in Alpharetta, Georgia. And, yeah, that’s what I do. It’s a pretty young vibrant church, it’s fairly large. On a Sunday we’ll have, I don’t know, anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 people here, and I manage our staff here that’s about 110 people. But, in a way, I kind of lead a franchise, like a local franchise.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I have fries with that?

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. I do the burgers not the fries. And I have loads of bosses. So, yes, I do manage a good amount but I still have, I don’t know, there’s probably four or five people technically that are my bosses. But the whole process of, I don’t know, the kind of franchise multisite, you’ve got a central headquarters, and you’ve got these churches that are out trying to kind of do similar things, that’s really where I bumped into these principles of influence and authority is through my own professional story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Understood. Thank you. So, then, well, could you unpack a little bit of sort of the key sort of theme or principles or messages inside your book there in terms of how does one go about leading from a spot of influence as opposed to authority like, “I am the boss who is in charge because of my title or position”?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I think what happened to me was I got a few promotions. The first job right out of graduate school, for me, was to manage one of our high school ministries at one of our campuses. And, I don’t know, I had dreams, I had aspirations, I had things I wanted to do, I had ideas, and then you quickly kind of get, I don’t know, you feel a little stuck, you feel a little frustrated, and kind of the reality of the way the working world works where you realize, “Oh, I can’t do all that I want to do because I don’t have enough authority. If only I had my boss’ job, if only I had all of the authority that my boss has.”

So I kind of started bumping into that, then I got a promotion and started managing more and, in a sense, I had a bigger job but still had the same feeling of, “Oh, no, I can’t do all that I want to do.” Then I became what we call the lead pastor of this one location and that’s when it really set it that, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got a lot more authority than I ever have had but I still feel kind of hamstrung by what I don’t have,” and I think I was focusing on or feeling victim to the authority that I didn’t have at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, most interesting.

Clay Scroggins
And I started realizing and, honestly, I wrote this book thinking no one would read it. But the more I’ve gotten to be able to go into organizations and a lot of businesses and speak to teams and companies about this topic the more I realize this really, it does connect with people that a lot of people feel the same way. They feel like, “Yeah, I’m on the team and I sit in the meetings but, man, if I were in charge this is what I would do.” Or, “If I had more authority this is how I would handle it.”

And so, we end up, what happens is I found that I became passive and I would sit on my hands and I felt like I was waiting until someone put me in charge of more to be able to really step out and try to make a difference, try to bring some progress or some change. And so, honestly, it was through a few promotions that I bumped into this myth about leadership that we feel like we’ve got to be in charge in order to lead, and it’s just not true.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s so interesting when you say, “It’s like I need more authority in order to do the thing that I want to do,” and then you got some more authority, it’s like, “Oh, wait a second.” And I think that there may be any number of resources, I guess you might call it, in the course of life and work in terms of, “If I only had more budget, if I only had sort of more personal income, if I only had more ‘free time’ then I’d really be able to do,” you know, whatever.

And so, it seems like it may be is sort of a theme or pattern in terms of similar lies or deceptions that we’re entertaining for ourselves. So, maybe, you could get at that sort of what do you think is at the root of the lie and why we buy into it in the first place?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, you know, Jim Carrey is not necessarily the source for How To Be Awesome At Your Job, but here’s a Jim Carrey quote. I don’t know where he said it or when he said it, but he said, “I really hope that everyone could everything they ever wanted in life so they realize that it doesn’t meet all their needs or it doesn’t fulfill them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Clay Scroggins
It’s a great statement and it’s kind of what you’re saying that maybe one of the most disappointing things in life is thinking you need more and then getting it, and then realizing that didn’t do it. and I would imagine there’s a lot of people listening today who feel that way about a promotion or about, to your point, “If only I had more income,” or, I’m single. I wish I was in a relationship,” or, “I’m in a relationship, I wish we could get married,” or, “We’re married, I wish we could have kids,” or, “We have kids, I wish they would leave the house.”

And then you get there and you go, “Huh, this wasn’t it.” So, I think part of what is in that for all of us is to try to figure out, “How can I not be a victim to my circumstances? But how can I use the circumstances I have to own the moment, and to say, ‘Hey, what do I have? What’s unique to the situation that I have?’” And there’s some power to bringing some ownership to the situation that you currently have and not be victim to it but instead try to leverage what you have to help make somebody else’s day better, to help make somebody else’s world better. So that may be is at the root of what I was experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, and as you’re speaking I’ve got this lyric in my head, it’s from a song by The Avett Brothers, and the song is called Ill With Want, and the lyric goes, “I’m sick with wanting and it’s evil how it’s got me, and everyday is worse than the one before. The more I have the more I think I’m almost where I need to be, if only I could get a little more.”

Clay Scroggins
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that song is powerful, and it’s a good tune. I mean, check it out. But I think it really plays into that notion, it’s like, “Oh, you know, I’m almost there. A little more authority would do it. Oh, well, maybe not quite. A little more.” And so, then you wake up, the Jim Carrey realization so, then, very cool. Thanks for sharing that.

Clay Scroggins
Real quick one about that. You know, one of the things I’ve loved about writing this book was getting to interview a number of leaders who have experienced being in a role where they’re not the senior point leader. One of the people that I talked to was a guy named Frank Blake, Frank from, I think like maybe, 2007-2014, he was the CEO of the Home Depot, an Atlanta-based company, it’s maybe, I don’t know, fourth or fifth largest retailer.

Frank is a fascinating individual because he has worked or a lot of great leaders. He worked for Jack Welch for a long time at GE and worked for both Bushes in different parts of the government. Worked at the Home Depot for Bob Nardelli, the CEO. But he’s always been in a kind of a second or third-chair position, he was never the senior leader until he became president of Home Depot, the CEO of the Home Depot.

And I asked him about this, I said, “So, Frank, I’m sure once you got in charge then you could finally lead like you wanted to lead.” And he kind of laughed, and he said, “No, that’s a very true point that even when you get to be the CEO you still don’t have all the authority that you feel like you need.” He said, “I remember the first week I was CEO of Home Depot, and I’d sent this memo out to everyone of our employees, saying, ‘Hey, from here on out this is something we’re going to do,’” and he said, “I walked down the hallway not 20, 30 minutes later and I see the memo in the trash can.”

And he said, “It made me realized, ‘Oh, there it is, authority alone doesn’t create great leadership.’” Which that’s one of the major tenets of this book, is that we all know leaders who have a lot of authority and they’re not leading well. And we know people who don’t have a lot of authority who are getting a lot done and are making a pretty significant difference in their world. And I would just rather be the one that is not using my lack of authority as an excuse. And so that’s what I hoped to help people with through this process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Awesome. Cool. Well, let’s get into it. Let’s say, hey, here you are in the middle of a professional career, and you want to exercise some more leadership and getting some results, make some things happen, and you got to lean upon influence instead of authority. How do we make that happen? What are some key principles or action steps to do it?

Clay Scroggins
Sure. Well, I think the first thing anyone could do, I would imagine maybe if you’re listening to this and you’re running on a treadmill or driving then I wouldn’t write this down, please. But if you are at a place where you could, I think just jotting down the question, “How would someone cultivate influence?” I think that basic question is worth everyone of us answering.

And maybe even flipping the question of, “Hey, the people that I look to that have influence over me, what have they done that has cultivated influence in my life? Why do I want to listen to them? If they called me, and said, ‘Hey, here’s an idea,’ why would I be willing to try it? What makes me give them my ear when they talk?” I think that alone is really that’s where I started. It’s just saying, “Hey, if I’m not in charge, which I’m not, how do I begin to cultivate more influence with my boss, with the people around me, and the people that work even for me?

And so, what I did was I wrote down, “Here’s four things I want to do. Here’s four behaviors, I don’t care if anybody else does this, this is for me. I’m not trying to prescribe this. I’m no John Maxwell leadership guru. I’m just a guy. So, what can I do?” And that’s where I started. And then, for me, they really are behaviors that I’m trying to do.

The first one is to lead yourself well, and I know that seems, you know, there’s been so much written on self-leadership, so much content about self-leadership, but that really is where it begins, is to go, “You know what, we’re all so apt to blame our boss for how are boss is or isn’t leading us. And the truth is we have an opportunity, and maybe even a responsibility, to lead ourselves well. And the great news is if you lead yourself well you will ensure that you’re always well-led.”

And so, you can always start there, going, “Okay, what does it look like to lead me really well?” For me, self-leadership is all about knowing where I am right now, that’s the hardest part, because I think a lot of us have an idea of where we want to go, where we want to be, but you can’t get where you want to be until you know exactly where you are.

And I have tried to have a ruthless curiosity about my own strengths and weaknesses, my own blind spots so that I can be more aware of where I am right now so that I can lead myself out of where I am to, ultimately, where I want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, you said knowing yourself and where you stand right here, now, in the moment is the hardest part, and you try to be ruthlessly curious. So, I’d be curious to – I’m curious about your curiosity – specifically in terms of what were the processes by which you came to find the answers to those questions?

Clay Scroggins
I do a lot of live communication in front of groups and audiences, and I love asking that question, Pete, to a crowd, is just say, “Hey, what is the easiest way to find out when you don’t know?” And it’s usually peoples gut-level response which is great, you know, “Well, you ask somebody. How do you know what you can’t see in the mirror?” Because none of us can really see ourselves clearly in the mirror. We’re all biased towards ourselves, and the easiest way to find out, “What do I really look like?”

This is one of the hardest things about getting married or being in a meaningful relationship is that other person oftentimes is a mirror to ourselves, which is hard, you’re like, “Wow, I never knew my breath smelled as bad as you say it smells,” or, “I never knew I had that little tick that you say I have whenever I meet someone new,” or whatever it is. But asking someone is the greatest way.

So, for me, my last job change, I left one of our campuses that has about 50 people that work there, and I just sent three simple questions, I just made a Google Form and asked three questions to all 50 people. And not everybody filled it out, but maybe, I don’t know, half of them did. I said, “Hey, here’s three questions. Number one, what do you feel like I’m good at? What do I do that inspires you?” to say it in another way.

“Second question, what am I not good at? What bothered you about me?” I think actually is what I said. “What bothered you about working with me? And then, number three, what are my blind spots? What do I not see about myself?” And it was amazing how basic and simple that process was but it was, I mean, to say it was life-changing might be a little strong, but it was genuinely I felt some significant breakthroughs in my own life that things about myself that I knew but I was hoping no one else saw.

People said, I mean, one of the themes was, “We feel like whenever you’re leading a meeting we don’t really feel like you’re prepared for the meeting.” And I was like, “Well, you’re right. I’m not usually prepared because I can think off my feet pretty quickly and when you can you rely on that too much which is not always great.” So that really changed me, it made me go, “Okay, I can be more prepared for meetings.”

A number of people said, “Hey, when we’re on one-on-ones with you it feels like you’re not always listening.” And it’s true, I have a hard time focusing listening. So, one of the things I did is I started spacing my meetings out. I pull a little space in between them to give myself a chance to have a breather.

Pete Mockaitis
Makes all the difference too. You listen better I found. I’m with you there.

Clay Scroggins
It was so helpful because it allowed me to take a little walk around the building and then walk back in the next meeting, and I had a little more mental clarity. And then the other thing was they said was, “It feels like you’ve moved ahead. You’re thinking about the next thing,” which is very common. But, anyway, all of those things just helped me identify things in my life that I wouldn’t have identified if I hadn’t asked. And now that I know where I am I can know how to lead myself better. But I would’ve never have chosen to lead those areas until I identified them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s perfect. Now, on this Google Forum, was it anonymous?

Clay Scroggins
Oh, I’m sorry. I had a friend execute it essentially. So, I had a friend send it out. I say, “Hey, I think I sent an email to a number of people so you’re going to get an email from so and so, and I’ve asked them to send this form and they’re going to compile the results.” Yeah, just to make it anonymous because you spend half the time trying to figure who said what which is not good.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely.

Clay Scroggins
You go, “Yeah, that sounds like Johnny.”

Pete Mockaitis
I wonder if there’s like a piece of software that is just like, “Okay, paraphrase this paragraph so they can’t tell it’s from me.”

Clay Scroggins
Right, because, like you said it, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But I know that it’s great. Especially if they know that you mean it and you care about it, and I think it’s so cool to offer an example. Like, “For example, someone so gave me this feedback which is very helpful because I’ve been trying to work on that and I found some improvement.” And so, it’s like, “Oh, he means it.” And I’ve noticed that thing, too, now that you mentioned it. Okay. Very cool. So, leading yourself is where it starts. And where do we go from there?

Clay Scroggins
So, I saw recently, I still haven’t got a chance to listen to it but I’ve meant to, but you had a podcast on positivity. That was my second behavior that I tried to, you know, I just decided, “Hey, I want to choose positivity. I want to be a person that drops the negativity and the cynicism,” which, it’s crazy, but I don’t know. I can lean there very easily.

And I just decided that more important than my education, my ideas, whatever talent I may have, my energy is the best thing that I bring to the team that I work on. And we’ve all seen this. You’ve seen people that you work with that can change the climate of a room because of their energy. And if that’s true of them then it can be true of us as well, that we all have that potential.

The hardest thing about working, to me, is having to bring it every single day. I remember being in my 20s thinking, “Good grief, when do we get spring break? When does summer happen? Have we taken summer off?” Because it’s exhausting to have to bring it every single day. But the truth is that’s the best thing I have to bring, is the energy that I have.

So, instead of being a 40-watt bulb, I’ve really tried to be a 100-watt bulb. And the hardest time to choose positivity, to me, is when you’re being handed a decision that you didn’t get to weigh in on but you’re being asked to buy into it. Patrick Lencioni, a quote from The Advantage, he says, “People are more likely to buy in when you allow them to weigh in,” which I think is so true. It’s a great truth and axiom about the way we should lead other people.

The problem is most of us who are not in charge are being handed decisions all the time that we didn’t get to weigh in on, and we’re like, “What idiot made this decision and asking me to make it work? This is terrible. It’s a dumb process. It doesn’t work.” But what I’ve just learned is that it’s in that moment that I have a decision to make, “Am I going to take this and make it better and actually make it work? Or am I going to sit on my hands and be angry and sit back and watch this fail?”

And more important than making the right decision is owning the decision and making it right. I really believe that’s possible, that you own a decision that you don’t even agree with fully but you can own it with such positivity that you can make it work, and we’ve all seen that. The best companies in the world aren’t the best companies because they have the best ideas; it’s because everybody is leaning into the same idea. And I think that’s possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like that metaphor, the 40-watt bulb and the 100-watt bulb. I was curious with your cover. It’s got these three light bulbs, and one of them is illuminated. It’s not the one in the front. Is that the metaphor you’re going with?

Clay Scroggins
That is, yeah. And it’s a little bit like how the Counting Crows got their name. It’s like one little lyric from one of their B-side songs or something. But that was the attempt, was just to give a little nod to the light bulb metaphor.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig it. And so, when you say it’s exhausting to bring it every day, so how is it that you are expending energy to be positive? Sort about smiling and such. So, like what are those sort of little choices that you’re making over the course of the day to choose and exude and radiant the positivity?

Clay Scroggins
Well, here’s something that just has helped me, is it hit me one day that I’ve got days where I love my job and I’ve got days where I don’t love my job. And I think I was in one of those days where I wasn’t loving it, and I had the thought, “Am I going to be in this job forever?” And I started realizing, “Well, of course not.” I’m 37 years old, there’s no way I’m going to be in this job forever, and neither will you.

In fact, I bet 98% of people listening to this podcast, you’re not in the last job you’ll ever have. If you don’t like your job that’s good news, you know. But I think, on the flipside, recognizing that if this were the last job you ever have, can you be content enough with this job to enjoy it, to choose to enjoy it? Most of us are fairly fortunate to be able to earn a living and support ourselves and help out other people.

I think it’s a great place to be and to go, “I’m content enough in this job that if it is the last job I ever have I’m going to give it all that I got because when I leave this job I want people to be surprised. I want them to go, ‘Wow, we had no clue that you were thinking about leaving. You were so bought in.’” But what’s the alternative? “Oh, he was half in, half out. We kind of always thought he was about to leave.” That’s not going to cultivate influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Clay Scroggins
And, on the flipside, I think there’s a lot of hope just to know that if you don’t like your situation today you’re not going to be in it forever. There will be a shelf life to the job that you’re in. And so, you can be hopeful knowing that there’s a better future that there’s something else in your future, but you may as well buy in today because it’ll help your future if you choose to be positive about what you’re doing today.

And if you can figure out how to do that, it’s a skill that will help you the rest of your life, “How can I choose to believe the best about the people that I work around? How can I believe the best about my boss? How can I go into this with good intentions not accusing other people of trying to ruin my world? But, instead, he’s trying to do the best he can do. She’s trying to do the best she can do, and I’m going to choose to be positive about this situation. And it will, ultimately, cultivate influence for you if you choose to do that.

Pete, I was speaking to a group of virtual assistants. It’s an amazing company. You can hire somebody for 10 hours a week to be a virtual assistant for you.

Pete Mockaitis
May you drop the name. I’ve used several of these companies.

Clay Scroggins
Sure, yeah. It’s called BELAY, B-E-L-A-Y.

Pete Mockaitis
I haven’t used that one. Okay. Cool. Cool. Continue.

Clay Scroggins
Anyway, so I’m in the middle of talking about choosing positivity, and this lady – I’ll never forget this moment – she’s over on the side, and she just blurts out, she goes, “That’s so inauthentic!” And, honestly, it caught me off guard, and I was like, “Dang! She’s kind of right. Like that is inauthentic,” because you can’t just walk around being positive about things that you’re not positive about, that you don’t feel great about.

But, then, fortunately, in the moment, I had the thought, “Well, hang on a second, we’re not talking about how to be true to yourself right now. We’re talking about how to cultivate influence, and you can get excited about something that you’re not actually that excited about without being dis-ingenuine. We’ve all done it. And your boss, I guarantee you, your boss wants you to be excited about what you’re working on.”

“And when you become a boss, or maybe you currently are a boss, you want the people on your team to be excited about what they’re working on. And if they’re not, you want them to talk to you about it so you can at least help them understand why you’re excited about it.” And I think that’s a better way to cultivate influence.

Now, there might come a time where you go, “You know what, I just can’t fake this any longer,” but I do think there are times where when I choose to be excited about something and see the best in it, I end up finding the best in it and I end up actually getting excited about it, and it’s amazing how we can lead ourselves to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Yeah, inauthentic, you know, it’s interesting because that word is both so heavy and so loaded.

Clay Scroggins
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
And, I mean, in a sense, I guess, there is a measure of inauthenticity in terms of, “I don’t feel like this but I’m going to try to dig it.” Well, hey, you have an infant now, another one in your life. I imagine there are times you don’t feel like tending to…

Clay Scroggins
You’re exactly right, Pete. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
… to the sweet angel’s needs.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
But does changing a diaper or whatever make you inauthentic? I’d say, my hunch is, I guess my interpretation on that point, it’s about in terms of faking it.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess you’re being authentic to a higher value of yours which is to be a loving father or a compassionate human being, a disciple of Jesus, a lover of neighbor, whatever your role or identity is. So, you’re authentic in that realm and what are you is a higher authenticity than being “true to your desire,” yeah, in the moment.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. That’s a great way to put it.

Pete Mockaitis
But I guess I’d wrestle with the same question myself in terms of, “Yeah, I don’t really feel like talking to this person because I think they’re kind of weird, and I would have a whole lot more fun talking to this other person over there. So, am I being inauthentic by like pretending to be interested?” And I think, in one way, yeah, I don’t actually care what this person has to say, that happens. I care about what all my podcast guests have to say profoundly, by the way, that’s why I’ve chosen them, so, Clay, you’re off the hook.

Clay Scroggins
Right. You’re playing solitaire as well while I’m talking.

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, let’s check out Belay, huh? Let’s click around.” But, in a higher sense, you know, “Hey, I’m being authentic to the person that I’m trying to be in terms of a generous kind, loving human being.” So, anyway, that’s how I have navigated that tension. But, yeah, I feel the concern is real and it’s cool that you have some candid audience members who will get you real good.

Clay Scroggins
I did appreciate that, you know. I was like, “Thank you for your honesty.” As opposed to just giving me a kind head nod, you know. So, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. So, after leading yourself and choosing positivity, where do we go from there?

Clay Scroggins
So, I love the combo of these middle two behaviors because there are a lot of people listening right now that you’re not wired for positivity. You’re wired for results. You’re wired for progress.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah.

Clay Scroggins
You come to a meeting and you see all the things that we need to do that aren’t getting done. In my world, I sit in a lot of evaluation meetings because Sunday happens every seven days, every week, and so on Monday we sit there and evaluate, “How did it go yesterday? Did we like what happened? Did good things happen?”

And we have a lot of people that want to talk about all the good things, and then there’s a lot of people that sit there and go, “Okay, let’s move on from the good things. Let’s talk about how to change this and make it better,” because of just the way you’re wired. A lot of people, when you hear about choosing positivity, it kind of makes you, I don’t know, sick to your stomach, because you think, “Oh, come on. Like am I supposed to walk around like with my head in the clouds going, ‘Oh, this is so great. Everything is so awesome’? Like those Legos in the Lego Movie.”

You don’t have kids just yet, Pete. But have you seen the movie?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I haven’t but we had a podcast guest talk about the creation of the Lego Movie, Jennifer Riel and about how they agonized over how to get that made.

Clay Scroggins
There’s this little song in the movie that they sing over and over again, “Because everything is awesome,” because they’re trying to basically brainwash the Legos. And I think a lot of people think, when they hear that point of choose positivity, they’re supposed to walk around just everything is awesome all the time, as if that alone cultivates influence. And it does in and of itself, but when you combine it with the skill of thinking critically I think it creates a really powerful leader with or without authority.

I know, for me, someone passed me this article one time about millennials, which I hate all the articles being written about millennials, but it says, “Millennials – are they misguided optimists or rainbow-puking unicorns?” I thought, “What a great word picture! A rainbow-puking unicorn.” And that’s the way people see positive people sometimes.

But the truth is that is if you can combine the posture of choosing positivity with the skill of thinking critically, you can really become a powerful synergistic leader who’s making a significant difference in a really positive way wherever you find yourself, whatever seat you’re in. So, thinking critically really is a powerful skill. I think it’s really simply the ability to notice things, question things, and connect things.

To observe things, to be curious and question things, to figure out how they work, and then to make connections between variables that are being changed and the outcome that you’re looking for. And everyone of us can get better at this skill. That’s the great thing about skills; skills are things that we can improve upon but we have to practice in order to do that.

And so, I think part of the reason why, in my own life, I have a harder time sometimes thinking critically is because I’m not practicing it because I’m either too busy, I either haven’t given myself enough space, mental space to be able to step back and think about my job, or I’ve squeezed out those opportunities. I think the phone is probably the greatest competitor.

The smartphone is probably the greatest thief of critical thought that there is because in the moments when we used to sit back and think about how to make things better, now we just aimlessly scroll through random Wikipedia articles about how rockets are made or whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a little more productive than some options on your smartphone – Wikipedia.

Clay Scroggins
That’s good, yeah, than playing something.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think I was kind of stuck when you mentioned, okay, every Monday you have a chat about how things went at church services on a prior Sunday. And I was like, “Well, maybe that’s part of how you were ranked the largest church in America in 2014, 12,000 people?” Hotdog! I thought, “Well, how does that happen?” And I guess that’s part of how it happens in a way.

I don’t know of many people in many organizations who are putting that much regular thought and iterative repetition on making something better. Like, do it, reflect upon it, then do it again, reflect upon it, do it again. I think that’s a pretty powerful formula for excellence right there. Could you share maybe some of those questions that you ask, that you drill into when you’re thinking critically to surface these insights and how to do better?

Clay Scroggins
Well, that’s interesting, Pete, to hear that because I’ve never thought about that being odd.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s culture for you.

Clay Scroggins
It really is, I know. It’s so much a part of our culture that I’ve never even noticed it. But we are so passionate about one of our values as a team is make it better. I mean, that’s really what we’re looking for in employees at every level. It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern, we want you to walk in, in fact, we ask interns a lot of questions because they’re walking in with fresh eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Clay Scroggins
And they represent future generations, and so we want to know from them, “Hey, what did you see that we’re doing that’s kind of weird?” Because it’s so easy to just get so inundated with your own world that you don’t see kind of like the fact that I fail to even realize that evaluation meetings every week might be a bit much perhaps, or maybe a good thing. I don’t know.

But, yeah, the key to learning to think more critically, I think, is to figure out, as basic as this is, “What are we trying to do? What’s the goal here?” And then to start there and go, “Okay. Well, in our case, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get people to take steps. We want everybody who watches a message, or sits in a room for one of our church services, to take some kind of step metaphorically, figuratively-speaking, toward being a better person, toward helping someone else, toward looking more like Jesus, toward a growing relationship with God.

And so, when we step back and go, “Okay. Well, that’s what we’re trying to do,” then to try to be mentally present in the environment and go, “Okay. How is this going? What did we do that became an obstacle? What did we do that helped with that?” And then just trying to be as curious as possible in trying to notice things, question things, and connect things.

But, honestly, the greatest enemy is time. We just don’t, we very rarely do this. I ask people usually and in live environments, “Hey, when do you have your best ideas?” Do you know what the number one answer is, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Shower.

Clay Scroggins
A hundred times out of a hundred, people say, “The shower.” It’s crazy. And so, because I’ve Googled it, I’m an expert on this, evidently there is research that says that is the number one answer, and that it’s actually true. There’s something about the mundane task of the shower that actually allows our brain to function well and actually think things.

But, honestly, a lot of people say, after the shower, they’ll say, “Oh, driving to work,” “Laying awake at night,” “Doing yard work,” “Working out of the gym,” all of these kind of mundane physical tasks that we do that kind of free up our minds to be able to work. Well, here’s what I’m trying to do in my own life, is I’m trying to go, “Okay. Well, instead of having to wait until tomorrow morning when I take another shower, or instead of having to go try take a shower in the middle of a work day to have a great idea, like surely there’s some practice that I can learn something from it and put those in place.”

And so, for me, it really is about time and space, it’s about creating some space in my calendar to think about how to make what I’m doing better. And so, for me, it’s been waking up earlier in the morning, giving myself more time in the morning to actually just sit at my desk in front of an open notebook, or an open Word document, or an open Evernote file, and say, “What’s on my schedule today? What’s on my calendar? How can I make it better? How can I help the person that I’m going to interact with? How can I help solve the problem that we’re facing? How can I help fix this situation that’s in front of us?”

I really believe that if you can try to do that in a positive hope-filled “I’m trying to help other people” kind of way, it really can create some influence for you wherever you are, whatever seat you’re in. So, I think it’s a powerful behavior to try.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig it. Well, Clay, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Clay Scroggins
You know, where I land the book is I got done with a lot of the content, I thought, “You know what, I just envision someone sitting there reading this going, ‘I need to go have a hard conversation with my boss because I see things that I think need to change, or I have ideas that I’ve been holding onto, or I feel like I’ve been sitting back and not engaging as much as I want, and there’s some reasons why.’”

And so, I wrote a couple chapters on having a hard conversation with your boss which, to me, that’s one of the most difficult things to do, is, “How do you setup a time or walk in your boss’ office and have a challenging conversation?” So, that was a lot of fun to write about and, as people have read the book, it’s been one of the things that people have commented on most, is, “Hey, that was super helpful.”

Because I’ve tried to give just, “Here’s a game plan. Before you just walk in there and say, ‘This sucks. You’re stupid. I hate this,’ like let’s put a little thought into it, let’s get a little game plan on how to do that well.” So, I really hope that that’s helpful for people as they process how to challenge up because that’s not as easy to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I can’t let that go. If you give us a quick tip or two associated with how to challenge up well and effectively, let’s hear it.

Clay Scroggins
I mean, the first thing I try to do is I try to declare my intentions right up front. We’ve all read books on conversations, I would imagine. One of the most crucial ingredient to a difficult conversation is safety. People got to feel safe. And so, if you walk in, and it’s crazy to think, “Why would my boss be threatened by me?” But your boss is human, and maybe you intimidate your boss, or maybe you bother your boss. Who knows?

But if you can, right up front, declare your intentions, and say, “Hey, whatever you can say that’s most true, I really appreciate what we’re working on here, and I can tell that you really care about it. And I just want to let you know that no matter what we talk about here, I just want to let you know that I think you’re a really great leader,” or a great person, or, “You’re a nice person,” or, “I appreciate how hard you work.”

Anything we can do to try to declare our intentions, and say, “I don’t want to ruin your day. I’m not trying to tear this thing apart. I just had a couple ideas on how maybe we can make it better.” I think it goes a long way to help the relationship what I have found. And it’s something that I would want people to do for me because you can’t catch people off guard with some challenging conversation, I think, unless you state it up front, “Hey, I’m for you. I want you to win in life. I want you to do well. I want you to do good things in life.” I think it’s just a helpful thing to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that. Cool. Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I don’t know where I read this, but I read this awhile ago, and it’s been sitting near my desk. But Thomas Watson, former CEO of IBM in the mid-20th century, said, “Nothing so conclusively proves your ability to lead other people as what you do on day-to-day basis to lead yourself,” which is so actionable and helpful to me because I just think, “You know, instead of being frustrated at what the opportunities I’m not getting or how I’m getting passed over, or whatever I don’t have, I’m going to pick up the mantle to lead myself well today. And if I do that, then it will conclusively prove that I have the ability to lead more.” So, I love that quote.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

Clay Scroggins
Favorite book. Well, I’m obligated to say the Bible, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Clay Scroggins
Kidding. Kidding. Kidding. No, I would say probably Leadership and Self-Deception.

Clay Scroggins
It’s a little book. It’s a short read. It’s kind of like Lencioni, kind of written like a fable a little bit, like a lot of his books are. But it’s terrific and it helps you create better relationships with people that you work with which, ultimately, I think is going to create more success for anyone of us in our careers. But it’s a fantastic little read. We read it recently with our leadership team here, and it was very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Excellent. Perfect. And how about a favorite tool?

Clay Scroggins
I mean, Evernote is probably what I use more than anything. It’s amazing how, I mean, I have a number of different screens that I use, so just to be able to pick up any screen and have what you need is terrific, so I’ll go with Evernote.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And how about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Clay Scroggins
You know, stating out loud what I’m grateful for has been something I’ve been trying recently, which I really enjoy. I heard recently someone say that, “Suffering ends when gratitude begins,” which I think is so true, and it is amazing the power of just being grateful. It’s hard to be unhappy in life and be a really grateful person. Joy and gratitude usually go hand in hand. They’re like peanut butter and jelly sandwich kind of thing. So, I try to start my day by just saying, “Hey, here’s a couple things I’m grateful for,” which feels weird to do in the car by myself but no one else is around, so.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s all good. And is there a particular nugget, a piece that you share that seems to really resonate, connect with folks, a Clay original quotable gem?

Clay Scroggins
Gosh, my favorite statement or, I don’t know, kind of the big idea of the book is that influence always outpaces authority. I really believe that. I believe that instead of waiting on authority or instead of leveraging authority, influence is just far more powerful. So, I really hope that whoever is listening, wherever you’re sitting today, whatever you’re doing, that you can allow yourself to cultivate more influence.

Because it will allow you to help someone else today and create more progress and try to make somebody else’s life better. And I think that, ultimately, is what anyone of us are wanting to do is to try to help somebody else. It’s the greatest joy in life. And so, if you can figure out how to cultivate more influence, it outpaces authority all day, every day.

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

Clay Scroggins
I’m on Instagram and Twitter @clayscroggins, and then I have a website ClayScroggins.com that has a weekly newsletter or weekly email that I send out that really has got some great interviews that I’ve done with some terrific leaders both in business world and also the non-profit world on this topic. So, I’d love to keep in touch, say hello. I love this idea of this podcast, Pete, and I love the name because I’m a big fan of How-To names, How To Be Awesome At Your Job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you, yeah. And I think it makes it clear like this is what we’re trying to do here.

Clay Scroggins
Sure. That’s right.

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

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I would just say, hey, there’s a lot of people today that probably don’t like their boss. I don’t know, I’ve just interacted with a lot of people because of this whole process, who say, “Hey, that sounds great, but I just don’t like my boss at all.” But I just want to encourage you today that just because you don’t like your boss doesn’t mean you can’t get anything done, that people for centuries and centuries have gotten a lot done working for awful people.

And one of the great things, one of the hard things, but great things working for a boss you don’t like is learning to take notes of things that you don’t want to replicate when you become a boss. And maybe the very reason why you’re in the position you’re in is to learn some really difficult lessons, and that’s hard when you’re in the moment, but it’s just the way life works that resistance is what creates strength.

And so, if you feel resistance from a terrible boss, just know that there’s an opportunity for you to create even more strength because that’s the way the world works. And that might not be fun but I hope that’s encouraging to whoever is listening that if you don’t like your boss it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn anything and it doesn’t mean you can’t get anything done today.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Clay, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. This has been powerful stuff. I wish you all the best, and that your Sundays keep getting better and better and better with all the thoughts that you put into them.

Clay Scroggins
Thank you.

235: The Power of Finding Your Why with David Mead

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David Mead says: "Show up to give."

Author and Simon Sinek colleague David Mead shares the importance of starting with why you do what you do–and how to find that why.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The benefits of starting with why
  2. Examples of effective and ineffective “whys”
  3. The process to find your why

About David 

David is committed to a world in which the vast majority of people wake up inspired to go to work, feel safe while they’re there and go home at the end of the day fulfilled by the work they do. David co-authored Find Your Why, with Simon Sinek. The book provides a step-by-step, practical guide on how to discover the Why for any individual, team or organization. David has presented these simple, inspiring ideas on 5 continents to over 150 organizations in a wide range of industries.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

David Mead Interview Transcript

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

David Mead
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re going to have such a fun chat because I’m really into what it is you do. But in doing a little bit of digging in your background I saw that you were once an Apple Store associate. Any fun tales from that time? And are you getting the iPhone X?

David Mead
The thing that sticks out in my memory about that is I don’t know what I was thinking but I showed up to my interview, it was a group interview, and I showed up in a shirt and tie, and they literally laughed at me. And so, I learned very quickly that we were going to be a little bit more casual there which worked out great. But I loved it, loved working there.

To answer the other question, absolutely, yes. Funny story about that, I woke up like 15 minutes before midnight on November 2, I think, or November 3 when it was released, and I was like, “Ah, I’ll go back to sleep. It’ll be fine. I’ll be able to order it when I wake up next time,” because I’m 40 and now I wake up multiple times at night.

And so, I happen to wake up at like 12:45 and I got on and I completed my purchase, and they said, “Your delivery date is December 5 to the 15,” and I was like, “What? Are you kidding me? This is supposed to come out like next Friday.” And so, on the actual release date, when it was going to be available in stores, I didn’t want to wait that long so I was planning to wake up at like 4:00 o’clock in the morning and go stand in line like an idiot at the Apple Store so that I could get it before December.

And so, I woke up and I checked my email and I happen to have an email from Apple saying that my delivery date had bee n moved up to November 13, so I was like, “Oh, I can wait for 10 days.” But absolutely, yes, I am getting the iPhone X.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we are recording this just before it’s entered your hands. And how are you feeling?

David Mead
I’m feeling anxious and I have a great deal of anticipation. I can’t wait for next Monday.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I also have one coming my way, and I’m excited partially just because I’ve been on the 6, and I feel such a whiny, entitled, you know, impatient, I guess I’m just barely a millennial at 34. I think I’m on the threshold there. And I guess I’ve been on the iPhone 6 for a while, and it seems like maybe there’s something wrong with it, but sometimes I’ll like push the camera, and I have to wait four seconds   for the camera, and I can’t live like this, David. I can’t live like this so I need an upgrade and the 10 was there, so I said, “We’ll take it.” Plus, the dual camera, I’ll be shooting some important business videos with that, so this is necessary.

David Mead
Of course. That’s a right off, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
It is essential that I have this outrageously expensive toy for my business.

David Mead
Indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so, anyway, I want to talk. So, you’re in Simon Sinek’s organization, and so you co-authored with him the book Find Your Why which is great. And so, if anyone hasn’t already seen Simon’s famous, infamous TED Talk about finding your why, it’s well worth it, and we’ll link to it in the show notes. But for those who aren’t going to do that, can you give us the real quick summary on kind of what’s the primary concept that you’re working with here?

David Mead
Sure. So, the concept of Start With Why is very simple. It basically outlines that every organization, and even our own careers, operate on three levels, which is what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. And everybody knows what they do. This is the product you sell, the service that you offer, the title that you hold. Some people know how they do what they do which means how are you different or special, how do you set yourself apart, what are sort of the guiding principles, or how you run your business that’s different than anybody else.

But very few organizations and very few individuals understand and, more importantly, can clearly articulate why they do what they do. And by why, we don’t mean to make more money or to increase market share, or sell more stuff. By why, we mean, “What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? What’s the human reason that you do the work that you do? Really, why does your organization exist and do the things that it does?”

And so, the premise here is that most individuals, most organizations start with what. They tell you what they do. They might tell how they’re different or special or better, and that’s usually where it stops. But the most inspired organizations, the most inspiring leaders, those that we look up to, those that have more loyalty, those that are more profitable over time, those that have great cultures, they all do it backwards.

They think, act and communicate starting with why first. They tell you why they exist. They tell you the vision of the world that they have. They tell you the human reason that they’re doing the work that they’re doing. And, as human beings, we naturally respond to that feeling. We are more loyal. We are drawn to these organizations or these people who have common values and beliefs to us.

And so, it’s not that we’re necessarily drawn to everybody or every organization that articulates why they do what they do. We’re drawn to the ones that share common values and beliefs with us. And so, that’s really the key. That’s where loyalty and trust and relationship comes in. And the opportunity that we have is to shift our thinking, shift our communication, and shift our cultures to be more why-based. And as a result, see more success financially, see more loyalty and more growth rather than having those things be the goal which is really not that inspiring to anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. So, now, could you maybe give us a couple examples of a why that you’re not talking about profit, shareholder value, market share from an organization perspective, nor are you talking about just making a ton of cash, money, as an individual’s perspective? So, could you maybe give us a couple of examples, articulations of, “Oh, here’s what I mean by a why”?

David Mead
Sure. So, first of all, before I give you those, just to the point you made, there’s nothing wrong with all those things. There’s nothing wrong with growth or nothing wrong with making a ton of money. I think the challenge comes in or the danger comes in when we place an unbalanced amount of focus on those things because, ultimately, that’s not what drives fulfillment and meaning which is what we, as human beings, ultimately seek.

So, I’ll give you an example of an organization’s why and then I’ll give you an example of an individual’s why or I’ll use my own. So, an example that we like to use a lot is Lego because everybody knows Lego. Right there, a pretty popular brand, and they happen to be the most profitable, excuse me, toy company on the planet, and I don’t think that’s an accident. I think it’s because they have learned to be very clear about why they do what they do. They weren’t always that clear historically.

And it’s funny, as they sort of – if you follow their history, as they have been more aligned with why they do what they do, they’ve done better. And as if they worried more about, “Let’s just beat the competition. Let’s come out with all these different products because our competitors are doing the same thing,” when they compete on what and how their profitability goes down, loyalty goes down, so it was really interesting to see what has happened just with Lego. But Lego’s why, essentially, is everything they do is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

David Mead
So, in their why – and this is true for any individual or any organization – we have no idea what the product or service is. For an individual, we should not know what you do for a living by your why. Essentially, we don’t want any “whats” in the why. Those have their place but they’re just not supposed to be in the why. So, that’s an example of an organization’s why.

I’ll give you another one just for a little added flavor here. I’ll give you the why of our organization. Let’s start with why. In everything that we do is to inspire people to do the things that inspire them so that, together, we can change our world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

David Mead
On an individual example, again I’ll use my own. My why, the way that I articulate it, is to propel people forward so that they can make their mark on the world. So, what that means for me is every day, no matter what situation I show up, whether it’s at work, or at home, or with my friends, or in the community, at church, wherever I am, if I can just help propel people forward, help them take that one extra step forward so that they can be a little better than they were before, so they can go on to do the amazing things they’re meant to do in the world, that’s what really fills me up and inspires me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, then, you laid out some of the benefits in terms of zeroing in on your why. That’s so meta, why does the why matter? So, in terms of inspiring organizations, leaders, and then also just tends to lead to the great sort of, I guess, immediate financial or more short-term type results like profits and whatnot in the case of Lego there. So, I guess I’m intrigued then.

Now the book is called Finding Your Why. How does one arrive at that why statements? And could you sort of walk us through a bit of the process? And maybe even before we do that, say, how do you know when you’ve hit it? It’s like, “That’s it,” versus, “That’s not it.”

David Mead
That’s a great question. The why is a feeling. It is a belief. It is something that is borne from inside of us. I’ll explain that a little bit more when I explain the process. But to your question of, “How do you know that that’s it?” Essentially, it feels right, and so you come up with this why statement, and even though the words might not be perfect at first because we’re kind of dealing with sort of imperfect medium of language to describe a feeling that we have or a belief or a driving force in our lives, and language is a tough thing to use to describe that feeling, but essentially when you look at that why statement it should feel like, “Yeah, that’s me.”

And what we find is a lot of times when we help individuals specifically find their own why, it’s not like it’s a huge revelation where they’ve got fireworks going off and it’s this whole like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it. I never even thought that this was it.” It’s more of a, “Oh, yeah, like that’s me.” That’s now just put into words, right? And it shouldn’t be a huge surprise for an organization or for an individual because a why is not something aspirational, it’s not something that we hope to become someday. It’s borne from who we are.

And so, when we help individuals or organizations discover their why it’s really a discovery process of looking to their past and pinpointing specific experiences, stories, events that have been particularly significant, that have really stuck out in their minds for all the right reasons, right? “This is a time where we’ve been proud to work for this organization,” or, “This is an experience that I had that really helped me, that made me feel like I was doing something meaningful and it really filled me up. It was really fulfilling for me.”

And so, again, in both cases, organizationally or individually, it’s through storytelling of the specific times when we have felt at our best, when we felt like we’ve been doing the things that we’re meant to do or that we’ve been acting in ways that really represent who we are at our natural best. And then we look for the patterns, or the themes, the things that keep coming up over and over and over again in each of those stories, and that sort of begins to put together what we call the golden thread, the thing, the commonality the thing that ties all of those stories together.

And, essentially, what we’re looking for is in each of these stories, “What is the overall contribution? What is it that we give? What is the piece of ourselves or the piece of our organization that we contribute to the world? And as a result of that contribution, what’s the impact? What happens when we show up and we make that contribution?”

And so, you’ll notice, just comparing back to my own why statement, to propel people forward is my contribution, that’s what I can show up and have control over so that people can make their mark on the world. That’s the impact. So, when I show up and I make that contribution of propelling people forward, of helping them with the knowledge that I have, or the experience that I’ve gained, or I can help coach them through something so they can be a little better than they were yesterday, the impact of that is that they can then go on with that knowledge or that experience or that encouragement or inspiration, from me hopefully, and make their mark on the world. That’s the impact of the why.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. And so, I guess I’m curious then, in terms of if it’s down there, it’s just a matter of sort of discovering it as opposed to inventing it. I know it’s a turn of phrase you use which I think is a nice distinction there. So, if it’s down there and you’re discovering it, kind of once you have it articulated, what changes or transforms for people or organizations? Just like, “Oh, yeah, that’s it. Now we are consciously aware that that is the articulation.” Sort of how is life or organizations different afterwards?

David Mead
Sure. So, I think a big part of a why discovery is, obviously first, articulating it and figuring out what it is, and that is just the first step. A couple of follow-on things to that that can really help you to bring that why to life or to sort of make it actionable within the organization or on an individual basis as well is to articulate your hows. And during the process of the why discovery there’s a lot of output, there’s a lot of themes and patterns and words and phrases and things that are really meaningful and important that pop out.

And a couple of those ideas, the ones that are sort of the overarching, you know, seem to be the biggest things, the ones that we love the most or the things that really resonate with us the most, that seem to sort of encapsulate everything else are what ends up in the why statement. The rest of those themes don’t go away. Those become really candidates for our hows which are more the sort of day-to-day behaviors and actions and guiding principles that direct our behavior every day, that when we live in those ways, when we operate in those ways, either individually or as an organization, that’s what allows us to bring that why, that contribution of impact to life.

And so, I think for a person or an organization who is really interested in applying this and making it actionable, it’s really important to articulate those hows as well. And so, every decision that you make, every strategy that you plan, every partner that you partner with, every person that you hire, every job that you look at taking is going to, then, flow through the filter of your why and your hows, “If I move forward with this opportunity, is it going to allow me to live my why? Am I going to be able to behave according to my guiding principles?”

I’ll give you a sort of an example. Like if one of my hows were to “do it together,” I need to have a team around me, and a company calls me up, and they say, “David, we’d love to have you put together a training curriculum throughout the next 12 months, a series of four workshops where you’re going to put all of our middle managers through this leadership training. We’re going to lock you up in a room for six weeks, and at the end of it, I want you to come out with a perfectly-articulated plan of how this is going to happen.”

I know right then, because one of my hows – I’m postulating, this is not one of my hows but this is just an example – one of my hows is “do it together” which means I need to have a team around me. I can’t work well alone. I know that that opportunity is going to turn out badly for me. And so, I can use that as a filter that I know that if this seems like a great opportunity and this organization seems like one that we share common values and beliefs, they’re going in the right direction, I believe in what they’re doing.

I might just simply say, “You know what, I work much better when I have a team of people to bounce my ideas off of or gain some other insight from. Are there a couple of other people that I could have access to that could help me understand the inner workings of the organization and who these middle managers are and what they need and all this kind of other stuff?” If I can have those people around me and I can do it together then we’re going to end up with a much better result at the end than if I have to do it on my own.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you there and so that’s great, having gone through that process, you’ve zeroed in on it. And so, I’m thinking as you engaged in these questions, you’re zeroing in on experiences that you’re proud of and that are meaningful to you as opposed to – is this fair to say – just experiences that you thought were just a ton of fun, like, “That was really cool.” You’re saying, like, “What kind of like emotion feeling are we targeting where we look at these experiences?” When you say meaningful, does that also like that’s really fun? Or kind of what’s in scope and out of scope for why leading experience reflecting?

David Mead
That’s a great question. And I would say no story is a wrong story necessarily but I like the sort of the fine point that you put on this which is we’re looking for events and stories and experience that have some sort of lasting significance. And so, it’s not like, “Oh, my gosh, I rode the biggest rollercoaster in the world, and it was a total rush. That was so much fun.” Like that’s great but it didn’t really mean anything.

So, we’re looking for things, experiences where you have learned something that was really valuable too in your life, and these don’t have to be huge monumental things like you won first prize in whatever. They can be the tiniest little thing, like you stopped by the side of the road and helped an older guy change a flat tire and you had a bonding moment with that person.

Like it can be seemingly really insignificant things, but as long as you took something away from it, and you learned something, or it impacted you in some way, helped you see the world in a different way, or sort of helped you consider your role in life in a little different way, something that just sort of you’ve kept with you and taken something from or learned something from. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. And I think, maybe, to make it come to life all the more, I’d love it if you could spend, oh, three, four, five minutes of you just doing what you do in terms of if we are kind of dialogue partners and you’re helping me get to my why, what would you ask me? And maybe we’ll just do that live real time. I’ll give you some responses and you’ll do some follow-ups and we’ll kind of get a flavor for how this unfolds.

David Mead
Sure. So, I mean, in three, four, five minutes we’re not going to get to your why but I’ll give you an essence of kind of what the process looks like. So, I would just ask you to start out by telling me an experience in your life that has been significant or meaningful to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. I’ll say coordinating the speed dating event at church just because I got an email about that this morning. It reminded me, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that was pretty awesome.”

David Mead
Cool. All right. Tell me more about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was really cool. We had a 152 people each year that goes down and I’ve met some cool folks myself in terms of friends and girlfriends at the event myself, and there’d been a number of people who have gotten married as a result of having met each other there, and it was just really cool to just see an event come together and go live as well as just like the beautiful clockwork of blow the whistle and everyone rotates in just like an elegant system.

David Mead
Interesting imagery of a beautiful clockwork, and I’m curious. It seems like that’s part of the story that you really love. Talk more about that. What’s so amazing or so beautiful about that for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you just put so much time and effort into the thing and then it’s alive, you know. And then it’s a little bit chaotic, like, “What’s going on? Where am I going? Is this the right table? Where actually am I going?” And then it’s just a cool, efficiency in terms of, “Okay, three minutes.” The whistle blows and everyone moves in the direction, coordination, and it’s like in that moment, it’s like, “All right. You know, 76 pairs of people are getting acquainted all at once, and then it happens repeatedly again and then again.” And it’s just really cool to watch as it unfolds.

David Mead
Is this the first, this one that you’re talking about, is this the first event like this that you’ve put on?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I’ve put on a number of like leadership conferences and retreats, and so there’d been several events.

David Mead
Okay. So, I’m interested because you could’ve told me about anyone of those but you chose this particular speed dating event. Tell me what it is about this particular event that really sticks out in your mind if you had to pick one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s that there’s just so many people I care about in one place at one time whether they’re volunteers or buddies looking for romance. It’s like, “Hey, I know you people, and good luck. It’s fun creating this with you.”

David Mead
You used the word create. What do you feel like you’re creating?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would say it’s an experience, it’s some moments that are just a ton of fun in terms of whether folks find their spouse or not, it’s like that was great. I got plugged into meeting a lot of really great people that I’ll likely remain in touch with. And we’re just having just kind of like a magical few hours in terms of people and food and beverage and enjoyment.

David Mead
And, again, curious on that, the word magical. If you had to describe, what is magical about that?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s exhilarating and fun in a way that it’s stimulating on numerous human dimensions at once, you know, I guess emotionally, intellectually, relationally, food and beverage in the belly. It’s enjoyable on multiple sides of your human experience all at the same time.

David Mead
Sure. And if you had to sort of zero in on, what’s the part that you feel like you played? What was the thing that you gave of yourself? What did you contribute in that?

Pete Mockaitis
I thought I brought like a coordinating mastermind type element. It’s like, “These are how all the pieces of the system and processes are going to work from the signup to the table placement, to the software that then does the matching and the email notifications. It was fun to kind of tie all of these things together in a cool combination that worked.

David Mead
And because of this contribution that you made, this coordinating, this arranging, this orchestrating that you took care of, what was the result of that? What do you think you made possible for people?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that, well, for some people it is their spouse, you know, it’s the person they’re married to right now, and their whole family life, so that’s just so exciting. Like, “There you are.” For others it was kind of introduction to a cool community, it’s like, “I like these guys. These will be my friends now.” And so, kind of the main place they find fellowship, camaraderie, good times, and then just maybe even on a small scale, just folks and all the feedback forms, saying, “This was a fantastic night. Thank you.”

David Mead
Yeah, and you said that you just received an email – was it this morning – about this event?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. They said, “Oh, hey, Pete. You know we’re putting this together. We need…” So, I’m not as directly involved now, “We need all of your quick tips and tricks and documents. Hook it up.”

David Mead
Yeah. And, I mean, do you see the result of these people who some of them have gotten married, others maybe not, but you said that you keep in touch with all of these people, or a lot of these people. Do you any or are there any specific people that stick out from this one event that the impact of what happened for them, whether marriage or something else, really just inspires you or really fulfills you, and you thought, “Man, if for nothing else, that was worth it”?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m thinking about Megan, my friend, who did meet her spouse there, and I think I just remember how we were talking and it seemed like, for no good reason, she’s a great gal. It seems like she’s having some trouble meeting a good dude, and at the same time the event sort of fills out so quickly for women more so than men. That’s a whole another conversation.

And so, it was cool that it was through a volunteer capacity where one was bartending, the other was participating that they got to make a connection there. So, I just thought that was pretty cool, that here’s someone I know and then there’s value kind of flowing not just if you’re a participant but also as a volunteer. It’s like you’re a part of what it can be.

David Mead
That’s great. So, just pausing for a minute, I think at this point I’ve taken down just a bunch of notes on a little sticky pad, but if we were continuing this process, we would go on to another story and I would just say, “Hey, Pete, go ahead and tell me another time in your life when you felt fulfilled or when you’ve done something that was really significant or meaningful for you.”

And what I would watch for is any of the same type of themes or words or ideas or phrases that would’ve come up in these first stories. So, if you’re curious, I’m happy to share some of the things that I jotted down.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Thanks.

David Mead
So, I wrote a thing. You know, in the process when we talk about how to take somebody through it, when you hear these stories there are two components of the story. There’s sort of the logistic of it, like what happened, when it was, how many people were there, all that kind of stuff. And then we separate those from the feelings, the emotions, the meaning behind the story, and so keeping those sort of separated out, helps us as we’re filtering through three, four, five, six different stories that somebody might tell. We can go back and we have one section that’s just for the meanings and the emotions and so we don’t have to filter through and look through all the logistical stuff at the same time.

So, I separated those things out a little bit. I’ll focus more on the meaning and the significance part. But some of the things that I jotted down were creating a moment, and I love that, which is what you said. This idea of bringing people together, of connection, relationship, coordinating, arranging, orchestrating, giving people a sense of belonging, fellowship. And so, again, just a couple of those things that I would want to watch for as the next few stories unfold, because the idea is that your why is who you are at your best no matter where you are.

And so, you should be able to live your why at church, at work, at home, with your friends, it’s all the same. And so, this is why we want stories and experiences from every different part of your life because all those things tie together, because it doesn’t matter where you are because we are who we are wherever we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Well, thank you. Well, yeah, that’s fun. Cool. And so, then, so you got those course on StartWithWhy.com.

David Mead
Yup, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how’s that go down?

David Mead
So if you go to StartWithWhy.com there’s an online course which is in the very final stages of being revamped. And so, basically, Peter and I, who co-authored Find Your Why with Simon, basically guide you through with videos and online exercises to take you through this process of discovering your personal why.

So, the online course is right now mainly designed for individuals, also entrepreneurs, solopreneurs as well, not so much yet designed for businesses. That’s where Find Your Why the book comes in. And we have at least half of that book dedicated to teams and organizations to discover their why.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, then, it sounds like you’re going to want to have a partner engaged in the why discovery course in order to really make it pop.

David Mead
Absolutely. We’ve had a lot of people in the past try to do it themselves, and they think, “Ah, I got this. I can figure it out.” But it’s sort of like, I mean, this is why we have to go to therapy, right? We cannot analyze ourselves. And so, it’s really, really difficult, I would say impossible, for an individual to identify their own themes and patterns, and it’s very important to have that third party sort of outside perspective.

And one of the kind of fun things that I do when I do an individual discovery with somebody is, before I sort of repeat back to them after they’re done telling me all their stories, before I read back, repeat back to them any of the themes or the patterns that I’ve noticed, I ask them, especially if there are some that are really, really strong, I say, “Do you see any of the patterns that keep coming up over and over in these stories?” and, usually, they say, “No, not really. They all seem pretty disparate and separate to me.”

And then I lay out what their themes are, and I point back to each story that those came from, and they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re right. Like I never would’ve seen them myself.” And so, having a partner, or in an organization’s case, having a facilitator, preferably from the outside if you can do it, who does not have that – the biases and the sort of preconceived notions and the things that make us subjective versus objective – is really, really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. Well, so then, thanks for making that all the more real now. And so, I want to get your take, then, so the show is for professionals and we got folks in different workplaces. So, how does one individual’s why kind of interplay or map to the workplace or the team or the company in terms of like how do those jive together? Maybe sometimes they don’t. Like how do we think about those interplaying?

David Mead
Yeah, so the idea is that our individual why will align with and contribute to the why of the organization that we work for. Now, most organizations don’t have a clearly-articulated why and so that becomes a little tough. However, a lot of us work in places that we love our jobs, we love to go to work, it’s a great culture, it feels great, we love the people that we work with, we enjoy our jobs, and so the culture and the feeling is there, even though the words aren’t necessarily clearly articulated and put on the wall in the form of a why.

So as long as we’re in an environment where we feel comfortable, where we feel like we’re doing meaningful work, our own individual why can still play into that because if you think about it, really, anybody’s why is about the contribution and the impact that we make on the lives of people. And so, we have the opportunity to show up and be that person for our colleagues, for our team members, for our customers, for our partners, for our vendors, and so there’s nothing really keeping us from living our own personal why even if the organization doesn’t have a clearly-articulated one.

Where the beauty is, and where really the inspiration and fulfillment comes in, is when our organizations do have a clearly-articulated why, and we can see how our own why really feeds in and contributes directly to that bigger picture of the organization, and that just gives us that extra drive to get to work and to help this organization achieve this great vision.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that. Well, now I’m kind of going back and forth in terms of they all have the common ingredients of are all contributions so that an impact is created. So, then, I guess I’m wondering, just how diverse or varied can why statements be? Could you maybe give us, I don’t know, three more quick individual examples so I could see, “Oh, I see how they’re the same and yet different”?

David Mead
Sure. So, let me see if I can pull out a couple. Are you talking about individual or organization examples?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s go individual, yeah.

David Mead
Okay. So, I’ll give you a couple, the why statements of a couple of people on our team. One is to support and encourage others so that they can revel in who they are, and that one is really around just helping people find the beauty in themselves and reveling in that, so that’s one. Another one is to help people connect in meaningful ways so that we could live in a more fulfilled world.

And so, you’ll notice, I mean, the pattern, the commonality among everybody’s why is that it is, in some way, in service to somebody else. It’s our way of helping other people. And, you know, you talk to so many people and they say, “Oh, I feel so good when I help other people. My why is to help others.” You’re right, it is, but the power of going through an exercise like this is that we can get into a more detailed articulation of what your version of help means, right?

So, when I help somebody, I might do it in a little different way than you do it. Our whys will be slightly different even though, ultimately, they’re both about helping other people but it’s just the way that we articulate them that can make them really authentic and feel genuine to us.

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

David Mead
Again, if anybody is interested in learning more about this StartWithWhy.com is a great place to go. We’ve got links to Simon’s TED Talk if you haven’t seen it, a lot of other free resources, and you can Google Simon Sinek, you’ll find endless pages of videos and talks and that kind of stuff which is all great.

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

David Mead
Yes, I have a few but one that pops to mind, and I actually have it on my desk, and it feels a little bit of a cop-out, but it’s a Simon quote, but it ties directly to what we’ve been talking about here, which is, “If you’re a different person at work than you are at home, then in one of those two places you’re lying.” The idea behind that is we should be who we are at our natural best everywhere that we are, and that includes being who we are at work and who we are at home, and we should not be two different people in both of those places.

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

David Mead
I love, love, love, and again, call it a cop-out if you want, but Leaders Eat Last, Simon’s second book, is so incredibly good. Like I don’t know what not to underline. So, from a leadership book perspective, I think that is one of the most influential and impactful books that I have ever read.

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

David Mead
Can I give you a habit?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, let’s take it.

David Mead
Yeah, so a habit that I have is every time right before I get on stage to do a talk or a workshop or something, I remind myself that I’m there to give. And so, I say to myself out loud, “Show up to give.” And it puts me in a mindset of, essentially, I’m getting out on that stage, I’m putting my arms around all those people and I’m giving them the knowledge or the experience or the things that I’ve learned, and I’m not there to get paid – of course, I do get paid – but that’s not what’s going on in my mind.

I’m not thinking about, “Well, jeez, I hope they like it so that they hire me again or they can refer me to somebody else,” or, “Who am I going to meet here that can be influential in my career?” I don’t think about any of that stuff. I just put myself in the mindset of show up to give, and that is a habit that has served me very well, and just keeps my head in the right place.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thanks. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

David Mead
I think, again, it ties to what we’ve been talking about here, about whether you go through the online course or the book or something completely different or nothing at all, at least think to yourself and consider, “Why do you actually get out of bed every day?” And if you really want to be awesome at your job there’s got to be passion, there’s got to be drive, there’s got to be love there.

Human beings are not inspired to make a huge paycheck or to hit a number or a metric, those are all motivating things. But, like we said before, it’s like that experience of taking a rollercoaster, it’s like, “Yeah, it was fun. That was awesome,” and then it wears off. Knowing your why and living based on that and finding an organization where we can bring that to life brings lasting fulfillment, and that’s something that we all deserve to have.

It shouldn’t be like, we shouldn’t feel lucky that we love our jobs. It’s something that should be available to everybody. And so, it simply just starts with considering, “Why do we actually do this?” And if we don’t feel like what we’re doing is a good fit, what changes do we need to make? Where might we be able to go that does feel a little bit better where we can bring our best selves to work every day?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, David, this has been a real treat. Thanks so much for sharing and questioning and getting some wheels turning both for myself and for everyone who’s listening here. So, I wish you tons of luck and keep on rocking.

David Mead
Thanks, Pete. You, too.