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KF #29. Demonstrates Self-Awareness Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

931: How to Overcome Obstacles and Kickstart Change with R. Michael Anderson

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R. Michael Anderson shares how vulnerability can be your greatest strength as a leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why to be more open about your struggles
  2. The drivers behind your worst decisions
  3. The key relationship that everyone overlooks

About Michael

Michael Anderson, MBA, MA has a striking combination that creates truly impactful transformation in leaders – he has the real-life business success of founding, scaling and exiting three software companies, plus the educational background of a Masters Degree in Psychology.

 This combination gives him the unique ability to connect to other leaders as a peer, then teaches evidence-based leadership skills that genuinely drive behaviour and performance. 

With his background in psychology and neuroscience, he transforms managers into true leaders with high-performing teams in high-growth companies. He’s written two best-selling business leadership books, contributes to Entrepreneur.com, and is a former radio-show host. 

Resources Mentioned

R. Michael Anderson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome back.

R. Michael Anderson
Pete, good to be here again. It’s been forever.

Pete Mockaitis
It has. And I was looking at our last conversation, and we moved pretty quickly past your story, which I really want to dig into, into some detail, to hear about your dramatic rise and fall, and rise again, and what was happening on the outside, as well as what was happening on the inside because, I think, when it comes to a Leadership Mindset 2.0, and impostor syndrome, all this stuff, I think there’s gold lessons along your journey if you’re ready to go there.

R. Michael Anderson
I am, Pete. I share it very freely, and it’s nice to be here with you and have some time and I appreciate you asking about the outside and the inside because, as we all know, they’re related but, often when I share this, a lot of people will say that it really resonates. And a lot of times, it’s nice to know that other people go through some of the crazy stuff that we all go through as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, start us, how about you just wrapped your semi pro basketball – that’s a whole another conversation, another story and you’re getting in the business game? Let’s start from that beginning.

R. Michael Anderson
Yeah, I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then I moved out to California. I joined a software company. They moved me around the world. And then I moved back to California in my mid-30s. There was a gap in the marketplace, and I don’t want to say by accident, but a couple of my old clients asked me to come help them.

I come from enterprise software, so Microsoft Dynamics and SAP, and so there were some big, large former clients that just needed help because the company that I used to be with that got bought out wasn’t giving a good service, and so I started servicing these clients. And then, a lot of the other clients found out that had this software, and next thing you know I had a proper business, I had to deal with offices, there’s these $100-million-dollar companies that used our software to run their business, and was being all managed by little me, and I was not emotionally ready to do all this.

And what happened is, all of a sudden, we have a payroll in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, million, per month, and I was a good business person, I understood management, I understood the industry, but I didn’t understand leadership. And I never knew what emotional intelligence was, and I didn’t have a lot of great leaders to look up to. So, you can imagine, Pete, it was really difficult around those years.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m intrigued. Now, your success was driven just because, well, by golly, there was a gap in the market, and you have exactly what these folks need. And word spread, and, bada-bing, bada-boom, a lot of revenue, a lot of responsibility, a lot of clients, a lot of employees real quick, and you were not feeling so great on the inside in the midst of this external success.

R. Michael Anderson
That’s so right. Because the funny thing is, from the outside, everything looked great. We were so successful, I was on the frontpage of the newspaper.

Pete Mockaitis
Congrats.

R. Michael Anderson
To be quite honest, I had some substance abuse issues around in the early part of my life, and the pressure made them get worse. My father was an alcoholic, I had alcohol problems, I was doing hard drugs. And as this pressure mounted, that became more of a crutch, and so that was getting worse, not getting better, by any means.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you zoom actually way in on the alcohol and hard drugs? What were you thinking and feeling? And what did the alcohol and drugs do for you in those moments?

R. Michael Anderson
That’s a great question. I think I did that to not think because I didn’t have any, I’d say, tools. Like, I didn’t know who I was, and all this stuff was happening so fast. And I was working, like, crazy hours. I would bill my own. I was a consultant so I would bill myself out for eight or ten hours, and go home and do the administration or any or all of it. A couple off hours I’d do sales, and then I hired my friends from the industry.

And it’s, like, there was so much going on. And, Pete, I remember back then, my only goal was to get to the end of the day, get to the end of the week. I was so stressed out and burnt out. I wasn’t even burnt out. I could work massive hours. Burnt out is not the right word. It’s like life was just happening around me, and I was doing my best to hold on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there’s that sensation of, “Boy, just got to get to the end of the day. It’s tough. Life is happening.” And then what did the drugs and alcohol do for you?

R. Michael Anderson
Well, I think it just gave me a little respite. It’s like stuff was out of control, and my personality really likes to control. And with the substances, it was like I would have a little bit of time that would just numb everything because I couldn’t take everything that was going on, so it was like a little oasis. As bad as that sound, in a way, like I needed it because I didn’t have any other tools.

Pete Mockaitis
No, I totally resonate with that, and I haven’t used illegal drugs much in my life to resonate, but I think there are other times we seek out some kind of oasis, retreat, respite in a way that’s not so helpful, whether it’s overeating, or Netflix bingeing, or whatever. It seems like a break, but then, unfortunately, it doesn’t really satisfy, as my experience, and that of many others.

So, tell us, back on the outer world, you’ve got a lot of busyness, a lot of revenue, a lot of employees, and a lot of drugs, what happens now?

R. Michael Anderson
That’s it. That’s where it ends now. No, I was joking. Well, of course, like anything else, not like anything else, but it started just everything got worse. And I had a key employee who I gave some equity to, pretty much just out of my insecurity. He was doing a good job, and he was taking on some responsibility, but I felt so lonely, and we worked a lot of extra hours together so I gave him some equity, and he had some substance abuse issues, too.

And we ended up getting into an argument one day. It was Wednesday, it was 10:00 a.m., he came in my office, he asked me a question, and tensions were high because I wanted to keep growing the business, and he wanted to just have a bit of a lifestyle business. There was a couple things that we didn’t agree on, so tensions were high.

And he asked me, just like an everyday customer question, an operational question, I don’t remember what it was. And I gave an answer he wasn’t expecting, and he didn’t really want, and so we started to get into an argument. I’m pretty cool, I was just watching him get angrier and angrier. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen when somebody gets so angry, they get red and start shaking and yelling. That’s what he started to do.

And I said, “Look, it’s Wednesday, 10:00 a.m., there’s employees around. Why don’t you go back to your office. Let’s talk about this after everybody leaves.” And I thought that was the end of it. He went away down the hall back to his office, but then he popped his head back in, and he goes, “I’m going to wipe that smile off your face.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

R. Michael Anderson
And then I watched him come around my desk, and he cocks back, and, with all his might, he hits me.

Pete Mockaitis
Whoa!

R. Michael Anderson
Yeah. I saw it coming, so I turned away but I felt the blow on my shoulder, and then we just sort of looked at each other, and then he left. And I got up and shut my door. And people asked me, like, “What were you thinking back? What were you feeling?” I’m like, “I think I was a bit in shock.” If you’ve ever had something so crazy happen to you, and you know there’s going to be big repercussions, I think that what was going on.

And I kept asking myself, “Did this really happen?” because I knew if it did, that there was going to have to be some major things going on, obviously, and I didn’t want to go down that path, so I was trying to do a reality check to see if what just happened really happened.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. You know, Michael, by crazy coincidence, I, too, was, one time, punched completely unexpectedly but it was by a total stranger in Chicago, at the Chipotle in Belmont and Broadway. And I had to say, it was so weird, I, too, had the same response. I was, like, looking at other people, just like, “Did that just happen?” And I’m okay, thank goodness, but it is.

When something that crazy happens, you doubt your own senses. Like, I’m pretty sure that just happened, but I would like some kind of a confirmation from somewhere that that really did occur. So, I hear you, it is wild. It’s out there.

R. Michael Anderson
Yeah, that’s a good phrase you used that I never heard before – doubt your own senses. That’s what I was doing. And then I called up a business owner who I met recently, closest thing that I had to a mentor, and I’m like, “This just happened. What do I do?” because I was, like, “Nothing prepared me for this moment.” He was like, “Dude, if this happened once, this is going to happen again. You got to address this. You can’t blow this off.”

So, I went down to the police station, I go, “I’m here to report an assault.” They’re looking at me, they’re like, “What?” I’m like, “Well, my business partner just assaulted me.” And they said, “Oh, do you want us to arrest him?” I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. No, I don’t think so. What else can I do?” They’re like, “Well, you can’t do much else. You can write…”

And so, I logged it, so I wrote it in a book, the date and time and what happened, just so there’s a record of it. And then the next day, I called my attorney, and then the next day, when he came to the office, I had an armed guard hand him a restraining order, a termination letter because I still owned the majority of the company, and then a copy of the lawsuit.

And then, as each one of my employees came up, I had to sit them down and tell them, “My COO, my business partner, so and so, is no longer here because he hit me.” And most of the people reported to him, and then I had to call all of our customers, and he was the executive project manager on a lot of the big projects, and I said, “Hey, the guy you’ve been working with every day for a year, on your multimillion-dollar project, he’s no longer here, and I can’t tell you why.” So, that was a crappy day.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so then, shifting into the internal game, like what were you thinking in the midst of having to share this news with your clients and employees?

R. Michael Anderson
I don’t even know how I got through it. I do remember I joined a peer group of entrepreneurs around that time, and when they found out this happened, because I think it happened, I had the weekend to, like, prepare all that stuff. But one guy called me every morning, he’s like, “How are you feeling?” I’m like, “Well, I feel like crap.” He’s like, “Get out of bed,” because I’m basically in depression at that point, that everything just came crashing down.

And, luckily, I had some people that really helped me think through things because I think, often, that happened during a crisis where the most important things you need to do, or within the first 24, 48 hours, and, luckily, Pete, I had a couple people around me that really, really helped me and supported me in that time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Okay. Well, so then what happens next?

R. Michael Anderson
Well, you talked about the internal, so that evening after I got through that day, I’m sitting on my couch, and I was about to go in my normal methodology of escape, and smoke some weed, do some coke, and drink some whiskey. But I just paused, and I started reflecting on my life, and I’m like, “What’s going on? I’ve always wanted to own a business. And I own a business, and I hate it. It sucks. It’s not fun at all.”

And it’s not becoming more fun as it gets larger, and I’m like, “Maybe I should just go back to being a programmer. I’m good at that. And it’s easy. I made good money, etc.” And I’m like, “No, no way. I did the hard part. I got a successful company. I got to figure out what’s missing.” And I realized I was a good doer.” When I saw other people successful and happy, and I’m like, “Am I broken? Is something wrong with me?” I think I got angry at God and I didn’t even know if I believed in God. It was a really weird self-reflection but really deep and really powerful.

And then I’m like, “Look, I’m a good doer. Why don’t I change my goals? My goals must be wrong. Why don’t I set my sight on becoming happy and becoming a successful business owner?” And I made two life changing decisions that day. Instead of self-medicating, I went for a jog so I went away from my escape, and I met things head on, and I did something healthy for myself, and I made a commitment to myself that I’m going to figure this life thing and this business thing out. That was a turning point in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. So, you went for a jog, then you just made the firm decision. All right. So, often, in such moments, things are easier thought or said than done. Tell us, what did you have to go do to get in a healthy groove with your responsibilities?

R. Michael Anderson
Well, right around that time, I briefly mentioned earlier that I joined a group of entrepreneurs, and two of the entrepreneurs had just a real peace and calmness about them. And until that part of my life, I’ve achieved a lot but I’d never achieved any peace or calmness. And I got to know them, and both of them went through a really unique program, and I found out about it and I signed up for it, basically, because I know I needed to do something or I was going end up dead.

It was a Master’s in Spiritual Psychology. And when I say spiritual psychology, it had nothing to do with religion. We learned six different psychoanalysis techniques from a place of pure compassion, and that’s the “spiritual” part of it. And we take the assumption that we’re all loving beings, and if we have behaviors that aren’t loving, like we get jealous or angry or sad, which we all do, that’s part of the human experience, we don’t judge it, but we say, “There’s an opportunity for healing.” And we use psychology to go in and heal that part of us so that we are more in line in with our true selves, or our soul, if we choose to believe we have a soul.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so could you share with us, perhaps, some of the most effective practices, interventions, approaches that came forth from that?

R. Michael Anderson
One thing we had to do was, we call it history of loving, so we start with a genogram, which is a family tree, but then we do the family tree, but then we mark down all the alcoholism, the substance abuse, divorces, enmeshments, re-marriages, etc. So, it’s like a whole map of your family.

R. Michael Anderson
And so, once we did that, and there’s a way based on a book called Family Secrets by John Bradshaw. There are ways to follow it up. And, for me, I go after my father’s unresolved issue. He goes after his own father’s unresolved issues. So, my grandfather, his dad, was a failed entrepreneur, multiple marriages, alcoholic. My dad was a failed entrepreneur, multiple marriages, alcoholic. I was getting divorced, alcoholic, and owning a business, so my story wasn’t written yet.

But, Pete, just to see the patterns so obvious in my past, in a way, I knew that, but once I wrote them down and saw how specific these patterns were, it really stopped me in my tracks.

So, then the question is, “I know what the pattern is. How do I heal it?” So, in this case, what I did, and, again, this was over a little bit of a period of time with some great guidance. My father was, when I went through this, about 10, 12 years ago, he’d already been passed away for over a decade. So, what I did was I wrote a letter from my younger self to him, and then I wrote a letter from him back to me on his behalf.

R. Michael Anderson
And just to give you some context, my dad, he had a corporate job, and then he started his business when he was married to my mom and had me and my sister, and the business didn’t go well. And as the business didn’t go well, he started to drink more and more, and disconnect from my family, and just not be available. And then they got divorced, he left, and he really wasn’t in my family much after that at all.

And I know, intellectually, he didn’t leave because of me but I realized it deep down, like, there was unfinished business. And so, I got into this really, I guess, meditative place, and I wrote a letter to him. And the letter said, “Dad, can you help me understand? I really am confused because we had the family with my mom and, Amy, my sister, and it seemed like we’re doing okay, but then, all of a sudden, you left.”

“You never told me you love me. You never told me you’re proud of me. And I don’t understand, is there something that I did wrong? Is there something I could’ve done? Is there something? What happened there? Why weren’t you affectionate? Why didn’t you give me love the way I was looking for? It was really difficult growing up without you and having no relationship. I just wanted to understand more about it.” And it was very, very emotional getting that out.

And then, again, me writing the letter from my dad to me was amazing because he wrote, he said, “Hey, Mike, you don’t understand. I love you so much. I’m so proud of you. And I love your sister. I even love your mom so much. But the fact is, I’m the male, I’m supposed to be the breadwinner. I’m supposed to provide for my family, and I failed in that.”

“And as the business went bankrupt, and I got into tax problems, etc., I just was so disappointed in myself whenever I was around you and the whole family that I figured you all were better off without me, and so that’s why I left because I knew you all were better off without me. And I’m so sorry, and I love you so much, and I’m so proud of you. And I see what you’re doing now, and you’re really amazing.”

And, after that process, I quit alcohol and drugs, Pete, because I had a belief that, deep down, I had this belief that my dad didn’t love me. And I realized in this process, which I know is the truth, in my heart, that he did love us so much that he actually made, I think, a pretty stupid…it wouldn’t be what I ask for, but he made a sacrifice, and he thought he was doing what he thought was best for the family. It wouldn’t be what I chose but he did love us, and he loved us a lot. So, I had a belief that I wasn’t lovable, and then I realized that I was lovable, and my dad did love me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. And so then, I’m curious, thinking about how that could be applied in their domains, I suppose it might be we zero in on a wound, a challenge, a difficulty from an earlier time, and then write the letters both ways. Have you seen this manifest in other ways? Is it usually the parents or could it also be to, I don’t know, former lovers, or siblings, or business partners? What else have you seen in application here?

R. Michael Anderson
Yeah, that’s a great thing to bring up like that. And what comes to me is that this a lot about unfinished business. And when we have unfinished business, it’s because, internally, we’ve made different agreements, or we made assumptions, or we made decisions. And part of all of us know what that decision is but it’s subconscious so we have to get to it.

So, this two-way writing can get to it, and you can do this two-way writing with your ego, with a part of you that feels scared, and maybe you do two-way writing with the part of you that feels scared. And maybe you do two-way writing with the part of you that feels scared and then Superman, or somebody who has great empathy or compassion or strength, so there’s some creativity that can go into this. but what you really want to do is make sure you’re in, like, I want to say meditative, like a very present state, maybe you go to somewhere special to do this because your mindset, your presence is going to really affect whether this is successful or not.

And then really find out, and the big question is who you have to talk to, or what needs to be healed or released, and then that can be a really, really therapeutic process.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Thank you. Okay, Michael, so you did that exercise and it was super powerful. What happened next?

R. Michael Anderson
Well, that’s what people do. Some people ask me, like, “How would you describe your…?” and this is how we’ll bring it back to people in their careers and their leadership, for example. If people ask me, “How would you describe the changes that happened during that?” because I went for the Master’s and then went another two years over this, four years.

And I say that, “I really got to know who I am, know, like, and trust myself,” because I realized back then I was so insecure and I really wanted to be liked, and I wanted to be respected, I wanted to be looked up to that I was spending all my time being the person I thought people would like and trust and respect, and all those things, which wasn’t authentic, and it was taking a lot of my energy to be that person.

And then through this process, I really got to understand, know who I am, and like who that person is, and have the trust to show that. And when we talk about leadership, and this is why I work with leaders, and the last thing I’ll say, Pete, is once I started applying what I learned there, and knowing who I am, and bringing them to my businesses, because one time I owned three, two in California, one in Singapore, then we really started to thrive.

We’re on the Inc. 5000 list a couple years in a row, we won the Number One Best Place to Work, and I won Social Entrepreneur of the Year. That was externally but internally I was finally having fun as a leader because I was bringing my full self to that leadership position. I was showing people who I am and what my values are, and then people would get energized by that.

And then I was creating great relationships with them. We’re creating great value to our clients. And we were giving back to the community, which I think we all want to do but sometimes we get off track. And that switch, Pete, was so instrumental to my life that, if I had to summarize it, that’s really what I help leaders do now in the workplace and in their personal life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. So, the core there is you have a deep, clear, profound conviction of who you are and you’re able to just sort of step in that, and own it, and feel it, and love it, and believe it. Is that accurate?

R. Michael Anderson
Yes. Yes. And I’m actually okay when I make mistakes or if people don’t like me because it’s like, “Look, here I am. You may like me. You may not like me. You may like part of me. You may not like part of me.” And sometimes there’s parts of myself that may not be ideal but I have this massive compassion for myself, and this acceptance, that sort of trumps everything else.

Pete Mockaitis
Massive compassion and acceptance. Okay. Well, so now you got the Master’s Degree, you did some exercises with the letter-writing. Can you illuminate for us, are there any other particularly powerful interventions or things you did that got you to that place?

R. Michael Anderson
There’s tons. I’ll give you a quick bite-sized one. So, I learned what a judgment is, because a lot of people don’t. They heard the word judgment but they don’t really know what that is. And the way it was defined to me is a judgment is assigning a positive or a negative thing to something, so I judge something is good or I judge something is bad.

Now, the Buddhist, they say there’s only one truth in this world, that something is, it is. There’s no good or bad. That’s something that humans assign. And the example I give is, say, I’m dating a girl and she breaks up with me. And the only truth is she broke up with me. I could judge it as bad, like, “Oh, I’m a loser. Nobody likes me. I’m never going to get married,” or I can judge it as positive, “Oh, great. She wasn’t the right person for me anyway, blah, blah, blah, blah.” But those are both human-created, the plus or the negative. The only truth there is that it happened.

And I come from a bit of a judgmental family, to be honest, so once I realized what a judgment is, and let’s say it’s just healthier not to judge, I realized that, through the work day, my life was just one big judgment to the next, like, I’d have a good call with a prospect, and be, “Oh, my gosh, we’re going to get this deal.” And then somebody would come in, and they’d say, “Hey, I’m going to take next week off,” and I’ll be like, “Oh, my gosh, how are we going to survive without them?” It would just be a real rollercoaster of emotions the whole day, and so by the end of the day, I’d be exhausted.

So, for about two months, I really, really worked on just looking at things as they are, just like data, like not this plus or minus, and it was amazing, Pete, because, the end of the day, I would have so much more energy because I wouldn’t go on this rollercoaster, but my decision-making skyrocketed because I wasn’t making emotional-based decisions. I was just looking at what happened and taking it in a very calm, collected, rational way. Because, I don’t know about you, but all my bad decisions were made when I was in a real emotional state.

And by just keeping that level head, and just realizing any time I’d say, “Oh, this is bad,” or, “This is good,” that that’s a judgment. Look, we’re humans, we’re actually, in a way, naturally make judgments here or there. But the more that we can be aware of that, and just take things as information, that can help our mental health, that can help our leadership abilities, that can help our decision-making, and that can help how people will see us as a calm, cool, collected person.

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

R. Michael Anderson
Yeah, for everybody, if I can give one message for everybody, it’s just to give yourself a break. I know, Pete, we talked before. I know there’s a lot of high-achievers and people that are really driven listening to this who want to get ahead in their career and everything, and chances are, you’re like me, listener, that you’re your own hardest critic, and just give yourself a break. You do so many amazing things. Just focus on them. And when you mess up here or there, because you probably will because you’re a risk-taker, just give yourself some slack.

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

R. Michael Anderson
Yes. So, a guy named Viktor Frankl, you’re familiar with him, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, Man’s Search for Meaning.

R. Michael Anderson
Yes. And for listeners out there, he was a psychiatrist during World War II, a Jewish one in the concentration camps. And he learned, he says that the only thing that people can’t take away from you is the ability to choose. So, we all have the ability to choose, and nobody can take that away, and that’s the most powerful thing we have. So, him just reminding me that we have the power to choose is something that I find very inspiring.

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

R. Michael Anderson
Well, what they’re finding now is our DNA can be changed. So, what that means is when we live, for example, a more conscious life, that changes our actual DNA. So, there’s this whole thing about how we’re wired. Nothing is that hardwired, so we can change anything we want in our personalities and our life.

Pete Mockaitis
So, are we talking about epigenetics here?

R. Michael Anderson
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Which I think is one of the coolest things ever. So, can you expand on that just a smidge in terms of, like, what’s a thing we might do that would change how a gene is expressed in a means that is helpful for us?

R. Michael Anderson
Whoa.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the name of the gene, the letters, and the numbers.

R. Michael Anderson
I’d just say something like pessimism. I think a lot of us can be brought up in a very pessimistic environments and households and things, and we can be very critical to ourselves and others. And with work, we can be rationally optimistic. So, I don’t mean painting a blue sky when things are difficult. Also, finding the good in things and focusing on everything that we have.

Our grandparents came out of a lot of world wars and things, and brought up in depressions, and that went to our parents, so I see just a lot of criticalness and negativity. And I really believe that, with some mindfulness, we can really change ourselves to really live a much more peaceful positive life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

R. Michael Anderson
Favorite book. I like Mindset by Carol Dweck is one. That might be one you get a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think Mindset is excellent. And maybe, since you talk a lot about this kind of thing, I want to give you a follow-up on Mindset. Okay. So, I think listeners may have heard it before. Hey, you’ve got a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. And the fixed mindset is you believe that your strength, your skills, your abilities are locked in, like, “I’m smart,” or, “I’m not smart,” “I’m good at this. I’m creative,” “I’m not good at this. I’m not creative.”

Versus growth mindset, “Hey, I’m always capable of learning, growing, developing.” And all sorts of good things happen when you have a growth mindset in terms of the effort you exert and all that. So, I’ve heard that a few times, and I’m all about it. What I find interesting, though – help me out with this, Michael – is sometimes, even though I know that’s true, and I want to have a growth mindset, I have fixed mindset stuff creeps in a little bit, like, “Ugh, I just suck at this.”

And so, my alarm bells go off, like, “Oh, no, that’s wrong, Pete. That’s not the most productive helpful thought,” but, nonetheless, it pops up. What do you do in those moments?

R. Michael Anderson
It’s interesting because I was trying to think, because I caught myself. The funny thing about this is we can learn and understand, and learn it really well, but then there’s parts of our life where it hides, and then later you’d be like, “Oh, I’m doing it there.” I was trying to think if I found a couple lately. And the big thing is awareness.

Pete, I think once you have awareness, you’re halfway there because it’s where these things hide, and we don’t know they’re there, and that’s why it’s so hard. We’ve got to keep looking at ourselves. But, again, we want to learn at ourselves compassionately, not, “We’ve got to fix ourselves. We’ve got to fix ourselves,” because that’s just gets us right back to the non-compassionate view of ourselves, and back in that downward spiral.

I’ll give you an answer, Pete. You want to laugh at yourself. That is it. You want to chuckle, and be like, “Ah, there I go again. It’s going to happen again because you’re never going to be fixed to that.” But if you can take it with a little bit of humor, and instead of, like, “Gosh, darn it. There it is again,” you can just be like, “Huh, there it is again,” and bring a lightness to it. That’s, by far, the best thing you can do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now can you share with us a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

R. Michael Anderson
My favorite tool is going to be simplistic, but just listening and listen to your intuition. As a leader, I work almost exclusively with leaders that have teams, and I’m telling them, if they’re talking more than a third in a meeting, even if it’s a one-on-one meeting, they’re talking too much. And, over the years, I feel that I’ve become very wise, and the wise is my intuition, and I access my intuition by listening and really tuning into people.

And we’re all back-to-back meetings, and we’re all running around, but when I can take some time out, and if I have a big meeting, I’ll go for a half an hour walk before it, for example. So, when the meeting starts, I can be tuned in. And I like to be the person in a meeting that doesn’t say anything through an hour meeting, except for 10 minutes left. I say the one question, or the one statement, that brings everything together. I want to be that person that brings the powerful question or statement out, but potentially says the least.

And we do that by really listening and tuning in. And so, that’s my tool, is really tuning and just listening to everybody, seeing what’s not being said, maybe having the courage to say what’s not being said, but to do that in service to really getting the team forward.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

R. Michael Anderson
Again, it’s going to be common, but meditation. That’s probably changed my life. It’s the single thing that’s changed my life more than anything because it helps everything slow down. And when I don’t meditate, I realize how grouchy I can get and easily upset.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say meditation, what specifically are you doing?

R. Michael Anderson
Well, I’m a big silent meditator so I go on silent Buddhist meditation retreats, more normally twice a year. But every morning, for 22 minutes, I kneel down on a meditation cushion and do silent meditation. Guided meditation is good but nothing beats silent meditation. And people say, “Oh, I can’t meditate.” I’m like, “I don’t understand.” And they’re like, “Well, my mind wanders.” I’m like, “Well, that’s like saying ‘I’m trying to jog but I get tired.’” It’s like that’s going to happen. That’s a byproduct of trying to quiet your mind.

And the goal of meditation is not to have a quiet mind. It’s to have the awareness. I meditated this morning, and probably 30, 40 times I caught my mind wandering. I just brought it back to center but that’s the muscle you need to strengthen, it’s that one that has the awareness and brings it back to being present. So, I think there’s a lot of confusion about that, and guided meditation is good but I don’t think it’s a replacement for silent meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a key nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

R. Michael Anderson
So, once they hear it two or three times, they get it, but your relationship with yourself, your leadership mirrors relationship with yourself. So, your leadership mirrors the relationship with yourself. And what that means is all I really help leaders do is work on that relationship with themselves, make them really understand who they are, make them know, like, and trust that person, make them have compassion with that person.

And leadership is a lot about putting yourself out there, and it’s really about trusting yourself. You have to have this inner confidence. Confidence isn’t that you know things are going to work out, whether you know it all. The confidence is, no matter what’s going to happen, that you and the team are going to be okay, and you’ll solve it, but that means being okay with the unknown. And the only way you have that is to really trust yourself.

So, what I do is I work with leaders to develop that relationship with yourself, because, if you talk about impostor syndrome, that’s not having faith in yourself. And, look, when I say we all, pretty much everybody runs through impostor syndrome. I even get it every couple of weeks, but the thing is I have the tools now that I know what to do with it. So, it’s about coming back to yourself. And if you don’t have trust in yourself, it’s about building that trust up with the relationship. So, your leadership is a reflection of your relationship with yourself.

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

R. Michael Anderson
So, my name is RMichaelAnderson.com. And my new book, Leadership Mindset 2.0 is at LeadershipMindsetTheBook.com.

Or if people find me on LinkedIn, drop me. Tell you what, if anybody finds me on LinkedIn, R. Michael Anderson, and says, “I’m connecting with you from Pete’s podcast,” I’m going to send you a free gift. So, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. Cool. All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

R. Michael Anderson
Yeah, I tell you what. Everybody listening, think about how you were five years ago, like, as a leader. Look at where you are now, and compare yourself five years ago. Chances are you’re calmer, you make better decisions, you trust yourself more, you have better confidence, etc. Now, that just goes to show you that leadership can be learned. It’s a learned skill.

And so, if you want to progress in some of those areas, whatever it is, you got to work on them, and that’s really what I like teaching. So, it’s that confidence, it’s that presence, it’s having difficult conversations earlier and better. It’s all those helping people overcome their impostor syndrome and step into their true powerful selves. All that stuff is learnable.

So, just like we talked about, epigenetics or whatever, set your sight, if you want to move ahead in your career, and that’s what’s stopping you, go out and learn those tools.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Michael, thank you. This is a lot of fun. I wish you much luck.

R. Michael Anderson
Pete, you got have me back in another six years.

Pete Mockaitis
You got it.

912: Maximizing Your Impact by Leading with both Head and Heart with Dr. Kirstin Ferguson

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Kirstin Ferguson shares how modern leaders can best meet the challenge of the new work landscape.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why traditional leadership is lacking–and what you should do instead
  2. Why you may not be as self-aware as you think
  3. Why you might want to talk less in your next meeting

About Kirstin

Dr. Kirstin Ferguson, PhD is an award-winning leadership expert, best-selling author, columnist, and keynote speaker. Kirstin has been called “Australia’s own Brene Brown” and been named one of the world’s top 30 thinkers to watch by Thinkers 50. Her latest book, Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership, has been named one of the top 10 best new management books in the world in 2023.

Resources Mentioned

Kirstin Ferguson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kirstin, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Kirstin Ferguson
Hello. It’s fabulous to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear about some of the wisdom you have for us from your book, Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership. But first, I need to hear a little bit about your time with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. And most top of mind is what was your involvement with Bluey?

Kirstin Ferguson
Well, every Australian likes to claim that Bluey is somehow connected to them, but I have two connections with Bluey. It’s made in my hometown where I live in Brisbane and produced there, and I was on the ABC board when we commissioned it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful.

Kirstin Ferguson
But I can’t claim any responsibility for that but it’s fabulous, isn’t it? Have you got young children?

Pete Mockaitis
It really is, yes. I’ve got kids – five, four, and one – and Bluey, wow, is maybe the top thing. I think Daniel Tiger, in my own opinion, for whatever it’s worth, Daniel Tiger is very strong in terms of enriching, but Bluey I think is just about as enriching but so much more entertaining.

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah, they’ve done so well to make it entertaining for adults to watch as well. My children are now not children, they’re 23 and 21, and I can tell you I wish we had Bluey on repeat rather than The Wiggles and Wesley. I love The Wiggles, of course. Another Australian children’s export but there’s only so much, so many times you can listen to their songs.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you’re on the committee that commissioned it. And, I’m curious, when it comes to creative works, it’s like do you know if you have a hit on your hands or do you not? Like, people have famously passed on The Beatles and other smash hits in terms of culture and creativity. But what was the vibe, like, “Yeah, let’s give this a shot. Some blue dogs? Yeah, it can’t hurt”?

Kirstin Ferguson
Well, this is where I can’t claim any credit. The board is a long way from most kind of commissioning discussions. And I remember, at the time, our head of television, who’s now the managing director or the CEO of the ABC, quite visibly so, I remember he said to me, “Hey, I’ve just commissioned this show about a dog called Bluey.” And he said it’s going to be a massive hit. So, I think the people who know, know, and he certainly said that before anyone had seen it, and he was right. So, I don’t know, whether I could’ve had the same skill, I’m not so sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Kirstin, I’m now going to force a segue. I think Bluey does a fine job of engaging the head and the heart.

Kirstin Ferguson
It does.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, with your book, any particularly surprising or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made as you’re learning and researching and putting it together?

Kirstin Ferguson
I think your podcast is fabulous because it’s all about helping people to be awesome at their job, obviously. And what I really hope people take away from our conversation is that delivering whatever your job is, an inverted commerce, your job description and the outputs and the KPIs and all those sorts of things, are obviously incredibly important to retain a job but to be truly successful, you have to be able to balance that ability to deliver, and that is sort of encompassed by leading with the head, and we can go through what that looks like, but with leading with the heart.

But I think people sometimes forget that. And that’s because, as leaders, and let me say, we are all leaders. It doesn’t matter where you are in the org chart, you are leading in your families, in your communities, and in your role, so it doesn’t matter who’s listening right now, I’m telling you you’re a leader because you’re impacting those around you through the words you use, the choices you make, and the behaviors that you role-model.

And so, I think leading with the heart, which is around humility, and empathy, self-awareness and things, it has to be balanced with all those technical capabilities to be awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so then, are there some folks who just totally don’t have it in their head that they’re a leader or that they need to lead with their head or their heart? What are you seeing is sort of the antithesis of that message or that experience?

Kirstin Ferguson
I think anyone who thinks they know everything and is the smartest person in the room, we all know those people, they’re a challenge because they’re the kinds of leaders, and we all worked with them, who aren’t interested in diverse points of views, they’re not interested in feedback, they’re not interested in a different way of doing things, and I think those kinds of leaders are not the modern leaders that we need in the workplace today.

So, if you’ve got a leader like that, that’s going to be really challenging but don’t be that leader yourself. So, it’s really easy to identify who those people are but it’s much harder for us to look in the mirror, and think, “Actually, am I doing some of that myself? And is my leadership style still fit for purpose?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you mentioned modern leaders, and that’s also in the subtitle, would you contrast that with traditional or old-school leaders, or…?

Kirstin Ferguson
Dinosaurs, I tend to call them. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Dinosaurs. Okay.

Kirstin Ferguson
It’s not too bad. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But my mission is to rid the world of dinosaurs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure.

Kirstin Ferguson
That pretty well covers most.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s the mission. So, then could you maybe paint a picture for what does a dinosaur or old-school traditional leadership look, sound, feel like that you’re saying is not what we need right now?

Kirstin Ferguson
Oh, my goodness. I reckon everyone listening have someone in their mind who doesn’t believe in remote working. They think if you’re not right in front of them, you’re not working, you’re just relaxing at home somehow, watching television. They don’t believe in doing things differently. Everything is done the same way. They’re not interested in feedback, as I said. They’re really just there to tell you what to do and to make sure we deliver on the KPIs for the organization. And that’s really work is a task to be done rather than a way to sort of be as humans.

And I think you can’t separate who we are when we come to work. We have lives, we have issues we’re dealing with, we’ve got all sorts of challenges, and I think modern leaders actually understand that and factor that into their leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s a view of the dinosaurs. And then we talked about head versus heart. I’d love to hear how you think about this in terms of it sounds like it’s sort of a both-and approach as opposed to all head or all heart.

Kirstin Ferguson
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you think about, I don’t know if the word is balanced, or both, or simultaneous, or the same time, but what’s a view for too much of one versus too much of the other?

Kirstin Ferguson
I think we all know individuals like that, and, you’re right, being all heart is just as unhelpful as being all head. So, we would know, or people might know leaders who run a not-for-profit organization or really great causes, but they’re all about how they can benefit people, which is wonderful but they don’t think about the strategies for how they’re going to get there, how they’re going to fund it, all of those kinds of things. That’s as unhelpful in leaders as the CFO, and I always pick on the poor old CFO, but who’s just focused on balance sheets and not thinking about how decisions are impacting others.

So, it is about balance. And the art of modern leadership that I write about is knowing what is needed and when. And I guess I feel I’ve been really fortunate because I’ve been a leader myself for 30 years. I started in the military, I went through, as you heard, I sat on company boards, I’ve been a CEO, but I’ve also got a PhD in leadership.

So, not only was it important to me to write this book based on research. It also was sort of a counterpoint to some of the anecdotal leadership books you get, which are all very interesting. But I want to know, “How do you know that? And what’s the datapoint to show that?” And that’s how I came up with, obviously, it’s a metaphor, the head and heart, but four attributes of leading with the head, and four with leading with the heart.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s fun, as we’re chatting, I just finished listening to the Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk, and, well, there’s some head there.

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah, yeah. Well, I went and heard Walter recently, just a week ago, in LA.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no kidding?

Kirstin Ferguson
Fantastic. Yeah, yeah, talking about the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it was riveting. It was 20 hours, and I was, “Wow, am I done already? I wish it were longer.” So, there were these periods of, I guess, what he would call being ultra-hardcore, and having a surge, and saying, “This thing needs to happen by this time or everybody’s fired.” Now, that sounds super head and minimal heart. I’m curious, is there a place for that ultra-hardcore? And how do we play that game?

Kirstin Ferguson
Look, I don’t think so because there’s always repercussions for behaving in that way. When things are steadier, you’re going to have people around you that don’t know when you’re next going to decide that it’s time to be ultra-hardcore. There’s obviously times when there’s a crisis, for example, and your leadership needs to change.

And you, as a leader, may have once been very consultative and taking the time to get everyone’s feedback, and, suddenly, that is not a priority. You actually, as a leader, need to step up then and make some decisions, and perhaps have just a very small core group around you. It doesn’t mean though that you need to lose your humanity.

So, decisions still have impacts on people, regardless of whether or not you’re making them in a crisis or whether you are doing them because you want to save money because you just bought a new company. I think we must, as leaders, be thinking about what the impact is beyond ourselves. And, yes, in a crisis, the consequences may be weighed up differently but it doesn’t take away from our need to be human.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you’ve got a number of attributes associated with being a great head leader and a great heart leader. Could you share those attributes and maybe a pro tip or best practice for doing that well in practice?

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah. So, the four attributes of leading with the head, this is all the tangible stuff we’ve been rewarded for at school and being promoted, and that we feel really comfortable in, so there won’t be too much of a surprise. There’s curiosity. Most people love curiosity but it’s scary to think that, while the research shows 92% of us value it, only 24% of us get to feel curious at work. So, that’s a real challenge for leaders.

The second attribute is capability, and that’s all about how we feel capable in our jobs. We’re not just capable, but how we actually believe we can do things, and that we know that making mistakes is all just part of the learning process. The third one is wisdom, and that’s all about decision-making and we gather data and evidence to make really good decisions.

And the last one, which is the most important, actually, of all eight, is called perspective. And that’s about, in basic terms, how to read a room and really bring in the signals that you’re seeing, understanding the environment and the context that you’re leading in. And it also means that you can see who’s missing from the room, which is incredibly important. And it’s highly correlated with empathy because it means you can put yourself in the shoes of others.

So, they’re the four head-based attributes. And, generally, people are pretty comfortable with this. And I should mention now, anyone listening can just jump on HeadHeartLeader.com, totally free, but I’ve had 16,000 people complete this scale since January, that’s one I built with one of the universities in Australia, and will give you personalized report and a comparison to how you’re going on each of these.

And same with the heart. So, the four heart-based attributes are humility, which is all around confident humility, intellectual humility, knowing we don’t know all the answers, and being quite okay with that. Second is self-awareness, which obviously understanding that impact that we’re having on others. Feedback is a critically important tool there.

Third is courage, and that’s the courage to speak up for what you believe in even in the face of pressure not to do so. And the final is empathy, and that’s our ability to really understand that your lived experience is not the same as others, and to appreciate that you’re going to need diverse points of view to make the best decision that you can.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so within these eight attributes, I’d love to hear are there some particular tools, or tactics, or practices, things that you’ve discovered, “Wow, this little thing makes a world of difference in improving curiosity or perspective or empathy”?

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah. Well, let me share one with you that I, first, came up with about 10-12 years ago when I first started sitting on company boards, and I was only 38 then, so I’m 50 now. And I remember feeling really insecure, and feeling I needed to contribute to every conversation even though I wasn’t adding much value, I felt I needed to say something, sort of prove myself. I think we’ve all been in that situation.

But, at the same time, I was noticing that my really experienced colleagues around me barely said anything at all. And they might only ask a single question, but that question was gold, and it would change the course of the conversation. So, then I came up with a concept I still use now called the word-to-wisdom ratio, and I would write, back in the day when it was still hardcopy papers, WTW, on the corner of my page.

And it was to remind me that I really needed to be mindful of the impact I was having on those around me. And at that stage, the number of words that was taking me to add any wisdom at all was pretty unhealthy, whereas my colleagues clearly were doing much better than me. But as I’ve become more experienced and a more senior leader, what I use it for now is to really make sure I’m not taking up all the space in meetings.

So, for people listening who do have a team, if you’re going into a meeting, and you’ve already got the answer in mind, and you sort of are just checking in to make sure they all agree with what you’re proposing, then it’s likely you’re taking up so much space no one else gets an opportunity to contribute. And the word-to-wisdom ratio is something you can think about in terms of your coaching ability.

And I would encourage modern leaders that even if you know the answer, use that opportunity, when you’ve got the time and it’s appropriate, to really ask good questions of those you lead so they can feel they’ve come to answer themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a fun one, the word-to-wisdom ratio. Anything that you’d also put forward in terms of boosting our perspective?

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah, like reading a room is, I think, we all know sometimes it’s easier to do than others, and sometimes we get it wrong, and we really need feedback to calibrate whether or not we’ve read it correctly. But one of the challenges to reading a room is if you’re someone, firstly, who has blinkers on and pretty much thinks you’re right all the time, then you’re basically the only person in that room, and so that’s a problem.

So, you need to make sure that you’ve got people around you that are actually giving you dissenting opinions, respectfully, of course, but that you’re not surrounding yourself with people who just agree. But I think, also, around leading with perspective, it’s important to be getting feedback, and to really understand whether or not you’re reading of the situation is the same as others. Test that with people because, invariably, we’re not going to get it right.

Sadly, our self-awareness is very high, we think. About 95% of us we think we’re self-aware but only 10 to 15% of those we lead would agree. That’s a pretty scary statistic, and that’s why feedback is so important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’m also curious about boosting that self-awareness. If we think we’re self-aware but we’re not, well, first, how do we know if we really are? And, second, how do we boost that?

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah. Well, that is why you need trusted people around you, and you need to sniff out the bad news. I think we, invariably, like to hear from people that tell us we’re doing a good job. We’re human, obviously, we love to be reassured, but they’re not the people that you actually want to seek feedback from. You also don’t want to go to the people who are really critical of you because that’s not helpful either.

But it’s finding those people in your life who know you well enough that they are unafraid to tell you what they think, and that they want you to succeed. So, it’s given in a way that’s there to help you actually do better. And I think if you’ve got those people in your life, whether they’re mentors, colleagues, your boss, someone that’s in your team, really thank them and take their feedback with a gratitude because it’s a gift.

And if you can be doing that for someone else, make sure that you’re open to that. I should say that when you’re getting feedback, though, curiosity is the most important attribute to bring into that conversation because we’re all going to have triggers. There’s three triggers we all feel when we get feedback.

The first is you think, “Well, you’re an idiot.” But the conversation or the feedback is clouded by your relationship with the person. Regardless of how valuable the feedback might be, you’re thinking, “How dare you tell me this?” The second trigger we’ll have is, “You’re wrong.” And you’re just thinking, “Well, I don’t agree with your perspective,” so you shut down, and that’s not helpful either. You need to stay present, even if you don’t agree. It’s not a matter of having to change based on the feedback but you do need to be able to hear it if you want to encourage others to give you feedback again.

But the third trigger is something in us, and it’s about shame, or embarrassment, or ego, or whatever gets triggered. And I think knowing that that’s going on for you, and still being able to stay present, is one of the most important things leaders can do when they’re practicing self-awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, zooming out a little bit, one of your key messages in the book is that we need to sort of know when is the right moment to lead with more head-style versus lead more heart-style. What are some of your top indicators or telltale signs which tend to nudge you one way or the other?

Kirstin Ferguson
Oh, that’s an impossible question to answer because that’s the art. And there’ll be situations, I know I’ve gone into meetings, that I think are going to be all about deliverables pretty much, and I’ve got my documents, or my policies, or whatever it is that you think you’re there to do. But in the course of that conversation, you know those things go a little bit off the rails. And some leaders need a huge amount of humility or empathy, whatever it is, to get that conversation back on track.

So, I think, in any given context, you’re going to be mastering this art back and forth, and that’s part of the learning process of being a good leader, and we never get it all right. It’s not as though you’ll ever get to a point in your career where you can say, “Alright, I’ve mastered that now.” And that’s okay, that’s part of being a modern leader.

You know you’re going to have a misstep but a modern leader doesn’t really fear that so much because they’re able to say, “Oh, I’ve got that wrong. Let’s talk about how we can get this back on track.” It’s freeing to be able to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, there’s no cut-and-dry, hard-and-fast rules and algorithm that we can turn down.

Kirstin Ferguson
Wouldn’t that be easy if we do?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ll just sort of see from my own experience, think about in Myers-Briggs language, thinker versus feeler, I am a feeler slightly. And I think there are definitely times where I need to be less accommodating and more hardcore, maybe not ultra-hardcore like Elon Musk.

Kirstin Ferguson
No. Talk it over.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what might be some indicators that more of a head approach is needed in a given moment?

Kirstin Ferguson
I’m similar to you, and so I’m naturally one who wants to make sure everyone’s on board with an idea, and I’ve consulted, and we’ve all got buy-in, and then I notice there’s been times in my career that that style, I’ve used it, and it just isn’t the right style for the moment, and so I haven’t read the room properly. And I think part of being self-aware is that you realize that fairly quickly. You’re assessing what’s going on, the response to that, whether or not it’s timely because, obviously, in some situations, it just practically takes far too long to be consultative in that way.

So, there’s definitely situations where you need to be adjusting your leadership style in that response, but you’re still using these attributes. Just think of it like a pendulum. You’re sort of moving back and forth as you need to, and really being intentional about the kind of leadership style. That’s all this is about. It’s about not mindlessly leading one way forever, and thinking that’s going to work.

And I think that might’ve worked in the past where it was pretty consistent at work that if you are ultra-hardcore, back in the ‘80s in some organizations where that was the culture, and you could just do that day after day for 20, 30 years, get to the top and then retire. I don’t think that is how organizations work now and it’s certainly not how individuals succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, maybe instead of talking about broad-based rules, maybe you can just give us a couple examples in terms of, “Here’s a leadership situation, and, wow, that really pointed to head would be better,” versus, “Here’s another situation that points to heart would be better.”

Kirstin Ferguson
Well, I think a common scenario lots of people find themselves in, especially if you’re leading a team, is you’ve got your team meeting, and you sit down, you’ve got a bit of a plan you need to come up with, and you’re telling everyone what the plan is, and you ask, “Are there any questions or any feedback?” you’re trying to do the right thing, and it sucks, and everyone goes, “No, it’s great and it’s fine.” And everyone goes back to the meeting. This is a very common situation.

In that circumstance, it’s easy for a lazy leader, and I’m going to be pretty hard there, to just go, “Okay. Well, no problem. Let’s all go do this.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I guess there’s no questions. All right. Good news.”

Kirstin Ferguson
“I get to go to lunch early.” The better leader, a modern leader, I think, would see that as a signal, and like, “Okay, that’s something about my leadership is giving the impression that either I don’t want to hear questions, I don’t want to hear feedback, I’m not curious as to different ways we could do things.” I always think leaders need to look at themselves rather than thinking it’s the problem of the team.

And so, in that situation, you really need to turn it around, and maybe not in that meeting, but maybe having a second meeting afterwards to go, “Look, I noticed that in all our team meetings, there’s never really any feedback. What am I missing? Is it something about how I’m presenting the information? Is it something about how I’m asking? I’m really keen to know because I know you guys have got far more to contribute than what you’re showing. And I really need your contributions to make the best outcome.”

So, there’s different ways you can create a safe environment and try and explore what’s going on. And if you ask the right questions in the right tone, you might find that someone brave enough says, “Actually, well, when I did raise something three months ago, you really bit my head off, and I don’t want to bring it up again.”

Now, if someone was to say something like that, the only response you should have as a leader is gratitude because that person has had so much courage, firstly, to say that. But secondly, you’ve obviously not even remembered that that was an impact that you had. And remember at the beginning, I said I think leadership is just simply a series of moments. And that is a moment that you’ve missed, and you’ve got to do a lot of work to rectify it. But finding out what’s going on is the most important goal.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s funny, as I imagine situations where I’m in the room and I have no questions, sometimes it means I am completely satisfied with the wisdom that I have received. And other times, it means, “I think this is boring, and stupid, and lame, and I shouldn’t really even be in this meeting in the first place. And I’m hoping this can be over as soon as possible.” Now, I’m not going to say that out loud. If someone really pressed me multiple times, one on one, yeah, I might let them know. But, generally, it’s like, no, I’m not going to go there.

Kirstin Ferguson
But if you think that, the chances are other people think that that meeting is a waste of time, which means leaders need to also be assisting, like, “Have I asked for feedback on whether these gatherings are even worthwhile? We sit here and you just listen to me for an hour. Is there another way you guys would prefer to work?”

And you might say, “Actually, I’d rather do all this stuff asynchronously because I don’t want to have to come in, or even get online, and have these meetings. I can be doing something else. But why don’t we…?” And you’ve got suggestion A, B, and C. If I’m prepared to hear that, it’s much more likely others in the team are going to have suggestions. And, suddenly, you come up with an agreed way that you’re going to lead, move forward, and you will be, as a leader, getting feedback.

Now, it might be that I’ve always thought, “It was better in a face-to-face meeting.” And, suddenly, when you are asynchronous, you’re giving endless feedback in a document. That’s something as a leader I need to get my head around.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And it seems like, I guess, this is sort of next level humility for leaders to realize, “Oh, this whole initiative or project that we’ve been embarking upon is really ill-conceived, and should be shut down and reversed immediately. Oh, good to know.”

Kirstin Ferguson
But a modern leader goes, “Okay. Well, great, better we know this now than later. So now what?” And that’s when this isn’t all about bending to other people’s will. It’s about saying, “Okay, I’ve heard you now. Now, we’re accountable because this is an idea as a team we’ve come up with. What are we going to do? How are we going to get there? Who’s delivering what?” So, this is where that head and heart balance comes, but I don’t think you get there unless you’re prepared to open your mind to not having all the answers.

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

Kirstin Ferguson
Well, I’d love people to take a look at the book. It’s just been launched in the US. It’s been named in the Top Ten Best New Management Books for 2023 by Thinkers50. So, you can find it on Amazon. I’m all over the socials. I love connecting with people. So, please find me online. And do the HeadHeartLeader.com, go there and I’d love to hear how you go with the scale.

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

Kirstin Ferguson
Oh, that is so hard but I think the best advice I’ve ever been given that I give others, and perhaps I can sort of do it that way, is to just say yes. Say yes to opportunities as they come along. Even though I’m guaranteed that you’ll likely to think you’re not ready for them, say yes anyway because you just never know what other opportunities will come from them. And that’s certainly advice I’ve followed throughout my career.

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

Kirstin Ferguson
There’s one in my book that I’m currently loving, which is a guy who wanted to get better at chess, and this is back in the ‘60s, and he did an experiment with chess grandmasters and amateurs to see if chess grandmasters just had better memory, and it turns out no. They can read a board. Anyone who’s watched The Queen’s Gambit and seen her look at the ceiling and all the chess pieces move, that is perspective. They read the room or the read the board really well. But you can read more about the study in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard of this in that if pieces are just randomly placed on the board, the grandmaster has no better memory than your average Joe.

Kirstin Ferguson
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to they go, “Oh, wow, so that bishop is putting that kind in check right now, and so then he’s going to have to…” Like, it means something to them, like a configuration.

Kirstin Ferguson
It does. The researcher, his name was Adrian de Groot. And, yes, he put all, initially, just put the pieces in a position on the chess board so the amateurs couldn’t remember where they were, but the grandmasters easily because they must’ve looked at it, and go on, “Oh, that’s the queen’s gambit,” so they could put it back. But when he randomly mixed them up, as you said, they were no better than the amateurs. Not sure that it made old Adrian a better chess player, but he did learn about how they can read a board.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Kirstin Ferguson
Well, I’ve just picked up Elon Musk’s biography as well because I went and heard Walter Isaacson speak. So, I’m midway through that but I’m also reading the new book by Michael Lewis on Sam Bankman-Fried. So, I, obviously, have a penchant for reading about questionable businesspeople at the moment. I love reading about different types of leaders.

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

Kirstin Ferguson
I like the app Calm. So, it’s got good soundscapes, so this helps me get to sleep. I love having a good night’s sleep. So, I think every leader needs to sleep well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Kirstin Ferguson
I walk my dog. I live on the beach in Australia, which is pretty tough, I can assure you. We’ve got a ten-mile beach in front of our house, and I definitely try to walk my dog when I’m at home every day. That helps me just center myself and remember what’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Kirstin Ferguson
Yes, to remember that everyone’s a leader, and that leadership is simply a series of moments. And every moment is an opportunity for you to leave a positive impact in your wake.

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

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah, go to my website KirstinFerguson.com, or HeadHeartLeader.com, or you can find me on the socials.

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

Kirstin Ferguson
Yeah, have a look in the mirror first. So, as much as we can easily point out all of those leaders around us who are doing a bad job, it’s much more important that we’re considering how we’re going, and get feedback, and just work on it every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kirstin, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and good head and heart moments.

Kirstin Ferguson
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

910: Mastering the Four Conversations that Transform all Your Interactions with Chuck Wisner

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Chuck Wisner reveals the four universal types of conversation—and shares advice on how to maximize the effectiveness of each.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four universal types of conversations—and why they matter
  2. How to stop your stories from limiting you
  3. The fundamental pattern for better collaboration

About Chuck

Chuck Wisner is president of Wisner Consulting. His client list includes companies such as Google, Rivian, Apple, Tesla, Harvard Business School, Ford, and Chrysler. Wisner was a senior affiliated mediator with the Harvard Mediation Program and was among the first to be certified through the Mastering the Art of Professional Coaching program at the Newfield Institute. He was also a specialist in organizational learning and leadership as an affiliate with MIT’s Center for Organizational Learning.

Resources Mentioned

Chuck Wisner Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chuck, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Chuck Wisner
Oh, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom, hearing some tidbits you’ve collected in your book, The Art of Conscious Conversations: Transforming How We Talk, Listen, and Interact. But first, I need to hear about you and rock and roll. What’s the story here?

Chuck Wisner
Oh, boy. Well, when I was very young, I think I was very fidgety and probably a bit of ADD, and my mother took me to school when I was seven, and said, “This boy needs drum lessons,” because I was always (finger drum sound) sitting around doing that sort of thing. So, literally, I was trained professionally, classically, as a percussionist from seven years old.

And then I played all through high school. I was in jazz bands, rock and roll bands. I ended up being in the Air Force National Guard Band because I played timpani, and so that was my first career. And to this day, I still play in a rock and roll band, maybe better categorized as a garage band but four or five of us have been playing together for over 30 years, so we have a great, great time together.

Pete Mockaitis
That is impressive. I’m curious, with this rock and roll band or garage band, any noteworthy performances or encounters you had in your gigs and such?

Chuck Wisner
Well, I had fun when I was a lot younger when I was 18, 19 because the rock and roll band I was in, we cut records and we were on national TV, some small little thing in Ohio. But now, the fun that we have is once or twice a year, we invite hundreds of our best friends and we just have a big dance party.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome.

Chuck Wisner
Yeah. So, that’s how we do it now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. That’s fun.

Chuck Wisner
Yeah, fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m curious to hear your book, The Art of Conscious Conversations. Boy, you talked to a lot of people about this sort of thing and collected a lot of wisdom. I’m curious, any particularly surprising, or extra-fascinating, or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about us humans and conversation and being conscious over your years?

Chuck Wisner
Well, there are several important facets that show up everywhere, whether I’m with a family, a couple, a leadership, a team. And the biggest one that often pops up – there’s two – one is authority issues, and we live in hierarchies, whether we like it or not, families have a hierarchy which is just natural hierarchy, and business has a sort of man-structured, man-made hierarchy, and the issues of power just resonate in every conversation from leadership to parenting. And so, that is something we have to pay special attention to.

And the other piece is that we grow up adopting standards. Now standards is a catchall phrase to mean our morals, what’s right or wrong, what we like, what we don’t like, what’s good, what’s bad, what’s fair, what’s unfair, but we grow up adopting standards from our families and our cultures, and believe that they are the truth, or believe that they’re the right thing, and that gets us in a lot of trouble because, often, our quarrels are because, “I think I measure success this way and you should measure success that way.” So, those two are really big.

And then the other big one is the first conversation in my book is the storytelling conversation. And if we just look at the state of the world right now, we live in stories, and like Yuval Harari’s book, A Brief History of Humankind, we evolved learning to tell stories and we adopt stories, and that’s how we create our culture and our society. The trouble is that when we’re attached to our stories, we believe them as the truth and we’ll do anything to defend them. And that’s a very common theme.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that feels like a, I think, big master key to humanity and life itself. Chuck, not to overhype it, but gives us an example of that in practice.

Chuck Wisner
Okay. Well, let’s say in business, I have situations, I have two actually very similar situations from different companies where the legal department and the finance department weren’t even talking to one another, and two departments that probably should be working hand in hand. They had different stories about what was going on in the company, and they were applying different standards to what was going on in the company, and they were so attached to their story that the other side was the enemy.

And it took bringing them into a room, and just putting, deconstructing these stories so that the finance department could see how the legal guys and gals were thinking, and vice versa. And within a couple days of working hard and playing hard together, those stories started to not be held so hard. And I think if we have a story that we really believe in, and that we think is the truth, it’s like having a story, like having a fist, like we’re telling our story, like, “This is the truth. This is the way it has to be.”

So, anyway, in that situation, deconstruct stories, get them to hear each other, and things start changing rapidly, we start building bridges. And not in business life, but in personal life, even with friends, we have stories and we judge people based on our stories. And if we believe our story is the only one, then our criticisms and our judgments really sting, and they hurt us, and they hurt the other person. So, stories abound everywhere and they cause a lot of the friction and stress that we experience.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us an example of an articulation of a story, maybe if it’s not too intricately detailed with the finance and legal, just so we can see how that plays out, like, “Hey, here’s the finance story and here’s the legal story. See how these implications unfold trickly?”

Chuck Wisner
Yeah, I can do that and then I would give you a very personal example, too, of how powerful it is, which might resonate a little more. I grew up with a very redneck grandfather in Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, and I had three older sisters. And when I showed emotion, or when I didn’t want to skin the deer because I didn’t like it because it made me sick, or when I got hurt and cried, the message that I always got was, “You’re not a big-enough man. Be a bigger man. Stop that.”

Now, that’s not a new story. A lot of men my age have experienced that but what I realized was that story I adopted as a child because my grandfather, to some degree my father, but my grandfather, I gave his voice authority, I gave his voice power so I believe I wasn’t a big-enough man. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I was able to bust that story.

And when I busted that story, it was like such a dramatic change because, up to that point, I was a successful architect, I have a family, but I would walk into a room of men and feel smaller than, or not as competent as, or whatever, however, I’m not a big-enough man would show up. And when I busted that story, it was like transformational.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, that’s when you entered those rooms, you experienced those feelings, which are not pleasant, which I guess, in turn, likely reduced your confidence, your willingness to take risks, take on projects and initiatives. What are some of the other implications of that story going on for you?

Chuck Wisner
Well, I think back then was, whether we know it or not, that kind of self-limiting belief, other people read that so it affects how other people see you and then how other people treat you, and, in turn, the story they know about you. So, it does have an effect where it’s literally how you’re showing up in the world. And you may think you’re hiding it but it’s actually quite obvious to people that are paying attention. They noticed it and that affects our interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how did you break free, bust loose of that story?

Chuck Wisner
All right. Well, I left architecture to study the ontology of language, which is a story of why that happened, but once I was in those studies, inside of there, in the world of philosophy of language and the study of language, there’s a term called master assessments. And so, if you’re looking at, “What master assessments do you have of yourself? Good, bad, ones that serve you, ones that don’t serve you.” This happened to be a master assessment I had in my brain, in my mind, that didn’t serve me.

So, using the ideas around language and the five speech acts in deconstructing language, I was able to sort of take it apart. And when I say deconstruct, it’s like, “Wait a minute. What are the facts here?” Well, I’m six feet tall. I’m happily married, I have two young kids, I’m an architect, and all those facts didn’t line up with the story. And so, as I keep looking into it, and saying, “So, what were the standards that my grandfather was applying?” Well, he was a redneck and that was his story about what a man was, and I happen to be the recipient of that standard that I adopted unconsciously.

And so, that’s what I did. I just sort of took it apart piece by piece until I was, “Aha, this isn’t true. This isn’t who I am.” And the next morning when I went in to have coffee with the president of the firm I was working at, we’re good buddies, it was the first time I was able to stand there, have a coffee, and I said to myself, “Holy mackerel, I am taller than Bill.” And, literally, that was like a moment that I was shocked. I was like, “All this time, I saw myself smaller then.” That’s how sort of like embodied this stuff gets.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Thank you. Wow! Okay story. Well, we’ll probably talk more about that but maybe we could zoom out a smidge. In terms of The Art of Conscious Conversations, it sounds like we’ve got one major thread in terms of story there. Could you maybe zoom out and tell us what’s sort of the big idea, main message, core thesis? And what do we mean by a conscious conversation?

Chuck Wisner
The core idea is we grow up learning to converse, talk, listen, interact through our culture, through our family, through our education, and we adopt all the norms from those different domains but we’re never really taught to understand how conversations work with the DNA of conversations. And so, through my work and my consulting and my teaching in the last 30 years, I kept seeing clients’ eyes light up or have aha moments when they realized that their stories weren’t the truth, or they didn’t know how to collaborate, or they were abusing power, or whatever, or they adopted standards that don’t serve them.

And then they would say, “Well, where can I read about this?” And there’s amazing information out there but it’s all scattered. And so, I decided to try to take some esoteric work and some work that’s been done by people like Peter Senge and Fred Kaufman, but I decided to sort of compile it into a book, that said, “Look, here’s the fundamentals of conversations. And instead of being unconscious of how they work, let’s have some distinctions so we can become much more aware and make much better decisions about the conversations we’re in and how we want to participate in them.”

And so, one metaphor I like is, like, fish in water. There’s fish swimming, and this old fish swims by two young fish, and he says to them, “Hey, fellas, how’s the water today?” and they just ignore him and they keep swimming. And they stopped, and one of the young fish says to other, “Hey, what’s water?” And so, it’s like they aren’t even aware they’re in water. We, a lot of the times, aren’t aware that we’re in conversations, or aware or conscious of our words and our interactions, in the way as much as we could be.

So, the book presents some distinctions that says, “Okay, let’s think about it. Let’s have some new ways to look at it and see it and experience it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, when you talked about having an awareness that we’re in a conversation, you have, in fact, segmented the conversations into four universal types. Can you share what those are? We’ll just start there. Can you share, definitionally, what are these four types?

Chuck Wisner
Yes. So, I’ll do a very high level. So, storytelling, and the byline with storytelling is your stories are not the truth. The second conversation is collaboration, and the byline there is seek to understand, and ask questions to understand, and absorb other perspectives. And absorb being the keyword there. The third one is a creative conversation which is about trusting your intuition and learning to balance your left brain and your right brain, and co-create with others.

And the last conversation is commitment conversations. And that conversation is the action conversation. That’s when you and I agree to do a podcast together. That’s when my wife and I agree who’s going to pick up the kids. That’s when a team decides who’s going to lay the strategy for the board meeting. So, that action conversation is everywhere, and we don’t understand it, and we do it in a very sloppy way. Those are the four.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so we talked a bit about storytelling. Is there more you want to say there in terms of how do we get to become consciously aware of our stories and the actual truth?

Chuck Wisner
So, in conversations, we all come to every conversation with a story, with our story about what’s happening, there might be some facts, there might be all of our opinions, it might just be a bunch of assessments or judgments. We, humans, all have patterns of interacting. And I like to use the word patterns because it allows us a little bit to step away from, say, a behavior or a habit that we have, and look at it neutrally, say, “Wow, what’s my pattern around storytelling? What’s my pattern of when I enter a meeting, how I’m telling my story or what energy I’m bringing to that?”

And so, the first thing is becoming aware that your story is not the truth, and then, secondly, how you are presenting yourself and how you’re presenting your stories because we all have patterns around judging, around being perfectionists, around being critical of other people’s ways of doing things. And so, becoming aware means we can have a look, and, instead of maybe a reaction or a pattern of defensiveness, we can change that.

So, I mentioned earlier about a fist. One analogy I like is if we have a story and we believe it’s absolutely true, and it’s a really important topic that we care about, it could be business, it could be out of business, it could be political, it could be not political, but if we believe that we have the answer and we are right, we are basically telling our story with a closed fist. And under every story, there are emotions, and facts, and standards, and power issues, and desires that are really what’s the root of our story.

So, when we can change our fist from closed to open, we can be more humble, more vulnerable, and reveal our thinking under our story. Does that ring?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah. Let’s talk about standards, in particular. How is a standard articulated in our minds?

Chuck Wisner
So, example, I work with women groups sometimes and, just for fun, and this isn’t anything about dissing women or anything, but, for fun, I would say, “So, how many people in the room, when they leave the house, if the beds aren’t all made, they feel like they’re not a good mom or a good housewife?” And, generally, a large proportion, the majority of people in the room, raise their hands.

And I simply ask, “So, that’s a standard. You have that standard. Where did you adopt that?” So, they adopted that standard from their mother, from their grandmother, from their aunty, or a lesson they learned in school. Who knows? But they adopted that, and I’m not judging that standard, but I’m saying to have the standard, and to investigate it, and to decide consciously, whether you want to keep it or not, is that’s where freedom comes from, that’s where I can say, “You know what? I don’t have to feel bad when I go to work because the beds aren’t made.”

And so, the standards for men, we actually are probably taught not to show our emotions. That, too, is a standard. And so, if we investigate that, we can see the benefits of finding ways to be emotionally intelligent, and to productively and effectively share our emotions. We can shift out of that sort of unconscious standard that we hold that might keep us back.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in the example of the beds not being made, I suppose, can you walk us through a little bit more of the detail of how do we look at it because I imagine that’s not a two-minute operation, “Hey, you know what, that’s silly. The beds don’t need to be made, and I’m still a great mom, huh. Well, I looked at that and that’s now behind me”? I imagine there’s a little bit more depth to it. What’s happening there, Chuck?

Chuck Wisner
Yeah. So, I mean, it can happen like that. There are people that go, “Whoa, that’s a standard I didn’t even know I had,” because, literally, I don’t know, some large number, 90% of our standards, we did not consciously choose. We adopted them from our culture and family. So, it can happen where someone goes, “Whoa, that standard, hmm, I don’t need that.”

Now, that doesn’t mean they’re going to switch overnight because it’s like we’re messing around with neuro networks in our brain, and there’s no switch to make it happen overnight. But, slowly, with awareness, maybe the next time this happens, the woman thinks to herself, “Yeah, I feel a little guilty, but you know what, I’ll make them when I get home.” And then two weeks later, she does it again, she goes, “Oh, screw that. I’m fine.” And three weeks later, she goes, “I’m going to make the beds today because I have time.”

And so, she has a totally different relationship with the standard. She can be conscious of, or choose, when she wants to apply it or not apply it. And I often say every time my clients say, “Well, I don’t want to do this habit,” or, “I want to change that standard,” and I say, “Well, if I had a magic pill and you never did that again, would you pay me $10,000?” And most people say, “Sure,” and I’d be a rich man. But there’s no magic pill.

So, it’s beginning to increase our awareness of what our patterns are, whether it’s standards or some kind of ways that we emotionally react to things, pay attention in a new way, and then begin a process of being consciously choosing how you want to shift that pattern.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really good question there with regard to the magic pill, which reminds me, I’m thinking about the book Feeling Great by David Burns, the sequel to Feeling Good. And they asked a similar question about if I had a magic button where you’d never worry about this again if you press it, usually, often they say, “Well, no, I don’t want to press it. Like, there are times and places in which this reaction, standard, belief, story is a value to me. And just sort of severing it entirely is not ideal.”

And so, that question in and of itself, it kind of segments or puts you down a different fork path of potentially insightful exploration, like, “Huh, there’s just no place for this at all,” versus, “Wow, under these circumstances or with these nuances, it’s great.”

Chuck Wisner
Yeah, actually, and that’s being aware of and understanding the underbelly of the standard or the underbelly of the assumption or judgment so you can make a more wise choice about how to apply or how not to apply. There are times when this gets into a little bit of the power issues. At times, you can be in business and someone might say to you, “You did a terrible job.” Depending on the hierarchy, depending on your relationship with that person, you might not give a damn about what they said.

But the next day, someone else with more power, or hierarchy, or higher in the hierarchy, says something, and you trust them and you give their voice a lot of power, you care a lot about what they said. And that, too, is a choice point, but being aware of those differences makes us be able to be much smarter and wise choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right, so we talked about story bits. Anything that you really want to make sure to put out there about collaborative conversations and how those can go better?

Chuck Wisner
Yes. Now, if you think about storytelling, that’s the primary because that’s where the book starts, and it’s a good 50 pages at the beginning of the book because we have to start with our own stuff. We have to become more aware of our stories and where we are and how we show up in the world with them. Now, we walk into a room, and there’s two people, you and I, or five people, or a meeting of 10 or 20 people, now we have 20 people, 20 stories around the room, 20 different perspectives around the room.

And when we are entering there with a semi-closed fist, or closed fist, there’s a lot of friction and a lot of stress that’s created because everyone is trying to up the other person. And I think the fundamental pattern that we have is to, we’re educated to have the answer, we raise our hands to have the answer, and get the gold star, but the fundamental pattern is that when we enter into collaboration, or let’s just say we enter into conversations, we’re not even aware whether we’re collaborating or not, we enter conversations, we generally can enter in defensively because we want our answer to be right.

And so, the real art of the collaborative conversation is learning to not give up your position, but hold your position with an open hand and reveal the thinking underneath. Are there power issues? What are the desires you have? What are the concerns you have? What are the standards you’re holding? And when we can be a little more vulnerable and open our hands that way, we are also inviting other people to do the same thing.

So, the collaborative conversation is the art of open advocacy and open inquiry. And open advocacy means open hand. An open inquiry means asking questions that you really want to understand, better understand the other person’s perspective, versus inquiry, where you’re asking questions to prove them wrong so you can be right.

And so, there’s a dance there, and there’s no, “I can’t say do this first, do this second,” there’s a dance with paying attention, and there’s a motion, and there’s body language, and it’s this dance of opening and opening and learning together, I call it mutual learning, where multiple perspectives can surface up. And because of that, there’s space for ideas to bubble up, there’s ways that I can say to you, “Oh, gosh, I never thought of it that way.” So, that changes how I’m thinking about the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, if you’re not in the headspace of feeling curious – curious, not being curious – you’re not curious and you do think someone is wrong, do you have any pro tips on how to just do a mental emotional redirect to into a better head space, groove, flow, to have a higher-quality conversation?

Chuck Wisner
Well, let’s say the best place to start is compare, state what you know is to be real, to be true, to be factual, and see if you can find a bridge with the other person about, “This is what happened,” or, “This is what’s happening,” because the facts are the safest ground we have to stand on in a collaborative conversation.

Now, we know from politics that when that ground is shaky, it’s just a freaking nightmare. So, if you can sort of calm yourself to go, “Okay, we don’t agree, and before we actually start sharing our standards and things like that, what are the facts we agree on? We agree that the…” going back to the legal and financing, “…that the company last quarter, the last four quarters had been pretty miserable, and we have to change things, and we have to push our product in a different way, or be more creative.” We agree on the state of things, and that’s a solid ground to work from.

And then, from there, we can start asking questions, like, “Well, how do you think about X? And what you think about the market share?” And so, that inquiry is how we learn what the underbelly of your judgment is or your disagreement is. It’s always going underneath to find out more, to think about your thinking, or to reveal your thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’m curious, in the course of having these conversations, are there any favorite or least favorite words or phrases that you think really open up cool things or shut it down real quick?

Chuck Wisner
Well, I think that most of the time, what shuts things down is judgment. So, someone will maybe put something out there, and another person will rise up right away with, “Well, that will never work.” And that’s why I shy away from the term brainstorming because we all know what that means, but the downside of brainstorming is someone comes up with a crazy idea and someone else in the room goes, “Well, we tried that five years ago, it never worked,” and that closes down the conversation.

So, this sort of gets us into the creative conversation because if you and I are in a mutual learning conversation where I’m saying, “Wow, I never thought of it that way,” and we’re sort of coming to a way of having a mutual understanding, what happens is there’s space in that conversation, there’s space in our minds, and ideas start bubbling up. And together, we might come up with, an idea might bubble up that you didn’t think of, or I didn’t think of, independently, and we both go, “Whoa, yeah, that’s the answer. Wow!”

And that’s how the creative conversation functions. It only functions when all parties are willing to be in that open space, open mind, open heart space.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, “We did that last year” is not a great phrase in a creative conversation. Any other phrases you love and phrases you don’t?

Chuck Wisner
So, a phrase that’s really useful is “Help me understand your position. Please help me understand your thinking. What’s your thinking under your thinking?” That’s a very inviting sort of phrase that tells the other person you’re open to not criticizing but to truly understanding. And your other question was what some that aren’t so helpful.

So, the unhelpful are instead of asking questions, to stay in advocacy, what I call closed advocacy, where no matter what they say, your response is, “Yes, but I think…” blah, blah, blah. And so, that’s a closed advocacy where we still can’t undo that need to be right, and so that’s a real trap. And the distinction that I’ve learned from my teachers is the distinction of being a knower versus a learner.

And so, the bad side of the advocacy and inquiry and the collaborative conversation is to be stuck as a knower, and no matter what the other person does, even if they ask you a good question, you don’t want to reveal your thinking, you don’t want to open your hand, you just go, “No, this is the way it is because this is my experience,” and you’re just stuck. You’re sort of like a solid rock.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay. And can you tell us what are mindful agreements and how do we get there?

Chuck Wisner
So, there’s a phrase that I have in the book, a little chapter around commitment conversations, that I called the conversational bypass. And what I mean by that is we have storytelling, and we have commitment conversations. Those are our favorite conversations. We like to tell our stories and we like to take action.

The middle two conversations – collaborative and creative – take more effort, take a little more time, take a change in how we’re showing up, and so what I’d say is because we love our stories, and we’re addicted to action, we leap from storytelling to action, and we do a bypass. So, an example might be we’re in a meeting, there’s a couple people, let’s say, someone saying, “Here’s what we’re trying to solve, here’s the problem,” a couple voices speak up, the loud extrovert speak up, the boss might say what his is, and then someone in the room, or the boss, or someone says, “Okay, what are we going to do?”

And so, we make a leap to action and decision, and often those decisions aren’t as vetted as they could be because we haven’t listened to opposing perspectives, we haven’t taken the time to come up with other possibilities. The creative conversation is about possibilities, what’s possible. And so, that bypass makes us make bad decisions.

A good commitment conversation, a good promise, means both sides understand what’s being asked, what’s being promised, and what success looks like. So, that conversation actually involves every time someone makes a request, we do X, Y, and Z, our tendency, our pattern as a culture is to default to yes. And when we default to yes, we miss, we don’t take the time to get clarity, and go, “Wait a minute. What am I really promising here? What’s the timing? What’s the condition to satisfaction? Who’s it for? What format do you want?” Whatever the questions are, we miss that because we are sort of addicted to, “Sure, no problem. I can do that.”

And an example is someone runs by your desk, and says, “Can you put some numbers together for me for Monday morning?” You say, “Sure.” You and your team spend the weekend putting a 30-page report together. Monday morning, the boss takes it, looks at the back page which is a summary, rips the back page off, “Perfect. This is just what I need for my meeting.” And how many manhours were spent because they didn’t take an extra five minutes to ask the question, “Listen, to help you with your meeting, I really want to understand what you really need.”

And now, with the rip of the last page, the boss goes off happy, unaware that 300 manhours were spent, and they’re all frustrated, and they all now have a story about the boss, and so we’re back to stories. So, we can do commitment conversations, just slow the process down a bit. Any request, make sure you have an understanding of what you’re making a promise.

And the other thing is to avoid the yes. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. I can be asked to do something, and maybe I’m not competent to do it, and I have to be willing to say, “You know, I need a week to learn how to do that,” or, “I need help how to do that.” So, there’s all kinds of ways, if we slow down the process, we might discover how we can make them a sloppy promise but a better promise.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Chuck, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Chuck Wisner
Yeah, I think, for me, this is a practice. I think learning about how conversations work, there’s no switch, there’s no magic pill, but as we look at the distinctions, it gives us a new lens, and be gentle on yourself. Don’t judge yourself. Be curious about, “Well, what is my pattern and how can I change that pattern?” And that change is sort of a slow process. It’s like it might change overnight but it might take you a week, it might take you two weeks. But if you stay paying attention and patient with yourself and nonjudgmental, you can change those patterns.

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

Chuck Wisner
Well, one of my favorite spiritual teachers is Hafiz who was pre-Rumi. And I love this quote, he says, “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Chuck Wisner
Right now, I’m liking neuroscience, and I’m not a neuroscientist, so I don’t go too deeply, but I think we’re just on the brink of learning how the brain works and how the chemicals interact and the electrical impulses, this incredible complex set of neurons, billions of neurons. And I think what it’s doing is giving us a window into why we humans act the way we do, which takes a little bit of the sting out on some of our habits so we can look at them more neutrally and with a little more compassion.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite book?

Chuck Wisner
It’s a few years old but I love Yuval Harari’s book called Sapiens. And I like it because he tells a different story about humans, how we evolved, and how our brains and our thinking evolved. Again, it’s a fresh look at how mythology got created in concert with how our brains developed, and so we learned to tell myths so we can have bigger societies, and then we attach ourselves to those myths. Even money is a story, and law is a story. And so, it’s a way of looking at the world so we aren’t so attached to our particular perspective but we learn a little more tolerance. And the world could use a fair amount of that right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you elaborate on how money and law is a story? Because I think, to many, they think, “Well, those things are just ironclad.”

Chuck Wisner
Yeah. Well, over time, money has evolved from a point where at some time in history, shells could be a form of trade. And metals, or precious metals, even tulips, at one point, were the trade for the way that we did trade, and what had value. And so, money is a story because we all agree that this piece of paper has value. The piece of paper is nothing. The value and the power only is in our agreement of its value. And that agreement is a story that we all adopt and live by.

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

Chuck Wisner
Well, I say meditation is a really important tool for self-awareness and learning to understand our minds. And, at my age, yoga is really important, so I think mental and physical things like that, that help keep us awake and aware and able, are really important things to pay attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Chuck Wisner
I think the visual in my book of a spiral, it’s like V-shaped and think of a funnel like you put a quarter in a funnel at a museum of science. And by the time the quarter gets to the bottom, it’s spinning so fast you don’t recognize it as a quarter. I use that visual to help people understand that when something triggers them, emotional trigger, an upsetting event, that, generally, what we do is we spiral down, and it’s usually fear-based. There’s some fear we have that has us spiraling down. And the opposite of fear is love at the top.

And I bring that up because that visual helps people, when they do catch themselves triggered or spiraling, they go, “Okay, where am I on the funnel?” And that stops the spin, and then we can do some investigation into our thinking and into our emotions, and stop spiraling down, and maybe move ourselves up through that awareness.

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

Chuck Wisner
My website is ChuckWisner.com. I believe they can download a free PDF of the introduction. My Instagram, chuck_wisner, and LinkedIn, and I think Facebook is the same.

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

Chuck Wisner
Yes. I’d say investigate your thinking, be kind to yourself, be tolerant, try to be less judgmental, and really practice opening your hand so you can have an open hand and an open heart, and also being aware that you have to protect yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Chuck, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you many lovely conscious conversations.

Chuck Wisner
Same to you. Hope it resonates.

909: How to Stay Engaged and Accomplish Your Hardest Tasks with Tracy Maylett and Tim Vandehey

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Tracy Maylett and Tim Vandehey reveal the reasons why we often end up quitting before achieving our goals.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we often fail to finish things–and how to fix it
  2. The two things that will help you get through any task
  3. How to break the cycle of failure with MAGIC

About Tracy and Tim

Tracy Maylett, Ed.D, is a CEO, organizational psychologist, researcher, and professor. He advises leaders throughout the world in employee engagement and organizational effectiveness. Dr. Maylett is an internationally recognized, bestselling author who travels the globe exploring culture, motivation, and how people and organizations think. He has published numerous articles in the field of organizational psychology and employee engagement, and has authored three previous award-winning books, including bestsellers The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results and ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations.

Tim Vandehey is a journalist, columnist, and New York Times bestselling ghostwriter of more than 65 nonfiction books in such genres as business, finance, advice, outdoor adventure, religion, memoir, parenting, and health. His work has been featured in Fast Company, Inc., Forbes and Entrepreneur, and his ghostwritten books have been published by major houses including HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Wiley & Sons, St. Martin’s Press, and The MIT Press. Tim’s work has also garnered numerous awards, including multiple Axiom Business Book medals and Independent Publisher Book awards. Tim is also a singer of a cappella jazz and Renaissance music, a sailor and a world traveler, and the father of two amazing daughters. He’s a California native, but currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Resources Mentioned

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Tracy Maylett and Tim Vandehey Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tracy and Tim, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Tracy Maylett
Thank you. A pleasure, Pete. Thank you.

Tim Vandehey
Thanks. Thanks very much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom of your book, Swipe: The Science Behind Why We Don’t Finish What We Start. I am guilty of starting a lot of things that are unfinished, so I’m particularly jazzed to get into this. So, maybe, for starters, could you share, was there a particularly surprising or counterintuitive discovery you made while researching and putting together Swipe?

Tracy Maylett
This was interesting. We didn’t set out to start writing a personal book about finishing what I, as an individual, start. We originally set out to think about why people are leaving organizations or disengaging in organizations. So, to answer your question, I think the big aha for me, as we went through this, was this is not just about the workplace. This desire or inability to continue what we start is actually something that’s applicable to ourselves as individuals, not just only in the workplace.

Tim Vandehey
Tracy and I have done two other books prior to this together, with me as a ghost writer. And we got together at the very beginning of 2020, really before the world shut down, and talked about, “Okay, what’s our third book going to be?” It was intended to be the same kind of collaboration. And we came up with this idea about kind of the metaphor of swiping your smartphone as a shorthand for the distract-ability of, in this case, the employee. We’d done two books on the employer’s responsibility for getting people to engage.

And so, we had this idea, and we liked it. We went away to our own little personal writing caves, and started making notes, and working on things. And, at some point in the summer, the COVID summer of 2020, we connected and we said, “This is a bigger book than just about employee engagement. This is something everyone does.”

And coming from the world of writing, I’ve been a freelance writer for almost 29 years now. My life is filled with people who have tried to start books and never been able to finish them. So, it immediately resonated that, “This is a universal thing.” I remember our conversation, I was sitting in my backyard, I said, “This is a bigger book, isn’t it?” And Tracy agreed, and we realized it was this was universal.

And so, that’s what we discovered not long after we came up with the concept, was this was something applies to just about everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the ghost comes out of hiding. It makes sense.

Tim Vandehey
Yes. I don’t show up on film, which is a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Anyways, your whole career is built on this principle of people not being able to finish what they have started.

Tim Vandehey
That is very true. Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a fun perspective there. So, lay it on us in terms of the idea, what do we mean precisely by swiping? And can you paint a real clear picture for all of us there?

Tim Vandehey
Well, the idea behind the Swipe, again, we started off borrowing from the analogy of swiping on a smartphone. The swipe, as we call it, and swiping, the verb…

Pete Mockaitis
Swipe, swept, has or has swepened.

Tim Vandehey
Yes. Well, we haven’t really gotten into swept, haven’t really gotten into the past participle and so on. Nice to meet a bigger grammar nerd than myself. This idea that when we are confronted with an uncomfortable situation, or with discomfort, particularly, in this case, as it pertains to attempting things that we have not been able to do yet.

So, when we find ourselves disillusioned, embarrassed, doubting our abilities, etc., rather than stick with it, we take a cue from the smartphone, let’s say, where it’s very easy to change your experience, sort of change your reality, just with the tap of an app symbol or the swipe of a finger. Boom, you’re immediately onto something else.

So, the swipe, that reflexive, what I like to call hitting the eject button, from whatever it is you’re doing that’s making you uncomfortable. And in the case of what we’re talking about, it’s attempting something that you may not have done before, and you reached that point where you’ve written 50 pages of your novel, and suddenly you have no idea where to go, and you say, “Ah, to heck with it. I’ll try this again later.” That’s what swiping is, it’s that reflex of, “I’m not comfortable where I am. I’m going to immediately, reflexively change my reality so I don’t have to deal with that discomfort.”

Tracy Maylett
And we started in the workplace here. This is all about, this was pre-Great Resignation. This was, as we’re starting to look at what’s causing people to disengage in their jobs. It was based on a 50 million survey, employee survey responses, so this is not a small dataset, saying, “Why are people leaving their jobs when these were once wonderful jobs, and these are great people?”

We don’t show up to work thinking, “I sure hope today is awful. I hope the life gets sucked out of me in my job today.” That’s not natural human nature. The same thing when we’re at home. Also, we don’t begin projects with the idea that, “I’m going to not finish this project.” So, as Tim mentioned, it’s very reflexive. The swipe is reflexive. We don’t take this time to stop and think about it. And this book is really focused on that reflex and how to avoid that reflex.

Pete Mockaitis
And I feel that in terms of it’s like procrastinating except broader. I think it’s how I’m hearing and receiving that, in that I might be doing a thing, it’s kind of hard, it’s kind of unpleasant, it’s like, “Well, let’s just maybe process some emails instead. That’s easier.” So, I have shifted my reality. If it were on the smartphone, I would swipe. On a Mac, I would Command Tab. It’s like we’re just going to move away from that window, and onto another window of experience, which feels a little bit more manageable here.

So, I’m imagining that is not optimal for human wellbeing and thriving. Could you paint a picture of just what are the consequences when this is a habitual reflexive lifestyle for folks?

Tracy Maylett
Let’s talk about the neuroscience piece here for just a moment. Swipe actually changes the way our brain functions. When you think about it, what’s happened with technology over the last while, it’s even changed the way we read. We read differently. We don’t read left to right. We read top to bottom. And what causes us to do is move through pieces very, very quickly.

Also, we’ve come to an age where we’re making very, very quick decisions in the things that we do. We don’t take the time to stop and think something through. That’s the nature of the swipe. It’s very reflexive. It’s something that we have become natural at, something that’s new to us. And because of that, that changes our entire thought patterns and the things that we do. One of the reasons that we decided to go down this route was Tim was looking to this and started talking about the pain and the regret that this causes.

We find some interesting statistics in the workplace, for example. Right now, there are a number of statistics to show when somebody does leave that job, when they swipe past that job. We’re seeing that as many as 30% of those individuals, within the first 90 days, quit the next job or regret that next job. So, we develop patterns in our own lives. Those patterns become a part of who we are.

Tim Vandehey
The other thing, I think, to continue Tracy’s neuroscience track, is that what we also found is when there’s the idea of mastery. The more you do something, the better you get at it. I’m not going to cite the whole Gladwell 10,000 hours thing. That’s been debunked. But the idea is if you follow through on something, you get better at it.

What we found is that that really only applies when you get past a certain point, when you finished, when you’ve finished something to completion, typically, because you have to get all the way through that awful first draft of your novel. To know what you’re doing, you have to get through that workout program to understand how your body has been changing, and how to do it, how to work out in the future.

And what we found is that when people swipe repeatedly, because this is a repeated phenomenon. That’s one of the things that distinguishes it from procrastination is most people, they don’t quit something, they don’t swipe on a goal once. They go back and try it again and again and again, usually, from the same strategy. They don’t really make changes, and think, “This time I’ll do better.” And they end up doing the same thing.

And over time, what happens is we don’t become good at the task we keep attempting and failing at. We become good at swiping. We become good at bailing out of the boat when a couple of holes get poked in it because that’s what we’ve done repeatedly, is we’ve jumped out and away from that task because we felt some sort of emotional response that made us uncomfortable.

Tracy Maylett
We even end one of the chapters by saying when we continue to swipe, we practice, and we practice, we become good at it, and the only thing that we actually master is the swipe itself.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, can you share with us perhaps an inspiring story of someone who was habitual swiper, and then had a turn around?

Tim Vandehey
That’s a good question.

Tracy Maylett
One of the things that really impressed me as we were starting to write this book is Tim brought up this concept of National Writers Month. And the concept that we have an opportunity here for people to actually finish something, finish what they actually started. And the numbers, to me, was just staggering. Tim, it was just amazing to see the number of authors that really get in.

Tim Vandehey
That’s actually a great example. That’s a great example. That was probably the thing, the idea that inspired the book. I don’t know if you’re familiar with National Novel Writing Month.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard of it. So, you write a novel in a month?

Tim Vandehey
Yeah, if you can suss that out pretty easily but, yeah. So, I think they came up with it, God, back in the early ‘90s, I think. But, basically, the gist of it is you sign up to write a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days in November. It happens every November. You have to write the book within the 30 days. Quality is not an issue. The idea is to finish something, which tells you how compelling the idea, at least in the world of writing, in my world, the idea of finishing a book is, and how much of a Holy Grail it is.

So, 250,000 people have managed to not swipe during that month of November and finished something. Now, most of the books, from what I understood, I’ve read a couple, they’re dreadful as you would expect. Now, there had been a few, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants was one that was written that as that was a National Novel Writing Month book, and I think that was not only a New York Times bestseller but I think it became a movie. I think.

But that’s the best example I know because that’s a lot of people who have managed to do that, something that they’ve struggled with, in some cases, for decades. And that points to something, if I can transition, because that’s a logical transition, to some of the preventive issues that we have figured out in writing this book that can keep people from swiping. They are on display during National Novel Writing Month in spades.

Pete Mockaitis
Lay it on us.

Tim Vandehey
There are really two issues. One is expectation management. The other is motivation management. So, what we have found is that people who go into a task, and it could be their tenth time, it doesn’t matter. If they have erroneous expectations, false expectations, expectations that’s not based in reality, they are far more likely to swipe, to quit, because, of course, they go into it naïve, possibly.

I remember when I tried to write my first book, I can’t remember how long ago it was, I had no idea how hard it would be past the burst of energy. And it was gut-wrenching after maybe 35 or 40 pages. We actually use a term, page-one energy, to talk about this enthusiasm. The enthusiasm of the naïve before they realize what they got themselves into.

So, with National Novel Writing Month, again, to go back to that example, the whole culture of the things is, “This is going to be hard.” And people lean into how hard it is. They have the last week, the whole country is dotted with National Novel Writing Month sort of sleepovers where people get together for a week and just write, and write, and write, and get little snatches of sleep, and sleep on the floor in sleeping bags. And it becomes kind of like camp for crazy people.

So, the expectations are managed. You go into it knowing “This is going to suck,” or, “These are the results I’m going to get.” The analogy I like to use is working out. You go into a workout program, and you think, “I’m going to be jacked after a month.” And then you look in the mirror after a month, and you’re not jacked, you might’ve lost a little bit of weight, but you don’t look like The Rock.

If you actually had an expectation, you’re likely to say, “Forget it,” throw up your hands, “I’m done. This is stupid.” So, expectation management is incredibly important. The second part is about motivation. Why are you doing this? Are you doing it because you’re envious of someone else who did? Or, you think you’re supposed to? Or, your family expects you to do this? Or, what’s the reason? Because the motivation is what you need when you hit those roadblocks to keep you going.

And National Novel Writing Month, the motivation is, “I’ve told a whole bunch of other people in my community…” because the organization has little chapters all over the country, “…all these other writers that I’m going to do this, so they’re going to hold me to it. And I really want to do this but, more importantly, I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of all the other people who are going to keep going and keep doing it if I slack off, then I look like a loser and they don’t.” So, motivation matters.

And when people get both of those things right, it’s not to say they won’t swipe, they still might but they’re much less likely to.

Tracy Maylett
As we were looking to writing this book, and Tim corrected me on this as we were doing it, which was wonderful because, through my work, working with people at tops of organizations and Tim’s opportunity to meet lots of really cool people through his authoring, one of the things we started to do, or I started to do, is throw in examples of really high-profile people, these individuals who everyone knows are three-time Olympians, etc.

And we started looking at this, and saying, “That’s fantastic,” and people are setting their sights on that, and they’re seeing these wonderful powerhouses. But the reality is every single one of us still witnesses this at some point in their lives and multiple times in our life. This is not written for that, “How do you go win the bobsled race in the Olympics?” This is really written to that individual who is trying to complete something who’s not been able to do that, and is now suffering those negative effects because of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, this notion of the expectation and the motivation making all the difference seems quite resonant. And I’m thinking about, are you familiar with Andrew Huberman with the Huberman Lab?

Tracy Maylett
No.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel like I talk about him nonstop. Well, he’s a neurobiologist out of Stanford who’s got a huge podcast, so he’ll just multi-hour conversations about different topics in biology or science and science-based tools for everyday life is his thing.

And so, he has millions upon millions of downloads and views and all that, but he mentioned, I think it’s intriguing that what he calls the Holy Grail of motivation is if you can find motivation in a form of enjoyment in the pain and suffering and challenge of the things, and he holds up David Goggins as archetypical example here, super ultra marathon, Navy Seal, like hardcore pain experiences over and over again, and to find a sort of a fuel and enjoyment and motivation within that.

And what you described here in the writing context, as opposed to like the physical ultra marathon context, is that, “Hey, this is going to be hard. At times, it is going to suck that may require sleepovers to actually pull it off.” And rather than that turning people off, like, “Ugh, no, thanks. I don’t want it. I don’t care to deal with all that hassle,” it’s kind of like, “Ooh, heck, yeah. Aargh, let’s get after it.”

Tim Vandehey
Yeah, it’s a shared experience. Well, it’s funny because I’d done a lot of writing in the endurance sports world, not recently, but in the past, and one of the mottos of marathoners, and ultra marathoners, and triathletes, and ultra triathletes is that, “The winner is the one who can out-suffer everybody else.” And, in fact, I did a book for Chris McCormack who was the Australian, one of the best triathletes of all time. And he used to say his motto was “Embrace the suck.”

So, it’s going to suck, accept it, get into it, make it part of the experience, is that you’re going to give yourself over to that, and part of the satisfaction is knowing that, “That really sucked and I got through it.”

Tracy Maylett
Well, you look at that in the workplace also, and as soon as we receive a difficult assignment, or don’t get that promotion that we’re after, the tendency now is to just say, “Okay, I’ll go down the street.” And the reality is it’s the journey that’s the valuable piece here. It’s not just the end state. It’s the suck. It’s the part that was really, really difficult that made those individuals who they are today.

And when they confront that again, now they’ve learned to confront that. If I am in a workplace, and after two months I have a project that I don’t necessarily enjoy, well, yeah, that’s part of life, that’s what we deal with. But it’s those pieces that are difficult that make us who we are. And this is really about to value those pieces, embrace those pieces that may be more difficult because that’s what really builds the character and builds that individual.

Tim Vandehey
Yeah, one of the things that we probably, if we had more time and more pages, we would’ve looked at what happens to someone after they don’t swipe, after they actually finish something that they have been trying to do for a long time. And, again, going back to National Novel Writing Month, one of the things that they found is success in that area becomes kind of addictive. You did it once, you’re going to go back and do it again and again.

There are people who have written 20 novels through that program. I have no idea if any of them were any good, but once they know they can do it, it becomes kind of intoxicating. I have no data on this, and we didn’t look at it, but my guess would be that’s probably true for a lot of people in a huge range of endeavors, that once you actually able to get…especially if you’ve failed a lot, if you’ve swiped repeatedly, and you finally hit the finish line.

I’ve been at the finish line of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii and watched people who managed to finish their first Ironman. The age groupers have to finish in under 17 hours, and they finished at 16:55 the first they’ve been able to do it after multiple failures. All the pain goes away. They could not care. Their bodies could be falling apart. It’s absolute exultation because they finally made it. It’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, you also have a bit of an acronym to help us cure swipe – MAGIC. Can you walk us through this?

Tracy Maylett
Yeah, MAGIC was based on our work with employee engagement, what causes someone to engage in their job. So, looking in the opposite side of this, we know what causes people to swipe, what causes people to stay. Now, this isn’t just specifically towards employment. This is any relationship. This could be with my children. This could be in my community. It could be in a workplace, but the idea here is when these five elements, and MAGIC is an acronym, when these five elements are present, I will tend to engage.

And the degree to which these are important to me, some may be more important than others, and the degree to which these are fulfilled will cause me to choose whether or not I’m engaged and will continue forward. So, that acronym is MAGIC, M-A-G-I-C. The first of those is meaning, so the M is meaning. When I find purpose beyond just the job itself, or when I find a reason why I choose to learn the piano, etc., there’s something that’s valuable to me, a purpose, I will stay and I will continue to do what I’m doing.

The second piece is the A, which is autonomy. Autonomy is not anarchy. That’s not our A. Autonomy is to be able to use our abilities in the best way possible, have the freedom to do so. So, in the workplace, it does not necessarily mean I have free rein of anything I want to do but I’m able to channel my skills and abilities to make that happen. That happens in a marriage, that could happen in any relationship that we have.

When I use my abilities, then the next piece happens, which is G, growth. The opposite of growth is stagnation. If I’m stagnating in a community, if I’m stagnating in a workplace, I will disengage, I’ll swipe, I’ll move forward. The I stands for impact. Impact is seeing the results of your effort. So, if I continue to work out day after day after day, and I’m not seeing a result of my effort, the likelihood of me swiping is going to be pretty high. So, we measure that, we gain tiny successes along the way.

And the final piece of that is C. The C which is connection. Connection is a sense of belonging to something beyond just yourself. That could be a social connection. One of the reasons why the National Novel Writing Month is successful is not just I’m buckling down. It’s that I’m commiserating with other people. Other people are doing this with me at the same time, that ability to establish those connections, connection to the workplace, connection to the environment that I’m in.

When those five elements are present – meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection – that’s kind of the anti-swipe. It keeps me from moving forward. This was based, again, on we started with 14 million employee survey responses, and moved actually to 50 million employee survey responses, but we found that that’s not just the workplace phenomenon. It happens in our lives as well. And so, that’s kind of what we saw as one of the areas for anti-swipe.

Tim Vandehey
Speaking of the anti-swipe, and related to what Tracy said about the workplace, the sort of counter-phenomenon that we defined in the book, as opposed to the swipe, was something we called tapping out. And that is especially relevant when it comes to the workplace. It’s relevant in other areas as well. But where a swipe is a reflex that comes from discomfort, from fear, embarrassment, disillusionment, etc., and usually leads to regret because the things we swipe from are generally things that are good for us and that we want to do.

We really want to finish that book. We really want to get in shape. We really want to save money, etc. A tapping out is an affirmative act. Tapping out is not reflexive. We’re choosing to walk away from a situation that is bad for us.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re in a chokehold, you’re starting to black out, I think now would be a good time to stop.

Tim Vandehey
So, now the example I like to use is not a workplace example but it’s perfectly illustrative of this, is the gymnast Simone Biles back in 2020. She chose to walk away from the team Olympic gold in the 2020 Olympics because she was having what they called the twisties, where she was unable to perceive her position in space while she was doing vaults and things, which, of course, for a gymnast can be incredibly dangerous.

And she made an affirmative choice to walk away and choose her own physical and mental health over competing in the events. And there was a little bit of pushback but most people praised her for it. They praised her for putting herself first, and it was, obviously, a decision that she felt good about. That is the polar opposite of a swipe. Tapping out is an affirmative act, you feel good about it, it is not something you regret. It is something when you say, “This is not a good situation for me,” probably most commonly in a job.

Now, the Great Resignation we talked about, a lot of those people probably disengaged in ways that had nothing with to do with anything healthy. Some people probably tapped out because they said, “Look, I’m not being valued here, I’m not being compensated properly, I’m not being listened to, I’m not given opportunities to grow,” and so they chose to go elsewhere, and that is a tap-out, and it’s important to distinguish that from a swipe.

Tracy Maylett
The key difference here is a swipe is, Tim, would you agree with this, it’s purely reflexive.

Tim Vandehey
Yeah, it’s system one. It’s system-one stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your views then, zooming right into the heat of battle in terms of you’re feeling some discomfort, you’d like to quit or change a channel, any pro tips for right there in the here and now, what do we do to persist?

Tracy Maylett
Tim just mentioned something that’s important, which is system one. This is by the work of Daniel Kahneman. It was really interesting. He said our brain is, really, our mind, is divided into two systems, system one and system two. System one is very reflexive. I don’t stop. It’s a reflex. So, it’s something that I do out of habit, something I do just as a reflex rather than something I have to stop and think about.

System two, the acts that takes place in system two is very reflective. It is something I stop and I think about, I pay attention to, I have to evaluate, I have to take thought that’s in this. So, the reason I’m mentioning these two systems is because swipe is truly a system one reflex. It is, “I don’t stop and think about it. I don’t consider the consequences. I don’t consider my motivations. I don’t consider what really is involved in here, the expectations.”

System two requires that you stop and think about that stuff, “Why am I doing this? What’s important? What would be the end result of this?” So, in the book, we give a series of steps that you can actually go through to distinguish between the two of these, and one of those is to play it through to the end, “If I make this decision right now, and it were recorded on a VCR, how would this movie end?” Do we even do VCRs anymore? “If this were part of a film, how would this film end if I were to make this step right now?”

So, that’s one of the things to consider, “What will be the end result of this action, not just this temporary relief of discomfort? What will be the final result of this?”

Tim Vandehey
And it’s very easy to say that people should do what Tracy just described. Tracy described it perfectly. But we all know that’s a lot more difficult to actually do that in real time. So, a big part, and I think the power of what we did in the book was to simply call out the fact that this phenomenon exists. It’s knowable. It’s somewhat predictable and it’s understandable. And I think the key to being able to do what Tracy described, to play it through to the end in real time is to go into the next attempt at whatever it is that people have swiped from multiple times in the past.

Knowing that this happens, knowing that, “Okay, after I get to page X, I am prone to swiping, I’m prone to panicking, becoming embarrassed, doubting my abilities as a writer, and saying, ‘To heck with it. I’m going to delete this file and I’ll try again in five years or something.’” And to say, “Okay, I’m watching out for when those impulse strikes, and instead of just blindly blundering in, thinking, ‘Well, maybe this time it’ll be different.” The four of the worst words are, “This time it’s different.” They say that in finance a lot.

Instead, saying to yourself, “I’m going to be watching for those signs that I’m feeling that panic reflex,” and instead catching yourself be mindful enough to say, “Okay, hold on. Hold on. What will happen? What am I going to feel if I walk away for the sixth time?” As opposed to, “What if I actually get through this? And what if I do like all the people doing National Novel Writing Month, and I finish this?” or, “I finish this workout,” or, “I train for the marathon and actually run it.” It doesn’t matter.

One of the keys here, that’s why National Novel Writing Month, I keep referring to it, it’s so brilliant, is it’s not about the quality. It’s about finishing. It’s about finally breaking the tape, “And how will I feel when I actually do that?” Odds are people are going to feel pride and tremendous sense of accomplishment.

So, projecting into the future that way, that’s the ultimate preventer, really, and the expectation and motivation things we talked about before help, but, ultimately, you have to be able to catch yourself in real time, and say, “Whoa, okay. Take a deep breath. Let’s keep going because I know if I do, I’m going to be glad I did.”

Because what we see is that overwhelming regret. We talked to someone who’s quit something time and time again, who swiped over and over again. I always hear the same thing from writers, “God, if I had only kept going. If I’d kept going back then two years ago, I’d have two other books written by now.” I hear that all the time, and we all do that, “If I kept working out, I’d be in like the P90X guy kind of shape right now,” etc.

And so, if we can catch ourselves, if we can be mindful that the swipe is a thing, that’s what makes it possible to catch ourselves in real time and make that choice.

Pete Mockaitis
What really comes to mind here, we talked about the reflexive actions versus remembering to stop and think about the consequences, what will happen, projecting into the future, is I had a buddy who wanted to stop vaping. And so, I don’t know if this is a very clever idea, he had a bunch of index cards, and he wrote on each one of them a reason why to stop vaping or how life would be better if he were not addicted to this anymore.

And he placed them on top of his giant vape stick, and so whenever he wanted to reach for it, he had all these reasons, and that was sort of his rule, it’s like, “Oh, well, you’re free to vape, just you have to read all of these first.” And it worked for him.

Tim Vandehey
Yeah, that’s great. There’s a great thing by a comedian Jim Jeffries who talks about gun control. He talks about, “Everybody should have a gun. That’s fine. But everybody should have a musket because the great thing about a musket is it gives you a lot of time to calm down.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Tim Vandehey
You’re pouring in the powder before you get a shot.

Pete Mockaitis
I saw a musket in Boy Scout Camp. That was my first firearm shot.

Tim Vandehey
Yeah, the example was a good one. I mean, giving yourself time to let that impulse fade, giving yourself something else to focus on to let that impulse to quit, because you’re always glad you didn’t. You’re always glad, if you keep going, you’re like, “Oh, thank God, I didn’t mess that up.” It’s that moment of panic and fear. A lot of what I see in the writing world, when it comes to not finishing, is self-doubt or embarrassment.

People are embarrassed to let people read what they’ve written or they just get to a certain point, they think, “I’m not a real writer because I can’t get past page 55.” Well, unless you have an outline and a bunch of character studies mapped out, neither can I. I’ve got to have a whole plan before I can do that. I’ve been writing for 30 plus years. So, yeah, that’s very well-taken is finding a way to slow that impulse down and give yourself a chance to say, “Woo, I don’t want to mess this up. I’ve come this far.”

And there also is a sunk-cost aspect to this. The farther you get into something, I think it is harder to swipe because you have more invested. If you’re on page 250, it’s probably a lot harder to swipe than if you’re on page 45, so.

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

Tim Vandehey
I think we covered the high points.

Tracy Maylett
I think so but I do want to talk about some of our favorite things here, if we can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Can I hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tracy Maylett
I’ll start on this one because it’s one that kind of, as we started writing the book, this came to mind, and then all through the book, we used it a number of different times. And we credit a couple of different authors for this one. Just the simple quote that, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And that has a couple of different meanings behind it.

The first one, when it comes to swipe, is if I am the person who swipes at this, and then I swipe at the next thing, and the next thing, that’s who I am. That’s what I do. I swipe. Just moving situations, moving jobs, I’m still the same person moving to a different job, and nothing has changed about me. Swipe doesn’t allow us to change. Swipe causes us to be the same person who we are, and then we expect to be somewhat different in a different environment. It just doesn’t happen. So, that was the first part of the swipe that I had to really understand for myself, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

The second part of that says is when you think mentally here, supposed I’m sitting on the couch with my granddaughter, she’s four years of age, and she’s just fantastic, and she talks and talks. And I may be thinking of something else, and I may be answering texts, and I may be thinking about my workplace. Well, I’m not actually, although my body is physically with my granddaughter, my mind is 2,000 miles away, my mind is on the East Coast, my mind is somewhere else. And that happens a lot.

Swipe can happen mentally also. It’s not just physical doing. I can swipe out of something mentally. I can swipe out of relationships. So, the idea that I might as well be sitting on a couch somewhere in Boston versus Salt Lake City, Utah, that’s what happens when my mind swipes and goes to a different place as well. So, that’s one of the biggest pieces of learning for myself, personally, as we went through here, “Wherever I go, there I am,” the most do context.

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

Tracy Maylett
One of the things that I teach, I teach at universities, and it’s been very interesting to work with students, particularly rising generations of students. Some of these are extremely bright individuals. A lot of times we’ll have them do a change project, “Change something about yourself.”

And what’s interesting is that about half of those change projects come back, saying, “I feel like I’d become something different because of social media. Maybe I feel like I’m feel less self-aware. I pay attention to some things that are as important.” Some people were spending as much as five to six hours a day wasting their lives on social media.

Well, social media is not necessarily a bad thing. And this is not a bash on technology but the idea here is that if I’m spending all of my time on a very small screen, I might as well be somewhere else doing the things that are on that screen. And so, some of these real success stories that have come from this is the ability to recognize that, and say, “That’s not who I am. That’s not what I want to be. I want to be in the moment. I want to pay attention to this rather than swiping and going somewhere else.”

So, one of the big successes here is it’s been really interesting to see some of these very, very bright students made changes in habits because they realized that fact that, “That’s where I actually am. My mind is somewhere else rather than here in front of people having a good conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Tracy Maylett
A lot of some of the research that we’ve done is based on the work of Daniel Kahneman, and really some interesting studies as he’s put out regarding the mind and the brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And is there a resonant nugget, a key thing you share that really seems to connect with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Tracy Maylett
No, just the idea of the swipe, in general. It’s something that people can immediately identify with in their own lives, they say, “Oh, yeah, okay. I get it.” And we’ll give credit to Tim on this title here, the idea that a swipe is something that we’re all familiar with, and that they start to identify, “Yeah, that’s the reason why I don’t finish what I start is because the swiping,” I think it’s just intuitive, and it’s really resonated with people.

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

Tim Vandehey
SwipeTheBook.com. It has information about the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Shall I steal it?

Tim Vandehey
Yeah, swipe it. Exactly. It’s a command. It’s an imperative. Yeah, SwipeTheBook.com is where you can find reviews. Obviously, the book is on Amazon and so on. Actually, we will be launching a new site here once I finish it, sometime, hopefully, October. So, that’ll have some more goodies on it, I think, a survey and hopefully some videos and some more content.

Tracy Maylett
It has been fun to see the people come up to us, and say, “This was me. This is me. And this has helped.”

Tim Vandehey
Oh, yeah. Everyone I’ve told about this book says, “Oh, I need that,” because I know a lot of writers and musicians, so they’re all artistic flakes to a degree, so.

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

Tim Vandehey
Well, I would say look at your expectations and look at your motivations. Getting those two things dialed in is critically important, especially expectations. I think people at a job feel motivated by the fact that they don’t do the job, they’ll get fired. But, of course, that just makes someone work just hard enough not to get fired. They don’t necessarily engage. I don’t think people take a good look at their expectations.

By the way, do I get to share my favorite stuff?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear a favorite quote and book, please.

Tim Vandehey
The quote is actually a quote about writing from Stephen King from his book on writing, which is a wonderful treat, it’s on the art of writing. And he says, “Writing talent is like a knife. Some writers are born with God-awful big knives but no writer is born with a sharp knife.” And that’s his way, of course, of saying that talent is one thing, but you don’t get anywhere without a lot of hard work.

Did you ask me about a book?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, please.

Tim Vandehey
It’s Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. I’ve always thought that’s one of the most brilliant books ever written in the English language. I’m a huge Tom Wolfe fan.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Tracy, Tim, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and very few swipes.

Tracy Maylett
Many thanks.

Tim Vandehey
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

907: Building Unwavering Confidence with Paul Epstein

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Paul Epstein reveals master keys to building confidence and making better decisions faster.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The fundamental key to feeling more confident every day
  2. How to improve your decision outcomes in just two minutes
  3. The head-heart-hands equation for making better decisions faster

About Paul

PAUL EPSTEIN is a former high-level executive for multiple NFL and NBA teams and the bestselling author of The Power of Playing Offense.

In 2022, he was named one of SUCCESS magazine’s top thought leaders who get results and his work has been featured on ESPN, NBC, Fox Business, and in USA Today.

In fifteen years as a leader in the world of pro sports, Paul helped take NBA teams from the bottom of the league in revenue to the top two, broke every premium sales revenue metric in Super Bowl history, opened a billion-dollar stadium, and founded the San Francisco 49ers Talent Academy.

As an award-winning keynote speaker, Paul’s impact continues offstage, providing leadership development and culture transformation programs for companies and teams including Amazon, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, NASA, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Cowboys.

He’s also the founder of the Win Monday Community and host of the Win Monday podcast, where he interviews high-profile guests who reveal their secrets of confidence and work-life mastery.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Paul Epstein Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Paul, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Paul Epstein
Yeah, Pete, fired up to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. I’m excited to get into some of the wisdom of your book, Better Decisions Faster: Unshakable Confidence When You Need It Most. But, first, I think we need to hear a fun story involving you and a famous athlete. How would you kick us off?

Paul Epstein
Ah, me and a famous athlete. Actually, you know what, let me give this a little spin, but if you want to talk athlete, let’s keep it in the NFL. Let’s go to one of the more powerful and influential people in the entire sports business, none other than the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. So, can I dive down this story of me and Roger?

Pete Mockaitis
Take it away.

Paul Epstein
Okay, good. All right. So, I’m in the NFL League office, 345 Park Ave. I’m in New York, running a national sales campaign for Super Bowl 48, which was over a handful of years ago, and it was a mega, mega Super Bowl. It was the biggest ever because it was the first time that it was in New York. So, you had these massive expectations, massive pressures, massive everything, and my boss, who’s the head of revenue for the NFL, he always served as kind of the buffer. It’s like NFL Commission, Roger’s down the hall, and Paul, “I got this.”

So, whenever Roger was close, my boss’ name is Brian, he now runs business for the LA Olympics, wonderful, wonderful guy, but he always kind of serves as that buffer. So, anyways, one day Brian is not around, he’s in a meeting. Commish walks down the hall, and he sees this pinboard that has all of the inventory for the Super Bowl mapped out, and there’s three colors of pins – green, yellow, and red. So, green is sold, yellow is in conversation with a prospect, and red is no action.

Well, this is really early in the campaign, we’re in like month two out of ten, so let’s just say the board had a lot of red pins. So, Commish comes over, and he says, “Tell me about the board.” And I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, where the hell is Brian when I need him?” But needless to say, it was just me and the Commish. And I said, “All right. Roger, yes, green is sold, yellow is in conversations,” so far so true, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, I can’t practically reveal what the red is.”

I’m like, “Red is red hot prospect.” And he made eye contact, and he says, “Well, looks like we’ve got a pretty hot market,” and went off. And so, my career was saved. Thankfully, I’m around to tell this story with a smile on my face, but you want to talk about thinking on your feet in a high-stakes situation. You talk about unshakeable confidence when you need it most, well, let’s just say I wish I had a book like Better Decisions Faster before that moment because I was just kind of winging it on impulse, but there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is it your perception that had you say, “Oh, well, Roger, those are the seats that are unsold, and no action have yet been taken,” that he would lose it?

Paul Epstein
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Paul Epstein
Yeah, look, NFL, it’s a high-pressure, people get what they want. There’s no mistake that it’s one of the more powerful businesses in the world, and I loved every moment of it, but, yeah, I’m just happy that I didn’t quite have to reveal what the reds truly were.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s talk about Better Decisions Faster. Any particularly surprising or counterintuitive   discoveries you made about decision-making and confidence when researching and putting this together?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, it was massive. Well, there’s a huge statistic that just blew me away. To this day, it’s almost hard for me to even fathom, even though I fact-checked it and we do the research on the research on the research. You really make sure that everything checks out, and here is the stat. The average adult makes 35,000 decisions in a day. So, think about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’ve heard something like that.

Paul Epstein
If you’re listening to this right now, 35,000 decisions, which is absolutely, it’s part mind-blowing, it’s part mind-numbing, I don’t even know which one it is, but that’s a lot. And so, of course, I think a lot of them are going to be on autopilot – turn left in the driveway, brush your teeth – but then there’s those critical few that can really make or break quality of life, quality of business, quality of career, quality of health, quality of relationships.

So, I wrote the book more for those. I call them MVDs, so the sports metaphor. MVP is the most valuable player. I wrote it for our most valuable decisions but still, to know that we have the expectation and the weight of 35,000 of anything in a day, I don’t know about you, but that kind of scared the crap out of me the first time I heard it. And, thankfully, I figured, “Hey, might as well write a playbook on how we can navigate and conquer those decisions with more confidence.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, Paul, I love that you were shaken and wanted to triple-check what is up with this huge number. So, let’s get your hot take. So, if we’re awake for, like, a thousand-ish minutes in a day, and there’s 35,000 decisions, we’re talking about 35 decisions a minute, or a decision every one or two seconds. So, I’m imagining the weight or gravity of most of these decisions might be along the lines of, “Should I have another sip of water?”

Paul Epstein
Oh, no, you’re so right.

Pete Mockaitis
“And I will.”

Paul Epstein
Like, “Should I look this person in the eye?” “Oh, hey, I got to scratch the itch.” Like, whatever it is. Yeah, most of them are kind of in this autopilot inconsequential, but, still, that’s kind of a crazy thing. It’s almost like taking a breath. Is that a decision? Like, you think about kind of those moment-to-moment things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and you’re right. That would be fun just because I am similarly curious in such a way. I guess that there are some things that, like taking a breath, I think that’s right on the border because it can be automatic or not, versus your heart beating, it just does, decided. Heart beat now or heart beat faster or slower.

Well, before we get into the particulars of how we make these most valuable decisions most excellently, could you share with us a story of someone who started kind of unconfident and indecisive, and then did some things to make the leap, the transformation to confident and decisive?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, so part of this is really, I’ll look in the mirror when I tell you this story. This was what turns out to be this Jerry Maguire leap from sports, and I’ll tell you that I had a coaching conversation along the way that, fundamentally, changed my life. Her name is Sue Ann, and I’ll share this story of Sue Ann in a second, but Sue Ann gave me this gift of unshakeable confidence when I needed it most.

Because before that, and maybe this resonates with everyone listening in, my life, I could describe in two chapters: pre-confidence and post-confidence. And by pre-confidence, I don’t mean that I didn’t have confidence but it was inconsistent at best. I had moments where I did show up with unshakeable confidence, but I had others where I played pretty small.

And that was a byproduct of stress, or anxiety, or maybe I wasn’t happy or fulfilled, or whatever the case was, but it was just this weight of decision fatigue, decision overwhelm, and then you get paralyzed, and then you make the worst decision of them all, which is indecision. So, I suffered just like the majority of us. I think we all suffer from those things.

Now, a decade later, you write a playbook on it, and that’s kind of the happy ending of this story, and it’s going to be a lifelong journey. But I’ll tell you the story where prior, and I think this connects with a lot of folks out there, the way that we’re raised, and I don’t just mean by parents, I mean more in society, especially here in the US, it’s so success-driven, it’s so goals and metrics and outcomes, and we chase these things, and, “Where did you go to school?” and “What’s the first company you worked for?” and “What does the resume look like?” “What does your LinkedIn profile look like?” and it’s all this external stuff.

And when you’re in the NFL and NBA, and you’re achieving all these things, and you’re supposedly getting all the things that matter in life, but then you don’t always feel like you’re winning on the inside. So, you’re winning on the outside but not winning on the inside. And what’s that gap about? And I would’ve told you that my entire career, I was going to hang out in the sports industry because it was a total dream come true. It was a kid in the candy store type of experience.

But then when I realized that you consistently reach these peaks, and these summits, and these places that are supposed to feel so amazing, and sometimes they do, but then it expires really quick. Like, within a day or two you kind of have this crash because I think there’s this reality check of, “Is this it?” Like, I spent months or years or the better part of the decade to get to this summit and this peak, and then, poof, it’s gone in like a day or two.

And that’s where I found myself, I’m heading up revenue for the San Francisco 49ers, and I go to this retreat where I started to tap into my why, and my values, a lot of personal discovery work. I started to figure out who I am. But then I was this crazy guy in the retreat that wasn’t happy with leaving those things as a distant north star. So, I got obsessed with, “How do I apply them on Monday morning? How do I connect these things that feel like a distant north star, like your why and values? How do I connect them to my decisions, to my actions, to the way I show up?”

And that process is what leads me to make big decisions, like doing things I said I would never do, “I’m never going to go back to school.” Well, growth mindset, growth is one of my core values, so I go back to school. I meet this wonderful woman named Sue Ann, my executive coach, first time I ever had an executive coach. And, Pete, what was really cool about this is this was the first time in my entire life, professionally speaking, that I felt comfortable going there, meaning, like, 100 out of 100, raw truth, vulnerability, authenticity.

Because before Sue Ann, I had mentors in the sports industry. The problem was they probably knew my boss better than they knew me. So, put yourself in this scenario if you’re listening in here. Have you ever been asked, “How’s it going? How’s it going?” and your default answer is, “Great. Great” even if you’re not great?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Paul Epstein
And I think a lot of us have been there where you’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, like it’s totally great.” And you say that because you don’t want to reveal if you’re 60% good, you don’t want to talk about the 40%, or you don’t know how this person is going to react, you don’t know if a negative domino follows. So, that was my mindset for a lot of my career as I’m growing and climbing and succeeding and winning on the outside. But then I talked to Sue Ann, and this was the conversation that changed my life.

She said, “Paul, I know what you do. You’re head of sales for an NFL team. What do you love about it? What do you hate about it? And what do you tolerate?” So, love, hate, tolerate. Great questions for all of us to evaluate – love, hate, tolerate. And I answered all three, and then she said, “Go deeper on the love bucket.” I’m like, “Okay, Sue Ann. Well, I love the people side of business, I love the culture side, I love being a coach just like you.”

And she said, “Awesome. On a good day, what percentage of your time do you do that?” So, now I’m slouching down in my chair, kind of the embarrassed at the answers, so I plopped it up a little bit. I said, “Sue Ann, 20%.” The truth is probably five or ten, but I’m like, “Sue Ann, 20%.” “All right. Paul, I wave a wand, you become your boss tomorrow. Does that number 20% go up, down, or sideways?”

And I thought about my boss, they were almost all strategy and nothing coaching people, so I said, “You know, Sue Ann, it’d probably go down.” And this was it, Pete. This was the question she asked, “So, what are you after?” Such a simple question but it has such profound meaning because I hadn’t asked myself that question in a very long time. I was just busy climbing, and winning, and succeeding what I thought was growing, but I forgot what I was after. And then she made me realize I don’t even want what’s next. I’m climbing this ladder, and I don’t even want what’s next.

So, to put this all together, when you want to talk about decision-making, when you want to talk about playing from a place of confidence, here’s why she gave me the gift of confidence, here’s how it went down. She cemented this belief that if I can connect my values to my decisions and actions, then I will become the most confident version of myself, beaming with strength and authenticity and purpose. So, the next decision I made after I talked to her, I asked myself, “What’s my strongest core value?” And its impact.

And I define impact as making a difference and leaving people in places better than I found them. That’s it. So, I then go back to the drawing board, and I asked myself, “Can I create more impact inside of the walls of the sports industry or beyond the walls?” And that, Pete, was the question that leads to the moment, and the aha, and eventual transformation, and eventual Jerry Macguire leap. That’s the moment I knew I was going to leave sports after 15 years of thinking that everything was perfect, and Sue Ann shining a light on this gap that I had, why I was showing up as a work Paul and a personal Paul.

And, really, you want to talk about making better decisions faster and being confident, I think that it is simply the consistency by which we act on our values, and that’s the backstory of how I came upon that transformation. And ever since then, I’ve been coaching others, and I implement it in my speaking, in my training, in my consulting, all of that, but that’s how decision-making became my competitive advantage.

Pete Mockaitis
That makes a lot of sense in terms of when you’re connected with the values, and those are guiding your decisions, you’re not wishy-washy waffly, like, “Hey, sorry to bother you. I hope this isn’t too inconvenient but I was…” as opposed to, like, “Yeah, this is just sort of how it is, and I believe that in my inner core that this is what is optimal, what needs to happen, what is good, proper, right, and just. And, thus, I’m going to feel like I can go forth and march on that.”

So, Paul, I’m imagining the hard part is getting that crystal clarity on “What are your values? And how can those connect to the decision or action that’s right in front of you in the next moment, the next hour?” So, any pro tips on how you illuminate these things?

Paul Epstein
Yup. So, I’ve got an old-school and a new-school way, and I’ll give you the fast pass because here we are in a podcast, so I want to give folks something they can do immediately. So, I’m talking to everybody out there. To find a value, the old-school way is, hey, you bring in a guy like me, and you go through some life-reflection exercises, and we unpack the peaks and the valleys, and we look for themes. And then those themes become your values. That takes time and energy and process. Let me give you the fast-pass way, and this works ten out of ten times. It’s just not as deep of a process.

You can, literally, Google top core values personally. And if you look at a list of 50 or 100, ask yourself, “Which one jumps off the page? Which one resonates?” I love this perspective. The Latin definition of inspire, which your value should inspire you, the Latin definition of inspire is to breathe life into. When you look at a list of 20, 50, 100 words, which one breathes life into you? And then just pick that value.

And then here’s the process that you do on the backend. So, now let’s say you lock in. Like, my core five: growth, belief, impact, courage, authenticity. Those are my five. Everyone has their own. There’s no better/worse, there’s no right/wrong. It’s just you do you. But here’s where we go. There’s a journaling exercise that I introduce to all of my coaching clients, and it works ten out of ten times if you do the work. And here is the process.

Now that you picked your value, once a week, this takes two minutes, so busyness cannot be an excuse, we all have two minutes in a week. We sit down, and we say, “For the week ahead, I will live my value of blank by blank.” The first blank is the value you chose. The second blank is an action, a single action that you connect to that value. So, I’ll give you two examples.

Let’s say that you choose the value of joy. Awesome. Okay. So, sit down, you journal, “For the week ahead, I will live my value of joy by cooking my favorite meal.” Cool. Super simple, super accessible, very easy, like joy. Hey, for me, I’m cooking bacon, I’m a happy camper. All good. That would be me. What is your favorite meal that brings you joy? That’s your one action.

Okay, let’s pivot. Instead of joy, what if your core value is courage? So, we’re raising the stakes. We’re getting a little feistier here. All right, journal, “For the week ahead, I will live my value of courage by having that challenging conversation that I’ve been putting off.” You’re not having that conversation because Paul said. You’re having that conversation because courage is a core value. So, those are just two quick-hit examples.

And then the last piece that I’ll say is, if that was your first journaling sit down, the reason why this works, and the reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t is a couple of things that are pitfalls that I’m about to coach through. So, the reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work, a couple things. One is we lack process and system. So, if we had a journaling exercise, or some sort of process and system, we would be much better at achieving our New Year’s resolutions.

The other reason why a lot of New Year’s resolutions, for myself included, don’t work is because we don’t stick with them long enough. We think we’re going to do something once or twice, and we’re like, “Oh, voila.” That’s just not how we’re wired. So, if you study habit formation, what the average research will tell you is that habit formation takes between three and four weeks. So, if you have a consistent process or system, and you do it for, in this case, I’m going to advise, do it for four weeks so you pass the threshold of habit formation, so you know where I’m going with this.

Do this journaling exercise four consecutive weeks. Two minutes a week, less than 10 minutes in a month, you can develop muscle memory, and you can internalize for four journaling sit-downs, do joy. For four journaling sit-downs, do courage. Do whatever your core value is. And here’s the beauty, and I want to share a gift with everyone listening in as well, if you were to go to my website, PaulEpsteinSpeaks.com, and take the confidence quiz, which, in less than five minutes, it gives you a confidence score of one to 100.

In the resource that you’ll be emailed after, I have a template for this values journal, so it’s just a free gift from me to everybody listening in because I believe, like this is something I implement with pro athletes, with Olympians, with high-growth founders, with Fortune 100 CEOs. It works ten out of ten times for those that do it for four consecutive weeks. So, that’s the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very cool. And I dug how, when you mentioned impact, you had a particular Paul-definition of it, “This is what I mean by impact.” Likewise, could you give us some examples of courage or joy? And do you recommend that in the process of you find the value that breathes life into you, and then you expand upon it with some specific definitional verbiage?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, I love where you’re bringing this, Pete. So, when I was introduced to this back in 2016 when I had that life-changing retreat, the process that was shared with me, I did not have that journaling exercise as teed up as the way I just described it. But what the facilitator did tell me to do, and I followed it to a tee, they said, “Screw what the Webster Dictionary thinks. What’s your definition of your core values?”

And so, I was like, “Okay, cool. Like, that’s an interesting exercise. Let me totally go down this rabbit hole.” So, I’ll give you my five, and I’ll give you my five quick definitions, this is all muscle memory at this point. So, growth was my first value. Growth is the mindset that I’ll attack each day with. That’s it. That’s Paul’s definition.

Then I had courage. You mentioned courage a few moments ago. Courage is standing tallest when fear and risks are highest. That’s my definition. I already talked about impact. Making a difference. Leaving people in places better than you found them. Let’s go authenticity. This was an interesting one. Never sell out because I have and it sucked, and I’ll never do it again.

So, you could see how you can kind of dance with these. I don’t really care what the dictionary says. I hit a rock-bottom moment professionally a year or two before this when I went against my authenticity, and it served the company well but it didn’t serve me well, and my heart and all of these things. So, that pain point turned out to trigger my definition of one of my core values.

So, those are just some quick hits on how you can look at a word, and you should intentionally not look up what Google says, or what Webster says. You shouldn’t do it. What does it mean to you? Because if you struggle to find a unique definition, then it might not be a core value.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about sort of the emotional resonance, it breathes life into, I imagine that can have different subtleties or flavors or nuances. Sometimes the ‘breathe life into’ feels like, “Yes, that’s awesome.” And other times it’s like, “Ahh, yes,” there’s a deep peace associated with it. And so, can you give us a few of the different styles of being inspired by the stuff?

Paul Epstein
Yeah, I love this so much. Yeah, let me pick on one of my core values, which is courage. And this is not going to be the, “Rah, take the hill and let’s go conquer.” Like, a lot of people would think of courage or bravery as this very much like we’re going to battle. And, for me, it’s not about that at all. I actually, emotionally, I tie it back to one of the worst days of my life, which is I lost my hero, my dad, at 19 years old, and I’m an only child.

And when I went home after I got that phone call that nobody wants to get, and I saw my mom, and she’s crying on the floor, and as we hugged, and I still feel the tears on my shoulder, and I saw how she showed up that day as a parent, as a concealer, as a consoler, I should say, as a healer, then as a planner, and then all these things, she breathed courage into me, and it never left.

I am convinced that courage would not be a core value had I not been through that horrible experience, had I not lost my hero, had I not seen how my parent grew into a partner, how my mom turned into a best friend. Like, it was this pain, this tragedy, that really helped color it for me. So, yeah, Pete, I agree, man. I don’t think of inspire purely as the blue skies.

One of my buddies, he has a great way of thinking about the pain that you’ve experienced in life can be tied to your purpose once you heal. So, pain can tie to purpose once you heal, and I think that quick story I just shared is an example of that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you. I also lost my father as a teenager, and, yeah, it is tough and things sink in in that context, for sure. Well, thank you. I appreciate the depth and the heart here when talking about values and making it real. So, now, I guess I want to shift gears a little bit in terms of, let’s say you’ve done a lot of that good, reflective, soul-searching work, whether you’re Googling a list of values, and journaling, or going full bore with some assessments and some consultant coaches.

Now, I’m curious about in the heat of the moment when you’re feeling nervous, some pressure right then and there, how do you recommend we go about keeping cool and finding that unshakeable confidence right in those moments?

Paul Epstein
This is, literally, the entire playbook and the application that’s inside of the covers of Better Decisions Faster. So, I’ll give you the 60-second masterclass here. How we make better decisions faster, the application, I call it the head-heart-hands equation. So, the equation is head plus heart equals hands. To define each: head is your mindset, heart is your authenticity, and hands are action.

So, with head plus heart equals hands, another way to think about this is when deciding whether to use your hands, whether to take action, there’s two checkpoints: head and heart. The questions are, head. “Do I think it’s a good idea?” Heart. “Do I feel it’s a good idea?” And just like when you and I, when we’re driving up to an intersection, we know exactly what to do. Green is go, red is stop, yellow is assess. And that’s exactly how the head-heart-hands equation works.

So, when your head and your heart are both on board, it is a green freaking light. Ten out of ten times, go. Take action. Your head and your heart are ignited toward that action. Now, when there’s no head and no heart, that’s a red light. And so, we don’t want to run red lights. We now have the awareness and the consciousness to not run them. No head, no heart. When one of the two, either head or heart, is on board, that’s a yellow light.

So, if you ask me in simple terms, why write a book like Better Decisions Faster? Why apply the head-heart-hands equation? It’s because when the fear, and the stress, and the anxiety, and the pressures of day-to-day life, which are real, when they strike, we need a faster way to understand where we are with that decision in that moment.

So, while green, yellow, and red, it doesn’t get you to the finish line, the outcome, after the action within seconds but the equation does. So, now as I’m sometimes feeling stuck, or lost, or paralyzed at this fork in the road, I can now apply the head-heart-hands equation, and, boom, like the snap of fingers, I do a head check, I do a heart check, and almost instantly, I know, “Is this is a green? Is it a yellow? Is it a red?”

So, I write a book to attract more greens into our life. I write the book to raise awareness to stop running reds. And I write the book because yellow is the messy middle, and we need to have a playbook for how to navigate and conquer that messy middle. That’s Better Decisions Faster.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. That’s cool in terms of so we can eliminate a lot of second guessing in terms of the clear reds, clear greens. Like, head yes, heart yes, like, “Hey, that seems like a good idea, a good price. Heart, yeah, I really freaking want it, so, all right, let’s get it. There we go. I want to buy that thing,” or, “I want to take that course or do whatever.”

So, yeah, yellow is, indeed, the messy middle because I think a lot of times, it’s like, “Well, that sort of seems like a good idea but I’m not really sure. I’ve never done anything like this.” Heart. “I’m pretty excited about it but also kind of worried, like, this might turn out really bad.” So, when we’re in that messy middle, what do we do next?

Paul Epstein
It’s so funny, Pete. As soon as you started describing, in this case, greens and reds, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I hope he goes to the yellow,” because that really is the meat of the conversation. Now, that everybody heard this, hey, head and heart on board, greens. No head, no heart, reds. You don’t need a book for that. Like, that’s just a matter of being aware and doing the head check and heart check, and you’re good to go. Like, you can do the green and red thing.

Here’s the interesting part about yellows. Not all yellows are created equal. I actually have a very different recommendation for when only the head is on board versus when only the heart is on board, and I actually believe that one of the two is more deadly than a red, so let’s unpack that. Pete, I’ll ask you this question. This is a good segue into it. If I asked you, Pete, which one is more likely to be able to change over the weeks, over the months, over the years? Do you think your head can change or your heart changes?

Pete Mockaitis
I think the head changes faster, easier. It’s like, “Oh, here’s a new fact I didn’t know. Cool.”

Paul Epstein
Yup, exactly. Yeah, and I think most people would agree and subscribe to that. So, you’re not going to wake up with a new heart tomorrow. Your heart is probably not going to change over the weeks, months, maybe years. But even then, there’s just no guarantee, versus a head block, sometimes there’s a self-limiting belief that we need to untangle, sometimes it’s coached, sometimes it’s our partner, sometimes it’s a therapy, sometimes it’s like…whatever it is, there’s ways to untangle pollution in our mindset. No doubt about it. Like, I am a firm, firm believer in that.

So, if we’re not going to wake up with a new heart, the bad yellow, the hard yellow, the one that can be more deadly than red is when only our head is on board because our heart is never going to join for the party. So, that’s a yellow light that’s never going to be a green. Think about that. A yellow that’s never going to be a green.

At least with a red, it’s done. You decide to stop doing it or not do it, but this bad yellow, it lingers. And so, a quick example, and this could apply to a relationship as well. I’ll use a professional example right now, but this applies to any person. All right, work context. I used to lead really big sales enterprises and sales teams. And the person that often was the top performer or top producer, so they sold a lot of widgets.

Your head, of course, loves the production, loves the performance. It made you look good to your boss. It helped you achieve your goals. So, your head said, “Keep them.” But let’s say they were a pain in the you-know-what, bad in the locker room, sometimes toxic, so your head might’ve said, “Keep them,” but your heart knew that they weren’t a keeper. Think about all these people that we might be surrounded by, that we have a head reason for them to stick around, but our heart knows that they’re not a long-term play.

And so, if you think about it from that lens, you’re like, “Man, now, all of a sudden, as a sales leader, my culture, three, four years here, it’s all wonky and screwed up. And now I’ve got engagement problems, and, oh, I’m losing some of my better people. So, now I’ve got retention problems. And maybe the marketplace heard a little bit about my culture, so I’ve got recruiting problems. I don’t have an engagement or recruiting or a retention problem. I had a yellow light problem. I hung onto the wrong yellow lights.” And that yellow light can be more deadly than a red.

So, my advice there, as difficult as it is, if your heart is never going to join for the party, short term, sure, you could survive a couple of these bad yellows, but, long term, you’re going to bleed out. So, the head-heart-hands equation gets you to quickly identify, like, “Dang, this is not a long-term play. Yeah, I need the paycheck but this job is soul-sucking to me.” That would be another example. I’m not telling you to bounce tomorrow. We have families. Be responsible. But if you know that’s never going to be a green, then we’ve got to make some decisions here.

And that decision, you might not pull a job trigger for 12 more months, but are you doing the work, nights and weekends? Are you doing the research? Are you doing the informational coffee meetings? Are you taking those positive steps to create potential future green lights because this yellow is never going to be a green?

And in the flip, and I won’t be as long with this one, the flip is a beautiful yellow. When your heart is on board because it’s so rare that your heart is a, “Hell, yes” for something, that yellow, you want to stay in the fight. You want to untangle whatever cobwebs or pollution you got from the neck up because, I’m telling you right now, there are so few opportunities in life that your heart is a “Hell, yes” so we don’t want to screw those up. We don’t want to waste those.

We got to figure out how to potentially transform that good yellow of the heart being on board, and if our head can eventually join for the party, that yellow to green transformation is as big of a payoff as you could ever imagine.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful and thought-provoking. Thank you. It’s really juicy. My thoughts are jumping all over in so many places.

Paul Epstein
Yeah, yellow is juicy, my friend. Yellow is very juicy.

Pete Mockaitis
I think sometimes, call it intuition, but you know your head or your heart isn’t on board, or is on board, but you don’t even know why. To what extent is that important? And how do we solve for that?

Paul Epstein
So, this is the classic gut or impulse, which, by the way, off-camera, what I’m asked all the time by a lot of folks is, “Okay, Paul, cool. I love this. All right, head, heart, hands, fully understand it. I’m going to apply it. Where does the gut fall into this?” Like, I get asked that all the time, and it’s a great question. So, my piece here is when you think about the origin of your gut, the origin of your impulse, that’s kind of you without much reaction time, just saying, “This is naturally how I’m feeling. Like, my gut feel.”

You often hear that, “My gut feel.” Okay, head is a thinking, heart is a feel game, hands are a do game. And so, while they’re not exactly alike, if I had to connect the dots, your gut and your impulse is closest to your heart.

Pete Mockaitis
True.

Paul Epstein
So, a big part of me writing Better Decisions Faster and being around these 12 green lights, which are 12 values, which I shared earlier, when we have our values in action, those are when we’re most confident. And the more confidence we have, then we can make better decisions faster. This is all one connected conversation but I share all these with you because I think we live in a world where we go, go, go, and we do, do, do. I don’t really need to convince folks to think more or to do more.

Now, are we thinking in the right way? That’s a fair conversation. Are we doing all the right things? That’s a fair conversation. But we think so much and we do so much. I think the gap in the world is the heart. And to no fault of anybody’s, I just think it’s so complex, and fast-paced, and up-tempo, and the pressure, and the stress, and the anxiety, sometimes we’re not checking in with our heart.

But when we do, and that’s the beauty of this head-plus-heart-equals-hands equation, Pete, because, like, let me just ask you, Pete, a quick question. If you had to choose a side, are you hardwired, as your default setting, more logic or emotion?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny that you asked. We’ll say more logic, although it’s close.

Paul Epstein
Okay, cool. Yeah, and, again, I don’t care if it’s a 51/49 but the only answer you cannot give is 50/50. So, let’s say you were to lean towards the logic. I’m quite the opposite, so I am hardwired to just be emotional. And so, here’s the beauty. It’s not head or heart equals hands. It’s not head minus heart. It’s head plus heart.

So, what that tells me is if Pete is on one side, if he leans logic, and if Paul leans emotion, well, this equation is going to force Pete to check in with his emotion. This equation is going to force Paul to check in with his logic. It’s head plus heart. So, it un-exposes our blind spots. I might not always do the head check, that’s just not how I’m always wired but now this process forces me to.

And, on the flipside, Pete, whether you’re a 51/49, or whether you’re a 90/10 on the logic side, either way it works. Now you’re going to have to do the heart check, and you’re going to have to make sure that, emotionally, you’re feeling it as well. So, that’s the beauty. It can take two opposite folks that are wired in very different ways, and it takes us through the same funnel, the same process. That’s why I’m such a massive believer in it because it’s not about how you’re wired. It is literally about getting to the best decision possible in a faster amount of time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Thanks, Paul. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Paul Epstein
No, no, we’re good to go, man.

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

Paul Epstein
Based on what changed my life, from Mark Twain, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

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

Paul Epstein
Yeah, here’s one. This is a real-life example from one of my first sports jobs. It was a survey. I think this is very, very applicable for a lot of us. So, the question was, “One day, do you want to be the team president?” There were two sample sizes. Two groups of folks. One was frontlines and entry-level workers, the next was vice presidents.

And here’s what the study showed. Practically, 100% of entry-level folks wanted to be the team president. Of course, right, first job in sports. Of course, I want to be at the top.

The number was drastically different for the vice presidents. It dipped just below 50%. So, think about that. When you’re just starting, 100% want to get to the top of the mountain of an org chart. But 50%, once you’ve climbed five rungs up the ladder, and now you understand what it means to be at the top.

And I just think it’s a beautiful insight that, over time, different things matter, and you evolve, and you change, and you start to appreciate not just winning the outside game but also what’s the inside game that makes you happy and fulfilled, and what’s the lifestyle you want to build and have. And so, I think that’s a really cool survey that the meaning of that survey has carried my spirit ever since.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Paul Epstein
Well, aside from The Power of Playing Offense and Better Decisions Faster, of course, I will tell you, man, there are so many, there are so many, but I’ll tell you the book that’s made the most impactful…that’s had the most impact on my life recently, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I read it last December, I started to apply it immediately, and by any measure or metric that is important to me, by mid-April, I had already surpassed all the things I was measuring from the year before, and it’s because I truly locked in on what’s essential. And I have Greg McKeown to thank for that.

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

Paul Epstein
A microphone. But a microphone as a metaphor. I happen to use it physically as a speaker. I believe that everybody in the world deserves to have a voice. So, when I see a microphone, or speak into a microphone, I believe that everybody should feel like they deserve a seat at the table with a microphone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Paul Epstein
Fill my life with green lights. No joke, the head-heart-hands equation has fundamentally changed my life. I feel privileged and honored and humbled to be able to share it with the world. But when you get your head and your heart on board, and it tells you it’s a green light, that’s a life that I believe in, and that’s a life worth living.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, and they quote it back to you often?

Paul Epstein
“Actions over outcomes.” “Actions over outcomes” is one. Another one that’s really resonating, “Standards over goals.” That might actually be the more impactful one. “Standards over goals.” The whole world tells you to care about goals. I believe that standards are more closely aligned with who you are at your core, and things that are meaningful and that matter to you. So, I’m a big subscriber of standards over goals.

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

Paul Epstein
PaulEpsteinSpeaks.com, that’s the treasure trove, all things speaking, the confidence quiz gets you to one to a hundred within five minutes. Everything that you need is all at PaulEpsteinSpeaks.com.

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

Paul Epstein
Use the head-heart-hands equation. I’m just going to be very blunt about this. You don’t know what the impact of your work is until people actually start to use it. So, I can write a book all day long, and if nobody ever used it, there’s no impact. What I have seen in the earliest chapter of launching “Better Decisions Faster,” a lot of people bought it because of their work. They said, “Well, I want to make better decisions in work.”

But almost every single DM that I’m getting on social, almost every text message, almost every private email, some of them are work-related, 70% are not, “You’ve helped me make better decisions in my relationship, in my health, as a parent, how I manage my time, how I set my priorities.” It’s just been a really cool holistic life play. And I believe that that’s what the head-heart-hands equation can do for everybody listening in.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Paul, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and fun and many great green lights.

Paul Epstein
Yeah, likewise, buddy.