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KF #20. Interpersonal Savvy Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

495: How to Network When You Hate Networking with Devora Zack

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Devora Zack says: "Remember to value connecting over collecting."

Devora Zack explains why you don’t need to work the room to build great connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to smoothly start, sustain, and end conversations
  2. How to ease your pre-networking anxiety
  3. Best practices for writing amazing follow-ups

About Devora:

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author and global speaker with books in 45 language translations. Her clients include Deloitte, Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report, Forbes, Cosmo, Self, Redbook, Fast Company, and many others. She is the author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing and Singletasking.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Devora Zack Interview Transcript

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

Devora Zack
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Devora, I understand that you identify as a strong introvert and, yet, you are now doing all sorts of speeches and writing about networking. What is the story here?

Devora Zack
Networking is not exclusively for extroverts, I’ve discovered. So, it started off when I was teaching a lot of seminars, and building connections, and creating new relationships, and sustaining businesses. And I suddenly realized that all those so-called excellent networking advice didn’t work for me, and I started doing the opposite. And who would’ve ever guessed, it’s a whole new method of networking that works for many people. As a matter of fact, the majority of people, traditional networking advice does not resonate with them, and they do far better, myself included, by honoring who they are and accepting their natural temperament.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then that’s intriguing. And so, what would be an example of honoring your natural temperament versus violating it?

Devora Zack
So, traditional advice says get out there as much as possible, constant contact, never eat a meal alone, and that kind of advice makes most of us want to run and hide, crash and burn, and proclaim ourselves to hate networking and be terrible at it. So, instead, if you work with understand who you are and then create a system that honors how you get energy, for example, introverts get energy alone whereas extroverts get energy with others.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so then could we hear some cool cases stories associated with folks who tackled some of those approaches and saw fantastic results?

Devora Zack
Sure. I’ll give one about myself when I wanted to get my first book published for the first time. So, I was at a conference and there were about 40 different publishers there, and so traditional wisdom would say meet all of them because that’ll maximize the possibility that you’ll hit it off with one of them. But I knew as an introvert that that would drain me and that it would also feel really inauthentic so I wouldn’t be bringing my best foot forward.

So, instead, I did research in advanced, which I always recommend people do, found and identified one publisher that I thought would be a really perfect fit, had one meeting at the conference, and I was the only person they signed out of 16,000 people, and we’re working together 12 years later. So, it really shows, it’s one little example that instead of saying, “I should do something,” like, “I should go out there and meet with everyone, I should try and spend as much time with as many different publishers as possible,” instead to say, “I’m going to follow what feels authentic and seek out where I think there’s a real connection.”
Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting, this notion. Let’s unpack that a bit when it comes to the “should.” Under what circumstances do you think we should violate our “shoulds” or ignore or overrule the should voice versus kind of run with them?

Devora Zack
Right. In my book I say, “You should never say should.” So, it’s hard to kind of get around that sometimes. So, there’s really three differences between introverts and extroverts, and my system of networking is really focused on this dimension.

So, introverts think to talk and extroverts talk to think. Introverts energize alone and extroverts energize with others. And introverts go deep, like deeper into fewer relationships, fewer interests, less activity around them. That does not mean less active. It just means less competing action for the brain. And extroverts are the opposite. They talk to think, they energize with others, and they go wide. They like a lot of people, a lot of action, a lot going on.

So, if I know that I think to talk, what I have to do is to prepare in advance some good questions, to practice what I’m going to say, to get familiar with typical topics people might raise at this event, and be prepared with answers.

Also, introverts tend to be more private and they don’t want to talk about themselves as much, they can spend more time thinking of great questions to ask other people. And, by the way, if you don’t like talking about how wonderful you are, you can show people instead by demonstrating an authentic interest in other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And when it comes to some of these great questions, have you found some go-to winners that you love and are great again and again?

Devora Zack
Yeah. One is that you want to make them interesting, the questions that people want to answer, and that you’re actually interested in hearing their response to. So, avoid the kind of old questions, they’re a little dull, like, “What do you do?” Like, that’s really basic. So, with a slight twist you can say, “What’s your favorite part of your work?” And suddenly the person comes alive, they’re talking about something that they’re passionate about, it’s more interesting to listen to, so that’s an example of a good, well-formed question.

You want to be cautious with your questions, also, about making them initially not too personal because introverts, especially if they have a strong, what’s called, strength of preference, a strong identification with introversion, they tend to find more things private. So, something an extrovert might ask would seem perfectly an innocent question, and an introvert might feel on the spot. So, start with the general questions, and then let the other person, who you’re talking to, decide how specific to get, and they might get more specific and more comfortable, both of you are, in the conversation.

A corollary to that is people often ask me, when we’re in the context of conversations and questions, “How do you end a conversation? So, I maybe find a way to be really engaging, some people want to talk to me, but what if it’s time for me to move on in the event, or in the evening, or the daytime?”

So, it’s really quite simple to end a conversation in a networking event because there is an expectation that people are there to meet people. So, non-verbal certainly makes a big difference, tone, pleasant facial expressions, smile, say, “Well, it’s been really interesting talking to you. I promise myself I’d circulate.” Or, almost the reverse of that, “Well, I’m sure you want to meet other people. Here’s my card.”

So, it’s really very simple to end a conversation, but the key is when you’re in the conversation, to be entirely focused on that other person. A lot of times people are looking for the “right person” to communicate with and they’re not making good eye contact and they’re distracted. Instead, I encourage people to decide that whenever they’re in a conversation with someone, that’s the right person for that period of time, and your job is to find out why. Why is this person in front of you out of everyone at the event, or, indeed, everyone in the world?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve made that point there before with regard to not trying to work the room and talk to absolutely everybody but instead make some of those deeper, more authentic relationships. And you’ve made reference, I understand, in your book to a couple of other old rules of networking advice. What are some of those and what makes things different now?

Devora Zack
Did you have any in particular that you wanted me to pound to pieces or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I would love for you to pound to pieces the one that is the most prevalent and the most wrong?

Devora Zack
There’s so many. I’ll start with one, it’s a popular saying which is to never eat a meal alone, that every meal is a networking opportunity. And, again, it’s about how you’re…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re saying, “Keith Ferrazzi, you’re dead wrong.”

Devora Zack
That’s right. That’s right. I really do disagree with that. Well, I should say that works for about 15% of the general population. That’s good advice for really strong extroverts, people that identify strong with extroversion. It doesn’t work for the rest of us and it allows us to not have time to reenergize. So, what I recommend is that if you need time alone to prepare for a program, before a presentation, when you’re on a business trip, to allow yourself to have a meal alone if that energizes you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m also curious to hear your take on the “Networking Survival Kit.” It seems like we’ve got some things in terms of advance preparation internally with thought. Are there some physical items here too?

Devora Zack
Yes, as a matter of fact. So, the networking events, I believe you’re referring in particular to, there’s a chapter in the book called that, and I have a three-piece strategy that helps us network more effectively. One is to prepare, the next is to percolate, that means to engage, and then to pace yourself. However, you asked an interesting question, “Are there any physical pieces in the survival kit?” And I would say yes.

And that is the first thing that’s important to have in your survival kit is a small mirror. When you get to networking events, take a moment and check yourself out. Make sure that you’re not disheveled, that you’re cleaned up. A lot of times we’re like rushing from one place to another and we’re like in a hurry and we might be a little bit late, so we just jump on in. It’s always worth the time to take a moment to focus yourself internally and externally.

So, it might mean that there’s a powder room or a bathroom nearby to get centered in or if you just have a slide, again, a small mirror with you. Take a moment, make sure you’re put together. Also, physically put together. So, take a couple of breaths and get centered. I also recommend, for your survival kit, an energy bar or a snack, something to have before the event so you don’t arrive starving. A lot of networking events involve food, often open buffet or pass-around food.

And so, one of two situations, it’s usually the case, it’s either you bought a ticket and you’re like, “I’m going to eat my money’s worth,” or someone else is covering it, and then you’re like, “Hey, it’s a free meal.” And I encourage you to not think of it as either one. Don’t arrive starting. It’s okay to eat a little bit, but there’s been many, many networking mishaps that I’ve been privy to, not necessarily always involved in, but sometimes involved in, that include food and being too eager to start eating.

Pete Mockaitis
Please, please regale us with a tale or two of some eager eating mishaps.

Devora Zack
You know, my memory feels faulty today. But, for example, having a mouthful of food when you’re introduced to somebody that you’ve been wanting to meet, spilling on yourself. Also, big types of food that you eat at networking matters too. If you love those everything bagels, that’s for Sunday mornings with your family but, otherwise, eat plain items such as crackers or bread without a lot of nuts and seeds that can get stuck in your teeth.

When I’m helping organize a networking event, I always forbid spinach dips even though it tastes good because that causes a lot of trouble as well. I do have a little saying, which nobody likes including myself, but it is a good rule of thumb for the most part, and it is, “Eat before, drink after.” That means eat something before the event, and then maybe a couple of simple things at the event, like carrots or things that are less likely to cause a mess. And then drink after the event in terms of alcohol. If you’re in an event and you like to drink alcohol, maybe one or two drinks is okay, but to put a lid on it at that. I hear a lot of people telling me, “But, Devora, I’m a better networker when I’ve had some drinks.” And to this I reply, “Says who? Should we poll the room?” Because we often think we’re better at networking after a few drinks.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you might feel you’re a better networker because you’re having more fun but you might…

Devora Zack
Exactly. All of a sudden, I’m brilliant and hilarious and a real genius. So, you just want to be aware of that when you’re at an event, that it might feel like a party but it’s still a business experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when we talk about physical items in the survival kit, I’m thinking a little bit about I really dig those little, I guess, they’re Listerine, it’s one of the brands, of pocket packs in terms of…

Devora Zack
Oh, great one. I love turning this around physical, like a real bag. I think we should definitely throw that in there. That’s a great one. And also, comfortable shoes if the bag is big enough. I really think, in any networking situation, comfort over flash. So, if you’re comfortable in walking shoes, pick that over your really fashionable but uncomfortable shoes. That’s my opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, then I want to get your take, if you’re in the midst of things and you’re feeling anxious right then and there in the moment, how do you recommend overcoming that?

Devora Zack
So, it’d be okay with giving yourself a little time to yourself. Also, reframe your mind. Everyone is not focused on you. Like, we sometimes have delusions of grandeur that when I’m standing there, I’m not talking with anyone, the entire room is focused on me standing there not talking to anyone. Also, make yourself available to others.

So, for example, if I’ve got myself a very modest plate of some plain carrots and red peppers or something, again, that’s not going to make a disaster like handheld tacos or that kind of thing. Then if you have these little cocktail high-top tables to kind of just make yourself comfortable standing at one of them and have a friendly expression to allow other people who are wandering out to maybe come over and talk to you, that’s one thing you can do.

Also, to be looking around with a pleasant expression on your face, and you’ll have those questions prepared, and to keep an eye on people’s nametags. Often nametags have interesting information, you know, what someone does or where they’re from. If you’re there, I always recommend that if you’re uncomfortable at networking events to do something counterintuitive, and that is to get to the event early instead of late because early on, it’s fewer crowds, less noisy, easier to get into conversation, and it’s a little calmer.

So, if you get there on the earlier side, you have another benefit of looking at usually there’s a nametag table setup somewhere, to see who’s coming. If there’s someone you want to meet or someone you haven’t seen in a while that you didn’t know was coming, that’s something to get you centered and occupy yourself for the first few minutes when you arrive.

I also recommend, before the event, if you have the opportunity to see if you could be helpful in some way, either volunteer formally or informally. That not only positions you as a helpful person, but it also gives you something to do and something to talk about at the event as a volunteer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what would be some examples of informal volunteer roles that are handy?

Devora Zack
So, I arrive, and I’m a regular participant, and I might know the person who’s organizing the event, and maybe she’s running around like crazy, or he’s running, so I can over and say, “Hey, what can I do to help? I’d love to be of assistance. Do you need these flyers put on all the tables?” Like, make some suggestions. And then also remember to thank them for all their hard work and you’ll be surprised at how often people will give you something to do. It’s helping you as much as it’s helping them because suddenly you have a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s true. It makes sense that you’re naturally shifting your attention away from yourself and that subconsciousness and onto completing something, and so then you’re more in the groove right there and it just feels a little bit like the expression, “Act like you own the place.” In a way, you kind of do. You own that piece of the experience in that moment, and there’s just sort of a power that comes with that.

Devora Zack
Yeah.

And, also, something to be cautious about is when someone who’s more introverted meet someone that they feel a connection to, a potential hazard is that then they’ll want to stick with that person the rest of the program because it feels such a relief, like, “Oh, my gosh, here’s someone I can connect to because I’m going to connect to so many people,” then it’s like, “Oh, well, Pete, let’s walk around the rest of the evening at the program.” And so, I have a special advice for those introverts, and it’s if you love someone, set them free. Even though it’s been lovely, end the conversation before everyone has gotten run out of topics, or has gotten weary of each other.

A little side advice for extroverts when you’re in conversation, and actually I got this advice from a client who’s an extrovert so it comes a real-live extrovert. He said something he thinks in his brain when he’s concerned, maybe there’s an imbalance of conversation when he’s meeting people, is he says to himself, “Wait. W-A-I-T.” And it stands for, “Why am I talking?” So, he asks himself that to make sure. to serve as a reality check like, “Maybe it’s time for me to stop talking.” So, different advice for different folks.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yes. Well, let’s talk a bit more about when you’re in the thick of it, that conversation. So, we’ve had some openers, and we’re sort of in the mix, and you’re watching out for dominating, if you’re preferring extroversion and have a lot of fun. And what are some other pro tips with regard to keeping the conversation going in some cool and interesting ways?

Devora Zack
So, I would always favor asking questions and, given the opportunity, open-ended question as oppose to close-ended questions. Also, to make sure that what you’re saying is in the positive. It’s really astonishing how often people attempt to bond over what’s wrong, like it’s incredibly prevalent. So, just take note of it the next time you’re out and about. And, unfortunately, I think you’ll probably find that to be the case, “Oh, my gosh, the weather is terrible. The parking was bad. There’s so much traffic. They downscaled this year. It looks like the cheese has been sitting out too long. I think they skimped. Some people didn’t show up that were supposed to show up.” I can go on and on and on because there’s so many examples.

So, it’s really trying to take a moment before you speak and think, “Is this positive?” Like, not to be fake, but, “What’s something positive I can say? How can I be positive and helpful and be someone that people want to be around as oppose to someone who’s looking at what’s wrong all the time?” so, be careful about that in conversation.

And, also, when you are meeting with people, it might be easy at the end of the conversation to just delve into another conversation. If you just spoke to someone you really do want to keep in touch with, then get their card if they have one, and take a moment to just jot down a couple of notes to yourself on the front of the card about where you met them, what you talked about, what you might be able to follow up on. It’s a great gift to give yourself because we forget about half of what we hear within two days.

So, I may think, “Oh, Pete was so great. It was wonderful talking with him. I’m definitely going to follow up and see if he wants to get a copy.” And like a few days later, I have a bunch of cards and I don’t know which one was that person that I intended to follow up with. So, give yourself a little time out to focus your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear some of the other perspectives on the follow-up. So, one is making sure that it doesn’t go too long because it can be forgotten. And what are some of the other, I’d say, common mistakes and best practices there?

Devora Zack
So, be specific and remember to value connecting over collecting. So, it’s not about how many cards you collect, it’s about who you connect with and how deep these connections are. To that end, I think that people will sometimes, at the end of a conference, send out a like a Blind CC or a group list to everyone saying, “Hey, it was great meeting you at that industry conference. Let’s stay in touch.” And that reads as phony, it’s not specific, it’s going to get deleted.

So, instead of reaching out to everyone who you touched base with in the conference, pick a couple of people, authentic individuals, specific follow-up, and in the follow-up, make it short. I think email is a good way to follow up also with different personality styles. And to see right away what you can do to offer the other person, maybe an article you think they’d be interested in based on the conversation, maybe a connection you can make for them in their work, as opposed to right away thinking, “What can they do for me? What am I asking for?” Try and offer something in your follow-up.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take there. What are some of the great ways that are broadly applicable that we can be generous and proactive givers there?

Devora Zack
Make sure it really is something that the other person might want. So, again, it all goes back to what happens at the event. Listen closely to what they’re saying, pick up on what they’re interested in. Because you’ve asked questions and because afterwards you’ve jotted something down on their card before you left, you’ll have specific offers to make. It doesn’t have to be something professional. It could be, “Oh, you said you were coaching your son’s soccer team. I read this hilarious article that I think you’ll find funny about parents coaching their kids or whatever.” Maybe it’s offering them a laugh.

But one thing to be careful about is to not think you’re offering someone something when it’s, really, you’re asking for something. Like, some of these people will say to me after meeting me, it’s superficially, “Hey, I’d love to treat you to lunch and pick your brain.” Like, that, all of a sudden, it sounds like I’m getting something but it’s really that you want to pick their brain. So, you want to make sure that it’s really focused on what the other person is interested in.

Also, to that end, you say, if you want to follow up with someone and maybe have more time with them, make it easy for the person to say yes. So, if someone says to me or I assume maybe to you, “We’ll have lunch,” that’s a hard thing to say yes to because we’re super busy professionals and have a lot of demands. However, if someone wants some advice and it’s really concrete, and they say, “I’d love 10 minutes of your time to ask you some questions. I could come to your office or we could do it by video conferencing. Would that be possible?” Then that’s pretty easy for me to say yes to. So, make it easy for people to, when it does come time to ask something, to say yes to you.

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

Devora Zack
Well, there’s a couple new sections in the second edition of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, one we’ve been talking about a little bit, which is follow up a new chapter in that because so many people are interested in that. There’s also a new section on interviewing skills. But the one I want to mention in particular is cultivating connections in non-professional environments.

So, I think it’s important for us, in our lives, many of us are a little bit isolated in between our work and our home life, to find what I call, and other people call as well, the third space, like a community outside of work. So, I have a lot of tips which you can read about but also, just in general, to be on the lookout for, ways to connect with people in a socializing way to enrich your life beyond work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Any of those leaping to mind with regard to those other social-connecting ways?

Devora Zack
Well, it’s to find hobbies or interests that are already inherently interesting to you. So, pursue maybe there’s something when you were in college or in your younger years when you had more time that you did. Look at those old interests you had and see if you can find ways to revive them as you get older and busier. So, to reawaken things that you enjoy doing. So, it’s not just about, “I’m going to meet people,” which is lovely, but it’s also about cultivating an interest that you authentically have and would like to learn more about or become more proficient in.

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

Devora Zack
Really, my favorite quote is by a philosopher named Philo of Alexandria, and it is, “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” And I love it because we might see someone who seems like they have it all going on but we can’t really know. And to assume everyone is fighting their own battles, we’ll be extra kind to each other.

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

Devora Zack
So, actually, I think my favorite quote of a scientist, a neuroscientist who did research, is actually from a different one of my books, Singletasking, about how to be more focused in your interactions. And there’s a neuroscientist named Douglas Merrill, and he says, “Everyone knows kids are better at multitasking. The problem – everyone is wrong.” And he did studies to show that no matter what age you are, you’re always more effective and efficient and productive by focusing on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Devora Zack
My favorite book of all is The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a children’s book but it’s really for all ages.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember that one, yes. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Devora Zack
A really nice pen. As a writer, I write every day for hours a day and I also do speaking, of course, but in between I’m writing, and I love a great pen so I have a little collection.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are you loving these days in the pens?

Devora Zack
A variety. Just some are fountain pens, some are ballpoints, some are different sizes, different styles. I guess it’s like if a musician has as favorite instrument, I go through different phases with different pens. And it’s nothing like handwriting. I do a lot of writing on computer too but I still handwrite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share with us a couple favorite ballpoint brands and models?

Devora Zack
Let’s see. What am I using right now? It’s Visconti, it’s an Italian pen. They have a lot of beautiful versions. I don’t want to favor one over the other because I’ll change my mind next week and then feel guilty that I said a different brand on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Devora Zack
Getting up really early. This is going to make everybody hate me but it’s true. Getting up really early in the morning to exercise. I’m a morning person and I love to wake up and move around. So, that’s my favorite habit, exercising early in the morning.

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

Devora Zack
My website MyOnlyConnect.com. My company is called Only Connect Consulting, so MyOnlyConnect.com. You can find all, also, any of my three books Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing, and Singletasking through the website or through bookstores

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

Devora Zack
Well, my final call to action in this context of networking is this, is to absolutely, everything else gets pushed aside, you must follow up. You can be a brilliant networker, you can talk to anyone about anything, if you’re not following up, you’re not networking. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at speaking off the cuff. What matters is what happens the next day. Are you in touch afterwards? Did you build a meaningful relationship with that person? Is it mutually beneficial? So, nothing can happen if you’re just having a good time at the event or maybe dreading the event, and then it just vanishes into a black hole. So, it’s the key. There’s a lot of other tips but the key to anything happening is follow up.

And one other thing, being gracious. Also being gracious to people. So, I’ll demonstrate. Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been such a treat talking with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thanks, Devora. It’s been fun.

480: How to Become Ridiculously Likable with Vanessa Van Edwards

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Vanessa Van Edwards says: "The fastest way that you can become more likable is to work on your own ability to like faster and more deeply."

Researcher Vanessa Van Edwards explains what causes people to like one another and how to make great impressions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Proven ways for making a fantastic first impression
  2. What builds and what kills likability the fastest
  3. Good and bad questions to ask during first meetings

About Vanessa

Vanessa Van Edwards is a behavioral investigator at her human behavior research lab, the Science of People. She is a professional people watcher—speaking, researching and cracking the code of interesting behavior hacks for audiences around the world. She is a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post. Her popular courses on Creative Live and Udemy have over 120,000 enrolled students. She’s been featured on NPR, CNN, Forbes and USA Today, but more importantly, she’s addicted to sour patch kids, airplane coffee and puppies.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Vanessa Van Edwards Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Vanessa, thanks for joining us on How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into this conversation. I’ve seen you appear in all sorts of places, so I know you’ve got the goods and a lot of great research behind your insights. But I want to hear about your experiment where you stared up at nothing.

Vanessa Van Edwards
The Look Up experiment. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, I love doing street experiments and I was dying to try this one, which is, you know, a lot of the time I teach about eye contact and I talk about body language. And one of the kind of interesting things about eye contact is we cannot help but look where other people are looking, right? If they’re looking at something that might be interesting, which we like, or it might be threating, which we need to know.

So, I wanted to test it, a very simple experiment. I stood outside on the street and I looked up at nothing and I counted how many people stopped and looked where I was looking while they walked by. And it was almost every single person, unless they were on their phone. In fact, I was looking up and a lovely lady stood next to me for quite a long time. And I’m standing there and she’s standing there, we’re both looking up at nothing, and I wonder, “Who’s going to break first?” And she kind of leans over and she says, “Is he going to jump?”

And I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” And I just laughed, and I said, “Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry but it’s actually a social experiment. There’s no one up there.” And she had made up this whole story that she thought that she saw a man in a window and that’s where I was looking and, really, it was a great experiment because, one, it told me that, yes, we are absolutely very attuned to where people look, but, second, our brain makes up stories for things we can’t explain.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is perfect. Thank you. Well, that’s a juicy takeaway and I’m sure you’ve identified many such takeaways. But I’d love to hear what’s perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made in all your years of investigating people behavior?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Ooh, that’s like asking to pick a favorite child. Hmm, but I only have one child so that’s pretty easy to do for me at this moment. Most surprising or interesting? Probably learning about personality. So, I’ve always been interested, I’ve always been that person who signs up for every personality quiz, “What Harry Potter house are you? What Disney character are you?” I just love personality quizzes.

And I was really interested to find out that there really is only one personality science that’s reliable, and that’s called The Big Five.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes. And so, reliable just in terms of when the same person takes it, it shows up again and again and again the same way.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, and not only that but also that across genders and culture and races, everyone has the same vibe traits, and that’s pretty surprising because we usually think about culture shaping our personality and it definitely does. But in terms of these five personality traits, we can measure everyone on these same five traits. And that creates kind of a universality which I like. I am always looking for universals. I want to find the things that apply to all of us because if we learn them, they help us in every situation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I want to dig into the particular practicals when it comes captivating folks, you’d put a lot of your efforts in that dimension. And so, why don’t we start with hearing what are the keys for making a fantastic first impression?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, so first impressions are really important and we kind of know this but we don’t exactly know how it works. And what’s interesting is, for my introverts listening, so there’s actually a common misconception. Introverts often think that their first impression happens the moment they open their mouth. So, an introvert will often go into an event and kind of survey the room, and then once they decide to approach someone and say, “Hi. I’m Vanessa,” that’s their first impression.

But, actually, your first impression happens the moment someone first sees you. And that’s good and bad news. So, it’s bad news because we can’t always hide in a corner until we make our first impression, until we’re ready, it actually happens the moment we walk in. The good news is all you really have to worry about is that grand entrance. Once we make the first impression, it actually stays pretty permanent.

So, the one thing that you really want to focus on when you’re entering into a room is having some kind of purpose or intention. The worst that we can do in our first impression happens by accident a lot. So, let’s say that you’re out at a networking event, you walk into the room, and you’re not sure what you’re going to do first. Should you get a drink? Should you go to the bathroom? You’re carrying your coat and your purse and your briefcase and that coffee that you just got at Starbucks, and you just need a few minutes to kind of calm down for a second. Your first impression has just been made from everyone who’s seen you right as you walk into the room.

So, what I would rather have you do is think about, “Okay, what’s the very first thing you want to do when you walk into a room?” For me, it’s almost always, if I can, trying to get something in my hand. So, that could be a name tag, that could be a pen, that could be the free pamphlet they’re giving out, it could be a drink at the bar. That has a secret affect of making you very purposeful and that also makes you look more confident.

It makes you walk more confidently. It makes your eye contact more focused. It also gives you a kind of purpose when you’re mentally walking in. If you’re a recovering awkward person like me, it’s nice to have a sense of purpose. So, the very first thing you want to do is figure out, “What are you going to do the moment you walk in a room?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I am confidently, purposefully acquiring that name tag or that beverage, or placing my items down.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, exactly. And that seems like a silly thing but, actually, what we are looking for in other people when we’re trying to gauge our first impression, is the very first thing we’re looking at is, “Is someone a threat to me?” So, luckily, in the modern business environment, most of the time people are pretty safe. And one way that you can make sure that people know that you’re safe is actually showing your hands.

So, the more items you’re carrying, the more distracted you are, if you’re still on your phone when you walk into a room, and someone can’t see your hands, it actually is a little bit of a red flag for people in their brain. When we can’t see someone’s hands, it’s as if we can’t see their intention. You know, that cliché about hiding hands, or, “He isn’t showing me his hand.” That actually has a lot of real truth. When we can’t see someone’s hands, we’re just slightly nervous. It’s like you have a hidden intention.

Pete Mockaitis
You can have a weapon. You could be a threat.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yes, exactly. So, from caveman days, if we couldn’t see someone’s hands, we wonder if they’re carrying a rock or a spear. Are they going to reach out and punch us or are they going to reach out and handshake with us?

So, this other reason why I want you to purposeful is if you are going in ready to take your first item, you’re going to be hands-free, right? You’re not going to still be on your phone. You’re not going to be carrying a bunch of items. Hopefully, you can leave them in the car if you can. That actually helps also people see you as a friend not foe.

And the second thing that people are doing is they’re trying to gauge, “Are you someone who we’d like to get to know?” And we like to get to know people who are purposeful, right? No one likes to have someone who is distracted or wandering. And so, interestingly, even just having something as simple as, “I’m going to get my name tag,” or, “I’m going to get a warm tea because I’m cold,” even those two things give off an air of confidence that’s very easy to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, that’s the first impression side of things. I think perhaps the most captivating piece of your table of contents for “Captivate” was how do we become ridiculously likable?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yes. So, likability has always fascinated me. And I’m a recovering awkward person but I joke about it in the book and I was always fascinated by the cool kids at school, right? Like, they would walk into the cafeteria and just everyone wanted to look at them and know them. And I always wondered, “What’s going on there? They weren’t necessarily more attractive, or smarter, or even the best athletes. So, I wonder do they have this quality that was kind of a secret magical charisma dust?” That’s kind of what I always wondered.

And then I studied, I come across a study by a researcher named Van Sloan and he actually studied this. He looked at high school students across a variety of high schools looking for patterns of why the popular kids are popular. And I’ll have you guess. I don’t know if you read the study in the book yet. But can you guess what made the most popular kids popular?

Pete Mockaitis
Vanessa, my guess is that they were quite interested in other people, what they were interested in, what they were up to, and they kind of seemed genuinely curious and ask follow-up questions and such.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Ah, Pete, curiosity is a very good guess but, actually, what it was and, by the way, there was a number of variables in this so it could’ve been GPA, it could’ve been athleticism, it could’ve been, first, the athlete, it could’ve been attractiveness. So, what he found was very clearly the students who were the most popular actually liked the most other people.

So, when they asked them, “How many people do you like?” The most popular kids actually had the highest number of people that they liked. So, what’s interesting about this is that it puts you in control of how likable you are, that if you go into interactions, and typically we would hold our likability. And what I mean by this is we are so afraid that people won’t like us. We’re afraid that they’re going to judge us or they’re not going to accept us for who we are, or that we’re too weird or too awkward, right? I can absolutely speak to this, feel this.

And so, we think, “Okay, I don’t want to like them first just in case they don’t like me.” And, actually, that is the thing that kills our likability the fastest. When we withhold our likability, when we’re assessing for longer than they are, it actually makes us even more unlikable. And so, the greatest way, the fastest way that you can become more likable is actually to work on your own ability to like faster and to like more deeply.

And I was so relieved to hear that because I genuinely am a very curious person, and curious is something you mentioned in your guess. I genuinely assume the best in people. In fact, sometimes I feel that’s burned me in the past. But I realized that carrying that fear, that history with me actually was contributing to a negative spiral, right? The more I withheld my liking, the more afraid I was, the less likable I became.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how does one work on one’s own capacity to like more and more readily?

Vanessa Van Edwards
So, I think this is an absolutely a mental game. And the great thing about this is you are in control of it, right? You’re not going into a room hoping other people like you. You are actually in control of how you do this.

So, the mental reframe is if you were about to introduce this person on stage, what would you have to find out about them, about how important they are, or how impressive they are, to be able to introduce them? That is a nice kind of mental reframe of asking questions that are searching for good. And this is something that I talk about in my TED Talk about how I think that we have to assume good in people. And when you assume good, all different kinds of amazing things happen.

If you assume that you’re going to like someone, and you’re looking for reasons to like them, you ask completely different questions especially if you like them with a purpose. So, liking them with a purpose means, “If I had to introduce this person on stage, if I had to introduce this person to my boss in a second because they wanted a job working next to me, what would I have to find out about them to say that?” Or, “If I knew I was going to about to spend a month with this person alone on a cruise ship, what would I want to know about them or find out about them to like them so that we have a nice month together?”

That’s a very, very different kind of mindset than, “Is this person is going to be my client? Should I pitch this person? Who is this person?” Right? It’s a very, very different kind of assumption. And I think, actually, our assumptions can help us.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, within that search, are there any sort of go-to questions you found valuable again and again?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I actually think, but first, before I answer what works, I would love to answer what I think doesn’t work. So, I have found that the question, “What do you do?” is one of the worst questions for likability, and there’s a couple reasons for this. One is that it immediately engages what I call a social script. So, the moment you ask someone, “What do you do?” it’s like you’re saying to them, “I’m going to stick within the norms, I’m going to stick within the comfort zone, and I’m going to ask a comfortable question.” And, of course, you’ve answered that question a million times before         so your brain immediately clicks on to autopilot and you go into the rote, “Oh, well, I’m an author and I research human behavior blah, blah, blah.”

What I found, if you listen to people when they answer this question, they actually answer it as if they’re apologizing to you or as if they are reading a boring excerpt from their school textbook because they’ve said it so many times that it doesn’t interest them anymore. And the problem is that it begins this cycle of autopilot that goes like this, “So, what do you do?” “Uh-huh. And where are you from?” “Great. Yeah. So, ah, great talking to you. Yeah, I’m going to go get some more wine, and have a good night.” Right? Like, it’s the same over and over and over again.

And so, I would challenge you to go on a “What do you do?” diet of never asking that question again. And the second reason why I don’t like that question is because sometimes people don’t like their answer to that question. If you ask someone “What do you do?” right out front, it means or it implies that you are going to define them by what they do.
And so, what I found is that if people really love what they do, they will find a way to work it into the conversation without you asking. If someone doesn’t mention what they do after 10 to 15 minutes of speaking with them, it means that they not only don’t feel it defines them but they might not even like it. And not knowing that might actually allow you to discover other things about them.

So, when you go in that “What do you do?” diet, I would highly recommend other kinds of questions. So, you can ask a slight variation of that question which is so comfortable, which is, “Working on anything exciting these days?” So, the reason why that one is really nice is, it’s still comfortable, it’s not like too crazy, it’s not like, “What’s your biggest worry?” Like, that can be a little deep. And it allows someone to say, “Oh, you know, I’m learning to garden.”

Or if someone isn’t working, if they don’t have a traditional job, they can say, “Oh, you know, my daughter is starting kindergarten next month.” So, it’s a way of opening up the conversation to let them talk about something positive, and this is something I really truly believe in interacting for good, is that it also assumes good.

If you ask someone “Are you working on anything exciting recently?” it asks their brain to search for anything in their life that’s exciting, which is a wonderful experience mentally, right? If you’re thinking about, “Argh, my parking, and the weather, and the food, and this networking event, and got to work on that project. I have so many emails. I have a long to-do list,“ that’s just mental trap after mental trap.

But if someone invites you to talk about anything you’re excited about, that could be a vacation you have coming up, that could be a side hustle, that could be a work project. It’s a much more pleasant mental experience, and, in that way, I feel like it’s giving a gift to the people we’re interacting with.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking now in advance as I’m headed to the podcast, to the conference, and I’m thinking about there’s lots of times I’ll just be meeting all this people in different contexts. But if you are interacting positively and searching for something good and exciting, well, then there’s all sorts of safe yet also positive openers like, “Oh, what’s the best thing you’ve seen so far? What are you really looking forward to, to go into? Did you hear anything that’s surprising?”

And then we’re all at the event, that’s kind of what’s on our minds, and so they’re going to share, “Oh, yeah, I heard this really cool speaker who mentioned this. I had no idea that that even existed.” And then there we go.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Right. And so, by the way, you just did it exactly, any variation   of that question is exactly what you want to do. So, maybe it’s, “Are you working on anything exciting recently or coming up?” It can also be, “Did you hear anything exciting from the speaker?” It could be, “Hey, do you have any exciting episodes coming up?” It could be, “Is this an exciting season for you?” Whatever. You can do a variation of that for whatever you’re from. The whole point is to ask someone to look for good and that totally changes the dynamic of your interaction and it also helps them give you reasons they are likable.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so I also want to get your take on you mentioned there are seven universals, you like universals, facial expressions. I’m curious, what are they and how can they help us?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, this is actually the science that hooked me in the very beginning of my career. So, when I read this research, I was absolutely flabbergasted that it wasn’t taught in schools. I mean, I was like, “How was I not taught this? How does not everyone know this? It’s such applicable, easy science.”

So, the research done by Dr. Paul Ekman, and Dr. Paul Ekman, I don’t know if you’ve seen the show “Lie To Me.” It’s a great show on Netflix if anyone wants to go watch it, which was based on his research. And he is a researcher who discovered that facial expressions are universal. And this was a really big surprise in the research community.

They used to believe that babies, that they learned facial expressions, that a baby was born and looked at his father and mother’s face, and then mirrored it or mimicked it. But, actually, what he found is that congenitally-blind babies, babies who’ve been blind since birth, show the same facial expressions as seeing children at the same time, meaning there’s something innate, there’s something coded in our DNA that causes us to make these faces.

And so, Dr. Ekman discovered seven universal expressions. They are happiness, my favorite of course, sadness, fear, disgust, contempt, anger, and surprise. When I learned this, whenever I teach this, I teach this in our online course, I warn all my students, “This is a blessing and a curse. Once you learn this facial expressions you will never be able to unlearn them, and it’s kind of like someone just switched your television set to HD, high definition. All of a sudden you’re seeing things you never noticed before and those can sometimes be uncomfortable truths.” But I would always rather live in real truth than ignorant bliss.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you contrast for me disgust versus contempt and say what they look like?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I mean, it’s a little hard on audio. I have a whole free guide you’re welcome to look at on my website, it’s ScienceOfPeople.com/face, and you can see in video and in action. But you can try this with me as you’re listening. So, you asked for disgust and contempt. Were those the two?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Okay. So, contempt is a one-sided mouth raise. So, if you just raise one side of your mouth, it’s the simplest microexpression. It kind of looks like a smirk. So, if you try that with me, just one-sided mouth raise, you kind of begin to feel a little better then, a little like smug, a little scornful. It’s actually a very negative microexpression. Whereas disgust, think of smelling something bad. So, crinkle your nose up and flash the upper whites of your teeth, so like, “Uggh!” that face you make. So, your lip is pulled up as high as possible. That is the face we make when we’re disgusted by something. And, by the way, it’s not just smelling something bad or tasting something bad, we make that face if we hear something we don’t like too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, then when you have it switched on HD like that, you can suddenly see everyone’s reactions to stuff, even your own stuff, like, “What I’m doing disgusts you.” Or is that with contempt?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, and I think what’s really important is I like to think of it as like reading between the lines. So, oftentimes, I give a couple of examples in my book of scenes or reality television shows where there’s a scene that plays. And if you just look at the verbal, it seems like everything’s fine. One of my favorite examples, I’m obsessed with “The Bachelorette” – “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” I joke with my husband that I watch them for work, that’s how I’m able to get the TV from him, of course. And I play a Bachelor Fantasy League and I always win every year because if you look behind the words, you’ll see the real emotions there.

So, in one of the examples I give is she says, “Yeah, I love that you did that. Everything’s great. That sounds like it’s going to be really fun.” But she actually shows a flash of contempt, she shakes her head, “No,” and then she flashes sadness at him. And, sure enough, he ends up going home. And on the verbal, on the surface, people think, “Oh, yeah, she liked that.” But if you actually know what to look for, you can see he had an opportunity at that moment. He had an opportunity to see those emotions and address them.

So, instead of taking just the words, he could’ve said, “Let me explain more about it. Let me talk to you what I do. Are you okay with that? How are you feeling with that?” He had an opportunity to dig deeper and, possibly, I think, address it and then he maybe could’ve stayed.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when they’re always saying, “I feel like Vanessa and I have a real connection,” if they really mean that or they don’t mean that, and that’s how you come out on top.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Exactly. Exactly. And it seems like you’ve been watching some “Bachelor.”

Pete Mockaitis
Just a little.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Gotcha. I got you.

Pete Mockaitis
Small doses go a long way for me.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Sure. Sure. Sure. “Sure,” that’s what my husband says to me. My husband says, “I only watch it in the background.” Okay. He’s also grabbing a glass of wine with me on Monday night. So, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, we’re in our final few minutes so I want to hear a couple of your favorite things. Could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah. so, I have a quote that I have on my computer, I read it every day, and it says, “May anyone who comes into contact with me, whether they hear about me, or they see me, or they think about me, experience a benefit and happiness.”

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, man, I’ll say the book that kind of changed my life was “Why Men Don’t Listen and Why Women Can’t Read Maps.” It’s by Barbara and Allan Pease, a couple. And it was the first self-development book I ever read. It was on my mom’s nightstand when I was a teenager and I looked at it and I wondered why she was reading it, and I kind of snuck the book, read it without her knowing.

And it was the first self-help book I had ever read, and it was the first time I ever realized there were scientific differences between the genders and, therefore, there could be other scientific differences between people. And I remember reading that book and understanding my dad better, understanding my brother better, understanding my crush better, and just feeling so empowered with the knowledge, and it made me get into self-help. It made me want to write a self-help book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, with me? Oh, I would love to get in touch. ScienceOfPeople.com is where everything is. We have all my YouTube channel, and my research, and, of course, “Captivate” is wherever books are sold.

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I would say the most important thing you can do is assume the best. And I don’t just mean in others, and that’s great too, assume that people are likable, assume they’re interesting, but also assume the best for yourself. There’s a very, very powerful scientific principle called the expectancy effect, which is that what you expect is more likely to happen. So, if you expect to be good at something, you’re more likely to be good at it. If you expect of something to go well, it’s more likely to then go well.

And so, I know that it’s very common to say, “No expectations. No expectations,” or, even worse, “Going with low expectations so I don’t get disappointed.” And I know that we’re afraid of being disappointed or disliked, but if you assume that you’re going to be liked, and if you assume the best, then that actually sets you up for greater success, and it also sets up this nice idea of sweet anticipation, that sometimes hoping is a great exercise in itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Vanessa, thanks so much for sharing this good stuff, and I wish you all the best of luck in all the ways you’re captivating folks.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Thanks so much for having me.

474: How to Turn Your Boss, Colleagues, and Customers into Superfans with Pat Flynn

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Pat Flynn says: "It's those random little tiny surprises that... make the relationship flourish."

Pat Flynn discusses how to turn anyone into your superfan.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How superfans transform your career
  2. How to create the moments that win superfans
  3. How your ego can kill your blossoming superfandom

About Pat:

Pat Flynn is a father, husband, and entrepreneur who lives and works in San Diego, CA. He owns several successful online businesses and is a professional blogger, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal bestselling author, and host of the Smart Passive Income and AskPat podcasts, which have earned a combined total of over 55 million downloads, multiple awards, and features in publications such as The New York Times and Forbes. He is also an advisor to ConvertKit, LeadPages, Teachable, and other companies in the digital marketing arena.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsor!

The Simple Habit meditation app can help you pay better attention to your emerging superfans. The first 50 listeners to sign up at SimpleHabit.com/Awesome get 30% off premium subscriptions.

Pat Flynn Interview Transcript

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

Pat Flynn
It’s awesome to be here. Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Pat, this is just so fun for me. In a way, you’re sort of like the godfather of this podcast because I learned how to podcast from watching your YouTube videos.

Pat Flynn
Hey, thank you for that. That’s cool. I love hearing that. It’s just those videos were created a while back, and to know that people are still getting value from those, and are still taking action, that’s so cool. Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. And I pointed many a person to them, like, “Okay, so how do I get started?” I was like, “Go watch these. That’s how you get started.”

Pat Flynn
Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I want to chat with you about how professionals can make, say, their boss, their colleagues, their clients, their direct reports turn into superfans of them at work? And you just wrote the book on Superfans. So, could you orient us to the big idea here?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, so I come from the entrepreneurial space where people are building their own businesses, building their own followings. And as you build a following, you want to have and realize that you understand there’s different kinds of people who are following you. There’s people who have just found you who don’t really know who you are or they’ve just met you, and there are people who are superfans, who will, if you have a business, they will share your business with other people. They’ll become repeat customers. They will defend you from all the trolls and the haters out there without you even knowing these things exist.

Pete Mockaitis
“Back off.”

Pat Flynn
Exactly. And in the workspace, a lot of these tactics very much apply. It’s the same thing whether it’s your employees or your coworkers or your boss, you can become somebody’s favorite. And in the workspace, when that happens, some really cool things happen, you have people that you could rely on, you have people who will come to bat for you, people who will, in the same, defend you if anybody says anything, and you’re going to have a lot more fun too doing that.

It’s all about those experiences that you offer for people. I think we meet so many people in this world, online and offline, it can be hard to realize just the importance of, “Okay, well, how are we keeping up-to-date with this relationship? How are we offering more value over time? How are we making them feel like they’re special and they belong such that, in return, even without asking for it, you will be elevated?” If you’re a business, your brand will be shouted. If you are an employee or work in the workspace, you might have opportunities come your way that wouldn’t have normally come your way.

And so, I think building superfans is really key. And, really, what it means is just, “How can we provide amazing experiences for others so that, in return, we’ll have more opportunities than we even know?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that. You’ve got that down. And I totally resonate and agree with what you’re saying there. And I want to dig into a bit of the how in terms of creating those experiences and the best practices for doing so. But, first, I imagine you’ve got some pretty awesome stories I want to touch upon. Can you give us some examples of just how super some superfans have gotten with regard to their superfandom?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, with me and my brands, Smart Passive Income, I’m pretty well-known in the entrepreneurial space, and I’ve generated a lot of superfans which is really amazing through a long period of time of helping serve these people. A fan is not created the moment a person finds you, right? It’s from the moments you create for them over time.

So, I’ve had people following me for over a decade, and they not only are there to purchase product when I come out with new products, or retweet my tweets when I tweet. But they send me gifts and they, like, I’m staring right here in my office. Somebody hand-painted a Bobblehead of me. It’s really strange. My wife does not like to see it because it’s really weird, and I have like a bigger head than it is my body because it’s a Bobblehead. But somebody took the time to do that.

Another person sent me, they’re from Mexico, and they have gotten a lot of value from my podcasts, they had spent two weeks creating an art piece. And what this art piece was, if you look at it, it looks like a DeLorean from Back to the Future because a lot of people know that I’m a huge fan of Back to the Future but it said, “Pat to the Future.” And when you look up close this thing that’s about two feet wide and one foot tall is made of string on beeswax. It’s like some ancient form of Mexican art that just this person wanted to give back. And it’s just like, “What? This is insane.” And then, of course, for business…isn’t that crazy? Like, I didn’t even know that was a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like it took a long, long time.

Pat Flynn
Yeah. And I’m like, “’Why would you ever…?” And it’s, “Well, because you’ve given so much to me and I value what you have to offer.”

Pete Mockaitis
I just want a coffee in Chicago, that’s all I want.

Pat Flynn
Yeah, exactly. And then there’s other people who, like, I have this book coming out. I’ve had people email me, the moment they heard of this book was coming out, and they’re like, “Pat, I want to buy a hundred copies for me. I don’t even know what it’s about. I just want to help you out.” And I’m like, “This is amazing. This is incredible.”

And then you have the fans who, I come out with my podcast on Wednesdays, and if I’m late, your fans will also be upset if you’re late. Like, “Hey, where is my episode. I need it in my life. This is a part of my routine. Are you okay? Did you die? Like, you’re late with your episode. Are you okay?” It’s just really crazy.

And when we think of fans, we think of usually things like we’re a fan of musicians, we’re a fan of baseball teams, football teams, athletes, actors, actresses, but not for things like business and whatever. My first fan actually was, I remember, her name was Jackie, and this was actually before I started Smart Passive Income, which is where most people know me from now.

This relates to my first online business which was about helping people pass an architectural exam because, my quick story, I got laid off in 2008 from the architectural world. I had my dream job, I lost it, and I ended up surviving by helping people pass a particular exam in the architecture space, and it did really well. And that’s when I created Smart Passive Income to share how all that happened and all the new businesses that I’ve been creating since then.

But I got an email from a woman who had purchased my study guide for this exam, and it was like, I don’t know, four pages long of just how much her life has changed since passing this exam she was thanking me for. And at the end of this email, she’s like, “Pat, I’m a huge fan.” And I was like, “I don’t understand. I just helped you pass an exam.” Like, “Okay, I’ll just waive this off because that’s a weird thing to say.”

But then I noticed that over the next couple of months there were like 25 other customers who came in from the exact same company she was in. I could tell because the end of the email address was the same firm. And what I ended up finding out was that Jackie had gone around and convinced every single person in her firm, her boss included, to make sure to purchase my guide because they were all going to pass that test.

And she could’ve just simply given that guide to everybody individually. It was just an electronic guide, it was an e-book, but she went out of her way to make sure that I got paid back in return. And that’s the cool thing that happens when you build fans in the business. And I can imagine in the workspace something happening that’s very similar.

Let’s say you’re a manager, you can obviously be a manager who’s all in with your work, but maybe you don’t treat your employees in the best light and you’re not going to have employees that are going to bat for you when you really need it, versus if you have fans of yours, in a sense, who are there working for you, I mean, they might come to you on Monday and go, “You know, hey, Pete, I was thinking about this through the weekend. I just spent a little extra time working on this project for you because I thought it’d be helpful for the team.” Like, “Wow, you just stepped out to do something that I didn’t even ask you to do. How amazing is that.”

And this, obviously, applies in relationships too. There’s a section of the book that talks about small little surprises and how important those things are. These things to create superfans, they don’t require a lot of money. It just requires a little bit of time and intention. And if you’re building any kind of relationship, especially with somebody you’re married to, for example, oftentimes it’s those random little tiny surprises that get remembered, and that gets shared, that make the relationship flourish, versus, if you say “I love you” every night before you go to bed, it just becomes routine, it becomes usual, it becomes expected.

It’s the “I love you” at 3:48 p.m. on Tuesday. For no reason, you go into her office, you give her some chocolates, and you just say, “Hey, honey, this is for you because you’re amazing.” And then everybody else in the office goes, “Oh, my gosh, your husband is incredible. I wish my husband was like that.” Like, you’ve just created fans not just with your wife but everybody else in the office too who wishes they had a husband just like you.

Those little tiny moments go a long way. And this is the kind of stuff I talk about in this book. A lot of different strategies that you can pick and choose from, sort of like a recipe book, to allow people to feel like they’ve got an amazing person in you who is going to be there for them and something they can gravitate toward.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, let’s talk about some strategies here. You mentioned experiences and surprises. What are some of the top strategies in terms of, let’s say, my criteria or applicability for professionals, and potency of creating superfans, which really just packs a wallop of an impact, and it’s just very doable? Like, “Hey, anybody can do this, and there’s a good bang for the buck if you do. So, go ahead and make some great experiences like these.”

Pat Flynn
Yeah. So, imagine you’ve just had somebody new come into your life and you don’t really know them, they don’t really know you. This is a good opportunity for you to offer some stuff that would allow them to go, “Whoa, I like you. I’m going to follow what you’re up to. I’m going to be there for you. I’m going to go to bat for you.” And that’s kind of what we want. We don’t want it to be the opposite.

And there’s some amazing strategies that work really, really well. Number one, I love to make sure that I’m speaking the same language of the person that I’m speaking to. Now, yes, most of us are speaking English to each other in the United States, but I’m not talking about that kind of language. I’m talking about language as in, “What are the lyrics that that person is going to respond to?”

This takes me back to a story where I did a lot of research on superfans, by the way, mostly with my wife because my wife is a superfan of the Backstreet Boys.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I followed you for a while. I knew you’d say that.

Pat Flynn
So, you knew this already. And I dug into her story because I knew she was a superfan because she literally has this box of like stuff, like action figures, framed pictures, event concert brochures, and all this stuff. Like, she is a true superfan of the Backstreet Boys. She’s even recently gone to see them now even 30 years later-ish, which is crazy.

But I dug into her story, and I found out that the first time she was really triggered by this band related to something that was happening to her life. She was 15, she had just broken off with her boyfriend, and she was listening to the radio. There was no Spotify or Apple Music or anything like that back then, it was just radio. And she had heard a song that she had heard many times before, but it was this time that when she heard the song, it really made an impact on her. And the reason was because every lyric that they were singing, every word in the song, was speaking to everything that she was literally going through in that moment. It was just like they took the words right out of her head and put it in a song.

And that song was called “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” by the Backstreet Boys. And that was the activation trigger. And in business, it’s a very same thing. Even if you have the best solution in the world, you need to present it in a way that a person who would need that solution would understand. And so, if you’re a manager, for example, and you’re trying to train somebody, if you train them as if they already have that knowledge that you have, it’s called the curse of knowledge, sometimes it can be either demeaning the way you might speak to them, sometimes it might seem like they are falling behind, and they’d start to kind of close up in a shell in a little bit.

But if you speak at their level and understand the language they would respond to, and, yes, every person is different, you’re going to have a better chance of moving them and having them sort of pay attention to you, and perhaps even go to you before others because they can go, “Oh, well, Pete understands me because Pete gets me.” And that’s the kind of best kind of feedback you can get. It’s when a person is, you’re speaking to them, they go, “Yeah. Oh, my gosh, yes, you’re absolutely right.” That’s the kind of reaction you want to get when you speak to people. So, using the right lyrics is really important.

And then my other favorite way to sort of activate a person who you have just met is to give them a small quick win. A small quick win. And I’ll tell you a quick story. I don’t know about you, Pete, but I followed a lot of personal finance blogs back in the day. I was subscribed to probably about 40 of them. I was just kind of a personal finance nerd. I wanted to know everything about my 401(k) and 529s and all that stuff, and I followed them all in my RSS Feeds back when RSS Feeds were how we got content in our inboxes.

And there was one particular person, a finance blogger, who I was a little put off by. And I was put off a little bit because of the name of this blog. The name of this blog was called I Will Teach You to be Rich.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ramit wasn’t doing it well.

Pat Flynn
Ramit, yeah. I was just, “Hmm, this guy is a little, I don’t know, pretentious or whatever.” But he had an article posted that I got really interested because the title was “Save 25% on your Cable bill in 15 minutes reading this script.” And I was at lunch at architecture, and I was like, “Okay, I have 15 minutes. What’s the worst that can happen?”

So, I called my cable company, I read the script that Ramit laid out for me, and I was able to save 20% of my cable bill in just about 10 minutes. And it blew me away. I immediately went right into the rest of his content. That was the activation/trigger point for me.

Now, consider that quick win versus what all these other personal finance bloggers were saying. They were saying things like…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Don’t drink lattes for a lot of time.”

Pat Flynn
“Don’t drink latte. Put that $30 into your savings account until you’re 65, and then you can win.” So, “Hmm, who am I going to be more interested in right now? This person who gave me the small quick win.” And if you’re working with others, number one, find out what they need help with. And, number two, surprise them by actually helping them with that even without them asking for it. That’s going to be a small quick win that’s going to get them to trigger and make that sort of connection with you in their life.

And when you need a favor, you’ve already sort of earned the right to ask for that favor when you do that kind of stuff. You’re almost kind of, as my good friend Jordan Harbinger says, “You’re kind of digging the well before you need it. If you need to dig the well when you’re thirsty, it’s already too late.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you will be dehydrated well before you get to the bottom of that well.

Pat Flynn
Especially when you just have a little pickaxe that you work with, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, no power tools. Well, boy, there’s so much of that that’s resonating in terms of the lyrics. It’s true. I have some odd word choices I’ve been told, and yet when people are using them, I feel connected to them, like, “This guy is cool.” And that also harkens to kind of… we’ve had a couple sort of great copywriters on the program, and that’s sort of the message that they reinforce in terms of, “Join the conversation,” in the person’s head already, and use the words they use.

And if someone refers to their child as an infant, or a baby, or a toddler, or a little one, matching that has resonance especially if it’s more, I think, unique and out there. It’s like, “Oh, yes, you called them little one and, consciously or subconsciously, it’s like we are similar to each other and I like you.”

Pat Flynn
I like that, yes. Somebody once called my kid a little human, and I sort of repeated that back about his baby, I was like, “Oh, okay. So, tell me about your little human.” And then, of course, they smiled and laughed and you get into this conversation, and just like really quickly you’re on the same level, and I love that.

And speaking of kids and little things like that, that’s another strategy for triggering people. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an event before where you’re meeting new people for the first time, and it’s just you always get that surface level sort of conversations, “Hey, what’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do?” those kinds of things.

But the moment you find somebody who has had a shared experience that you’ve had, like maybe you’re both parents, or maybe you both went to the same college, or you both recently went on a vacation to Hawaii, or something, you just found that out, like you’re immediately best friends, right? You hang onto that person, you found somebody who’s like you, and you can just already have conversations that you wouldn’t be able to have with others.

And this is why on my podcast, for example, and you know this, at the beginning of every episode that I have, you hear the voice of a guy, his name is John Mele, he reads a little fun fact about me, right? Like, “I was in the marching band, or I’m Sagittarius, or I was born 11 pounds 12 ounces, or whatever.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s amazing how many it’s been.

Pat Flynn
It’s kind of hard now to find them because I didn’t think I’d get this far in my podcast but we’re almost 400 episodes in, so, yeah. But going back to what I was saying, like I’ll go to a conference, I’ll meet somebody who I’ve never met before, and they immediately go, like, “Tell me about marching band because it was one of the funnest times in my life. Did you have fun with it, too?” Or, somebody is half-Filipino, they’d go, “Pat, dude, tell me about your parents. Like, did you grow up with this? Did you grow up with that? Did you eat a lot of lumpia or pancit?” And it’s just like we’re talking like we’re friends and we just met. And it’s the coolest thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Can you tell me, maybe on the flipside, what are some key things that just kill the vibe, the experience, the superfandom that’s blossoming in a hurry, like, some simple mistakes that too many people make that we should stop making right away?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, if you’re in a conversation, and the spotlight, you’re putting the spotlight on you before you put it on the other person, that’s going to kill any sort of chance you have to have that person begin to start to have interest in you. The trick is, really, and I think I once heard this from a guy named James Schramko, credit to him for this. I don’t know if he came up with this phrase. But it was, “We need to stop trying to be so interesting and start being interested,” right?

So, we always try to go, “Oh, like, look at me, how great I am. Look at all my credentials. This is why we should hang out because, look at me.” No, it should be the other way around. You can get interested in somebody else and, in turn, they will be interested in you. And this is actually how somebody that you may have heard of before, his name is Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, it was really interesting how quickly he came to be when his book came out in 2007. It just became a number one bestseller and everybody was kind of wondering why.

So, I invited him on my podcast, and I found out that he was able to have all these people talk about his book on their blog by going to conferences, so number one, meeting in person. If you just stay online to try and build relationships, it’s going to be a lot harder. So, number one, he went offline, shook hands with people, met people, and was so interested in what they were doing first, that they couldn’t help but ask, “Oh, so, Tim, tell me about what you got going on.” “Oh, I have this book called The 4-Hour Workweek coming out, and it’s coming out here. I’m just trying to get people to find interest in it. I think it’s the new way of doing business moving forward.” “Oh, my gosh, it sounds interesting. Tell me more. Tell me more. Come on my show. Come on my podcast. Come on my blog.”

And that’s how he was able to break through. And I think that’s a good lesson for all of us because when we center that focus on the person who we’re speaking to, the person who we have a relationship with, then it actually comes back to us in a very authentic and organic way.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. Well, Pat, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about superfandom before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Pat Flynn
Yeah. So, let’s talk about superfandom by being superfan smart. That was dumb, sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m okay.

Pat Flynn
The dad jokes sometimes work and they sometimes don’t. But I think another thing that relates to kind of what just happened here, you kind of got to be yourself. If you try to pretend to be like somebody else, then people, yes, maybe they’ll follow you or be interested, but they’re not going to be interested in you. They’re going to be interested in the thing that you portray.

In the online business space, you may have seen these people tout these mansions and these Lamborghinis or Ferraris and they get a big following. But why? Because people are interested in the cars and the money and the mansions but not them. The more you can be yourself the more likely it is you’re going to attract the right kinds of people, and the more likely a person is going to understand you.

And my good friend, Chris Tucker, says, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” And there’s no shame in who you are. Like, I know I’m weird, and that’s okay. My son came home one day from school, and he was crying a little bit because his friend called him weird. And I was like, “Dude, you are weird.” And he was like, “What are you talking about, dad? I don’t want to be weird.” I’m like, “Yes, you do, because that’s what makes you unique and different. If you aren’t weird, you’ll just be average and you’d be lost in the crowd. You’d be just like everybody else. Do you want to be just like everybody else?” And then I was like, “Your sister is weird. Your mom is weird, don’t tell her I said that. But we’re all weird, and that’s what makes us cool.”

Another thing, and I take a lot of inspiration from LEGO. LEGO does an amazing job of mobilizing their fans. They actually were $150 million in debt. No, actually, it was $800 million in debt in 2013. They were just building too many products, they weren’t really paying attention to who’s buying what, they were just creating and creating, and they were losing money, $800 million in debt. And then the CEO came on board who said, “No, we’ve got to shift our focus to fans and give them what they want, get them involved.”

And now they’re worth $150 billion worth more than Mattel and Hasbro alone. And they do a lot of amazing intentional things to mobilize their fans, and these are things that we could do on our lives too. One thing they do is they encourage LEGO fans to meet with each other. So, Pete, do you know what an AFOL is?

Pete Mockaitis
Adult Fan of LEGOs. I learned this once, yes.

Pat Flynn
You’re absolutely right. And what LEGO does is they encourage Adult Fans of LEGOs, who’s a very specific niche group of LEGO fans, to meet with each other, and they do. If you go to Google and you type AFOL meetup, you’re going to see hundreds, if not thousands, of different locations around the world where now Adult Fans of LEGO can come and meet together. And they do tournaments, they build contests, they just get together and talk about the history of LEGO, and they just kind of geek out about it, and it’s amazing. These little meetups, even for little groups, little niche groups in your community, in your workspace, can work really, really well.

I know back in the architecture days that I was in, there were a number of us who really bonded together very well because we love being on the softball team together, right? And it’s just kind of a cliché thing to have like a softball team for your business, but it worked so well to bring those people together and high-fiving each other and rallying and being a part of the team that only enhances the business. And if the business owner, the founder, were to encourage that and even get some really nice jerseys and congratulate the team every once in a while, I mean, what does that do for morale in the space, and to get people excited about not just the softball game but coming back to work to see their teammates, which I can imagine being really cool?

Another thing LEGO does very well is they allow their fans to actually help make decisions. And so, this means giving a little bit of room for involvement in around the people who are in the workspace with you. Well, LEGO does that. I don’t know if you knew this, but there’s a website called LEGO Ideas where any of us, you or me, could build a LEGO creation, we could submit it to LEGO on LEGO IDEAS. And if the community, not LEGO, and if the community of LEGO builders votes it up, then LEGO will actually manufacture that product and you’ll get a royalty and they’ll put your name on it. And how amazing is that to have like other LEGO creators actually help influence the business and where it’s going.

And even a little bit of involvement goes a long way. As I like to say, when people are involved, now they’re invested. And when you can get people involved, they’re going to be invested in you. We’re just scratching the surface here with superfans, but I hope this is encouraging all of you to maybe, even the next time you go to work, to see what little extra you can do to make a person feel like they belong to something, make them feel like they’re involved in something, make them feel like they’re part of something. Give them something to root for and they’ll go to bat for you, like I keep saying.

Pete Mockaitis
That was awesome. Thank you, Pat. And now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Pat Flynn
Yeah, absolutely. “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” This is Henry Ford. And it basically comes down to what you believe in, and what you believe in turning into your reality. If you are trying to attempt to do something and you really don’t believe you can do it, well, you’ll probably not going to be able to do it. it’s only when you believe you can that you’ll actually muster up the courage to get it done. And it’s all about mindset. So, whatever goals you might have in your life, inside of work, outside of work, if you don’t believe it’s possible, then you’ve already lost. You got to believe it.

And sometimes it’s hard to ask every individual to believe these things, which is why it’s so important to connect with others who are going to support you, connect with other people who are going to root for you, which is why building superfans is a great thing too.

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

Pat Flynn
Yeah, I’d point them to my main website at SmartPassiveIncome.com. I’m also pretty active on Instagram and also on YouTube. You can find me at @PatFlynn. And I don’t know if you’ll have like an affiliate link or something for Superfans, but I’d recommend people go to that to get Superfans if that’s something you’re interested in.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

469: How to Keep Robots from Stealing Your Job with Alexandra Levit

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Alexandra Levit says: "Put yourself in a position to be the most effective person in a certain job... [that way] even if some of the jobs disappear, you're still going to be at the top."

Futurist Alexandra Levit explains what the “robot takeover” will really look like and how you can stay relevant despite it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The problem with how organizations automate
  2. Honest predictions about the future of the human workforce
  3. The essentials skills that make you future-proof

About Alexandra:

Alexandra Levit has conducted proprietary research on the future of work, technology adoption, the millennial generation, gender differences and bias, and the skills gap. She also served as a member of Business Roundtable’s Springboard Project, which advised the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Defense on current employment issues.

Levit also consults and writes on leadership development, human resources, technology adoption, entrepreneurship, innovation, career and workplace trends on behalf of Fortune 500 companies.

She is a frequent national media spokesperson and is regularly featured in outlets including USA Today,National Public RadioCNNABC NewsCNBCForbesthe Associated Press, and Glamour. Levit was named an American Management Association Top Leader for two years in a row and has also beenMoney Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year and the author of one of Forbes’ best websites for women.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

Alexandra Levit Interview Transcript

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

Alexandra Levit
Thanks for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we usually start with a fun little warmup question. So, I’d love to hear from you, are the robots going to kill and enslave us all?

Alexandra Levit
Are the robots going to kill and enslave us? The answer to that would be no, at least not in the foreseeable future. There’s something called the technological singularity which refers to a point in time in which technology will become so advanced that we really don’t know how it’s going to transform our society. Our society will not look like it does today. So, all bets are off when it comes to that point.

But I think we can pretty safely say for the next 15-20 years that we can anticipate what robots are going to do and, really, they’re going to be good partners. They aren’t going to replace humans, they’re not going to enslave humans, they are going to work alongside us, and, hopefully, in most occupations, allow us to do things that are more strategic and more meaningful, and focus on the work that matters to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you.

Alexandra Levit
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that comforting. Way back when I was in college, we were talking about this and there were a couple of my classmates who were totally convinced it was going to happen, and he even used the evidence point, “Have you seen the movie Terminator?” I was like, “Well, I have but that’s a movie and I don’t think that’s a good evidence point.” So, 15-20 years we’re safe. That feels good.

Alexandra Levit
Yeah, I think your friends are not wrong to be concerned, and we can certainly talk about the reasons to be concerned and the reasons not to be concerned, but I think in the long run it is something we’re going to have to think about because these are very powerful machines, they’re getting more powerful all the time.

And so, while the growth I don’t think is as exaggerated as some people might think in terms of machine learning and machine’s ability to really replicate and simulate human emotions and consciousness, it’s not as fast as some people might think, but there’s really no reason to think it wouldn’t happen eventually. So, I’m going to agree with your friends but try to temper the hysteria a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate that. Okay, well, with that established and a little bit of a breath of relief.

Alexandra Levit
A little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about what’s up with automation these days. There’s a lot of buzz and I’d love it if you could just sort of set us straight on, okay, what are some of the most striking data and stories that point to where automation is replacing workers and where it’s really not?

Alexandra Levit
Well, this is a great question, and I think the primary message I want to get across when it comes to automation is that you can’t just take huge swaths of your employee population and fire them so that you can automate everything. What I see organizations doing tends to be either too much or too little. So, too little means they bury their head in the sand and they really should be automating certain functions, and they’re not doing that because they’re behind the curve, which that’s not an unfamiliar situation for organizations, particularly when it comes to technology.

And other organizations aren’t being strategic enough about it. They’re just saying, “Well, just because I can automate something, well, that means that I should.” And, in fact, what we need to take is a far more measured approach. We need to look at specific tasks, and what the objective is, and then determine, “Okay, well, is this something where it’s a routine task, it’s something that needs to be replicated, it’s something that doesn’t require ethics or judgment?” It’s something that we have machines that can perform for us, freeing up our human workers to do different types of tasks that do require a little bit more abstract thinking, or creativity, or ethical concerns, or judgment, those types of things.

And what we need to do is look at it on a case-by-case basis. And we’ve seen kind of what happens when organizations don’t do that, when they just blindly automate things, and then there might be human workers there but they’re taught to just kind of stand blindly by while the machine tells them what to do, and the machine is not considering the nuances.

There have been several instances of this. The most famous one actually happened here in Chicago, where you and I are both are. It involved the United Airlines a couple years ago, where algorithm told them, “We need to get these flight attendants from one place to another. That’s the best scenario for business, that’s where we’ll make the greatest profit.” And because the algorithm said so, and the system was automated, the human employees just kind of stood there and were like, “Oh, okay.” And nobody really considered, “If we pull passengers off this plane in order to get these flight attendants on, what’s going to be the impact on our brand? What’s going to be the impact on our reputation, on our customer service?”

And the machine is not thinking about that because the machine is programmed that it only cares about profits. It doesn’t care about all these nuances. And so, we call the act of the human being watching over the machine, we call this the human in the loop. So, whenever you automate something, you have to have to have a human being who’s standing by saying, “You know, I get that the data is saying this, I get that this is what we’re automating, but we really need to take a step back and have some difference of opinion here.”

And that is really, really important to consider when you are staffing projects or staffing departments, yes, you might be able to, in fact, automate something and have an algorithm perform the task, but you still need the humans in the loop for oversight. It’s very, very important. And so, United is a great example of that, but I think most people, at least in the U.S., are familiar with that, unfortunately for United. That was very bad for them. And I think we’re going to see, Pete, more of that kind of thing happening because automation is not being planned carefully enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s intriguing in terms of some guidelines there, “Hey, the more that things require ethics, creativity, and judgment, the more we need a human presence, and the more it’s sort of like rote routine kind of repeat, repeat, repeat, that’s sort of the less we do.” So, could you kind of orient us to, I guess, there’s a lot of buzz with regard to some saying that automation is going to replace all these things, all these jobs are not going to exist. Like, what’s sort of the real fact-based in terms of some of the data and the stories pointing to, “Yes, right now, we are seeing these specific jobs disappearing at quick rates and these ones might be next”?

Alexandra Levit
Oh, I’m glad you asked that because there really is an important reality check here. And there’s been a lot of handwringing over the lost of jobs to machines. And when we look at it, it is something that we need to consider. But the numbers don’t really support that it’s happening in absolute crazy rates in all occupations.

So, for example, and a lot of consulting firms have done research on this, but I like the McKinsey research on it that says that about 60% of all occupations will be affected by automation in some shape or form. So, that means, chances are, two out of three, you will have automation touch your job. But, nevertheless, that’s not 100%. That’s still only 60%.

And then the other part of that is, of those 60% of jobs that are impacted, only about 30% of the tasks in that job will be automated, so that means that even if you’re within that 60%, you still have a whole bunch of things that you are going to be doing. So, you might have one task or two tasks that can be automated, but everything else you’re still going to be doing. And, therefore, your job isn’t going to disappear.

So, I think that’s a very, very important message that most jobs are not going to disappear entirely unless they are of the really rote routine factory-related jobs where you literally would stand there and put a widget on a conveyor belt. If you have that type of job, then you may have a problem. If you’re in the tech sector and you only know one program, for example, and that’s what you do, maybe you’re a database builder or something, and that’s all you do is build databases, and you don’t evolve your skillset, then you might have a problem.

So, it’s not just manufacturing and factory jobs, there are some knowledge-related jobs that could be impacted too. And that’s why, really, I encourage people strongly to take responsibility for upskilling and reskilling. Look at where your industry and where your job function are going and see the writing on the wall. And if you see that new software programs are starting to pick up steam, that things are getting automated, then you’re going to need to develop other skillsets, in particular, tech people who have not had to develop soft skills, like great communication, and ethics, and judgment, these soft skills that we’ve been talking about. Now is the time because those jobs are going to be in jeopardy.

The other thing though, Pete, is, yes, there are going to be certain jobs that will go away, as we talked about. It’s not as extreme as people say but it will happen. But what is also really, really important to remember is that there are going to be just as many jobs, if not more, created by technology. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. First of all, whenever you have a machine inserted into a process, we talked about the human in the loop, well, it’s not just one human. It’s somebody to design it, to build it, to figure out how to deploy it, to oversee it, to fix it when it’s broken. And, by the way, that last one, no one ever thinks about that. No one thinks about –

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, reboot it. Oh, reboot it.”

Alexandra Levit
I mean, we just had that. I know. The more we rely on technology the more things are going to break and people are going to have to be able to fix it. So, these things are, really, a ton of jobs are going to be created. The other thing that’s really critical is that there are job categories that do not currently exist that will be created by technology. And, as an example, I always used to say, when I graduated from college, social media manager wasn’t a thing because social media wasn’t a thing. And now every department has its own social media person. Some entire firms are based on social media. So, that’s a good example that everyone is aware of.

And then, also, something that the importance cannot be overstated, somebody needs to explain what technology is doing to the rest of the human world, especially decision makers and leaders. So, those explainers, you need someone behind the technology who can actually, forgive me for using the word again, but to explain in very plain English what the technology is doing, how it came about the decision that it suggested, how did it work, kind of peering into the black box, if you will.

So, these are the types of jobs that will be created as a result of technology. And I think at the end of the day, we’re going to see really no net loss in human jobs. And we had the same concerns when the industrial revolution happened and when cars got on the road. Every time society changes, we worry about this, and it doesn’t happen because new jobs are created. So, overall, I think it’s a wonderful time for human employment. It’s probably the best time ever because we can really use our brains and do what we’re good at instead of doing things that are so boring and easy to repeatable.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Boy, I like so much of what you said there not just because it’s happy news, but just because it’s kind of inspiring in the sense of, “Okay, there’s not much to fear with regard to this task being automated.” I think a whole another category of stuff is just that I think just about every human has a to-do list that’s longer than what they can do. And I’ve seen this now, so we’ve got sort of more staff now on this podcast. We got about three and a half people which is amazing.

Alexandra Levit
Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Thanks, listeners.

Alexandra Levit
Yeah, good for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And then plus me, and then plus contractors on top of that, so it’s growing. And, lo and behold, at first, I was kind of worried, I was like, “Oh, man, is that too many people? There are some exceptional talent, I didn’t want to like let go and sort not snap up and to have that work.” It’s like, “Oh, sure. There’s just all this stuff you haven’t been doing now we’re going to do. Let’s fix all these things that are suboptimal. Let’s go chase after these opportunities we haven’t chased after.”

So, I think that’s huge in and of itself in that the stuff that’s not getting done, that, “Oh, we’d kind of like to if we could get to it,” now we can get to it as well as opposed to a zero-sum game. Is it a job taken? There’s jobs to be done, if the machine is doing it, the human is not doing it, and the human is out of work, it’s like, “Well, no, there are more jobs to be done than there are humans to do them.” So, we got that going for us too.

Alexandra Levit
I think you’re right. And maybe if that was the case, maybe companies would be more strategic. Because, I have to tell you, when I go, and I’m a futurist, so I talk about future work and what organizations need to do to prepare, and when I go in, sometimes it’s so funny, people are like, “Well, you’re going to talk about flex work. Flex work isn’t futuristic.” It’s like, “Yeah, but are you doing it? And are you doing it well? I get that it doesn’t sound futuristic, but this is where organizations actually are,” and that’s that they’re behind. And so, my hope with what you’re saying is that maybe we won’t be so behind if we don’t have so much administrative work to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. It’s like, “Hey, go figure out the flex work thing. We got a few hours to earn this week. Where does that happen?”

Alexandra Levit
Yeah, first, do that and then do these other things. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I don’t know, if this is neither here nor there, but there have been surprises. When I really try to rock automation, sometimes I’m sort of disappointed by the results in terms of, “Okay, there’s all these, for instance, platforms and AI, whether it’s IBM, or Google, or others kind of doing their darndest to transcribe a human speech to text, and maybe your accuracy is not bad, 98% or something, but that still means that in one minute of speaking we’re going to have to correct three plus errors, and often I find it’s way more than that. It’s maybe five to 10 times that.

And then, in practice, when I sort of tried a hybrid approach, it’s sort of like my human transcribers who are aided by technology say, “Yeah, it’s a little bit faster but I’m kind of making a lot of concessions in terms of I wouldn’t type it that way, but I guess it’s fine, with regard to capitals or commas or whatever. And it’s a whole lot less fun and rewarding to correct a bunch of things a machine did than to do it myself.”

And so, I don’t know, I guess I am not as bullish in terms of, “Automation is going to replace everything!” It’s like, “Well, they can’t even get the transcript right right now, and maybe they’ll be better in five years,” but I don’t know, that’s me just complaining.

Alexandra Levit
Well, no, Pete, I think that’s a great example of what we’re talking about earlier, and that’s that this isn’t going to happen as fast as people think. If we’re still dealing with transcription, especially transcription has been around for 25 years, in automated transcription. I remember when I first came out of college using a tool for that.

So, it’s just not going to happen as fast and things are not going to be as smooth. So, just like you’re experiencing, but on a wider scale. And, again, as we rely on more and more on technology for our everyday life, and we don’t know how to do things without technology, I think we’re going to be pretty hard up because then we’re helpless. And that is something that I actually get concerned about.

There’s a couple things that keep me up at night, and that’s one of them, that, all of sudden, we’re just not going to know to do anything because we’re reliant on technology for everything. So, I hope that doesn’t happen but I am concerned for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s talk then about the things that humans do well. You’ve highlighted six in particular uniquely human skills. And just thinking about it from the perspective of the listener, if we’re professionals, and we want to make sure that our knowledge-working careers are long and rewarding and fruitful and growing, and we note that technology evolution is sure, a real thing that’s happening, what are the skills we can nail to just be kind of bulletproof with regard to all this?

Alexandra Levit
Well, there are a few, and, of course, I talk about some of the softer ones, like having judgment, having intuition, having interpersonal sensitivity in problem solving, having empathy. I talk about those in Humanity Works but I’d like to highlight one in particular here because I think it relates to a lot of what we’ve been talking about, and that’s applied technology skills.

So, what that means is, I’m a part of a non-profit organization called the Career Advisory Board. It was established by DeVry way back in 2010. And what we’ve been looking at is, “Where are the really biggest skills gaps between what hiring managers are looking for and what people are bringing to the table?” And, not surprisingly, we identified this category of applied technology skills which are skills that help you use people, processes, data, and devices to make better business calls, better decisions.

And it means that not necessarily do you need to know how to program yourself, for example, but you need to know that software is out there and available to help you do your job better. So, you need to know what technology is feasible, and you need to know how to employ that technology, and how to make sure that it’s managed seamlessly, and how to do change management in your organization when you’re trying to roll out a new technology. So, these are applied technology skills, and every single person who works in the business world for the foreseeable future, needs to have these.

And why this so important is, traditionally, the people who focus on technology were in the IT group. Nobody else had to worry about it. And that is changing rapidly. Now, we have line of business, managers and all kinds of people involved in what technology should be rolled out, what application should be developed, what software should be deployed. And that is really an area where I think most people are going be caught completely off guard, that they are not marketable unless they have a really good handle on the technology that’s being used in their function, in their industry, and what’s really cutting edge, what are the top organizations doing.

And no one has really thought about this, if you’re not in IT. And that is, I think, going to be a steep learning curve. Unfortunately, for organizations, applied tech absolutely can be taught but it needs to be re-taught over and over again because, if you think about it, Pete, it’s going to change the technology over like one or two years.

Pete Mockaitis
It really has, yeah.

Alexandra Levit
So, it’s not an easy thing to do but it has to be done internally and people have to take responsibility for doing it on their own as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that I’m just really coming to terms with that notion right there in terms of I think even just with this podcast, about a little over three years old now, it’s sort of like the stuff that was available when I started is completely different than what is available now.

Alexandra Levit
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And then even like application by application, it’s sort of like, “Oh, I heard that wasn’t any good.” And then their teams are iterating away on the thing. And then a year later, it’s like, “No, actually, that tool is perfectly usable now so you should certainly check it out again.” It’s a different landscape every year or two.

And so then, what are some of your pro tips in terms of, okay, the professional who wants to be ahead of the curve and be sharp with that, how does one acquire that knowledge in terms of just kind of regular daily, weekly practices to stay on top of stuff?

Alexandra Levit
Well, I think reading is kind of an unsexy but smart thing to do. Read not just IT publications, although you might think that that’s the place to go, but actually just reading like a Fast Company is really cool because they talk about technology a lot and they talk about different functions that are adopting different types of AI and different types of technology.

I think taking a crash course in data analytics can’t hurt anyone. I did this myself. I was talking so much about data analytics, which is one of the applied technology skills that we found that organizations are really clamoring for, and I realized I didn’t really know what I was talking about. So, I went and I took a free course from IBM on what is data analytics, what are some of the top software programs you use to do it, what does it tell you, etc. And I now know a little bit more. I could get more in deep in it, and may still, if it’s going to be relevant to what I continue to talk about and do.

But I think that the advantage today is that there’s really no excuse for not acquiring a skill because there are so many options. You don’t have to wait for your company to teach you. Organizations are kind of getting with the program in that they’re collating a bunch of online resources for their people, they’re partnering with websites like Degree.com to give their people certifications for different skill areas.

I see this movement is definitely happening here. But you don’t have to rely on your company being smart with this. You can be listening to this podcast today and say, “Oh, actually, I don’t even know what data analytics even is. It’s a buzzword, that’s all I know.” And you could go and find the IBM course yourself, and I think it was like an hour.

And I’ve got all the background that I need for now and just being to talk intelligently with your team about how that might be employed or if it’s already being employed. How is the data being collected? Is it integrated properly? Is it valid? These are all the important things. What programs are you using to look at it? And what decisions can you make as a result of looking at it? So, I think it’s easy to do, or at least easier than it ever was before.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, applied technology skills, data analytics is one. And what are the other big ones?

Alexandra Levit
Well, I think being able to program applications, application development. And the good news there is that, again, you used to have to program apps, you would have to know a lot of code, and you would have to be trained in that. And, now, just like you used to have to know HTML in order to build a website, and now you don’t. You also can get a software program that can help you build apps.

And what we see happening now in a lot of organizations is they realize that an app will help their customers, will help their workers, and so you’ll have one function working with IT to build that app out and it will come from the line of business as opposed to coming from IT, and that is a huge change. So, app dev, data analytics, an understanding of infrastructure, digital infrastructure, digital transformation, so what it means to move everything from a manual process to a digital process, and what’s involved in that.

Change management, I mentioned this briefly earlier, is not an applied technology skill, but it’s what I call an adjacent skill area, where if you’ve got applied technology skills and you’re working with technology, you’re going to need to do change management effectively because research from everywhere, essentially, has shown that between 60% and 90% of change initiatives involving technology fail because users don’t want to adopt it, it’s too difficult, it doesn’t integrate, it breaks, etc. So, you really have to be strategic about it. You can’t just roll it out and expect that everyone is going to say, “Yay, it’s new technology.” So, that’s an adjacent skill area that, if you have applied tech, you’re going to need to develop as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s a nice line up. Well, a quick follow up there. So, where do I go if I want to develop applications without knowing any code? That sounds appealing.

Alexandra Levit
Well, I can say it because I don’t work with this organization anymore, but I learned so much about app dev when I was working with QuickBase as a spokesperson for them. And that’s an example of a software program that allows you to build apps without knowing code.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, nifty. And so, I guess there’s things like, well, hey, one of our sponsors, iDashboards, is handy with regard to looking at all of the stuff without having to know code to make it all display beautifully for you there.

Alexandra Levit
And to prop them up even more. Dashboards are critical for getting all your data in one place and being able to analyze the whole of it instead of looking at it in silos. So, having a dashboard for whatever function you’re running it from, I tend to focus mainly on HR systems, but having that view of everything and having it be easy to read, and, again, you can translate it for other decision-makers and produce reports and statistics. Very, very powerful. So, if you don’t have one of those tools, and, Pete, they don’t pay me to say this, but, seriously, as a futurist, you need to have that view of your technology and your data in one place.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, there’s a bundle of applied technology skills that are great to know to be sort of bulletproof with the future of stuff. And, now, let’s talk about some of those uniquely human skills. You’ve got leadership, team, creativity, innovation, judgment, intuition. I think that in a way it’s almost easy to brush these aside, like “Yes, of course, these are important and we all need to have them.” But what have you found are some of the sort of best practices for a professional to adopt to keep one or more of these skills sharper and sharper week after week?

Alexandra Levit
This is a great question and it’s something everybody needs to be focusing on. And I would’ve said 25 years ago that you need to be focusing on these things. And I think the most successful people in business have always focused on these skills. The difference is now it’s essential because you can’t skate by on being able to do a task anymore. You have to have those unique human elements that will set you apart from a machine.

And my favorite example, I actually talk about it in Humanity Works, this is absolutely my favorite example was what happened in Japan when they tried to roboticize their nursing. They did exactly what you’re talking about, Pete. They said, “Really, what do we really need human nurses for? Like, this is what our nurses need to do.” This is seriously what happened. Japan had a labor shortage in nursing, they didn’t know how to get more humans, so they’re like, “We’ll build a robot. It’ll be cool.”

So, they built a robot, they called it ROBEAR, was six feet tall, and essentially what ROBEAR ended up being able to do was serve food, move people in and out of bed, and do some of these rote physical tasks that nurses do. But Japan had to learn the hard way, “Oh, my God, like our human nurses do things like they come into a room, and they look into a patient’s eyes, and within a second or two they’re able to ascertain the level of pain that they’re in. They can walk into a difficult clinical situation and be able to, in their mind, assemble a group of experts from the hospital that they need to come in and solve the problem. They can sit down with a patient relative, who just got a difficult diagnosis, and sit with them and care for them and show empathy toward them.”

And these are all things that were kind of, as you’re saying, overlooked and became critical when, all of a sudden, they had this robot that couldn’t do any of that. So, most jobs, and this is what I said, this is not just a nursing thing, most jobs have these components. There are very few jobs where you don’t need to have any interpersonal skills and, in fact, some jobs are gaining the need for certain interpersonal skills.

My favorite example that I came across recently is in the supply chain, where in the supply chain it used to be a lot more, I don’t know, it was global in nature, it was less personal the way that it was rolled out in many organizations. And, now, what we’re seeing in the supply chain is it’s actually becoming more local and more regional and more relationship-based.

So, you might’ve been a logistics coordinator in the past and not really had to interact with other people too much. Now, you do. And so, that’s an example of an occupation where if you don’t have those interpersonal skills now, maybe you didn’t need them in the past, but you’re going to need them as we move forward. The world, in a way, is going to become smaller, not larger, as people crave that human touch.

And every time I’ve seen technology rolled out, it’s always got this high-tech, high-touch component. Everyone talks about that. It’s like, “It’s got to be high-tech, but we’ve also got to have high-touch because our employees, for example, don’t just want to go through onboarding where they’re in a portal, they take courses, their little avatar tells them where they need to be and who they need to meet.”

They want their manager to show them care and concern also. They want their peers to come by and say, “Let’s go to lunch.” This is never going to go away. And so, you have to include that stuff whenever you are implementing a new technology. And so, therefore, the people who are in jobs are going to need to have those skills.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’ve got to have them, and no matter what. I’m with you there. And so, how do we keep them sharp?

Alexandra Levit
Yes, so how we keep them sharp, my favorite course in the entire world, I took it way back in 2000 but I’d still recommend it highly, is the Dale Carnegie course. I learned so much about how to be an effective human. It was unbelievable.

I learned how to be diplomatic, how to compromise, how to get people who you have no authority over to collaborate with you, how to change somebody’s attitude, how to combat anger and frustration in people, how to manage my own. It just goes on and on and on. And if your organization has a program like Dale Carnegie, or has Dale Carnegie, please take advantage of it.

I got to take that course for free and I can say that it shaped my entire career after that. It probably is the single most important thing I ever did for my own development. And those kind of courses are everywhere. If you want some additional suggestions, I can either, and people can email me, or you can even just do a web search for interpersonal skills. All of the massive open online course providers, like Coursera and edX and Udemy, they have courses on interpersonal skills that you can take, and empathy.

And, again, like all the other skills we’re talking about, these are relatively easy to get your hands on for either low or no cost. So, the first thing I recommend to people is see what your company offers because you might as well get it paid for. And if it doesn’t offer something, then create your own curriculum, it’s something that I tell people about all skills that they need to develop. It’s like, “Figure what’s going to keep you marketable and then make a plan to get those skills.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I think it’s kind of fun. I sort of enjoyed the charting your own course and choosing your own adventure in terms of, “Okay, Amazon, let’s see. What do you got in terms of books on this subject?” And then often you see there’s a couple standouts, like, “Holy smokes, this one has 2,000 reviews and is apparently the book about the subject. I guess I’ll read that one.” As well as, “Oh, and this one just looks like a lot of fun. Oh, and I can listen to this one by using audio.”

Alexandra Levit
Yup, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think it’s kind of fun to, as you said, to think about creating or designing your own curriculum. And I don’t know where I read this, but I think it’s true. It’s like if you read the top five books in a field that you will know more about that field than like 90% plus of the people working in that field and just look like a genius.

And I’ve had someone on the show, and they mentioned, “Boy, whenever I had to pick up a new challenge, that’s what I did, and people were like, ‘Wow, this guy know so much about this area.’ It’s like, ‘No, I’m new. I just read the books before I started.’”

Alexandra Levit
That doesn’t surprise me at all, Pete. It really doesn’t. And they say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert about something. I don’t know about that. Maybe to become like a world-class, like the top person to do something.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, like a violinist, yeah.

Alexandra Levit
I think you’re right. And I’ve done that too. I didn’t start off being an expert in all the things I talk about either. And with my first book, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, literally, all I did was research a book about good traits to develop to become an effective professional, and I used Dale Carnegie and some of the other things.

And the second I published that book in 2004, there was no other book like it at the time, all of a sudden, I was considered an expert. And I’m like, you know, I’m really not an expert. I’m just a 27-year old kid who had a hard time and did some research and put together a book. But it’s amazing, like when you have a book or you read a book, it really is going to give you a surprising platform to talk about.

And I think you’re absolutely right. And the good news is there’s a lot of great stuff out there. And I still like the classics, Dale Carnegie, and of course Stephen Covey, who I had the fortune to be mentored by a few years ago before his death.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding. You had one-on-one time with Stephen Covey?

Alexandra Levit
I did. I did. It was so awesome. He’s so great and he really gave me a lot of great advice and great exposure, etc. But his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that was written decades and decades ago, and it still applies. And that’s the thing about these human skills, right? They are the human skills that don’t change, and the things that we struggle with don’t change either. So, we have to be mindful of both.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so powerful because I think of Stephen Covey, one of the words that leaps to mind is timeless. And we’ve interviewed a few FranklinCovey executives on the program and they’re all great so it lives on.

Alexandra Levit
It does.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it gave me kind of a chuckle out of we’re talking about sort of the future and technology and automation, and what’s the answer? Read some books. And so that’s good. But maybe you can zoom into is there any kind of key memory moment sentence that Stephen Covey shared with you that really left an imprint in particular?

Alexandra Levit
He talked to me about, and I know this is in the book too, he talked to me about time management. And, at the time, when I met him, I was struggling a lot with I basically had three things I wanted to do in my life. I was working as a VP in PR, I wanted to get my business off the ground, and I wanted to have a baby. And I didn’t know how to do all of those things. And so, we talked about how I could prioritize the things that were the most important.

And so, thanks to his leadership and mentorship, I was able to decide I’m going to let the PR job go even though this was kind of risky because that was my primary source of income. I knew I had enough income from the business, and I knew I wanted to stay home with my son a little bit to see how I liked being a mom, and I knew I won’t be able to do everything.

And so, he really solidified in me the sense of balance and the sense of you’ve got to prioritize the things that are important to you, and you have to do it young. I’m so glad that I met him when I did, and I’m so glad that when I was 27, 28, I was putting the pieces in place to make a life possible where, to this day, my kids are 8 and a half and 11 and a half, I still have a lot of time with them and a lot of flexibility to do what I need to get done because of the way that I’ve structured my career. And so, I really have Stephen to thank for that in large part.

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

Alexandra Levit
I don’t think so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then let’s go. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alexandra Levit
Henry David Thoreau for sure, “March confidently in the direction of your dreams and you’ll meet with unexpected success.” Just always go after what it is you want especially in this world where the opportunities are there now. We aren’t stuck in certain occupations. There’s more movement even within an organization than it ever used to be. So, if there’s a skill you want to develop, if there’s something you want to learn, if there’s a type of work you want to do, go figure out a way to do it even if you don’t get paid for it. Our lives are going to be about the pursuit of meaning. And so, that’s why I like that quote from Mr. Thoreau.

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

Alexandra Levit
Well, I like psychological experiments. I was a psych major in college, and so I like some of those famous experiments where they’ve shown the bystander effect, I find fascinating, where if there’s an emergency, if you don’t put somebody in charge of solving the problem, everyone will just kind of stand there. And I see that happening in corporations every day as we speak, so that was an interesting one from social psychology.

We’re talking about human skills. I like the study with the rhesus monkeys where a rhesus monkey was given a cloth mother to love, and that monkey did better than a monkey that didn’t have any love at all. So, even having a fake monkey to love was something because all beings need love and affection. And I think we can’t automate everything because then we won’t have that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alexandra Levit
My favorite book right now is actually Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and I know that that’s politically charged so maybe I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s about the pursuit of individualism, and I just find it fascinating.

And one thing that I’ve been trying to do lately, especially in the last three years since the election, is understand the other side, and understand where people are coming from, and what values and what ideals are at work to lead people to think a certain way. And so, I do feel that that book is one that I read recently and I’m glad that I did.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Alexandra Levit
A favorite tool. QuickBooks. For accounting it has been a godsend, a lifesaver. And unlike some of the technology that you and I talked about, Pete, for a small business, it’s so easy to use. It makes it so I don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on my accounting every year and taxes, and it’s so easy. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Alexandra Levit
My favorite habit lately is meditation. I meditate every night before bed for 30 minutes. I find that it really helps me sleep much better. It helps me be clear-headed in the morning. And, overall, I think it’s a nice thing to do. It kind of stops the situation where your mind is racing, you’re trying to sleep and you can’t calm down. It’s been great and I hope I keep it forever.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, you hear them quote it back to you often?

Alexandra Levit
The biggest nugget that I’ve been sharing for 15 years, so, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College is the book that was published 15 years ago, it was my first book, and it’s the book that is going to be re-published in fourth edition in September, and the thing that people always talk about is that it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s who knows what you do, and do they value it.

And this perception is reality thing is something that really hit me hard when I was a young professional because I thought just churning out work like there was no tomorrow would be enough. I didn’t really care about what people thought about me. I just wanted to do a good job. But part of doing a good job is caring what people think about you and making sure that they have the right impression of you.

And that is something that people come back over and over and over again. It is so gratifying when people who are like 40 come to me and say, “I read your book when I was 25, and it changed the course of my career.” And, usually, they’ll mention something, really, it’s what I call the professional persona or the mature confident face that you project to the work world and the impression you try to get people of you. So, that’s probably the most common.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we have to have a couple sentences on the professional persona. This is so valuable. What’s the story there?

Alexandra Levit
The professional persona is the mature confident and together face that you present to the work world. And there’s a lot of talk recently, Pete, about bringing yourself to work and being your whole self. And I think that you can be the best version of yourself at work, and it’s not necessarily the version that you would share when you’re out for drinks with your friends on Friday night, or when you’re goofing off with your family around the Thanksgiving table.

It’s the more professional version of yourself, and I think you always have to be buttoned up, a little bit concerned about what comes out of your mouth, and what you’re displaying online, that shows who you are, and you just want your organization to be proud to have you as an employee and not have anything detract from that impression.

Pete Mockaitis
And this is a lightbulb for people in terms of like…? Tell me about that.

Alexandra Levit
I think, yes, especially for young people who they’ve been brought up to believe that they are unique and special, and that their perspective should be valued, and that they should be able to be themselves at work. And, again, I think, to some degree, that’s true. But the reality is that business operates in a certain way, it still does, and you have to be mindful of the culture of your organization, and people don’t think about that. It doesn’t even occur to them. They go in, they’re themselves, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And for me it didn’t, which is how I learned about all this.

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

Alexandra Levit
People should be awesome at their jobs by looking ahead to future work trends, what is going to be necessary in your field, in your industry, and how you are going to get skills so that you are gainfully employed in the next three years, six years, nine years, even the next two decades, and how can you plan ahead. What kind of life do you want? And how can you get there? And you’re going to put yourself in a position to be the most effective person in a certain job. So, even if some of the jobs disappear, you’re still going to be at the top because you’ve got the best skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Alexandra, this has been lots of fun. I wish you and the book Humanity Works tons of luck and keep up the good work.

Alexandra Levit
Thank you so much. It was great to be here, Pete. And I’ll see you next time.

464: How to Prevent Management Messes with FranklinCovey’s Scott Jeffrey Miller

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Scott Jeffrey Miller says: "Great leaders are great listeners."

Scott Jeffrey Miller shares powerful stories and principles for becoming the most effective leader you can be.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why making time for one-on-ones is truly worth it
  2. Three foundational principles for listening well
  3. How to flourish as a leader by practicing the Law of Harvest

About Scott 

Scott J. Miller is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Chief Marketing Officer for FranklinCovey. Scott has been with the company for 20 years, and previously served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. His role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer caps 12 years on the front line, working with thousands of client facilitators across many markets and countries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Scott Jeffrey Miller Interview Transcript

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Pete, my pleasure. Thanks for the invite.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think we’re going to have a ton of fun. And I want to start at the beginning with your first leadership experience and the tale of having a bit of a management mess.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I didn’t say I wanted to. It’s the start of the book, right? As I, like most leaders, was promoted to be a leader without really any training. I was a fairly competent individual producer, the top salesperson at the time and, unfortunately, that’s usually the criteria for someone being promoted into a leadership position, is you were doing your individual contributor job well so you must be of leadership caliber which, of course, is absurd. So, I share, in this story, lots of horrifying scenarios, but do you want me to walk you through the first one?

Pete Mockaitis
I would. I’d love it. The more horrifying the better, please.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, that’s my specialty, Pete. So, let’s see, I was a couple of years into my role here at FranklinCovey as a salesperson selling leadership solutions to universities, colleges, school districts, and I got promoted to be over the team, like the team the day before me were my peers and friends. That’s never a comfortable position.

And I decided that I wanted my legacy to make sure that all of my colleagues, my new sales team, had an adequate understanding of our new solution, so I arranged and got the budget and organized the conference room to have a two-day professional development training, and really enculturate the new sales team—my new sales team—into our newest solution. Hired a consultant, first day show up, everybody comes in 15-20 minutes later. I was incent. I mean, after all, we are a productivity, time management company at heart so I was lit.

Pete Mockaitis
Putting first things first, let’s see, I’m sure there’s some habits and principles.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I’m sure we violated a lot of things. Well, they were just putting their first things first, not me. So, they kind of strolled in 15-20 minutes late and I was incent, I was productive, I was vigilant, I was probably pretty suffocating. So, anyway, we started the program, and then I was just really irritated all day long. So, that night I decide, “The next morning I’m going to show them there’s a new sheriff in town, quite frankly.”

So, I go, in my genius, in my leadership, finest moment genius, I go to the supermarket and I buy like 15 copies of the Salt Lake Tribune. The next morning, sure enough, everybody comes in 10-15 minutes late, and I am just like, “I will not be disrespected,” right, that’s my mentality. I walk around the room before the program starts and I throw down on the table in front of everybody the classified job ads from the Tribune and I say, with great flair, “If you want a job from 9:00 to 5:00, Dillard’s is hiring.” And then I gave them a highlighter to highlight the roles they want, which I thought it was inspiring and, “You should want to work here.” And, of course, it was idiotic and it was insulting and emasculating. And the horror story is that it took me a couple of days to understand that what I had done was just so immature and to the opposite of what a principled mature leader would do.

And the good news is, as I mentioned in the book, a decade later, I get married, literally a decade later, almost to a T, every one of those people who either quit on the spot, threatened to quit, threatened to sue me, threatened to have me fired, whatever it was, they’re all at my wedding, we’re laughing at the horror of it all. And so, the story ends well but it was just one of those examples of what I thought in my mind was a fine leadership example was just idiocy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s so funny, I don’t know why that tale just brings up a scene from, well, I guess, the famous Alec Baldwin scene from “Glenngarry Glen Ross.” I guess you skipped some of the profanity and the demeaning insults but it’s dramatic in terms of, “Oh, I’m not messing around here. I’m laying down the law.” Well, Scott, if I could just give you an opportunity to have a do-over and rewind time, how would you have approached that situation today? You know, if folks are late, you feel disrespected, what do you do?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I would, well, I know what I would do. I’d sit down on the table in front of them and say, “Hey, guys, ladies, gents, so glad we’re all here. We’ve got a great two days ahead of us. I noticed that we’ve got a couple of things we want to tighten up. One is I noticed that this morning perhaps the start time wasn’t clear. I really want to make sure we establish a culture of respect and discipline, and you know how much we all like to be punctual, it’s kind of what our brand is. We want to model for our clients and for each other, that we live our content, right?”

“I mean, we are a time management consulting company, so I’m going to ask that everybody be really diligent on respecting the start and end times. So, if you’ll respect the start times, I’ll respect the end times. And if we need to start later and go later, I’m fine with that, but let’s just set down some ground. rules. And if we think that we should be a little more free on some things and tighter on others, I’m open to that.”

And I would’ve absolutely had it be a conversation, not dictatorial, I would’ve not made it as big a deal, at the same time, I would’ve said, “This is kind of important to me, because I think how we treat each other is how we treat out clients, how we treat the consultant today, as everyone are consultants to be treated by our clients.” So, I would’ve had a very comfortable dialogue, no theatrics, no grand gestures, no purchasing of classified ads. I would’ve gotten my point across just as well, if not better, with no theatrics.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Okay. Well, while we’re here, I’m just going to follow up one more time. Let’s say, next day you got two stragglers, what’s the game plan?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I would probably call them out maybe not in public. It would depend upon now the rapport that I had with the team. At the time, I didn’t have rapport. I was their peer literally the day before and now I’m sort of like the swagger. So, I think it depends on the scenario. I might have called them aside. I might have texted them and say, “Hey, I know you’re late this morning. I’m guessing something came up. Do me a favor, if you’re going to be late in the future, just give me a heads up so I might have held the program for you.”

I think, now, I would suspend judgment more and not jump to a wrong conclusion. I would assume good intent. I would assume they weren’t trying to flagrantly violate my new stature, right? So, I think as I have matured, I’m less suspicious. I’m more gracious and forgiving and give people a chance to rise to the occasion versus expect them to violate some petty rule that might be important in the moment but isn’t valuable long term to the culture of the team. At the end of the day, who cares if you start five minutes late in the grand scheme of a career, right? I think I just have matured and I’ve identified what’s really important and what’s kind of petty urgent.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I imagine you’ve made a number of discoveries in terms of what makes effective leadership in your own career and being surrounded by the folks at FranklinCovey and putting together your book “Management Mess to Leadership Success.” So, could you maybe share, is there a particular insight or discovery that has been most transformational for you personally?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, it’s very clear to me. So, I’ve been in the firm for 23 years, and you would expect as an officer of the firm now, I’d be a great leader, right? And nobody is a complete mess and no one is a complete success. Leadership of people I don’t think came naturally to me. I think I’ve gotten much better over the decades but I was a star individual performer and I had to realize that the skills that make you a great dental hygienist or digital designer or salesperson rarely don’t translate over into leadership of people. So, there has to be a major paradigm shift.

You can’t be the star anymore. It isn’t all about you. It isn’t you hogging the spotlight. And so, I had to make a fundamental paradigm shift around what was important to me—and did I have the humility, did I have the confidence to let other people shine, and even sometimes shine past me, get promoted over me, earn more money than me? It takes a very secure, confident, humble person to lead people. And I think, for me, the biggest lesson on how to get there was, Pete, the value of relationships.

When Dr. Covey was alive, he passed seven years ago, our co-founder, he was constantly reminding me about the difference between having an efficiency mindset and an effectiveness mindset. And it’s something I have struggled with my entire life as it relates to relationships with people. And that is I’m a very efficient person. I like to talk fast, think fast. I mow the lawn fast. I rake the lawn fast. I’m at Home Depot at 5:00 o’clock on a Saturday morning before the staff even opens the doors to buy the flowers to plant them by 6:30. I like to get things done.

And that served me very well in life. I have no apologies for being an efficient human being. But when it comes to relationships with people, one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Covey is this concept of, “With people, slow is fast, and fast is slow.” So, what works well with me planting pansies and begonias in the garden does not work well leading people. I have to move into an effectiveness mindset.

It’s fine to be efficient with systems and even some meetings and even some conversations, but the vast majority of leadership is about building culture, respecting people, and that cannot be rushed. And I have to consciously slow down, check in, get off of my own timeline and my own agenda, and not try to “check people off my list.”

It is a challenge for me. It’s not natural. And when I rise to the occasion of slowing down, the result is always better. I start at kind of a mess and have to consciously think of success when it comes to relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I resonate with that and I do like efficiency and blazing speeds whenever possible. It just feels really good. And then it feels like there’s like a huge list of everything that desires or demands your attention. So, let’s dig into that. That is one of your challenges in the book, is making time for relationships. So, let’s dig into that, how slow is fast, and fast is slow when it comes to relationships, and here’s some stories and practices to bring that to life.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, first, I think it’s a mindset also, right? It’s, “Do you really see yourself as a leader of people versus a leader of strategies, a leader of budget, a leader of outcomes?” I think it’s just to check in to say, “Do I really care about the team that I lead, the division I lead?” The fact of the matter is, Pete, most of us recognize, in our careers, we tend to spend more time at work with our colleagues than we do awake with our family and friends.

And when that is the case for most of us, we want to slow down and really develop quality relationships with people because, as all the stats show, people don’t quit their jobs. They quit their boss, according to Gallup, and they quit their culture. And the leader’s number one job is to, in my opinion, retain and recruit quality talent above everything else, even above setting vision, strategies, systems, stakeholders, return to investors. Your job is to recruit or retain talent and it all comes down to, “Do you have a high-stress culture? Are you respected? Are you trusted?”

You may not always be liked as a leader. In fact, you probably rarely will be liked. But if you build rapport with your people, you make it safe for them to admit their messes, you admit your own messes, to really understand that your number one job is to connect with people and make them want to come to work, make them not want to accept the recruiter call which, by the way, they’re getting every day. If you don’t think your people are getting poached, you’re in a cave. It’s a war on talent right now.

And if people like their leader, they think you have their back, that you establish what I would call a pre-forgiveness environment. It was taught to me by one of my leaders, which is, “You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to screw up, so let’s just pre-forgive you. It doesn’t give you the right to now go out and just be a train wreck but you’re going to make some mistakes. No one wants to live in fear.” And I think, at the end of the day, have you connected and slowed down with your people?

I read once a great leadership tactic. And it was when someone comes into your     office, if you’re wearing glasses, take them off, put them on the table. If you’ve got a phone, turn it over and put it down. If you’ve got a laptop, close the laptop, and just like, almost artificially, overly check in to the person. Those subtle things are noticed and people will remember them.

It sounds kind of technique-y and it is, but I think it becomes a habit and a practice, and people feel that. People quit their bosses or people stay with their leaders because they feel inspired and validated and trusted and empowered. And those aren’t cultural buzzwords. Those are real things that people can taste and feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig what you’re saying here. That’s all ringing true and resonating. So, I want to hear a little bit, if folks are in a place, let’s talk about slow being fast with people. If there’s some leaders, more so junior leaders in terms of our listeners, it’s about 50/50 in terms of those who have direct reports and those who don’t, and those who unofficially are influencing without authority, project managing stuff, so that’s kind of the ballgame. We got some executives but more so early leaders in the listener crowd.

So, if folks are feeling kind of overwhelmed by all the things on their plate, all the goals and to-do list items that are there, and they’re worried that they “don’t have time” to a one-on-one with everybody, for example, how would you counter-argue that?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, they’re probably right. They probably don’t have time but they also want to have a team because your team will disengage with you. This concept that you talk about, which is this idea of challenge 20, hold regular one-on-ones. It’s really a chance to engage with your team. Again, if you believe that your number one job as a leader, not your only job, but your top job is to recruit and retain top talent, and that may not be a yes for you. You may not psychologically, philosophically believe that. I have come to absolutely believe that.

The CEO, the CFO, the chief marketing officer, right, even her job or his job is to recruit and retain talent because people are proud of their brand. So, I would set expectations carefully. Don’t go announce you’re going to have, all of a sudden, one-on-one every week with all 14 direct reports. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Calibrate expectations, talk about the value, understand the value of sitting down with your people, door closed, phone off, laptop down, glasses off, and using it as a chance to gauge engagement.

In fact, we say that one-on-one should be organized by the other team member. It’s their meeting, not your meeting. This is their chance to talk 70% of the time. You talk 30%. They ask questions, you clear the path. You listen about things going on in their life. Pete, everybody has got a mess in their life, everyone has got a bill that they can’t pay, everyone has got a challenge in their marriage or their relationship with their partner, everyone has got a kid that’s just causing them a nightmare, everyone has got a sick parent. Everyone has got something going on that is weighing on them, that’s distracting them, that’s weighing them down.

And the more they can trust appropriately in their leader to care, sometimes people just need a leader to listen and understand, “You know what, my teenage son has got a challenge, and I might be coming in late. I promise you I’ll make it up, maybe not in the short term.” You’d be surprised. Leaders are really forgiving, generally speaking, and they understand and they know, they’re not guessing what’s going on.

So, I don’t think you can afford not to take time with your people when there is this, especially with your star performers, when they are being recruited and poached like never likely in history. I’m shocked at the number of recruiters that are chasing me on LinkedIn. If my CEO knew it, he’d have me at lunch every day, or maybe he does know it, he doesn’t want me to stay. But that’s a good head’s up. If you fundamentally believe your job is to retain talent, you’ll do this.

Let me share one more point, I’m sorry I’m going long. My favorite leadership book every written is called “Multipliers.” It’s by Liz Wiseman. I can’t evangelize it enough. It’s a game-changing book. I think it’s arguably better than some of the books that we’ve written at FranklinCovey. Liz Wiseman was the former, basically, VP of Learning at Oracle for 20 years. She left, she’d become a friend of mine, and she talks about how multiplying leaders don’t have to be the genius in the room.

They choose to be the genius maker. They don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They have the humility and the confidence not to always have the answer, always solve the problem, always trample over someone, that they really can create an environment where people can talk and share ideas, and share ideas that are half-baked or quarter-baked. You don’t have to choose your words super carefully.

That’s a leader that creates an environment where people feel safe to take risks and express their ideas. And I think that’s a great way to build relationships. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You just have to be smart enough to hire the smartest people in the room.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. So, I dig that and I’ve heard that recommendation before so it’s nice to have some extra oomph behind that book. So, I guess, tell me, if folks are having trouble making the time, where should we get it? How do we get the time?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah. Well, it kind of comes down to your own prioritization. I’d argue that no one is busier than me and I don’t wear that as a badge of honor, and I have got to deliberately choose to say no to other things. That’s really a chief leadership competency, right, is this discernment, “What are you going to say yes to? What are you going to say no to? Where does it come on your sort of value chain? Are you making high-value decisions on how to allocate your time?”

And, again, if you fundamentally believe that people are your most important asset, that your culture is your ultimate competitive advantage, which by the way I evangelize unabashedly, that culture is every organization’s only competitive advantage. It can’t be duplicated. Everything else can be stolen, copied, replicated, and good enough, but they can’t steal or replicate your culture. So, how you find the time is in your own mind. What are you going to say no to that has less return than the 30 minutes with Pete this afternoon?
I’ll tell you, the worst one-on-one, Pete, is not the one that the leader talks the whole time or hijacks the agenda. The worst one-on-one is the one you cancel because as soon as you cancel the first one, now you’ve given permission to cancel the second one as a slippery slope, and now you look like a fraud. So, that’s why I’d say don’t overcommit.

If you’re going to have one-on-ones, announce to your team, “Hey, I think a great idea would be for us to have one-on-ones. I know, I get it, it’s another meeting. No one wants more meetings. Don’t think of it as a meeting. Think of it as a conversation, a chance for you to check in with me. You can ask me questions. Are there some things that I can use my political clout to clear the path on? Are there some systems that you think maybe I’m overly-invested in and it’s time to challenge them? It’s a chance for me to understand what are you struggling with? What are you loving? What’s on the horizon for you? You can ask me questions around the company, the strategy, ‘Are we being sold? Are we being bought?’ I can’t tell you but you get the point.”

And say, “You know what, let’s try, for the one-on-one, 30 minutes once a month. If we find that, after the first couple of months, I’m able to keep them, you’re able to keep them, great. Maybe we’ll go more frequently,” but set expectations low.

I had a client once that, when they heard me give a speech, it was a publisher, he came up to me and said, “Oh, my gosh, it was the most genius thing, Scott. You so inspired me. I have 14 direct reports. I’m going to go announce…” “No, no, no, no, don’t announce anything. Do not announce anything because you’re going to set yourself up for major disappointment and you’re going to kill your brand. Sit down with your assistant and think out methodically. Can you really do 14 of them?” Because we get into this habit where we overcommit ourselves. The first one goes great, the second one goes really well, the third one goes pretty good, the fourth one is taxing, and then they’re like, “Oh, crap. This is just like killing my day, right?” So, ease into it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, we talked about some high-value stuff. You’ve laid out 30 different challenges in your book. Which one or two would you say is just exceptionally high return for the investment of time, energy, attention you put into it?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know, when I wrote this book, which by the way now is a number one Amazon new release bestseller for three weeks in a row. I’m super proud of that because I think the world was ready for a different kind of leadership book, one a little more relatable, raw, and messy, so to speak, because leadership is messy.

We started out with 30, well, about 130 challenges, put them all up on the wall with sticky notes, that we thought leaders face. Of course, that’s a suicide mission, right, a book with 130 challenges. So, we narrowed it down to 30, and we organized them in kind of three tranches, Pete. The first eight are around kind of leading yourself. The next dozen or so are around leading others. And the third about dozen around getting results.

The one I think that is probably the most counterintuitive is challenge three, and that’s listen first. The reason I think it’s so counterintuitive is because by the time you become a leader, you had been well-trained on communicating. You’re always in convincing mode, persuading mode, you probably have a big vocabulary. You’ve mastered your message. You’re good at setting vision, convincing people. You’ve mastered the stage, and the microphone, on and on and on.

How many have had days and days of presentation training, lots of them, PowerPoint, keynotes? How many leaders has had legitimate training on listening? I’m in the business. I mean, I had probably four or five collective hours and 30 years on listening. It’s not called TED Listen, it’s called TED Talks, right? We’re constantly reinforced about the power of communicating. But I think great leaders are great listeners. It is a communication competency.

And I think we undermine ourselves because we’re always so used to solving problems, peeling the onion, asking great questions, and these things actually aren’t great leadership tools. There’s a place for that or there’s a place to get to the bottom of something fast and furious so you can solve it in an emergency or in a crisis. But, generally speaking, asking great questions is not showing empathy because your questions are usually based on your own paradigm, your own narrative, your own agenda, your own timeline, your own curiosity, your own need to know. And people will tell you what they need you to know.

So, I would really argue and advocate for people to be much more mindful of when was the last time that you listened to someone to truly understand as opposed to just reply, fix, solve, and move on. And I could go for a half an hour about listening. It is a total mess for me because I’m well-trained at public speaking, I host two podcasts, I host a radio program. Like you, I speak for a living, right? And I don’t like to listen because people talk too slow. I like to listen fast. I like to speak fast. I like to interrupt. I like to get to the bottom.

Ask my wife, my wife does not need me to solve her problem. She needs me to listen, validate her, and understand. My wife is very smart and very competent. She rarely wants me to solve her problem. So, I would just remind leaders to be uber, hyper aware of your listening skills, your propensity to interrupt, and can you psychologically bring the mental discipline in your next conversation to move off, well, how was it when you had that challenge.

What was it like when you faced that situation? And just constantly remind yourself, check back in, check back in, check back in. Listen. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask some questions. But the more you listen, the more the person will appreciate you and feel like you care about them. So, that was a long example.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dig it. Now, when you say check back in, you’re just talking about…

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Mentally.

Pete Mockaitis
…inside your own head.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re off in your own land.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Of course, you are.

Pete Mockaitis
And bringing it right back.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right. You’re thinking about your own experience with that same scenario or, “I’d never let that happen,” or, “Here’s how I would solve it.” You have to show enormous intellectual discipline to fight the battle of distraction, to fight the battle of, “Would you just stop talking and I’ll solve your problem for you,” right? But most people don’t want you to solve their problem. They just want to feel heard. They want to feel loved. They just want to feel listened to. And it may sound kind of touchy feely, but that’s part of leadership. It’s just sometimes validating people’s frustrations.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you said you could talk for half an hour about listening, but I’d love to go another five minutes. So, we talked about, you said, somewhat technique-y, but closing the laptop, or putting the phone aside, taking off the glasses, repeatedly checking back in and reorienting your attention away from your own internal dialogue back to them. What are some of the other kind of foundational principles and favorite practices when it comes to listening well?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I shared three things. One of them I’m going to repeat. One is you have to fundamentally believe that you care about what this person is going through or believes. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It doesn’t mean you have to even like them for that matter. Just fundamentally, “Is what I’m trying to do right now to help them by just listening?”

Second, resist the temptation to ask questions because most of our questions are probing questions, evaluating questions, interpreting questions. Most of our questions are built so that we can get better context from our own paradigm, mindset, frame of reference, belief window, whatever you want to call it. Most of those questions are really selfish. They satisfy your need to know.

Here’s a good example. When someone says, “Tina’s husband died.” Honestly, most time, our first question is, “How?” Who cares how? Does it matter if he died by an overdose or hit by a car? It doesn’t matter. What matters is Tina is probably in pain. And so, that’s a little bit macabre, I know, but it’s an example that I use in the book, right? If you’ve read that chapter, you know I used an example about someone whose dog died, and how we ask all these questions to kind of satisfy our own curiosity.

So, I would really challenge people, “Is your expert machine gun-style questioning technique…?” which is mine, I think I used an example of like a kangaroo boxing with their feet when I’m at a dinner party, right? Question, question, question, question, question. I didn’t give the person enough time to answer the question. I’m onto the next question. And so, lower your questions.

Here’s the third. I think if people are all like me, we all have a propensity to interrupt because, according to the famous linguistic professor, Dr. Deborah Tannen from Georgetown University, all of us have some preconceived sense of how long the other person should be talking. Pete might think Scott should talk for 48 seconds and stop. Scott might think Pete should talk for 28 seconds. We all have this sort of built-in idea of how long the other person should be talking, so we start to move off of listening and want to interject and move it onto our timeline. But it’s selfish. It’s self-serving.

So, the next time you’re tempted to interrupt, which will be today, I want everybody to be mindful, close your lips. Gently, let your top lip touch your bottom lip, not so it’s visible, just close your lips gently. Because if your lips are closed, you cannot form a word and, therefore, you can’t interrupt. And count to seven, count to ten, and the odds are that during that time when you choose not to interrupt, the other person will either finish talking, land their point, or maybe even share something especially vulnerable, or the crux of the story, or divulge their fear.

And it’s in that time when you’re not interrupting that you might actually learn something especially important, that when it’s time for you to interject, you’ll have a more fuller picture of how you could help them. It’s actually a great exercise that I strongly advise everybody. Check in mentally, try to stay off the natural distractions to move off of your task list, “What’s for dinner? Are you on time for they gym? Do you have enough groceries?” whatever it is. Check back in mentally, you may have to do it four or five times during a conversation, and really resist the urge to interrupt.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love it when you talked about closing your lips. That’s huge because…

Scott Jeffrey Miller
It’s idiotic, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, it’s sort of like it even changes your entire posture because a lot of times your mental state follows your physiology and your body posture and such. Are you raring to get after it and go for a sprint, or are you kind of chilling and laid back and relaxing, reclining? And, likewise, is your body poised to chime in or is your body poised to take it in? And then the difference, it can be a small as a millimeter or two, but is there a gap between your lips or are your lips, in fact, touching each other and closed? I love it. That is good.

Well, you got so much good stuff here, Scott. I like what you had to say about Wildly Important Goals. Can you share with us what are they, how do we identify them and get us all moving toward them?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Sure. So, in full disclosure, this is not my original content. In fact, all of these 30 challenges come from Franklin Covey’s leadership intellectual property. This idea was really popularized by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.” He coined this term, he called them BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And Jim is a good friend of our CEO. In fact, I’m going to see Jim next week in Boulder for a meeting. And he really inspired us in our bestselling book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” which is the number one book in the world when it comes to strategy execution.

And in our book, at FranklinCovey, we created a version of Jim’s BHAG, we called them WIGs, Wildly Important Goals. It’s quite simple but profound. We all have goals. But have you, as a leader, taken the time and the discipline to elevate what is truly more important than anything else? Meaning, like nothing can come at the expense of this getting done.

In fact, the same concept can apply in your personal life, in that as a leader, you have several roles. One of them, beyond obviously retaining and recruiting talent, setting culture, modeling trustworthiness, is communicating clarity around what is most important. And your job is to help to identify with your team, “What is going to provide disproportionate return to our shareholders, to our customers, to our profit, to our mission?”

Your job is to say, “Yes.” Your job is to say, “No.” Your job is to elevate things that have to happen. We call those the Wildly Important Goal. And everything cannot be a Wildly Important Goal. While you’re doing that, you have to make sure that your people understand that this is more important than anything else, but that you’ve taken the time, Pete, to communicate to them what is their role in achieving this goal, what types of behaviors. Literally, what do you need to see differently from them tomorrow to help achieve this goal because, likely, if it’s a Wildly Important Goal, you haven’t accomplished it yet. And everyone is going to need to learn something new or do something different tomorrow to achieve this new goal.

So, as a leader, don’t be afraid to sit down with Pete and say, “Pete, let’s talk about this. We’re going to move our customer retention from 18% to 19% in the next two months. Here’s what I think your contribution needs to be to this. Let’s look, like, what kind of training, what kind of support, what are you going to need to do differently so that you can contribute new and better behaviors to this? And, by the way, while you’re at it, don’t just tell everybody else what they need to do differently. Offer up what you’re going to do differently. And say, ‘You know what, team, I’m going to ask you all to stretch beyond your skillset, and I want you to know I’m going to lead the parade. I’m going to leave the comfort of my office and go out and meet with 10 clients in the next 14 days and really understand what do they need from us or whatever the solution is, right?’”

You lead out and show people that you’re willing to move outside your comfort zone. And then I think, beyond all of that, the goal has to be attainable. You have to structure it in a way that people understand, “Are they winning?” And goals should be structured, at least from our pedagogy, if you will, in a from X to Y by when format. “We will move customer retention from 18% to 19% by May 31, 2020” from X to Y by when.

And once people are very clear on that, “What is the goal? What is the measurement? What is my role in it? What is their role in it?” you’ve got to celebrate it. You’ve got to have it on the scoreboard, it could be hokey, it can be with cotton balls, it can be pompoms. I don’t care. The hokier the better. The less digital the better. People should look at it in a heartbeat and know, “Are we winning or are we losing? How are we at tracking towards goals?” These are kind of simple concepts.

As Dr. Covey used to say, “Common knowledge isn’t common practice.” He would always talk about The 7 Habits, “To know but not to do is not to know.” It sounds religious, maybe it is, I don’t know or care. But I think it’s a great methodology around setting Wildly Important Goals is more than being a visionary.

Let me share one final thought. I think there’s a type of leader, it’s often the high-endurance athlete, it’s often the uber successful leader who is a workaholic who’s relentless. And if they win, they lose. I’m going to say it again. If they win, they lose. Meaning, if they accomplished the goal, they’ve lost because the goal was set too low. And I think that is a cancer inside some organizations. As a leader, you should be setting stretched goals that require extraordinary effort that are aspirational, but they have to be accomplishable.

And when your team accomplishes them, you have got to invest and spend time acknowledging them, thanking them, rewarding, and celebrating. Set off the confetti, right? Spray the champagne bottle. Go bat, you know what, crazy. Don’t just say, “Great,” and then get back to the grind. People need to feel like you value accomplishing the goal as much as you did setting it and striving towards it.

I’m actually pretty passionate about that because I think too often leaders set goals that are too waffy and they crush the confidence of the team. People want to win. And if they can’t win working for you, they’ll go win working for somewhere else, someone else. Sorry, that was a diatribe.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dug it all. And I want to get your take for those who are aspiring for leadership positions but don’t have them yet, and they want to be like you, promoted into a management role. How do you get that signaling, that conveying, earning that trust, that confidence, such that people think, “Yes, you are the one who should be a manager now”?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Can I take four minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
First, ask yourself why, right? Why is it you want to move into being a leader of people? I think, like I’ve said before, people are too often lured into being the team leader for the wrong reasons. Lead or be led, right? “Either take the job or Pete, down the hall, is going to be my leader tomorrow. And that’s horrifying thought, right, I don’t want Pete being my leader so I’m going to step up the plate, right?”

I get it. I get it. But wrong motivation. Do you get your validation from seeing other people succeed? I think, too often, it’s the only way to get a career promotion is to move up into leadership. And I think it’s a system’s misalignment issue. I’m not here to tackle the OD industry but I think people should really question, “Why do I want to do this?”

Here’s the next thing. I think people try to harvest their careers too soon. That’s a broad statement. I said the word people. There’s an amazing video that Franklin Covey has in our “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” two-day work session. It’s an interview we did 25 years ago with this sort of unsophisticated but very smart potato farmer from Iowa, sorry, from Idaho. And the name of the video is called “The Law of the Harvest.”

And in this sort of 8-minute video, this potato farmer says something that changed my life, it changed my career. He said, “There comes a time when we plant potatoes that we have to rotate the crop, right? Some years we actually plant a money-losing crop, like alfalfa or whatever it is, and we lose money on it. But it replenishes the soil so desperately and so vitally that allows us to grow bigger potatoes the next year.”

And I think the metaphor is so wise for our careers. I think, too often, including in this younger generation—which I have enormous respect for, I mean, they’re going to be my boss in the next five years. I better shape up and not insult them, and I won’t—is that too often, I think we try to harvest as oppose to plant.

In my career, I have found that patience has rewarded me. Fertilize, water, weed, rake, hoe, fertilize some more. Don’t try to harvest too soon. I think, in most organizations, leaders will call you when you’re ready. Nobody wants to suppress people. We know you’ll quit. No one wants to suffocate people. We know you’ll quit. No great leader, no mediocre leader, is going to pass over you when the timing is right. If they do, you’re working for the wrong organization.

But I think the question you ask is, “How do you know?” We’ve all been in the role where we’ve had to kind of fake our way until we make it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m certainly a product of that. But I think you should surround yourself with wiser people than you. I’ve always practiced this concept, Pete, I call friending up. While my colleagues were playing beer pong at the lake house on the weekends, I was with the boss at his or her family’s house, picking their brains. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are older, smarter, wiser, richer, better educated, better travelled, been down the same path. And that always kind of led me into a leadership role probably a little sooner than I should’ve been, but it certainly had me on the right track.

So, I would say practice the Law of the Harvest. Don’t try to harvest too soon, and surround yourself with leaders that are willing to mentor and coach you, and have been down the same path you’ve been in, have made the mistakes that you could avoid if you’re willing to listen and pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Thank you, Scott.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Probably not where you thought I was taking that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. I can dig it. I can dig it. And we’re going to have a quick moment for some of your favorite things. Can you give us a favorite quote?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
My favorite quote, no surprises, from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, he said, “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into. You can only behave yourself out of that problem.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Oh, my gosh, I love electric screwdrivers.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know what, I really get into the habit of apologizing without excuses. I’ve learned that the excuse-free apology is the only apology. So, I’ve gotten to the habit of simply saying, “I’m wrong. I apologize. I own it.” No excuses around it. No defending myself. No trying to make myself look better. Just owning it and apologizing with no attachments.

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yes, so the book site is ManagementMess.com. you can find me there. You can follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you name it. I’m kind of hard to miss these days, but ManagementMess.com is the best place to learn about the book, and my future book is coming out, and how to bring me into an organization.

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Stop gossiping. The biggest cancer in organizations is leaders that talk about people behind their backs. Dr. Covey called it being loyal to the absent. Only speak about people as if they were standing right next to you, looking at you in the eye. Because when you are loyal to those who are absent, you build confidence and trust to those who are present.

There’s a person in our company who I have enormous respect for. And this person gossips and trashes everybody. And whenever I’m hearing her, I think, “Man, what do you say about me? That must be really brutal.” Because, of course, she talks about me. How can she not? Why would she spare me from that? Stop talking about people behind their back. Only talk about them as if they were standing right in front of you, looking at you in the eye. You will transform your brand, your reputation, and the culture of your organization. You can start small just on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much. And keep on the good work.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Hey, Pete, I’m honored. Thank you, sir. Glad to be part of your podcast series. Thanks for the interview.