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

654: How to Tap Into Your Genius Zone with 34 Strong’s Darren Virassammy

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Darren says: "Be confident in where you sine and where you're blind."

Darren Virassammy shares his expert tips on how to make the strengths work best for you and your team.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How strengths can both be an asset and a liability
  2. The surprising sign of genius
  3. The trick to turn your blind spots into strengths

About Darren

Darren Virassammy is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of 34 Strong, comprised of a team that believes everyone deserves a great place to work and that any workplace can be great. A leading expert in the global employee engagement community, the 34 Strong team leverages the Strengths-Based approach to human development to create massive shifts within organizations, both culturally and on the bottom line. He and his team have created sustainable change in small microbusinesses, all the way up to large organizational teams at the FDA, Bank of America, and The California Department of Public Health. Darren is the co-host of the Leading Strong podcast and the host of The Nature Advantage podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Darren Virassammy Interview Transcript

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

Darren Virassammy
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. What an honor to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear about so much of your wisdom. And, first, I want to hear, I understand you recently moved to Barbados. From where? What’s the story?

Darren Virassammy
Okay. So, yes, I am talking to you right now from Barbados. I moved from California, from Sacramento. I am a business owner. I’m the co-founder of a company called 34 Strong. That didn’t dissipate. We’re in a virtual world now so I have relocated here to Barbados. A big part of that story, Pete, was the fact that we wanted to give our kids a chance to live abroad. My family is originally from the Caribbean, from British Guiana, my parents and whatnot.

Barbados had a program called the Welcome Home Stamp, the Welcome Home visa, and that opened up over the course of 2020. Now, the interesting part, Pete, was we made the decision to make a move to the Caribbean in the summer of 2019 before COVID or any of that hit. So, 2020 was going to be the year that we planned on making that move to give the kids a chance to get a different experience, living overseas, looking into the United States, and really appreciating some of the things that we had there, and then getting a different appreciation from a global perspective.

One final piece I will say about that is a big part of that impetus as well was, for me, personally, outside for my family, was I really wanted to step into just leveling up into my strengths as a dad, and stepping into that place. I was personally ready to just shift into an environment like here that was going to force some of that because of some of the connections I had seen with my kids when we had been together on past trips to the West Indies, different islands.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a cool adventure, and so, kudos. You did it and you’re living it and you’re loving it. So, that’s cool. We’re going to talk a lot about strengths here. Can you orient us quickly, your company, 34 Strong, what is it?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah, we actually do a lot of work in the space of organizational development and wellbeing. One of the tools that we’ve become very known for is our work with the CliftonStrengths Assessment. We’re helping to define what’s right with team members instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them. And then we really focused on focusing on moving the needle on employee engagement and wellbeing. There’s a loop connection between people’s overall wellbeing in their life, and employee engagement and their engagement in their work. So, we actually work in both those spaces, and we use strengths as a foundational. Foundation is kind of an anchor to build from.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so we’ve talked about strengths a couple of times on the show and the difference it can make. Maybe, could you paint a picture perhaps by telling a story of just one professional who they were living their career life pre-strengths awareness, and then they came to getting an understanding of their strengths in a profound way, and then saw things take off as a result?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, when we think of playing to our strengths, let me start by giving this caveat. There’s this great question that Dr. Donald Clifton asked. He’s known as the father of the whole strengths-based movement and that perspective and this type of thinking. And he asked this question that ended up guiding his life, Pete, and it was simply, “What happens when we focus on what’s right with people instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them?” And that guided his whole life’s work.

So, getting to your specific question about how did that create a shift, I’ll never forget early on in 34 Strong’s life cycle, in our career as a company, when we were building it, there was a scenario where there was somebody that was in kind of a managerial role. And they were managing a team, and what started happening, there was these two managers. There was a manager effectively and an assistant manager, and they had to work together. But here’s what had happened.

They got to the place where they were not speaking and hadn’t actually spoken for 18 months. They’d be in meetings together and they literally wouldn’t speak to each other. Talk about toxicity, right? What ended up happening was they both went through the StrengthsFinder process, and the manager went through it. And the reason I started with the question of “What happens when we focus on what’s right with people instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them?” when you talk about strengths, it’s easy to think of, “Oh, let’s just focus on our strengths and ignore our weaknesses.” That actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

We actually become highly aware of where we are strong so we own those elements, and we have to own where our weaknesses show up. And here’s the key caveat. Our strengths can be our greatest assets and our greatest liabilities. This particular manager, Pete, had an awakening. She came to understand that there were things that she was doing that were contributing to how her counterpart was showing up, that was triggering her strengths.

So, it went from this lens of self-awareness to team awareness in terms of how they worked through. She came to an understanding of her own strengths and realized how that might be completely out of alignment with somebody else’s strengths on the team. And then that rippled well beyond just this assistant manager but to other team members as to how she was showing up.

So, a big piece of the puzzle that came here was this awakening of self-awareness in understanding, “How do I show up as I want to so I can be confident in where I shine? And how can I be confident around the areas where I’m blind where I might be stepping into it and not even understanding that?”

Long story short, that relationship synced up and that whole division synced up in the time that took place after that. And there was moving in the direction where it could’ve ended up very, very ugly from an HR perspective. All of that went down by the wayside and actually completely improved the overall performance of that whole division as a result of those two’s relationship falling out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is really cool. And so, I remember I’ve got Dodie Gomer, she was a guest on the podcast, and she told a story about she went through some strengths work and one of her top strengths was Positivity. And then she was working with someone who had another strength, I don’t even remember what it was, it might’ve something that was like Skepticism but that’s not one of them. I don’t know.

Darren Virassammy
Maybe Deliberative or Restorative where there’s a natural tendency to ask a lot of questions, like, “We need to prove first,” and going through looking at things from a very risk perspective, or seeing very, very solutions-focused but to get to solutions, have to identify the problem first. But go on.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the facilitator said, “Oh, so you see the problem with this?” And Dodie said, “Not at all,” which is like, “Your manager thinks you’re full of it. He just doesn’t believe you with that Positivity that’s not kind of vibing or natural for them.” And, sure enough, that was on the money. So, that’s what I think is kind of interesting here is that I think many of us have taken CliftonStrengths or a tool that goes after it. And, listeners, if you haven’t, I just recommend every human do it. It’s great and fun and quick and you learn some things. But so, then once we’ve got sort of our report, “Okay, these are my top five strengths or…”

I went with the whole enchilada, one to 34 all ranked, so I’ve got all of mine. It’s kind of like, “Now what?” I think a lot of people say, “Okay, so my top strengths are Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Activator, Input. Okay, cool, cool, cool.” And then I read a bit about what those words mean and I feel good and I say, “Yeah, I guess that’s kind of right. Okay, that kind of rings true.” So, I’m wondering, how do I go from, “Okay, I’ve got my report,” to, “I am going to build an exceptional career with this as my rock and foundation”?

Darren Virassammy
So, I think that’s a great question. That’s often the question that we come against here, and it’s, “So, what? Now, what?” and that’s a really important question to ask here because we have to switch the lens towards looking at it from, “How do I apply this?” So, some very practical techniques to go through.

There’s an exercise that we utilize at 34 Strong, it’s part of our series that we actually train our managers on, but we actually train staff on it. In fact, as a company, we’re going through this right now for Q1. So, this is how much we believe in it, and that’s everybody in the company. Myself as one of the founders and part of the leadership team, all the way through to every single member of our staff, and it’s a very simple exercise. We call it the triple G. And it’s called grind, greatness, and genius.

So, when we think of our grind, our greatness, and our genius, we have to think these in terms of the respective zones that we show up in here. So, grind, greatness, genius, when we’re thinking about our grind zones, Pete, these are the things that when you think of in your work, in your career just the thought of thinking about these things causes your stomach to go in knots. You get pits in your stomach just thinking about these things, “Oh, my gosh, I have to do these elements,” right?

Now, here’s an important caveat as you’re going through this. Everybody is going to have grind in your work. It’s called work. There’s going to be grind. The goal here is evaluating where your grind zone is, where your greatness, and your genius zones are, and then thinking of ways that we can shift towards spending more time in our greatness and our genius zone. And I speak of this a little bit more wider. If you’ve taken the CliftonStrengths Assessment, your knowledge from that will further deepen by going through this exercise. If you haven’t taken it, this is still a very applicable exercise. And this can, again, for all levels of your career.

The greatness zone, Pete, this is things that you do well. You enjoy doing them. There are some level of enjoyment and you feel pretty strong in it. You can do them really, really well. Now, here’s an important part to understand, and this is, again, whether you’re a leader or whether you’re an employee. You might have strengths that will allow you to get into the greatness zone to where you’re actually really good at doing something that’s actually in your grind zone. So, you’re grinding to do it but when others are looking in, they’ll say, “Pete, but you do such a good job at this,” but you do not love doing it. So, make sure you actually segment those things out. It’s really important for us to do that.

I’ll give you an example of this. For me, personally, in my old job that I had before I started 34 Strong, Pete, I was a senior project manager at a commercial construction company, and I would often get pulled into the fire drill projects where a project had gone sideways. And my thought process was constantly, to the owners of the company, “Hey, instead of having me parachute in and be the firefighter on these jobs to repair client relations and going through, why don’t we spend a little more time training the other project managers on this? I can spend the time doing that.”

And that never became an area of focus. It was constant firefighting that didn’t need to happen. So, I got really good at doing something that I didn’t love. I felt like I would’ve been much better in training and developing people. And then, lo and behold, I started the company that focuses on training and developing people. So, that’s an important distinction to make.

And then, finally, we get to the genius zone. So, when we step into the genius zone, these are the things that you do so well, Pete, and that people can do so well. Oftentimes, you personally might overlook them or be frustrated. This is a very important “or.” Or, be frustrated if somebody can’t do these things. Maybe you’re a person that very naturally, like you were talking about with your strengths, with Strategic, Ideation, you can very rapidly see where things are going.

Oftentimes, for those strengths, they’re sitting in a meeting, they’re sitting in a program, and they’re like, “Okay, I see where this going. Let’s move. Let’s get onto that place.” And many others need to actually catch up in going through. That’s a sign of genius and sometimes our frustrations can be a sign of our genius and the brilliance that we bring.

So, that can be something that we do so well that others come to us, and these are things that we often overlook and say, “Yeah, it’s no big deal. Anybody could do that.” If you ever catch yourself making that statement in any point in your career, I encourage you to pause because you’re overlooking a key area of value that comes to you so naturally that others see it as a huge gift that you’re providing and you’re just overlooking at it as no big deal. That’s a sign of your genius that you have to give.

So, again, grind, greatness, genius, spend some time over the course of a month, make a list of three columns. I think we have a resource on our website as well, 34Strong.com, where you can actually grab one of those, or message us for those and we can send you one of those links to be able to get that. And it’s an exercise that you can actually go through to take some inventory of that and think of that. And that can serve as a framework to start moving and asking yourself, “How can I spend more time in my greatness and my genius zones?” And we can think of ways that we can partner with others who might be in their greatness or genius zone when we’re in our grind zone.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you share some other telltale signs for our genius zone? I think the frustration is great in terms of that can tell you something. What are some other indicators that are like, “Aha, this is genius territory”?

Darren Virassammy
So, genius territory is when you feel very energized by doing these things. And, again, it feels like second nature. You’re stepping into doing something, it felt like you have known how to do this your whole life. That’s one of the clues to talent. And there’s a level of not only energy but enthusiasm. After you’ve gotten through it, you want to do it again. You might be tired. At the end of the day, you might be exhausted, and you see this surge that can be rising to do it. You find yourself in positions where there’s third-party validation of excellence. This is not me saying, “Hey, I’m a great singer,” when I’m singing in the shower. It’s like I’m actually singing out where other people are validating that for you when you’re getting that validation.

Here’s another piece, Pete, that I will share. Think of the reasons that people seek you out as a complementary partner. And if you haven’t thought of, “Why is it that people come to you?” ask that question, “What is the value that I do bring?” because oftentimes, again, it’s staring us right in the face. We’re looking at each other right now through a camera, but if we were in person, I wouldn’t be able to see my face, so if I had a big giant mark on my face, I’d hope, Pete, that you’d say, “Hey, you might want to remove that blemish. You’ve got a leaf or something sitting on your face.”

Pete, my point here is, oftentimes, our talent, similarly that genius zone, lies so close to us we cannot see it. So, it’s when we actually seek that out and find out, “What is it that we bring? What is unique about the perspective that we bring?” You talk about your strength of Ideation. Oftentimes, people will come to somebody with the strength of Ideation, and really enjoy digging into things with them because they’re constantly and quickly able to see many, many different ideas, and bring out very, very fresh perspective, and not get stuck in the, “Well, we’ve always done this the same way, so we need to keep doing it that way.” That can be a huge tell for us to really grow in our career and in our job. Again, wherever you’re at in that cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about, I don’t know if you want to call them weaknesses or lesser strengths or what’s number 33 and 34 on the CliftonStrengths report. For me, it’s consistency and adaptability.

Darren Virassammy
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Fun fact. So, what should we do with those?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, our bottom five, we like to look at, if you do go through the CliftonStrengths process and you take a look at your full 34 report, you really want to get to a place where you own your top ten and spend the time to understand not how they only exist individually but how they exist collectively. The reason for that is the likelihood of somebody having their top ten in the same order as you is one in six billion.

So, even though, Pete, you and I share Activator, you have Activator, you have Input, you have Ideation much higher. We share Activator and Learner in our top ten, you have those as your top five. But that Ideation that you share, that you have there, that’s a little bit lower for me. That’s not quite as high. I appreciate Ideation but what I’m getting at is the way that Activator and Ideation will pair versus the way that Activator and Self-Assurance might pair, the way that I have those. That’s going to be a slightly different brand of the way that that Activator goes.

So, we want to start in that top ten and understanding that. And that pivots right down to the next phase of understanding, getting into exactly what you talked about, the bottom five. So, we want to explore our bottom five, and here’s the reason why. It’s not to step into the place of deficit thinking. A lot of times, and when I say deficit thinking, we think that our greatest opportunity for growth and excellence lies in focusing in our areas of weakness. That’s not true.

What we’re getting at here is our greatest opportunities for growth and human excellence lie in those top ten. But when we look at the bottom five, what are we inevitably going to have? People that have those in their top ten, those are our blind spots. So, getting to a place where we can understand those strengths, we can also come up with an awareness of, “How do those strengths provide benefit? How can they give rise to the best ideas? How will they balance out my very own gaps of where I’m at to actually create a much stronger outcome overall for the team, for the organization and going through?”

And understanding them is not, again, to the lens to become them but spending the time to dig into that so we can figure out what those needs are, so we can figure out how those can play into a greater good, and, really, bring out the fact that, on teams, our differences can be our greatest advantage that we have.

The analogy I like to give with this is the Golden Gate Bridge. I mentioned to you at the top of our time together is the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ve all seen it, it’s absolutely beautiful, but the cables that keep those two towers standing are pulling in different directions. There’s a little bit of tension that’s there. And the healthy amount of tension is actually what gives rise to the strength of the bridge in and of itself. Much the same way, Pete, that’s what gives rise to the strength of teams where we go from self-awareness, and, “How do I grow in my career?” to, “How I then ripple that to my coworkers that we need to flow, work together, and give the rise to the best ideas?”

And we come to that understanding as opposed to just saying, “This person is difficult.” We start to understand where they’re coming from, what they bring that’s very unique, and that can be an advantage to getting to exactly where we’re collectively trying to go as our outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you share some of those tactical specific adjustments you’d make in your environment and with others to pull that off so more of us are spending more time in the genius zone?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, I love what you said with your bottom one, your 34 is Consistency. Let’s just use that. So, somebody that’s really strong in the strength of Consistency, they’re going to thrive oftentimes in creating and establishing systems and routines that we can rinse and repeat and then going through, and they’re naturally going to think in that sort of capacity.

So, for you, for instance, if you were working with somebody that was very strong in the Consistency strength, and your Ideation, your Strategic, your Activator might move in very different directions, but I might understand, if I’m in your shoes, you might understand, if I’m working with somebody that’s very strong in Consistency and then understanding that, they might have needs that are different than mine.

So, I’ll give you an example of this. Your Ideation might naturally go to a place where it’s going to communicate different ideas. And what we’re searching for is to give rise to the best ideas. We might throw six, seven, eight, ten different ideas on the board, and somebody with Consistency might be listening and saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, which one of these are we doing?” because their brain is not naturally thinking in the context of, “We’re throwing seven, eight ideas on the board to kind of wrestle with them and then see if we could push together and come up with a best idea out of that and maybe it’s not one of those ten. Maybe it’s one that merges together.”

So, when we’re communicating with somebody that might have Consistency high, when we’re looking at potentially disrupting that pattern, we give acknowledgement to the fact that, “Hey, consistency is going to bring the system.” I want a message to you so if I’m you, Pete, I might tell somebody with Consistency, just letting them know, “Right now, I’m in the process of ideating.” I might be very intentional in communicating that up front. So, “We have not landed a consistent place. In fact, the work that we’re doing now is to come up with the idea of what that could look like,” and leading the conversation with that.

Because if not, the way that they’re receiving that information might be through the lens of, “Let’s establish the system right now,” and where you might be at is working through defining what even the relevant ideas might be for the system. In a nutshell, you’re both working towards the same goal but you’re in different places as to where you might show up.

So, in spending the time to be curious not only about just reading the report but if you have somebody on your team that’s strong with that, get curious about them. Ask them, “Tell me more about Consistency. That’s one of my bottom ones. That’s in my bottom five. How does that show up for you? What does that mean to you?”

And learning about that and asking them if they have any specific needs that they feel like they have to be successful. What are the needs that they have to be successful? That might be very different than your need, and that will help you to grow your connection with direct teammates, with people that you manage, or if you’re managing up the chain with understanding what success looks like for them. And that will help you to nurture and strengthen those relationships, and, again, advance in your career as you’re continuing to grow in those techniques.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, Shane Metcalf, a recent guest, brought up those perspectives associated with the strengthen and the associated need. Can you say more about that and give us some examples? So, Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Activator, those are some strengths. You say there are some particular needs that are often tied to them. And what might be some examples of those?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. Shane is a great guy. I’ve worked extensively with 15Five and with Shane since 15Five was like a nine-person company, so outstanding human being. Great friends with him. When we think of some of the needs, so you mentioned Activator, I’m going to talk about that particular strength and how it kind of falls into place here.

A need that some strengths might have, and some of these are known as our influencing strengths here, Pete, they might need to verbally process. They might need to, when I say verbally process, for verbal processors, some of our strengths, like Activator, like Communication, like Command, Self-Assurance, Maximizer, those are some of them, they might need to verbally process where they think by talking. So, the talking process is thinking.

Now, here’s the thing that’s fascinating. When we’re listening to somebody that has these strengths, when they’re thinking out loud and going through that process, because those strengths bring with them a certain level of presence to be able to influence others, one of the things that we have to be mindful of, if we have those strengths or if we’re working with somebody with those strengths, is when they’re verbally processing, they might be influencing us. We might be feeling like an Activator creates some urgency, “Gosh, we got to get going. We got to get started on this.” And an Activator might unintentionally be getting things started and getting people going on things when they’re still in the verbal processing phase.

So, if you understand the needs of somebody that might be a verbal processor, my business partner, Brandon Miller, for instance, he is very much a verbal processor. And when we first started 34 Strong, I was very much an Executor so I would hear a story that made sense, I would say, “Hey, we could get this done, we could get this done, we could get that done.”

So, I’d hear what he might’ve been verbal processing, and what did I do, Pete? I went right forward to the task and three days later we’d have a chat, I’d say, “Hey, I got this done, I got this started. We’re moving forward with this,” and he might say, “Why did you get all that started? Why did you do that?” And I’m thinking, “Well, we talked about it,” because in my brain the only reason you talk about something is if you’re going to do it, and that’s where we were missing. And, thankfully, that didn’t cause us to disconnect. We weren’t eating our own cooking and it came to the place of understanding, for him, he’d signal to me, “Hey, Darren, I’m just verbally processing.” So, that was my signal to just allow that to go, allow that process to flow.

And then, for me, if I wasn’t sure if, “Hey, do we need to be moving to task on this?” I could easily ask, and say, “Are you just verbally processing right now or are we getting ready to land the plane right now? Do we want to move to task on this?” That’s just one example there, but those little nuances in understanding those of different team members can be the difference between frustration and acceleration as opposed to having to do things one, two, three, four times and we’re just missing how we actually connect and how people best learn and go forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And that’s one huge win right there in terms of, “Is this a commitment or is this just sort of kind of thinking about some things?” And, folks, their feelings can be hurt, “Hey, I planned my whole day around this thing that we talked about.” It’s like, “Oh, sorry. It was just sort of one option among many.” So, great to zero in on that.

Darren, tell me, anything else you really want make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah, I think these are really powerful tools to be able to take advantage of in thinking through in framing our thinking. And I want to let everybody know as well, you can go beyond this in just your work environments. You can take this sort of thinking home. Think of if you do have children or if you have a spouse.

What was really revealing for me, Pete, early on was when my wife and I both got our 34 reports unlocked, and I realized that three of her top five alone were in my bottom five. Everything that I’m talking about of understanding where people are coming from, that made our relationship make so much more sense.

And we’ve even applied this into the vein of parenting with our kids, and there’s a whole platform and push forward for going through that as well and digging into that great book called Incredible Parent. It was released earlier in January, and there’s actually a parenting assessment on strengths as well. And that was written by my business partner Brandon and Analyn Miller. And our whole Barbados story is actually featured in that book as well.

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

Darren Virassammy
So, a favorite quote of mine that I have lived by for a long time, I have so many, but the one that really stands out that’s at the core of the life that we live within 34 Strong is this African proverb, Pete, “If you want to fast, go alone. And if you want to go far, go with others.”

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

Darren Virassammy
So, my good friend, Joseph McClendon, III…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’ve seen him speak with Tony Robbins.

Darren Virassammy
He’s Tony Robbins’ business partner.

Pete Mockaitis
We did some power moves together.

Darren Virassammy
You did some power moves.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if he’d remember me. I was one of thousands.

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, Joseph is actually a dear friend of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.

Darren Virassammy
We share the space of bass playing, and we facilitated some workshops together on future-vision thinking and whatnot with the iconic bass player Victor Wooten, so him and I share that. But the story that he has shared, a study that he talked about was simply this. When he was doing his doctorate of neural science. When he was going through his doctorate in that, there was this stretch of highway in this two-lane road in southern California. And on one side of the road, Pete, there was light poles, telephone poles every hundred yards or 200 yards, whatever it was.

So, what was fascinating to Joseph was accidents would happen on that highway, and frequently over 50% of those accidents would end up with at least one vehicle hitting a telephone pole, which made no sense to Joseph because it didn’t just divot off and there was like these divots that went down. It was flat open dirt and fields.

So, what ended up happening for Joseph was he started doing studies, and he interviewed everybody that survived these, and there was a common theme that emerged, Pete, and it was simply this. Everybody said, “You know, Joseph, the last thing I saw coming at me was a light pole,” and that was it for him.

What happened for him, as he realized, people are what they focus on. They were so focused on not hitting the light pole, they never saw the wide-open fields that were there for them to go through. And that is at the core of a lot of what Joseph has gotten into his teaching as an ultimate performance specialist, and I love that story because you cannot hit what you’re not focusing on. How can you become strengths-based if you’re focusing on your weaknesses?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Darren Virassammy
Favorite book of mine, there’s many to mention. I love Think and Grow Rich, the classic version by Napoleon Hill. I read it at least once a year and it seems to constantly teach me something new on a personal level, on a life level, and on a business work level each time as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Darren Virassammy
I love the CliftonStrengths Assessment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Darren Virassammy
It’s pretty powerful. That’s an obvious one.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Darren Virassammy
One of my favorite habits right now is collaborating with nature. So, I believe that as we become more technologically connected, we become more nature disconnected. And nature has always been a catalyst for human excellence, human innovation, and so much of what we do is tied up in that place. So, I actually talk about that as I explore people just like Joseph McClendon. He was one of my first guests and I interviewed him on my show The Nature Advantage and he shared a lot of his takeaways of how he’s actually used nature to step into his own genius.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, one of the ones that comes back to me a lot is “Be confidently vulnerable.” And by that, I mean be confident in where you shine and where you’re blind. When we step into the place of being confidently vulnerable, we own who we are and we own who we’re not, and that allows for our self-awareness to grow and our team awareness to grow. That’s at the core of being strengths-based.

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

Darren Virassammy
I would tell them to check out 34Strong.com. You can find me as well on LinkedIn and you can find me at NatureAdvantageShow.com as well, and check out the Leading Strong podcast as well through 34 Strong.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. I say go visit 34Strong.com and there’s a free download that’s right there on the power of setting clear expectations. This can be a valuable tool if you’re in a managerial role. I know with Shane, you talked about the importance of identifying recognition, what are the forms of recognition that people like. It’s just ten simple questions that you can ask of somebody that you’re managing or of a partner that you’re working with to understand their learning styles better, understand how they liked to be recognized, and what success will look like for them. That’s something that you can use immediately and put into work, so take advantage of that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Darren, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you and 34Strong lots of luck.

Darren Virassammy
Thanks a lot, Pete. Really appreciate being on here today. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

633: How to Get Unstuck, and Find Your Perfect Career Fit with Ashley Stahl

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Ashley Stahl says: "Clarity comes from engagement an it's never going to be from thought. You really can't think your way into clarity."

Ashley Stahl discusses how to find your dream career by getting clear on your core skills, values, and motivators.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The #1 reason why people end up exhausted in their careers
  2. How to identify your 3 core skillsets
  3. How to turn a bland job into a grand job

PLUS, we’re giving away copies of Ashley’s book to celebrate the new year! We’ll send copies to the first 24 listeners who share a link to this post on LinkedIn, along with their favorite nugget of wisdom from the episode. Don’t forget to tag both Pete and Ashley in your post!

About Ashley

Ashley Stahl is counter-terrorism professional turned career coach and author of the book You Turn: Get Unstuck, Discover Your Direction, Design Your Dream Career, and she’s on a mission to help you step into a career you’re excited about and aligned with. Through her two viral TEDx speeches, her online courses, her email list of 500,000 and her show, You Turn Podcast, she’s been able to support clients in 31 countries in discovering their best career path, upgrading their confidence and landing more job offers. 

She maintains a monthly career column in Forbes, and her work has been also featured in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, CBS, SELF, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Ashley Stahl Interview Transcript

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

Ashley Stahl
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to spend this time with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Well, I’m excited to get into what you’ve got to say but, first, I want to hear a smidge about your background. Now, I noticed in your LinkedIn that you have experiences both working for the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, as well as fighting terrorism, although separately. It’s not fighting terrorism with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I’m sure he’s done in a number of movies. I couldn’t list them. So, do you have any pretty wild stories from either of these encounters?

Ashley Stahl
Oh, my gosh. I’m so excited you asked me this. Nobody’s ever asked me about this.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it when people say that.

Ashley Stahl
Well, first of all, I used to answer Arnold Schwarzenegger’s government phone calls and so I would always be that intern that’s like, “Office of the Governor,” and then you would get all sorts of people across the rainbow that would be calling in. And one of my most common calls were people who would kind of sound normal at the beginning, “Hi, I’m looking for Arnold Schwarzenegger,” I’m like, “Oh, I’m his intern. I can help you.” And then suddenly they would go straight into emulating him, and they go, “Get down, we have to get out of here.”

And I was in charge of the FBI logs to basically report people who are going crazy to make sure that they weren’t an actual threat to national security. So, I was constantly having to fill out my little log every day, like, “Irene called again from Florida, David from Venice Beach,” so I was reporting all sorts of people, and that was a crazy job.

As far as counterterrorism goes, working at the Pentagon at Washington, D.C., I wouldn’t say that I had funny experiences. I feel like the experience even getting into the Pentagon was a lot of failure for me, learning how to job hunt, which informed my entire career path, mastering the job hunt. But I think that was more of a serious time. And I came into the Pentagon when NATO was trying in Afghanistan in 2011, so it was much more of a tense environment at that time and a lot of heaviness.

Ashley Stahl
Even though the Pentagon was very serious, I will say that I was caught sitting at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk asking another intern to take a picture of me to send to my mom, and I got in trouble by the head of the office and a couple of political appointees walked in right as I was doing that, so I definitely learned my lesson on respecting the situation at a young age.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, they haven’t done it.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, I couldn’t resist myself. I would, first, maybe. Okay. So, then these people who were just quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger, they had to be logged as threats, like, “Get down,” because that is…

Ashley Stahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Wow. So, by that standard he might have more threats than any other governor around because nobody else is going to call the governor of Illinois and say, “Get down.”

Ashley Stahl
Oh, look. Listen, one thing I’ve learned working in the government is that there will always be something else weird. Everybody is a special little snowflake working in government offices and they will get their share of weird constituent phone calls. I also went down to the bottom of the California building, downtown L.A., during my internship, and I would answer all of the protester grievances, so that was where I learned how to handle a lot of angry energy and kind of neutralized it and keep my people skills at bay, and those are just a couple of things.

Also, I used to get his mail, and that was the time when anthrax was a full-on trend, and so people would put baby powder in his mail to pretend that it was anthrax, which was terrifying. So, I was like the sacrificial lamb on the frontlines of the baby powder wanna-be-anthrax situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man. Well, that’s a wild cross section of experience, so that just sort of sets the stage for you know a thing or two about careers, discovering direction, designing your dream career, and more. So, I was intrigued, so as we were emailing back and forth, you said, “I’ve got some stuff that your people have never heard before,” so, I’m intrigued.

Lay it on us. How do you think about career, strategy, job hunting, getting unstuck stuff differently than other career coaches out there?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I’m pretty unconventional. There’s so much content out around how to get a job, and how to master an interview, but there’s not a lot of people out there who are going against the grain.

Like, for example, one of the things I learned early on in my career in my 20s was don’t follow your passion. Passion is interesting. It’s valuable. It’s something to consider, but it will never be as important for your career path as your core skillset. Really taking a look at what are your natural talents, what are your natural gifts, and how does that inform your career. So, that belief system is just the basis of what I write about in my book or what I do on my podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, then you talk about some core pieces in terms of core nature, core skillsets, core values, core motivations. How about we start with skillset? You’ve got a nice little listing. Tell us about it.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I have a list of 10 core skillsets because I think the answer for anybody who is feeling stuck, or unsure of what their next move is, or something is missing at work, is coming back home to who you really are. That’s the concept of making a you turn is reconnecting to yourself. And that comes back down to noticing where you’re innately talented.

And one of the things about your core skillset that can be kind of challenging is that it’s so obvious to you, it’s so natural to you, that it’s almost hard to notice that you have whatever that thing is as a skillset. So, one question I tell people to ask the people in their life, whether it’s their parents or their close friends or their colleagues…

So, when you ask somebody, “When have you see me at my best?” and I always tell people that it’s not going to be easy to tell that for yourself. It’s so much more helpful when you can collect that information from someone else so you can really take that in. And so that’s why I ask people to write their responses so that I can read them. And instead of asking them in a verbal conversation, I’ll have them text me back or something like that so I can have that information.

And then the question from there to ask yourself is, “What skillset am I using when people see me at my best?” Because here’s the truth of the matter, according to research both in dating and also with job hunting, oftentimes other people have a better sense of who you are than you do. And it’s not because we don’t know ourselves. It’s because it’s easy for someone else to neutrally see where we stand out. That might be obvious for us and not so obvious to the rest of the world, and we might not even realize that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s powerful. I think it really rings true in terms of when I’ve been amazed at the work of others, and I’ve said, “Oh, my gosh, this is so great.” They’ll say, “Well, it’s not a big deal. I just kind of cranked this out in like 20 minutes.” Often, it’s sort of like a design task because I’m not great at that, it’s like, “Oh, this is amazing. This is so gorgeous. How did you do it? It must’ve taken you forever.” They’re like, “No, just 20 minutes. I mean, it’s really no big deal.”

And so, I think that’s really true and that it comes so naturally to you that it doesn’t seem…you don’t feel victorious because it wasn’t hard, and so it doesn’t register and trigger like, “Oh, wow, I’m so proud of that thing I just did. I’m awesome at this,” because it was just that easy.

Ashley Stahl
Oh, yes. And I also think a lot of people kind of get stuck on this idea of clarity. Like, if I had a penny for everybody that said, “I need clarity,” you and I would just be on a private jet with your family right now living on an island or something, because the ultimate truth for me is that you don’t need clarity. You just need to reconnect to yourself. Hence, this concept of making a you turn.

So, the 10-core skillset—I’ll go through these for any of our note-takers—I think, really kind of bring you back to the question at the root of “Who are you really?” and then the realization that there are so many different versions and ways for you to truly harness that core skillset and use it in the world. So for example, right now on this podcast, if you notice, my core skillset is words.

And what’s really interesting to consider, as you look at your core skillset, is how many different ways there are to express your core skillset. So, in my case, words can look like many things. It can look like me being a speaker, an author. It could also look like me being a salesperson or a business development professional in the workforce. It could look like me being a real estate agent, a talent agent, because it’s all about I am turning words into money.

Another thing to really look through when you’re considering these 10 core skillsets, words just being one out of the 10, is asking yourself, “Am I introverted or am I extroverted?” because if you take at take a look at the words skillset alone, there are many different ways or versions to express that. The internal way of expressing it is as a writer, or a content creator, I mean, there are so many different ways, as an editorial strategist, whatever have you. But the external way of expressing the words core skillset is more of a speaker, a spokesperson. So I saddle both sides of the fence as a writer and also as a speaker, a podcaster with my own show, all of those things.

And so, it’s really key through that people ask themselves, first and foremost, as they’re looking at the core skillsets, “Am I an introvert or am I an extrovert?” And I know there’s a lot of research on being an ambivert, but I do think people tend to lean one way or the other.

So, would it be helpful for me to go through all 10?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes let’s do that.

Ashley Stahl
So, I can kind of just go through them for anybody who’s taking notes, kind of think about where they fit, and really start asking themselves, “Am I an introvert? Am I an extrovert? How do I want to express this?” So, the first one, other than words, which I already gave you, guys, is innovation. And you kind of want to think about this as an energy, not just a tactical skillset.

So, the innovation person is the intrapreneur, it’s the entrepreneur, it’s the creative self-starter, it’s the person who maybe maintains their own book of business throughout a company. It is somebody who is coming up with solutions for different problems. So, it’s really important if you think about innovation, you are probably the entrepreneur at heart or the highly-creative person.

The second core skillset is building. This one is very much so on energy. So, one way it can look is being a mechanic, a construction worker, a little bit more tactical. Another way it could look is a little bit more conceptual and concrete like a web developer or somebody who’s building out a website. So, there’s many different ways that you can harness these skills.

The third one is words, which was mine, and I talked to you guys about that one. And then the fourth one is motion. Motion, as a core skillset, is all about using your body, using your physical energy throughout the day. So, this could be as literal as a fitness professional, this could be like a masseuse, a tour guide, anybody who’s using their energy and their body throughout the day and being in a state of movement is the motion core skillset.

And then the fifth one is service. And there’s a lot that I have to say about this core skillset. The service core skillset is the humanitarian, the helper, the social worker, but the big challenge that I have with the service core skillset is a lot of people have different childhood wounds or upbringing challenges that kind of result in them thinking that they have a core skillset, when really all it is is a coping mechanism that they developed throughout their life.

And so, anybody who’s a service person, I always kind of pause and say, “Are you really a helper or is that just something you’ve learned? Are you just a people pleaser? Is this a coping mechanism?” So, it’s important with that particular one to ask yourself, and even any of them, to say, “Does this skillset come from a wounded place or an inspired place in my career?”

And the sixth one is coordination. God knows the world needs these people. These are the detail-oriented operations people, project managers, event coordinators. They make the world go around, make sure that we’re not dropping the ball. And then the seventh one is analysis. These are the people who have a gift for research, academia, the economists, even intelligence analysts, anything that involves you going deep and having that natural affinity to do that.

And then number eight is numbers. So, holler out to my number crunchers. This is kind of what it sounds, the bookkeeper, the accountant, the investment banker, the financial modeler. And then number nine is technology. This is the IT genius, the artificial intelligence visionary. And then the tenth one is beauty, and I love this one. These are the people who make art of the world around them whether they’re an interior designer, a jewelry designer. They have an eye for aesthetics and they have a capability of creating that.

So, like I said, all of these are expressed differently if you’re introverted or extroverted, and they also are just their own energy fields, and it really helps to kind of look at these when you ask, “When have you seen me at my best?” so that you can kind of take a look and say, “Oh, wow, everybody who’s seen me at my best is noticing that I’m in service when I’m at my best.” And kind of asking yourself, “Is that a default setting for you? Is that a natural place for you? Is that where you have a gift?” and not taking your gifts for granted because, far too often, we think where we’re great is just easy for everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. As I run through this, I think I see three contenders for me. It could be innovation, it could be words, it could be analysis but I’m pretty sure it’s not any of the others.

Ashley Stahl
Yes. Well, you’re hitting on a really good point. Everybody tends to identify with three. Like, three is the magic number.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, all right. How about that?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, anytime I’ve done this, the client, or somebody, the courses, or whatever have you, I hear somebody saying, “Oh, I think a few of these feel like me.” So, here’s a thing to know, your primary core skillset is what matters the most. That’s what you’re building your career off of. And this becomes really relevant when people say, “Should I stay? Should I go? Am I in the right job?” What I always say to that is, “Are you honing the core skillset that you want to carry with you throughout your career? Or, have you exhausted opportunity to grow?”

That’s the top consideration because you’re really carrying a skillset with you for your life. And you might express it in different ways and you use it in different ways, but when you really get that, you’re able to make career pivots or changes, and make sense of them when you go back to your skillset and really sync in to the next move you’re making, whether you’re talking to job interviews or hiring managers, being able to talk about how your core skillset relates to the next job you want, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really love that that’s a very clear acid test in terms of, “Am I continuing to grow this or am I not?” And I think it’s kind of like the Golden Goose in terms of the long arch of a career, that’s what you go to have going. Otherwise, if your skills are atrophying then you may very well be less valuable three, five years from now than when you started, which is not the direction you want to go in. Ideally, you’ll be increasingly super valuable, indispensable with the associated compensation and fun responsibilities growing all the way until your retirement part.

Ashley Stahl
You know what’s so amazing about what you’re sharing is I recently read some data that was saying every five years, one of your skills becomes completely obsolete in the workforce. And I’m aware that by 2025, about 16% of job titles don’t even exist yet. So, that’s been really relevant especially for Generation Z who’s transitioning into the workforce now to know that there’s a lot of jobs that are about to become available that we haven’t even heard of, and it’s so important to stay aware of that. And, yet, our core skillset has many different ways of expressing itself when you know what that is.

And kind of going back to you saying you have three core skillsets, it’s about deciding which one are you uniquely brilliant in, how do you want to lead with it. And I will say that they all kind of do come up with this cocktail where it’s like let’s say motion and innovation are your core skillset, you can kind of think, “Okay, innovation and motion, maybe we’re going to get a fitness influencer, somebody who creates a business and kind of honors motion throughout the business with their fitness side of thing.”

So, it is kind of fun to play with that and do the combinations with yourself, but it’s still important to know. And that’s one of the number one reasons people are exhausted in their work is because they’re not working within their core skillset or most of their days in a different skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, if you’re frequently working with clients, folks identify three, how do you push forward to zero in on the one?

Ashley Stahl
I think intuition is a really big deal and just your body, like, really tuning into your body. So, for example. I gave a TED Talk recently. I was talking about how there’s 200 million, if not more, neurons in your gut, which is why it’s called the second brain right now. And when you think about that, that’s the size of a cat or dog’s brain. And so, there’s an intelligence to you having a sinking feeling in your stomach. There’s an intelligence to having butterflies in your stomach.

So, one thing that I really ask people is about what experiences they’ve had at work even if they hate their job that they didn’t mind or that they kind of likes, and I pay attention to their body language and how their energy frees up or their voice to see where they’re getting energy. Because one of the slippery slopes I think people take in their career is they work in a zone of goodness and not in their zone of genius. And when they do that, maybe they’re working in their secondary or third core skillset, they’re really missing that juice of who they really can be in their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s handy as I think about it. For me, innovation is leaping forward because I just think about the podcast, you know. The analysis and research is a means to an end of we’re evaluating you, Ashley, and seeing, “Okay, does she have good stuff?” and so we’re using deep research in terms of like the verdicts, “Do we invite Ashley and do we pass?” And then the words, in terms of, “How do we…? What’s the title? What’s the teaser?” I mean, that just sort of we need to do that to make it kind of compelling. But what I’m loving most is the discovery, like, “Holy crap, what you say is true and I didn’t know it before. I love this,” and it lights me up, and the research and the words are kind of a means to that end.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah. Well, you know what’s so amazing about the truth is I don’t necessarily think the truth is something that people learn. I think it’s something you kind of recognize. Like, how many times has somebody said something, and all of you is like, “Yes.” It’s almost like they put words to what you knew and you couldn’t express.

And I think that’s what so powerful for me about being an author is that it’s kind of like that person that has an autoimmune condition and they’re shopping for doctors trying to get an answer, and they have this illness, and they just want to know what it is, and even if they finally get the news and it’s horrible news, there’s still such a relief to knowing what it is and knowing what you’re working with. And I think that’s the gift that we, as authors or podcast hosts, get to give the world, if words are our core skillset, as we get to put words to things that people haven’t been able to vocalize, and there’s such a healing and a harmony that we can create for people with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s true. Yeah. You know, I remember, what’s coming to mind is there’s I think it’s an audiobook publisher, Sounds True, and it’s like, “That’s just the best brand.” If I will start an audiobook publishing house, that’s the name I would’ve wanted but they already took it, because it sounds true. And that’s often how it feels when you’re engaged in a conversation. It’s like something lights up inside you, it’s like, “I don’t have the hard data but that sounds very right and true and, yes, internally.”

Ashley Stahl
Yeah. And, you know, what you’re sharing, also it’s really important for anybody listening to realize, like some of us are kind of cut off from our bodies. We don’t feel our feelings. We don’t feel what feels good. And so, anybody who’s kind of going through that as they’re listening to you and I talk about the truth, it’s like your only assignment, if you can’t feel where you’re expanding or contracting inside and where you’re feeling pulled to in those breadcrumb moments where you’re getting little nudges is just to start paying attention to what feels good. Start paying attention to where your energy is good. Start asking people where they’ve noticed your energy get really good. I think that’s just a starting point is leaning on the people around you that you can count on to educate you on when they’re noticing you really shine because it’s tough.

And, yet, one of the biggest barriers to figuring out what you want to do is listening to everybody and not even listening to yourself anymore. So, I think walking that line is a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, that’s awesome. We talk about core skillsets. We’ve also got core nature, core values, core motivations. Can you give us just maybe your favorite tactic to get a good kernel of insight into each of these?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I would say your core nature is really about the energy you bring to the room. And I actually talk about this in the first chapter of my book before I get to core skillset because I think it’s the foundation. So, one question to ask people who know you is, “How does the room change when I walk in? How would you describe my presence in the room?” When you’re able to ask that question and start to kind of collect the adjectives that you get from people around you, you’ll start to see a trend.

For anybody who knows me really well, they’re going to say the room gets lighter because I have a sense of humor and I’m a joker, and so people start to kind of laugh when I walk in because I’m kind of a goofball, stuff like that. And when you start to notice that, you can ask yourself, “Okay, here’s the top three, or four, or five adjectives I’m seeing people describe me as. This is my essence. This is my nature. This is me when I’m me.” And when you look at that, it’s like, “Who do you know in your life that has a similar nature or energy to you?” And from there, you can kind of look at different career paths that people in your life have or that you’re aware of, and you can start to say, “Okay, these are my different career options. Now, let me get clear on what my core skillset so I don’t go into a career that demands my energy but isn’t using my core skill.” So, I think your skillset is really a filter for your options.

And, from there, I would say your core values are a really big deal, and that’s something I wrote about in another chapter because there’s two dynamics in people’s career at any given moment. The first dynamic is the what of what they’re doing. That comes down to their core skillset, their job title, how they’re bringing their energy into work and what their responsibilities look like. The other side is the how of how your job looks. Given that 50% of people leave their job because they don’t like their boss, the research is in, how your job looks matters just as much as what your job is, and that comes back to your core values.

So, I think everybody has maybe five core values. And I try to tell people don’t go for much more than that, don’t choose many more than that because it’s hard to juggle that in your career. But I hold core values as foundational, fundamental, non-negotiable principles by which you live your life. And when you can start to tune into what your core values are, you can see those as a filter for what companies or people that you want to work with.

You know, I had a client who was a lawyer, and a lot of her core skillset and core nature pointed to being a lawyer, and there are many options that I pointed to but lawyer made sense. And when we got down to it, we realized that it was really a core values issue because balance was one of her core values, and she was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, which means that when there’s a deal that’s live, you don’t go to bed, and she doesn’t see her kid or her family. And so, we ended up making the decision for her to change over to family law, and that completely changed her life. There’s a process for her to do that. Now, she’s very 9:00 to 5:00. She loves being a lawyer again and she has that balance.

And so, I think for anybody who feels like something is missing in their career, often what’s missing is a core value or you’re not working within your core skillset. Those are two things to consider. And when people are radically unhappy in their career, viscerally unhappy, usually what’s happening is a core value is not just missing but it’s being violated or trespassed upon. So, getting clear on those core values and your core nature, your core skillsets, those are three steps in my 11-step roadmap to making a you turn.

And I could go on about this stuff forever but, hopefully, everybody listening can kind of take that time to look at their core values. And those are words like family, balance, authenticity, love, connection, self-expression. These are all core values as possibilities.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, core values have come up a few times on the show. And what’s your pro tip in terms of if folks kind of have an idea, like, “Ah, this is probably one and that’s probably another. But then, beyond that, who knows?” How do you recommend you go get those clear?

Ashley Stahl
We get this advice in dating. Pick somebody that has…and I love comparing job hunting to dating because there’s so many parallels it’s crazy. But we get the advice of pick somebody who shares the same values as you. But here’s the truth of the matter. Everybody’s value can look different.

I had a client who told me that her core value was adventure. And I had another client, he told me it was adventure. When I asked the woman, who lived in New York City, I said, “What does adventure look like for you?” she said, “It means trying new restaurants in New York.” Okay, great. That’s adventure for her. When I asked the other guy, “What does adventure mean for you?” he said, “Skydiving.” So, we’ve got completely different ways of expressing the core values. So, I think that’s really important, not just to write down a word that means something for you but asking yourself, “How am I showing up in this word? What does it look like for me?”

And I think one of the most slippery slopes of core values is people are too aspirational when they’re choosing their core values. So, you’re saying that this comes up a lot on the show, but I think one thing that I don’t hear often is the phenomenon that people think that something is a core value when, really, it’s just something they want more of in their life, and that’s really valuable to know what you want more of but it’s not a core value. A core value is what is the non-negotiable ingredient to who you are, and you know you have a core value when if you remove that word, you’re not you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yes, core value, non-negotiable. So, we reflect on it. And what else in terms of arriving at it? It’s not just something you want more of, but it’s something that is a non-negotiable must-have.

Ashley Stahl
Yes. So, the thing about core values is that, far too often, people are picking words that they want to be more of and not words that they are. You know something is a core value where if you take away that word, you’re not you anymore. So, humor is a core value for me. If you remove humor, I’m not here anymore. I’m not me. That’s when you know you’ve hit a core value.

I had a client who wrote peace as one of her core values, and I’m like, “Hmm, you’re not the most peaceful. I don’t know if this is a core value for you.” And she ended up totally agreeing with me. So, I think it’s important to be really honest with yourself when you’re choosing your words. Look at what they actually mean for you. Get curious for the opportunities in your life, how those core values are manifesting for the other person or for a company, let’s say, if you’re not. Maybe in your love life, you look at what it means for your partner. Maybe in your career, you look at what that looks like for the company you’re at and how your job is going to play a role in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess to distinguish, core value is a fundamental non-negotiable thing that you got to have in life or a thing. And your core nature is just sort of like your essence, your you-ness, your “What do I feel when you enter the room?”

Ashley Stahl
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Any further distinction?

Ashley Stahl
No, I think you’ve got it. Your core nature is your vibes, how the vibe is you bring to the room. Your core values are your principles, and your core skillset is your gift. And if you can really take a look at those three things, you are so much further ahead than so many people in your career. And I think a lot of people are in careers right now that maybe aren’t working for them. And if that’s the case, there’s this really cool field called job crafting, and it’s all about taking a bland job and turning it into a grand job. I love saying that because it’s so ridiculous.

[33:28]

But, really, that’s what it is. It’s taking a look at your core skillset, and saying, “How do I ask my manager…?” or if you’re a business owner, “How do I carry this into my business and initiate a project that allows me to kind of morph what I’m doing in that direction?” So, let’s say you’re working in tech but you want to be a writer. How can you ask your boss for the permission to take initiative on a project that allows you to be a little bit more of a writer but still provide extraordinary value to your company? So, I think job crafting is a really big deal if you’re not currently working in your core skillset. And I do think that people who aren’t working in their core skillset, or honoring their core values, is an explanation for why so many people are unhappy at work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, you got one more. Core motivations. What’s the story here?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, there is so much to core motivator. And one of the things that I’ve learned as I was writing the book is that everybody, obviously, is motivated by something else. So, one way to kind of tune in to your core motivator is in your job interviews, really asking yourself, “How does this manifest for me?” So, I’ll go through, there’s ten just like the core skillset, if it’s helpful for me to go through all ten.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Ashley Stahl
Okay, cool. So, number one is meaning. This is about people doing work that really aligns with a spiritual purpose. So, this could look like aligning your core skillset and your core values with a very deep sense of personal mission. Number two is about optimal health. So, this is about work that supports your health or your physical wellness. This is why you see certain people who are probably the motion core skillset. They’re motivated by doing something every day that comes with their health. The third core motivator is time. So, this is work that allows you time freedom or flexibility. This is a career that gives you a sense of control over how you’re spending your time, and it’s a huge motivator for people whether you’re in a job interview. You want to take these motivators and ask questions that allow you to get insight on whether that need will be met.

Number four is impact. This is work you know is changing the world or making a difference. I think what’s really interesting about the impact people is that impact might not show up in how their day-to-day job looks. It’s a conceptual backdrop to their job. And what’s so important about that is that their responsibilities and what they’re doing might not be tied to the actual impact it’s having, but just knowing that they’re doing something that’s making the world better, they’re a little tiny cog in a much bigger important wheel, is enough for them. That’s what motivates them.

And the fifth one is visibility. So, in the influencer space, I’m sure you’ve interviewed plenty of us where it’s work that grants you prestige or recognition. This is a career that gives you validation. And, obviously, if you’re not checking yourself, it’s really a wounded motivator unless you kind of take care of yourself and just know this about yourself.

And then the sixth one is accomplishment. So, this is for the people who are very motivated by checking things off a list. They like to feel a sense of completion. This is the career person that loves deadlines, they love that dopamine hit when they get an achievement. It gives them a sense of motion and completion and gratification.

And then number seven is training. So, this is work that actually allows you to learn as you do it. I would say that you’re probably somewhat motivated by that just being a podcast host, and same with me with my podcast. I love to learn. And then number eight is ease. And, actually, I love the ease people, like they crack me up because the person who can own that as a motivator, there’s something very refreshing about how honest they are that they want work that allows them comfort, which means it helps them avoid shame, or fear, or failure, anxiety, whatever it is. It’s a career based on simplicity. Doing work that you feel competent doing without much challenge to your growth. So, this is for the person who’s very motivated by easy times and just getting by without much thought on their career.

And then number nine is spending. So, this is work that you’re motivated to spend money in your work or save it or keep it. Some people are literally just motivated by the pursuit of money, and I think there’s a lot of judgment on those people, but I think there’s something really amazing and inspiring about someone that can say, “I just want to make a lot of money, and that’s what I’m motivated to do.”

In personal development, I think there’s a lot of challenges to that statement that there’s something below the desire for money and what is that really about. But I actually have found in my work as a career expert the past decade, and that’s really what I’ve put into the book that I wrote was just all of the interviews and surveys I’ve done. Some people naturally just enjoy what money brings to their life to a level where they’re not needing much else. This is what motivates them.

And then number ten is self-expression. So, this is work that grants you the freedom to channel your emotions and ideas, and bring them to light. So, this is a career that really leads with creating through your feelings and through your ideas. This is definitely something that motivates me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you contrast, for me, meaning versus impact?

Ashley Stahl
Yes. So, meaning, when you really look at that one, what’s different about it from impact is that it’s something that is more aligned with a spiritual purpose. It’s your own sense of mission. It’s more self-focused. So, somebody who’s seeking meaning, it’s about them. Somebody who’s seeking impact, it’s about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what’s interesting about ease is I was thinking about David Allen, Getting Things Done. He’s been on the show a couple of times and he said, “If you ever had a crank widget job in which you got a bunch that needed cranking, a widget crank, a widget cranker, that’s a job, is you just do that and then you’re done.” It’s like, “At the end of the workday, you’re not at all thinking about the widgets and the cranking. It’s just like not there.”

And so, ease, in some ways it doesn’t mean like you’re lazy or you’re a bum. It just means like I’m thinking about farmers and some of them have very long, very demanding workdays, but in a way there’s some ease in terms of, “I don’t need to think or worry about what I need to do, which is very clear. Those cows need to be milked, that field needs to be plowed, and so I’m just going to do that and roll with it. I don’t have to agonize over the political stakeholders and how I’m going to appease all of them and their complex interrelationship struggles and conflicts. I’m just going to do the thing that really needs to be done now,” and so that’s a variety of ease.

Ashley Stahl
Exactly. And I’m really inspired by these people because I find that we live in a world where it’s really easy to be complicated. It’s actually so much harder to be simple, and these people have it down. And a lot of the work that they do in this category is very meditative, it flows, it’s easy. They’re not the people who are wanting to necessarily grow in their work. Maybe they’re growing in some other area of their life, and they’re just not motivated by that in their job.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I would say the final thing that we didn’t cover because there’s just so much, I mean, having written a 300-page book on it, is people’s interest. I think a lot of people get lost on how to figure out where to put their interest in their career. And if there’s any advice I could give to anybody listening, your interest is really your backdrop.

So, for example, I love cupcakes, and that doesn’t mean that I am going to be a baker of cupcakes. There’s a difference between loving to consume something and being meant to produce something. And so, if you have an interest and you want to bring it into your career, first think about your core skillset, how you’re spending your time and doing your day, then think about your interest more as the backdrop that you’re doing it in. So, if you love travel, maybe you’re going to work at a five-star hotel, but what’s more important is how you use your skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that adds up in terms of, “I think I’m passionate about coffee.” It’s like, “Well, I mean, drinking coffee is very different from…”

Ashley Stahl
That doesn’t mean you need to be a coffee-maker.

Pete Mockaitis
“…making coffee, selling coffee, consulting coffees shops.”

Ashley Stahl
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You might hate those things, and then just enjoy drinking coffee when you’re there, and that’s all.

Ashley Stahl
Exactly.

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

Ashley Stahl
A favorite quote. I love Rumi’s quote, “Act or live as if the universe is rigged in your favor.” I have found that that quote has given me so much peace at times where whatever is happening for me in my career or my life, I can’t make sense of it, I always trust that there’s something working in my favor, and it just hasn’t been revealed to me yet.

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

Ashley Stahl
I found a bit of research from Stanford, and I’ve struggled to find it ever since. I think I read it in a scholarly journal or something like that. But, recently, I read that 84% of your best ideas don’t come at work. That was by Stanford, and I love that because it’s such a reminder of how important it is for us, I mean, all of us are innately creative beings to create white space outside of our work and stop getting into that addictive pattern of booking ourselves back-to-back-to-back not allowing for that genius to come through in our day-to-day lives.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that. When I slack off at work and I feel guilty, I just tell myself, “This is part of my creative process.”

Ashley Stahl
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And there’s the hard data to back it up. So, thank you. More of that. And how about a favorite book?

Ashley Stahl
I mean, obviously, I have to say my own book You Turn, but if that is not self-serving enough, I could say my favorite book and the person that motivated me to be a writer in the first place and really influenced the way that I write is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

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

Ashley Stahl
I absolutely love Insight Timer app. There are some meditations. There’s a woman on there, named Sarah Blondin, and she has free meditations, and I always put my noise-cancelling earphones on, and I completely turn off the world for 10 minutes, and her meditations get me so grounded in my work. I always do it before a really, really big meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ashley Stahl
My favorite habit is probably fitness, and that’s something that’s brand new. I hate that I’m saying it because it feels really trite but it was really hard for me to get into fitness. I hired a personal trainer. It’s kind of forced me to exercise a few times a week, and I’m really proud of that because it’s given me such a level of new focus and energy in my day, and I’m so glad I’m doing that.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, one thing I’ve said often is clarity comes from engagement, and it’s never going to come from thought. You really can’t think your way into clarity. So many people are sitting there, marinating, and engagement can look like so many things. It can look like as simple as reading my book or anybody’s book or listening to this podcast. It can also look like taking another job and trying it on.

Far too often, people hold their careers too heavily and they slow themselves down for making decisions. And what I think with this is I walked into the Pixar offices a while back, and I saw a big sign on the wall that said, “Fail faster.” And what I loved about that was that, to me, is the sign of a good career. If somebody who’s willing to be experimental to lighten their energy towards their career and engage in some way even if it means taking something that feels pretty big.

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

Ashley Stahl
I would say, right now, we have a bundle of courses and you can order my book at YouTurnBook.com or else you could hit me up on Instagram @ashleystahl.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I’d shamelessly have to say I hope that they read the book. I mean, it’s everything I’ve collected over a decade of work with thousands of job seekers in my courses. And it has been such a labor of love and soul. And if they don’t read the book, I would say at least re-listen to this podcast episode and take some notes on your core skillsets so that you can carry that with you into your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ashely, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and many unstuck moments.

Ashley Stahl
Thank you so much.

627: Breaking Through Your Mental Limitations to Grow Faster with Matt Norman

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Matt Norman discusses how to break the mental patterns that hinder our growth—and encourage healthier patterns.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The thinking pattern that saps our energy 
  2. Two questions to keep your thoughts from overwhelming you 
  3. How to keep criticism from fazing you 

 

About Matt

Matt Norman is President & CEO of Norman & Associates, which offers Dale Carnegie programs in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Through Norman & Associates, he helps people think and work together more effectively. Matt’s mentorship has helped Fortune 100 corporations, non-profits, and entrepreneurs change the way they engage with their employees and clients. 

Matt has been named to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal 40 Under Forty list and the Minnesota Business (Real) Power 50. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Matt Norman Interview Transcript

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

Matt Norman
Thanks, Pete. Really excited to be here with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And, first, I want to hear about your fondness for Latin dancing. Now, people who can’t see you, you don’t look Latin to my eye, but you never know actually. What’s the backstory here?

Matt Norman
Thanks for asking me, Pete. When I was in college, I spent a year in Ecuador and I had to choose from elective courses, including Latin American dance, and at the time I had no dancing background. Being of Nordic Minnesotan background, I thought that that might be a helpful cultural experience, so I ended up taking the class and loving it, and actually spent a lot of my time down there doing as much dancing as I could. And few people know that one of my email addresses is Bailando Norman which is Dancing Norman. I’m not that great at it but I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is that for the VIPs who know that one and others don’t? Or how does that work?

Matt Norman
It’s actually for the spam emails.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve got that too. Mine is PeteMJunk@gmail.com. Now everybody knows but I probably won’t see the message if you email it. But then when I give it to people, I don’t want them to know I’m giving them a junk email address so I try to space it out like, “Oh, yeah, it’s P-E-T-E-M-J-U-N-K@gmail.com.”

Matt Norman
That’s right. Yeah, talking about having those long ones you have to spell out. I know, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. Well, so that sounds like a healthy habit right there, is keeping your inbox clean. But you’ve got some broader speaking patterns you’ve identified of healthy people, four in particular, in your book the Four Patterns of Healthy People: How to Grow Past Your Rooted Behaviors, Discover a Deeper Connection with Others, and Reach Your Full Potential in Life and Business. We like all of those things. So, lay it on us, what do you mean by healthy person and how did we determine that there are four patterns of them?

Matt Norman
Yeah, thanks, Pete. By the way, when you say that “We love those things,” I can say, as a frequent listener of your podcast, I really appreciate the ways in which you and your guests helped me and others develop healthier patterns. And when we say healthier patterns, we mean not just physically healthier but mentally and emotionally healthier.

And through my coaching and life experiences, I’ve realized that at some point in life we develop ways of thinking and behaving, usually as an adaption to our circumstances and it typically works well for a while, therefore we repeat those ways of thinking and behaving. And at some point, many of us realize that those ways of thinking and behaving don’t work anymore because of a relationship that we’re in, a job that we’re in, or realize that we’re overusing some of those ways of thinking and behaving, and so we get stuck.

And so, because of that, we have a choice. We can either remain stuck and surround ourselves with people that don’t challenge us and don’t cause us to self-confront and grow, or we can grow. And because of that, I wrote the books to help individuals and organizations go to live with more joy and impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, all that sounds swell – joy, impact. So, let’s talk about these ways of thinking and being just to make that really clear. Can you give us an example of a very common pattern that, let’s say, wait, let’s do a contrast…So, let’s hear a common pattern of thinking and operating that is found in healthy people but not so often in…well, I don’t know what we want to call it. Do we call them unhealthy people or pre-healthy people? What’s the term we’re using?

Matt Norman
Less functional, less optimal. Yeah, absolutely. And so, before I give that example, I can just put into context of there are four pattern areas, as you alluded to, how we think, how we relate to others, how we view ourselves, and how we operate, or make choices of our lives. And so, to use a common example, in terms of how we think, many of us ruminate on things that drain us of energy rather than releasing things that drain us of energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Matt Norman
And in the book, that’s one example where we talk about the value of metacognition or thinking about our thinking so that we realize that when there are thoughts, in the book we use the metaphor of leaves falling in a river, and to think of our thoughts as a stream or river of everything that’s going through our mind. And the green leaves that are falling in the river are thoughts that energize us and red leaves are thoughts that drain us, and many of us will fixate on red leaves because they worry us, we think that by fixating on them we’re going to change them, we’re going to improve the situation.

But we find is that the healthiest people, top performers, will allows those red leaves, they won’t ignore them, they’ll acknowledge the red leaf is there, but then they’ll let it float down the river, and they’ll choose to fixate on the green leaves, those leaves that are energizing us. And so, it’s a very common pattern to ruminate rather than release.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s huge right there in terms of, boy, just the energy that can liberate in terms of you think about being awesome at your job, that could very well make the difference between, “Do you have two good energized hours to do great work or do you have six in the course of a day based upon just how much of this you’re doing?” And I’ve lived both of those. So, yeah, let’s go right there right now.

So, the best approach if there’s an energy-draining situation, and maybe let’s make this all the more real in terms of maybe someone said something you found offensive at work, like you felt unappreciated by what they said, like, “Hey, Matt, how about we just do one more pass at this and I think we’ll be ready to go,” and you’re like, “Excuse me? We’ve already done six passes, that’s just pretty darn good and I’m tired of this, and I thought it was excellent and your critiques aren’t very useful and they’re frankly annoying.”

I’m not talking about anyone in particular. If you’re listening to this and I’m collaborating with you on something, this is purely fiction, for the record, but these things do come up. And so, let’s just say that’s the situation. You’re ruminating on it, and so you say the healthy approach is to not push it away or ignore it or run from it but rather to allow it to pass through. What are we doing in practice when that happens?

Matt Norman
That’s right, yeah. So, we’re acknowledging that it’s there, we may interrogate that thought briefly, not ruminate, but we may interrogate and be curious about that thought rather than defensive. We’re starting to get into the relationship pattern in the book which has to do with how we respond to criticism and also how much we internalize what people think of us or whether people approve of us. And so, there may be a moment where we want to be curious and interrogate, “Well, why did that bother me so much?” or, “What truth is there that’s there?”

But then we would let it go. We would let it pass. And metacognition and neuroscience would suggest that sometimes it’s actually valuable to physically release it, you know, write it down in a journal or a piece of paper and crumple it up and throw it in the trash. Or sometimes, literally, what I’ll do is kind of toss my hands up in the air, it’s like I’m releasing them or like I’m dropping the mic, you know, to physically send a message to my mind that, “I’m now releasing you.” And sometimes it may just be as simple as just saying, “I choose in my mind, I choose to release that thought,” and then perhaps focus on thoughts that are also true and perhaps more fulfilling than that draining thought.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I like that. So, I guess the answer is probably it varies, but lay it on us. I mean, just how much time do we care to be curious, to interrogate, to investigate versus…? Because at some point I guess we might fall into the ruminating zone there. So, how do you think about that in terms of how much time is not enough time and how much time is too much time?

Matt Norman
Yeah. I think two litmus tests, one would be, “Am I repeating the same thing over and over again?” “Am I sawing sawdust?” As Dale Carnegie says in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, I don’t saw sawdust. And the other thought is, “Is this bringing me consolation or desolation?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so Ignatian of you, Matt.

Matt Norman
Yes, exactly. Good pickup. I was just going to make that reference, yeah. So, this idea that, as Ignatius of Loyola says, many of the thoughts that we may have, or experiences, bring a sense of…it consoles our spirit even though it may be hard or difficult or problematic, there’s still the sense that it’s constructive, it’s connecting to where I should be at this moment. Whereas, there are desolate feelings, that’s where we literally feel empty, we feel we’re losing our self, or that we’re losing our spirit or our energy around this particular topic. It sounds like you have experienced or thought about that reference also.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have a book about the discernment of spirits that’s taking me a long time to finish because it’s dense. I gnaw upon it and think about it. So, that is some handy litmus test distinctions there. So, then in this example we’ve used, it might sound like…well, you tell me, I’m going to take a crack at the acknowledging and interrogating and being curious and letting it pass.

I might say, “Boy, I feel frustrated that we’ve already been through many revisions on this document and yet this guy wants to do even more. I kind of feel like I am stupid or a loser or inadequate, at least in his eyes, and relative to what I’m producing here. And that feels disappointing to me because I thought I had created something awesome that I had spent a lot of time and effort already in doing. And the subsequent set of recommendations, I think, frankly, could make it worse, and I don’t feel like doing that.”

Okay, so that’s me acknowledging. That’s exactly how I feel about the situation. So, then interrogating and being curious might sound like, “Why do you suppose he feels he needs to go through so many revisions?” or, “Why would I feel like a loser based upon the input of one person who’s not that important to me?” And then maybe follow those threads, like, “Oh, maybe he’s new and he’s raw. He’s worried about making a good impression with his boss. Maybe it’s because I really like things to be optimal, at their peak-performing levels, and it just sort of demotivates me when I think we’re moving away from that, and that’s kind of what’s up.”

So, well, you tell me. I’ve tried to acknowledge and to interrogate and be curious. Would you recommend I do that any differently or in more depth, less depth?

Matt Norman
Pete, that was really powerful. I thought that you did two things there that were really strong, and then one thing that you didn’t do. So, I think one thing that you did that was really strong was that you weren’t blaming in that thought pattern.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like, “That jerk face. Where does he get off doing…?” Okay.

Matt Norman
Yeah, exactly. “I get so much disrespect in this culture. I’d say he’s always after me. Why does he have to make me…?” All of that is pointing at the other person as opposed to looking at your own thoughts, which is the second thing I think that you did really well there is that you were processing your authentic feelings. You were saying, “I feel disappointed. I feel…” and even thinking about some of the identity translations of those feelings, like, “I feel stupid. I feel like I’m missing the mark on this.” And so, that seems really authentic to be saying those things, so processing those ideas.

So, not blaming and then having authentic expression of your emotion is really powerful. And then the thing that you didn’t on that was you weren’t repeating yourself. Once you process the thought, you move to a level of deeper interrogation, or you moved onto a subsequent thought, but you weren’t circling back to say, “Yeah, you know, I am stupid. I must be…Who else thinks…? What other evidences there that I’m doing stupid things around here? Why would he say that? Why would he say that?”

And so, those are kind of the repetitive thoughts that we’ll often have that are less helpful. So, the fact that you were making forward progress and that you were not blaming, that you’re authentically expressing your emotions, I think, was all the way powerful there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Well, thank you. Well, hey, it doesn’t always work out that healthily in my brain. And so, let’s go there next. So, let’s say you do find yourself circling, you do find yourself blaming, you did the acknowledging, the interrogating, the being curious, and then it’s looping on back, what do we do?

Matt Norman
So, one consideration is, “What might I be attached to from an identity standpoint?” And this gets into some of the psychology around the false self versus the true self. Typically, we have this false self that psychologists will say is the self, the image that we want projected to the world, the image of what we want other people to see us, “I want people to see me as highly competent here. I want people to see me as not making mistakes, etc.” And we say it’s false because no one’s perfect.

And so, to cast this kind of image of perfection out to the world or that we think the world expects of us has a degree of falseness to it versus authenticity. And so, for us to think about, “What are the parts of my false self that I’m holding onto too tightly? What are the parts of my identity? In other words, do I think that I need to be accepted in order to be okay? Do I think that I need to be viewed as competent in order to be okay? Do I think that I need the approval of this particular group? Or do I think do I need there to be harmony in the environment for me to be okay?”

So, there’s a number of questions as we interrogate that we can start to realize about how we’ve maybe overidentified with this particular situation. Therefore, we may need to consider if we’re holding onto too tightly to parts of my false self that I’m trying so hard to project to the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s a lot of good stuff there. So, the pattern, I heard you say, is, “Do I need blank to be okay?” associated with what you’re attached to and your identity. And so, I guess, ideally, I would like for there to be nothing in that zone, like, “I don’t need anything to be okay. I’m okay just by being alive.” And you can draw – we’re getting deep here – you can draw, like your fundamental worth or value whether it’s the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights or like a faith or wisdom tradition, like, “I’m made in the image and likeness of God,” or something, like you believe, “I have intrinsic value, worth, dignity just because I am or I am a human.” That seems like the ideal place to be but often we’re not there. And there are some other things attached to it such as, “I do need to be perceived as,” whatever, or, “I need to look like a winner or make $125,000 annually,” or fill the blank.

So, if we’ve identified some of those attachments, what do we do with that?

Matt Norman
Yeah. Well, it may be a process of revisiting where our true value comes from. To your point, revisiting what tradition or source we look to for our true value. The Harvard School of Negotiation says that, often, when we’re really thrown off balance, they call it an identity quake.

Pete Mockaitis
Quick?

Matt Norman
A quake.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, like an earthquake. Okay.

Matt Norman
Like, the ground under us is shaking. Often, we can feel this most when we just are really upset about something, or maybe we are triggered in a way that other people might not be triggered by. We just get more upset or more reactive than someone else might get. It may be a sign that we have to look at, “What is it about this that may be questioning something that I think is central to my identity? And does it really need to be central to my identity?”

So, I had this earlier in my career, I was in an operational role where I was responsible for getting deliverables out on certain timelines, and because of a number of factors, we were behind schedule, and we had customers calling and complaining. And I remember that our head of sales came to me, and not just me, to our executive team, and said that our team was not performing and, frankly, the message was that I had to be fired.

Pete Mockaitis
Right there in front of everyone. Okay.

Matt Norman
Yeah. Basically, he was going through channels of communication that came around back to me or I knew that this was the message that he was communicating. And at that time, I remember being so upset at him and at the situation, far more upset than I think many people might be when they were missing deadlines. I was so upset. And the reason is because I’ve developed a strong desire throughout my life for approval from other people, particularly people that I viewed as key stakeholders for my work. And I viewed this vice president of sales as a key stakeholder of mine.

And so, it literally was an identity quake for me, for me to get this feedback that I ought to be fired, that our group ought to be reorganized because of our inability to make these deliverables. And so, as opposed to having a productive reaction at that time in my career, I remember sitting in meetings and just constantly wondering whether I was saying the right thing, whether I was doing the right thing. And as a result, in one meeting in particular, I had a panic attack where I couldn’t continue speaking and I had to leave the meeting because I became so physically taken down by this identity quake that I’d turned into a series of unhealthy rumination.

So, all that goes back to, again, not just the realization of those red leaves or those draining leaves that are falling in the river but the source of those leaves often has to do with the way I view          relationships and the need for me to project this idealized image onto those relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that’s a huge insight in terms of understanding that. And I suppose, can we dig into some detail in terms of, “How does one divest one’s self of these attachments and return to the source and…?” Because it’s tricky, like, I think once we can get to a place where it’s sort of like, “Okay, I know I feel the need to…” fill in the blank, you know, “…look productive, be competent, be rich…”

Matt Norman
Get a promotion, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“And I don’t like that. It’s true but it is.” What’s my step-by-step to freedom there?

Matt Norman
Yeah. So, the book really goes through a number of exercises that we can do to make progress in that area. And, again, one of them would be this thought process of realizing that, “Okay, when I have identity quakes on that, or when that need triggers me, rather than ruminating I can release those thoughts,” that’s number one. And then number two is, “I can decide in this relationship that I’m going to differentiate myself.” In other words, this is another, your concept in psychology that, “Rather than absorbing the anxiety around me, that I would separate my emotions from how other people may be feeling, I would decide that I’m going to own my emotions and not let other people control my emotions.”

And so, we may need to, in our relationships, decide that, “I’m going to create some emotional separation here with my boss, or with this VP of sales who’s really anxious and really challenging me. I may need to decide, just take a deep breath and decide, say to myself I’m not going to let him control my emotions. I’m not going to let him control how I feel about myself. And then, finally, start to reestablish where my value comes from and operate in patterns that will affirm my worth or affirm my source of value.”

And we can get into a little bit more of what those operating patterns might be, but I think there are exercises that we can do. We’ve probably experienced it. Spending time with people that reaffirm that, that whisper verdicts in our ear about who we really are and why we really matter, or doing, reading certain types of books, or whatever we do that these practices around us can really affirm for us where our value comes from and who we really are.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, let’s talk about some of those patterns here. I’d also love to zero in on, say, “Hey, I’m not going to let him control or dictate my emotions.” So, I think that’s a good bit of awareness and conviction to hold. Nonetheless, I think it’s quite possible that, sure enough, that VP of sales comes a-huffing and puffing again. You may feel some stuff again. So, what do you do kind of in the heat of battle?

Matt Norman
Yeah. Well, so it may require a few things. One is naming what we’re feeling. I thought, Pete, you did a great job earlier in the conversation of naming, “Okay, I’m feeling this way right now. Because of this conversation, I’m feeling disappointed which is causing me to feel stupid. Are those true thoughts?” So, part of it is that naming of the emotion, of the thoughts that we’re experiencing, I’d say point number one.

Then, point number two, we may need to create some space, just separate from the situation somehow and breathe through that situation, and just, frankly, calm our amygdala, you know, that part of our brain that’s often wanting to hijack our thought process. And once we can sort of move to a more prefrontal cortex kind of thoughtful intentional thought process away from that, kind of emotional reactive state, we can start to think more clearly about, “What else is true here? What is true about my identity? What are other verdicts I’m getting? What are other data points?”

You see, we have these cognitive biases, economists tell us that we have heuristics, these mental shortcuts that cause us to draw conclusions about things that may or may not be true about our environment. And I’m sure many of your podcast guests have, in various ways, talked about many of those cognitive biases and mental shortcuts that we have, and we need to challenge those and say, “What are other data points that we have, that I have, that I can look at? Who else is appreciative of the work that I’m doing? What is good about the work that I’m doing? Is the only datapoint this VP of sales?”

So, there’s a number of steps that we can do from, as I said, naming the thought of the emotion, to separating and breathing through to try to move from the amygdala to a more thoughtful response, and then challenging those cognitive biases to try to look at, “What else is true? What else can I pay attention to here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great phrase, “What else is true?” My realtor used to use that a lot in conversation. I wonder where he got that. I thought, “That’s an interesting turn of a phrase you keep using.” But it is handy in that it really…I think often our brains are kind of like question-answering machines at times, and so that’s a powerful question when you’re in it, and that could seem to be all there is to really point your brain elsewhere in a really helpful correct way.

And then when you talk about the releasing and the shifting away from the amygdala, we had another guest talk about like writing something down on paper and lighting on fire or throwing in the trash. And I think, for me, it’s I guess I often think about releasing something as in, “That thing is going to stay in one geography and I’m moving to another.” So, it’s sort of like, “I’m going to go into the bathroom, I‘m going to deal with that thing, and then I’m going to leave that thing in the bathroom.” Or, “I want to go for a run and I’m going to leave it on the treadmill or on the trail.” Or, “In the shower, I’m going to have a deep refreshing shower, and then it’s like I’m a new man from pre-shower to post-shower.”

And so, that’s kind of how I think about releasing and shifting, and it’s quite handy. Any other pro tips on the releasing? You said you just sort of mic drop or throw it in the air?

Matt Norman
Well, I love the ideas that you just gave. And the other piece that I think is important to bring into the conversation is community, healthy community that surrounds us, where we’re with other people we can release. And I think there’s something very powerful about meeting with a therapist, a counselor, or a dear friend, who’s willing to let us share authentically and share perhaps a deeper level of the emotions that we’re experiencing and even some of these more challenging thoughts around how that confronts our identity attachments.

And as we share those things, for someone else to say, “I hear you,” and not try to fix us, not try to rescue us, not try to minimize the situation, but someone who’s willing to just say, “I hear you. That’s really hard.” Somehow, I think there’s this therapeutic process that occurs where we’re able to more easily release those thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for talking about the community and the people side of things. You’ve also got some perspective on managing our own schedules and energy patterns. How do we do that?

Matt Norman
Well, I think this is the foundational pattern for all the other ones because when we’re drained or tired, it’s much harder for us to think productively. It’s more tempting to ruminate, it’s more tempting to, as you said earlier, make our identity about, “Not just about my intrinsic value but my intrinsic value plus whether I get approved from my boss,” or whatever else it might be.

So, we find it’s particularly important through the coaching that I’m doing and the research, that we manage, first of all, our sleep and our nutrition, and there’s been a lot of research on this. Recently, and I’m sure a lot of listeners have read or listened to some of this research from, for example, the Stanford School of Sleep where they talk about the fact that 99% of human beings need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep. And quality, suggesting that we need to manage screen time, chemicals, you know, caffeine, alcohol, and find ways to put ourselves in a position to optimize our sleep. As we’re going to bed to make things like routine, like stretching and things like that.

So, starting with just the consideration of, “How much quality sleep am I getting? And then how am I managing my energy throughout the day?” Realizing, Daniel Pink, in his book When talks about the science of perfect timing, that there are certain times of the day, too, when we need to do things, where we’re more vigilant. And, actually, while we’re mentioning books, I would also suggest to listeners that, if they’re interesting in this, I think David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work is perhaps my favorite book when it comes to these topics because David Rock talks about what’s going on in our brain when our energy is down and how much less vigilant we’re able to be about managing our thoughts, managing our responses and relationships, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m a big believer in this energy stuff, and I remember the first couple of years of the podcast, my two longest interviews were both with sleep doctors, so it’s like, “Oh, I guess that tells you something.” I was like, “I’ve got one more question, and one more question, and one more question.”

Matt Norman
I think I listened to one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, sleep is huge and I’m a big believer. Any other particular best practices in bringing more good energy to work and life?

Matt Norman
Well, we talked earlier about reinforcing and reminding the true verdicts about your worth and, frankly, what’s true about the data that’s coming at us. In other words, we get all this data and we’re getting feedback from our boss, and we’re getting feedback from our coworkers, and from our partner, and all these different people are giving us feedback in various ways in which they’re responding to us. And, as we mentioned earlier, we can have all these cognitive biases about what’s true, and, “Do I ruminate or focus on some of those, some of that feedback?”

And so, to reinforce through a podcast we’re listening to, what we’re reading, the journaling that we’re doing. And part of that, as a best practice, I think, is blocking time to make that happen. I think right now, in particular, it can be challenging in the environment in which we’re operating where a lot of us are working from home and everything sort of blending in. All the parts of our lives sometimes feel like they’re blending into one another. But to be able to compartmentalize the parts of our lives to say, “Now, I need to go into 30 minutes of reading,” or, “I need to go into 30 minutes of listening to this podcast that’s going to reinforce what’s true. It’s going to cause me to be more curious in a helpful way. It’s also going to reinforce who I am and why I matter.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I like that a lot and I think I’ve gotten better with that lately in terms of just like in the middle of a workday I’m just going to do some not-work, and my work is actually better for it in terms of quality and quantity. It took me a while, I think, to break through the barrier of, “No, I need to be a good productive worker and not sleeping on the job, like napping or whatever.”

And so, now I say this a little bit tongue in cheek but it really is true. I call goofing around, whether it’s playing a game or whatever, while at work, “Part of my creative process.” And I try to say it in an artistic way like I’m wearing a beret. And that helps me sort of push through past my resistance of, “No, I need to be a diligent worker now. It’s work time, therefore, it is time for work.”

So, lay it on us, if folks feel either, “I got too much to do, Matt. That’s crazy. I couldn’t possibly do not-work during work hours,” or they say, “No, no, I just need to be a productive high-output person,” how do you help push past those bits of resistance?

Matt Norman
Yeah. You know, I came home recently and my wife said, “How was your day?” and I said, “Oh, it’s a great day.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because I got a ton done.” And she said, “Is that how you measure your day?” It just stopped me in my tracks, I felt, “Oh, my gosh.” You know, I think part of it is that, going back to what we value when we get into the whirlwind of our work as we think that checking boxes or like the game of Whack-A-Mole, where it’s like knocking the moles down, or responding to emails, we think that that’s what’s most important. And several great thinkers have illuminated, like Clay Christensen in his book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m listening to that right now, How Will You Measure Your Life?

Matt Norman
Are you? How Will You Measure Your Life? Yeah. It’s just this realization that perhaps I need to distinguish between what I want now and what I want most. And the realization that sometimes what I want now is the immediate gratification of responding to an email, or the gratification of shipping something, or finishing a project.

Now that may require a discussion with our leader, it may require a discussion with other stakeholders in our lives to say, “You know, what I often want now is the immediate gratification of responding to an email or whatever the case may be. But what I want most is to create this value for the organization, and what I want most is for this to happen in our relationship, or what I want most is for me to become this in my career. Can we, together, agree that that’s not just what I want most but that you’re willing to endorse that or come alongside me in that? So, at times, I may need to appropriately say no. I may need to turn off email. I may need to…”

In fact, a couple of years ago, I took email off my phone because I realized that often what I wanted now is to respond to that email, whereas what I wanted most was to spend time with people that were most important to me or have quality time for myself. So, I think it’s the question of, “What do I want now, which is often that immediate gratification, versus what do I really want the most and getting other people around me to support me in that?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great distinction. Thank you. Ooh, boy, there’s lot to chew on here. But, Matt, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Matt Norman
Well, I think the only thing I’ll add is that all of this requires a growth mindset. And I know, Pete, that you’re all about growth mindset. And when we talk about growth mindset, we’re thinking of Carol Dweck’s research at Stanford published in the book Mindset, where she talks about the continuum from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. And it really, for us to change the way that we’re thinking and behaving, unless there’s a complete crisis and we absolutely cannot move forward, it usually requires some level of self-confrontation.

And that’s incredibly difficult because we’re all wired to self-protect, we’re all wired to survive. And in many cases, these patterns are so ingrained in us. So, I think we have to each ask ourselves the question, “How willing am I to self-confront and grow? And what’s a vision I might have of myself if I were willing and able to self-confront and grow?” And that’s the starting point.

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

Matt Norman
Well, this concept of growth is, really, resonates with me, and so, yeah, a quote that I’ve often repeated around this book is that, “Patterns are inevitable. Growth is optional.”

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

Matt Norman
Certainly, the research around growth mindset, I think, is probably have been my favorite study over the last several years. As with you, Pete, I also am really into studies and research around the brain, in particular, how the brain operates under pressure and fatigue. And in David Rock’s book, Your Brain At Work, I really appreciate that the study really talked about the ability to say no or inhibit our response. It’s sort of like the ability to say, “No, I’m not going to check email,” or, “No, I’m not going to eat that cookie.” And they talk about the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex which sits right above our temple or our ear and it’s responsible for breaking, you know, like the breaks on a car.

And the study suggested that the more we use the break, the more it reduces its effectiveness. And so, that’s why kids will often realize with adults that if they ask five or six times for something, by the five or sixth time, the adult will relent and say, “Okay, fine.” Or if we keep asking ourselves, “Should I eat that cookie? Should I eat that cookie? Oh, it looks really good. Should I eat it?” by the fifth or sixth time, we’ll relent. And what the study showed was that we really have to veto quickly and immediately when we’re trying to be vigilant about something, like not checking email or saying no to a request that someone has, because the more we ruminate on it and question it, the more we’re going to tire that ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the harder it’s going to be to say no.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s big. So, I’m just imagining if it’s like, “Oh, maybe I should check Facebook or the news.” It sounds like the right answer there is to say, “No!”

Matt Norman
“Darn it. Stop.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Just cut off. The boat is burnt.” Okay.

Matt Norman
I’m taking out my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Matt Norman
You know, I really like this tool blocking time, like we talked about earlier. Now that’s not an actual tangible tool. The other tool, Pete, that I really appreciate is I just really appreciate the Notes apps on my phone. David Allen, in the art of Getting Things Done talks about having your mind like water, and just whenever we have a thought, getting the thought out of our brain so that we’re not thinking of it. And that goes back to what we talked about in today’s podcast.

So, a tool that I love to use is a simple tool that pretty much all of us have handy, and that’s the Notes app on our phone. And that’s every time we have a thought, “Well, I wonder if I should do this?” that we would just put it in a category of notes, or Evernote or whatever note tool someone might use, and just get it out of our head, get it onto a note so that our mind can remain like water.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. And a favorite habit?

Matt Norman
Getting up early. Now I know this differs based on physiology, and Daniel Pink talks about this in his book When, and not everyone is an early riser. But, increasingly, throughout my life and when I analyze the most successful people who have the most successful habits, I find that they get up early, and as a leading indicator of that, they manage their bedtime. And they manage their bedtime well, a we talked about earlier so that they’re managing screens and alcohol or caffeine or whatever else is going on in their mind so that they can go to bed on time, get enough sleep to wake up early because for most people, the earlier parts of the day is when we’re most vigilant and most productive.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, well, lay it on us, what is your bedtime, your wakeup time, and your bedtime process?

Matt Norman
Yeah. So, I wake up at 4:40 a.m. every morning, and to back that up, I just have to get seven hours of sleep, on an average. So, I really work hard on going to bed between 9:30 and 10:00, typically the 9:40 is the seven-hour mark so I’m really fixated on that 9:40. So, that means backing up further. I take about 20 minutes to stretch and read something that’s calming before bed. So, I’ll sit on the floor next to me, and I’ll stretch for 10 minutes. I have a phone ruler that I’ll use and I also make sure that I’m reading something that’s going to be productive but calming.

And then I’ll also make sure that there’s no screens within 30 minutes of going to bed, that I’m avoiding it at all costs, basically these screens, except the alarm on my phone. And then I try to stop eating by 8:00 p.m. and try to do as much digestion as possible earlier in the evening. And then I’m an intermittent fasting person so then I’ll continue to fast until noon which is kind of a whole another topic, but I just like to not put anything in my body in the morning so that I can be totally vigilant and focused when I wake up.

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

Matt Norman
This idea around growth and being willing and able to self-confront, I think, is the most common idea in conversations around. And then, second to that is having authentic conversations, as we talked about earlier. It’s the ability to really share honestly about how we’re feeling. So, to grow, confront, and share honestly about how we’re feeling.

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

Matt Norman
MattNorman.com is a great place to go or you can learn more about the book at FourPatterns.com, that’s the word four, FourPatterns.com. And people can also connect with me on LinkedIn.

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

Matt Norman
My challenge for all of us is that we would self-reflect on a regular basis, really look at our patterns, the ways in which we’re thinking, relating to others, viewing ourselves, and operating our lives, and not just resign ourselves to a fixed mindset to say, “Well, this is just the way I am. Well, Matt, you don’t know my job, or you don’t know my family, or you don’t know my personality,” but rather to really continue to challenge ourselves to say, “Yeah, I do have some patterns that are pretty ingrained in me but maybe I could change.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Matt, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and health with your people and your patterns.

Matt Norman
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s an absolute honor to be with you.

611: How to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead by Becoming a 10X Talent with Michael Solomon

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Michael Solomon says: "Look for the bigger, the harder, the hairier, the nuttier problem and... dive into it."

Michael Solomon discusses the fundamental skills that keep game-changers above the rest.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that leads to exponential career growth
  2. An overlooked skill that sets any professional apart
  3. The most dangerous thing you can do to your career

 

About Michael

Michael Solomon is the cofounder of 10x Management, the world’s first tech talent agency. 10x matches top contract technology experts, designers, and brand innovators with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 clients like American Express, HSBC, Google, Verizon, Yelp, and more. He has appeared on CNBC, BBC, Bloomberg TV and spoken at SXSW. 

He founded Brick Wall Management, a talent agency representing multi platinum and Grammy award-winning recording artists, songwriters, top record producers, and filmmakers. Michael also co-founded Musicians On Call, a nonprofit that brings live music to over 700,000 people in health care facilities across the U.S. and remains an active member of its Board of Directors. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome

Michael Solomon Transcript

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

Michael Solomon
Pete, it’s a pleasure. I’m thrilled to be here and excited to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thrilled to be chatting too. And I’d love it if we could start with maybe a fun story. You’ve worked with a lot of famous musicians in your day. Do you have a fun story that you can possibly share with us from that career?

Michael Solomon
Oh, goodness. I’m trying to think if it’s going to be a fun one, an embarrassing one, or an inspiring one. I think I’m going to go with inspiring because it’ll actually lead more into the other topics we’re going to talk about. So, I had the distinct pleasure of starting my music industry career going on tour with Bruce Springsteen in the mid-90s.

Pete Mockaitis
Good start.

Michael Solomon
First of all, yeah, what an incredible experience. No one told me it’s all downhill from here. But the good news is they didn’t tell me that so I tried to emulate it which is going to come back into the story. But I got to see that man up close and personal, and I got to see him stand on stage in front of audiences of tens of thousands of people in stadiums and pour his heart out, both through the music and through the words he spoke, but then I also got to see, in rooms of six to eight people, when he got to thank people on his team, and in his band, for their work and their contributions to his life and how eloquently and beautifully he was able to do that, showing an emotional intelligence that you might not…I mean, you could tell it’s there from his lyrics, but you might not know it from reading your average article about him. And it was astounding. The closest I can get to sort of describing it is like watching Barack Obama string together a speech who just always has the exact right thing to say, and that was pretty amazing to get to see that one. I was in my early 20s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love it, are there any particular, this isn’t our main focus, but any sort of takeaways you gleaned associated with how to support, edify, appreciate folks you collaborate with?

Michael Solomon
I definitely think that giving positive feedback and communicating gratitude are super important experiences for at work and in life. And some of it is about communicating those things and some of it is about feeling the gratitude and being able to show the gratitude.

And, just by way of example, I think that there have been moments in our company when I’ve returned from a vacation and I was able to thank people on our team for covering things that I wasn’t able to do when I was out of the office. And in those moments, they could really feel, much more than other moments, the gratitude because it was really something that allowed me to live my life in a different way. And sure, they’re helpful all the time, and I don’t want to take anything away from the normal part of gratitude, I feel for the people who work with us and for us, but that was a particular moment where I could really feel it, like I was not just expressing an idea because I have to check the box and gratitude is good but I was really able to share that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, I want to dig into a concept you talk a lot about being a 10X talent. That sounds like something I want to be. Can you define that for us? And I want to hear, is it really 10X? Is that an exaggeration? Where does it come from?

Michael Solomon
Well, I’ll tell you. I think that there are people who are really 10Xers and, its purest sense, the term originally came out of technology where it was used for coders. And the idea was these are people who write ten times the code or ten times better code than their peers, so this is literally sort of superhero level capabilities. And we expanded it to include people who are just so good at what they do, and being good at what you do isn’t enough. You have to be good at what you do and be a good communicator and be a good learner. And the only way you can really be exceptional at what you do is if you’re open to some of those things. And the emotional part goes with the skills part. And that’s really, if I broke down some of what we got to do in this new book, it’s really about understanding the marriage of these two things and that they can’t really be divorced very effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then…boy, so much to dig into there. So, 10X, it sounds like it’s not an exaggeration. In the tech field, it’s legitimately we can measure the lines of code, or the economic value of those innovations, and you see it in other industries too.

Michael Solomon
Yeah. I’ll give you a story if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s do it.

Michael Solomon
Our favorite example is a company. So, we were approached by a company that had been around for 20 years, they had built on their product over those years. Theirs was a successful company. Not huge but very successful in the field. Everyone on the field that they’re in knows them and uses them. And they had grown to a team of 33 development people, 33 on their tech team. And the founder came in and ultimately felt like the culture is wrong for the tech team. The tech team was in a different city than the rest of the group. It was time to rebuild the product from the ground up.

And he asked whether we had people who could do that, and I showed him some of the people who I thought would be great at leading that endeavor. And he said, “Okay, just sit tight for two weeks. And he came back, and he’s like, “All right. I let 30 of the 33 people go. I took very good care of them. They have no problem with new jobs and being displaced. And let’s go.” And we basically started with a team of three people that has since grown to about six that is replacing the work of that 33-person team and we built the product from the ground up.

So, that is literal 10X-ness including the guys who worked on it were particularly excited because by the time they finished building it out, it ran at the same speed in terms of processing transactions as Amazon does. So, they were super stoked about being able to create 10X value for this company.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s an exciting experience to be sure. Wow! Okay. So, there you have it, someone really walked that talk with gusto on the 10X talent quite literally. And so then, tell me.

Pete Mockaitis
If we zoom into the world of professionals, full-time salaried employees doing their thing, what sorts of benefits if you’ve got How to be Awesome at Your Job listeners who are thinking, “Ooh, I’d like to be like that,” is it worth the effort? How would you answer that?

Michael Solomon
Yeah, I feel like there’s a bunch of things I can dive into right here that are, hopefully, right on the money for the listeners. So, the book that we’re really seeing is really two parts. The first half of the book is how to be a 10X manager and 10X your company and your organization. And the second half of the book is geared around individuals and how do you yourself become more 10X. There’s a lot of commonality in both the first half and the latter half of the book.

But, given that you’re asking more about the individual contributors who are working at companies and are not necessarily managing a huge team, I think the very important thing that people need to understand about 10Xers is it’s not just their capabilities that makes them 10X. It’s their willingness to learn, their desire to learn, their desire to problem-solve, and this is a word we’re going to use a lot today, their desire for feedback.

They are people who are willing and open and interested and, most importantly, curious about what feedback they can get that helps them improve their performance. What we talk about this with, very specifically, is what we call super vision, which is two words. One is inner vision, which are the things about yourself that you can’t see for yourself. We all have blind spots. And the other is future vision, which is being able to see around the corner, what’s coming. And do you have somebody that you’re working with in your life that can help you understand what are your weaknesses? And can they also help you understand what’s coming down the line and what you need to be prepared for so you’re better-equipped to surmount the next challenge that’s around the corner?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s excellent in terms of a few themes there associated with the curiosity, and the real desire for the feedback, and seeing how you can learn and grow. For folks who feel a little bit spooked by that idea of getting feedback and such…oh, you all right?

…what do you recommend in terms of making the leap? There are those who would rather maybe play it safe and not ask the hard question to get the hard feedback.

Michael Solomon
That’s a choice, and everybody’s entitled to make those choices for themselves, but it really will limit your ability to grow. The more open one is to feedback, and you don’t have to, just because you get the feedback, it doesn’t mean you have to take it, implement it, believe it’s the Gospel. But the idea that you’re going to open yourself up and approach it with curiosity. So, you can approach it with defensiveness.

I am, just to sort of talk about my own example and my own relationship with this, because I’m a co-founder of our company, I sit at the top of the org chart, I don’t have somebody above me to give that feedback. But we want and sought an advisor for our company, and we only have one, and he plays that role for us. And the amount of insight that I gain from his feedback, and I approach it. There are times when he says, “Do you realize you’re doing this?” And my gut, my kneejerk reaction is, “No, I’m not. What are you talking about?”

But then if I take, if I go after it with curiosity, and just start out by saying, “Hmm, I didn’t realize I was doing that,” or, “I didn’t think I was doing that,” or, “I didn’t think I was being perceived that way,” I’ve, all of a sudden, created an environment where I can play with that idea and work on figuring out how, if it’s there and if it’s a problem, how I can change it. And if I don’t seek that feedback, I will go through my whole life, and I watched this, and I’m sure everybody who’s listening sees people who are making terrible mistakes for their own self-interest, and part of it is nobody’s telling them or they’re not willing to hear it.

And the idea of getting a…it can be your boss, it can be a mentor, it can be a coach, it can be a rabbi or a priest, in the proverbial or literal sense, you need somebody who’s got a third-party point of view, who’s invested in seeing you succeed, and who’s willing to say things that you’re not going to love hearing, and you have to be willing to create an environment where that feedback is well-received so they can keep giving it to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so, when you say create an environment, I guess we kind of talk about your reaction in terms of, yeah, okay, either it’s a blowoff or it’s a defensiveness or it is that curiosity in terms of, “Tell me more about that. Can you give me an example? Who’s doing this really well? What would excellence look like?” What are some great follow-up questions to really get the good flowing if you’re starting to get a trickle of feedback?

Michael Solomon
Well, I think part of it is, even before you get the trickle of feedback, is ensuring that you will. There are some supervisors, leaders, managers, bosses who are very good at giving regular constructive feedback, and then there are many who hate that, find it confrontational, and are afraid or unwilling to do it. And you need to evaluate your own situation, and say, “Can I start up by saying to my boss…?” and one of the things that we actually lay out in the book are examples of these notes where you say, “Hey, I really appreciate our relationship, and I’ve enjoyed working here, and I’m really looking forward to the future, but I really want to grow and change and improve. And one of the best ways I can do that is learning from you and getting your perspective on things, and specifically getting your perspective on what I’m doing well and, more importantly, what I’m not doing well.”

And just by being able to open that dialogue, and say, “I want this,” you’ve now made it a little easier for the person to give it to you. And then, sort of, I think to get back to the question you were asking, when you start to get the feedback, you need to get granular, you want to ask for examples, you want to ask for, depending on the kinds of things, if it’s a mechanical thing, if it’s, in other words, when you enter in your 723 reports, you’re always missing the last period, that’s a different kind of thing than when it has to do with an interpersonal skill. And when it’s an interpersonal skill, those examples become really important, and so does understanding from your colleagues how it made them feel.

I’ll give you a great example of this, which is hard to talk about because it’s about me, and it’s not something I’m proud of. But I advised a company that has a very forward-thinking ethos. And the founder of the company is a woman, and the other, the co-founder of the company is a man, and I have sent emails to them that said, “Hi, guys,” and whatever the rest of the email was. And she is somebody who knows that I’m very interested in feedback and likes it, and she sent me a note saying, “I know you didn’t intend anything by it, but I would prefer not to be addressed with a male salutation.” And I took the feedback well, I thanked her for it, but I was a little embarrassed.

And you know what else I did? I did the same thing again a week later to the same person because it was a habit. And she told me again, and she did it with kindness, and she did it because she knew I did want to improve on it, and I apologized again and asked her to keep telling me if I happen to fail again. And the reason I bring up that example is that has something to do with making people uncomfortable. If you think that your behavior in a meeting that makes people uncomfortable isn’t going to impact your career, you got another thing coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s very true. I love that example because it’s something that anyone of us could do. It reminds of me someone who, at a trade show, she said, “I’m going to lady this booth.” I’m like, “What?” It’s like, “Well, I’m sure they’re not going to man this booth.” That just tickled me. I think of her every time I see a trade show booth.

Michael Solomon
I love that. And I didn’t mean anything by the “Hi, guys” thing and she knew that I didn’t mean anything by it, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t elicit a reaction.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay. So, there’s that one key set of themes there associated with the curiosity and the feedback and the desire to learn, and to seek that out and to ask for it. So, let’s talk about how one gets to have that super vision, the ability to see around the corners and more. I suppose if you’re getting regular feedback, that helps a lot. What else should we do to develop that skill?

Michael Solomon
I think the supervision for our self is a skill that, as a business owner, you sort of have to pick up on to a degree to be a successful business owner, and I think that it often alludes to other people, which is really taking a moment regularly to stop and look at what is coming or what you think is coming. You can’t know and you can’t prepare for every scenario, but just being disciplined to planning is going to get you so much farther ahead because you’re, so often, and I am this way because I don’t like surprises. I’m a control freak. I don’t really like being surprised by things.

So, I don’t know everything that’s coming, but if I don’t try and anticipate what’s going to happen, and move ahead of it, I’m always playing catchup. So, there are people in companies who are always putting out fires and never able to look ahead. And the irony, for me, about learning about planning is, even though we now have three for-profit businesses, I actually got my crash course in planning through some of the non-profits that we founded because non-profits are very disciplined, at least good ones, about doing strategic planning.

And taking the entire board, which is, in some ways, your most valuable and certainly your highest-priced assets, and taking time away from everything else to do nothing but try and anticipate “What is coming down the line? And how does it impact us? And what are we going to do to be ready for it?” And it seems so basic, I mean, I don’t need to publish a book or be a rocket scientist to say that planning is important, but so few people do it. And it’s also being disciplined about doing it in the near and the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
And you mentioned this in the context of business owners or non-profit executives. I imagine the same can be said of a professional anywhere in the hierarchy in terms of, “Okay, there are some changes with our big customers, or with the market, or with the leadership, or the management priorities. And so, given this, I may very well need to choose to put some proactive attention in a new area.”

Michael Solomon
Absolutely. Our version of this 10X management, which we founded about eight years ago, was a reaction to sitting in the middle of the demise of the music industry, which is our background of having managed musicians, and saying, “Wow, if we look at the tea leaves, technology is destroying this industry. Whether there’ll be a light at the end of the tunnel, unknown, but for a long time, this is a going to be a problem.” And we were actively looking at, “What do we do to supplement our lives and our livelihood in that period of time?”

And it was only sitting down and being very intentional and sort of having that forethought that ultimately led us to the moment, and allowed us to be open enough to the moment of saying, “Oh, wait. Technologists, freelance technologists are the new rock stars. They need representation just the way the old rock stars do.” And, hence, the launch of the new business.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s a bit of a paradigm shift, and not to be all over the place, but it’s handy to think about yourself as any professional and how you can benefit from those sorts of services. And I know you’ve done a lot of thinking about this. So, can you lay it on the line for us, are there some parts about our professional lives that we should be outsourcing or we should be getting some help with in order to flourish maximally?

Michael Solomon
I certainly think so. And as a result of some of the learns of 10X management where we help freelancers navigate their freelance careers, we have a clause in our contract that says, “If you hire one of our 10Xers to a full-time job, and you steal them away from us after being on a freelance engagement, then you pay us a buyout.” Fairly standard in the freelance industry.

And what happened was, as the first few times that happened, our client would come to us and say, “They want to hire me, as you know. I know you’re going to get paid on this transaction. Would you be willing to help me negotiate my full-time job the same way you helped me negotiate my freelance job?” And we’ve now started a separate company called 10X Ascend where we’re helping people that aren’t our 10X clients, they’re anybody who wants help negotiating a full-time job offer because one of the things that happens, as we did that a few times for our existing clients was we saw absolutely broken hiring is, particularly in legacy companies.

So, we’ve now done this dozens of times. And what a company say to an employee, and this is really relevant for both the individual employee and for the company before they make an offer, they generally ask a question like, “What is your salary requirement? What are your comp requirements?” We created a tool called a Lifestyle Calculator which is, I can share a link with you, which allows people to weight 24 different attributes that go into a potential compensation package.

And this is the first we do when somebody comes to us to help with a compensation negotiation, before we talk to the company, before we even talk to the potential client, we’ve now caused them to weight and figure out, “What is most important to me in my life?” For some people, it’s just salary. Some people are really interested in equity for the company that they’re going to. Some people want to work from home on Fridays, which used to be a thing. Now everybody works from home every day. Some people want to budget for continuing education, some people want to know if there’s room for growth, and in varying degrees.

And companies ask you one question then make you a job offer. And it doesn’t assume that the 24-year old engineer who’s single and post-college, who’s applying for the same job as the 37-year old who’s got three kids, don’t want the same things in a package. And the closest I’ve ever seen a company to doing this right is one company made an offer, and they said, “Here’s one offer with more equity and less cash. And here’s one offer with more cash and less equity.” And that was a great step in the right direction, but if companies would start, or individuals would start, by communicating, and this is what we do with our clients, “These are the things that are most important to me in a job offer,” we could create a much better alignment on the way in. And that alignment is both about making sure there’s a good fit, which is going to make a better result if you hire the person, and it’s also going to create much better retention and much happier environment.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay, cool. So, moving it back to becoming 10X or persisting 10X-ness if you are there, we’ve covered a few key themes. And I’d love to get your view on are there some roadblocks, some bumps along the way when folks are really looking to enter that echelon, some common mistakes, or sort of watch-outs you’d put on a radar?

Michael Solomon
Yeah, it’s tricky. We have this quiz up at the book site. The book site is GameChangerTheBook.com. And the quiz sort of measures how you are at this stuff. But, really, the quiz was inspired by this concept of the management continuum. And on one end, you sort of got the 10Xer who has a very high level of what we call the success impulse. These are people, you know them, everybody here has met them, who is constantly making the right moves that move them toward their goals. They’re not tripping over their own feet, they’re not shooting themselves in their foot, they’re just not getting in their own way at all, and they’re moving in the direction they want to move in.

And then there’s the whole middle spectrum, which is people who are in the center of the scale. And on the other end of the spectrum is what we call the sabotage impulse. And this is really the biggest problem. Like, if you have the sabotage impulse, becoming 10X is virtually impossible. The sabotage impulse is choosing those things that get in the way between you and what you want. So, these are the people who shoot themselves in the foot, reload the gun and shoot themselves in the foot again. They stick their foot in their mouth. And most of all, the reason that we encourage people like this not be in your organization is they’re not interested in and don’t accept responsibility for things, so they are constantly ducking and covering and throwing other people in the way of their problems.

And just by the nature of not being willing to accept your shortcomings and own them and explore them with curiosity, you’re literally creating an environment or you’re creating a situation, a bubble, where you’re not capable of improving because you can’t acknowledge that there’s anything to improve. And that is the most dangerous thing.

So, if you’re feeling like that is you, and most people who have that quality don’t recognize it because if they did, they would’ve addressed it, but if you feel like that’s you, there’s no question that a coach or a therapist is what’s in order because you’re doing something every day that keeps you from getting what you want. So, if you feel like you’re always the victim, that’s something to look at.

For those of us who aren’t all the way on that end of the spectrum, it is an incremental progress. You don’t go overnight. The things that I can tell you that 10Xers really have in common is loving solving problems. They look for the bigger, the harder, the hairier, the nuttier problem and want to dive into it. They’re not afraid of it. They just view it as an opportunity, like a puzzle, like a challenge. And that’s one of my favorite things about these people. And they also approach it all with curiosity. They’re data-driven.

They don’t want to just like shut off the data pipeline when it doesn’t suit them. They want to take the data and say, “Huh, that wasn’t the outcome I was expecting, but that’s the outcome that I got. Now what do I do with that?” and that’s being reality-based. Whereas, if you’re in the sabotage end of the spectrum, you’re not being reality-based. The data is there. The data is saying, “You’re doing this thing. It’s getting in your way. It’s getting in your way.” And you’re like, “No, it’s not me. Not me at all. I’m just a victim.” And that’s the biggest thing of where you are in that continuum that can move you forward or keep you stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think when you talk about that, this is bringing so many things for me. I recall I had a coaching client who was just awesome and he liked the stuff we are covering, and said, “I want my whole team. Let’s build a training program,” and then we did, and I still do that program with many other clients, so great initiative that we put together together. And he said something, like, “Man, I’m in this role in which, on the one hand, it just feels amazing in how I’m able to handle this level of complexity with so many policies and stakeholders and competing demands and tradeoffs. On the other hand, I’m kind of going insane.”

And so, I thought that was just a good articulation of, boy, this guy really is going for the biggest, hairiest problems, and his career has really taken off as a result. And then he also has some humility to know this, like, “This is kind of nuts. Maybe we need to simplify some things here.”

Michael Solomon
And one of the things that I would say about 10Xers, and this is a little bit what you’re getting at, is these are also people who have some respect for work-life balance, and they care about values. And this is another thing that companies need to factor in, it’s like, “Are you hiring somebody that shares the values and the vision and the mission of your company?” And it’s really interesting because Millennials and Gen Z’s who are not all 10Xers have very similar traits in that regard. They want to know that their work is valued, they want to know that their work is important, they want to know that the company has values and they’re stated, and there’s all this mission-driven stuff that gets pushed by the wayside that’s really important to these particular elements of the population being 10Xers, Gen Z, and Millennials. And the more we pretend or ignore that or say it’s entitlement, as the older generation is wanton to do, the less we can advance them and their productivity. And they are a huge part of the workforce at this point.

Pete Mockaitis
And the other thing that really struck, as we talk about that data, is I really have seen it go both ways in terms of, again, my world is training, some folks are all about collecting the data, and say, “Hey, does this make an impact? Was it effective? Let’s really learn from that and fine-tune and iterate, and make a case if, hey, this is really working, providing a great return, let’s really do some more of this.” And then there are those who, they’ve said to me, “Wow, the questions you put on your evaluation would absolutely terrify me. I never want to give that to a client.”

So, there it is, front and center in terms of “What’s your relationship to that data? Do you want it to never exist because you’re afraid of it, or are you hungry?” And it is, in some ways, the riskier path but, my goodness, the rewards are much greater.

Michael Solomon
But isn’t that risky because the other people already see and think these things? The only person, we talk about this concept in the book, it’s called Johari Window, Johari’s Window. It’s essentially the idea that there are four panes of perspective. Let’s say the top right is there’s what you know about yourself and everybody else knows about you. You and I both wear glasses. That would fall into that category.

There’s the window of what you know about yourself and nobody else knows about you. We won’t say what that is, but there’s your deep dark secrets. There are the things that nobody knows about you and you don’t know about yourself, which is not particularly relevant or useful but it exists. And the last one is the things that other people know about you and you don’t know about yourself. And that’s the one that we’re talking about with regard to this feedback we’re talking about.

And the fear mindset around this is that if you don’t ask about it, it won’t exist. But that’s not the reality. Other people are seeing this. You’re the only one who doesn’t know. This is like burying your head in the sand kind of thing. Like, it’s happening. You’ve got that spinach on your teeth. Would you rather know about it or would you rather not have someone tell you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. Well-said. Well, so about half of our listeners do have direct reports and they’ve got some management responsibilities. So, I’d love to get your take in terms of how do you shape an environment where you can identify and cultivate more 10X talent?

Michael Solomon
Yeah, absolutely. So, I think that the first thing for everybody to understand is the days of employees being cogs in the machine, with some notable exceptions, are over. Nobody wants to be thought of that way or treated that way. Certainly not 10Xers and certainly not Millennial and Gen Z. It’s just not how it works. The days of, “Have that on my desk at 3:30 or else,” it’s just not the way we’re working anymore in most places. And now, what we’re starting to see is places that do operate that way don’t last long, and it eventually blows up in their face, and you hear all kinds of complaints about management and hostile work environment and all that stuff.

So, let’s assume you’re already not being in a hostile work environment. The flipside of that, the other direction to go with that, is really being driven toward humanity. These are human beings that you work with, that you’re close to, that you spend every day with, they have lives, and their lives impact their work. And without trying and without being inappropriate in how far you reach, the more you can treat somebody as a human being and show them empathy and care, the better.

So, a tiny example might be I have one agent who works for us who’s on vacation or traveling in a given week, and just remembering and saying, “Hey, I was going to assign this project to you. Is that okay because you’re traveling? Or do you want me to give it to somebody else?” is a way of showing a consideration for a human thing, like as a work person, I don’t care, like, “Do this.” Like, if all I cared about was getting it done, I wouldn’t ask the question.

But if you want to have a relationship and a culture and an environment where people help each other, and one of our core values in our company is helping each other, then you have to live that. You have to really, really show that, and you have to let people know that you actually care about them as a human being. And, hopefully, that’s not hard for most people but it is different than what came before, at least as far as the workplace goes.

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

Michael Solomon
I think that the most important thing that we’re getting to in the sort of how to manage people is that it’s bespoke. It used to be you’re a boss, you treat your employees a certain way, and you need to recognize that each employee is a unique and different snowflake that needs to be treated in the right way that is best for them to be productive and useful, and that’s more onus on us as managers. And you know what? It’s a better workplace as a result of it.

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

Michael Solomon
My father, who’s also an author and a non-profit luminary, has always said, “When you want something done, go to the busiest person in the room,” which is so counterintuitive. And when he first started telling me that in my, probably, 20s, I thought he was nuts. And now I totally understand it. The busiest people I ever emailed are the ones who emailed me back within three seconds.

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

Michael Solomon
The two pieces of data that I’m going to bring up for this, and I’ll try and do it quickly, is the idea that helping other people is more beneficial to your happiness and your sense of joy in the world than doing something for yourself. And that’s a little counterintuitive, and most people don’t operate that way. And if we did, as a world, we’d have a much happier world with much happier people and much better cared-for people. And then the second one, which is sort of related and definitely related to feedback, is data says the appropriate amount of positive feedback to negative feedback is five to one. I find that to be hard to pull off but even if I aim for five and end up at three positives to negative feedback, I’m okay with that.

Pete Mockaitis
And not to dig too deep into that, but sometimes, I don’t know if this is cheating, I think about it in terms of like relationships and experiences and encounters. So, maybe the hard feedback is an unpleasant experience, but there were multiple pleasant experiences that were not necessarily feedback-related but were still cool, like, “Michael, I don’t know, gave me something, thanked me for something, made an accommodation, or asked, ‘Hey, you’re traveling, can you handle this?’” And so, that may not be feedback but it’s a positive encounter and so I think that can buffer some of the negative. I don’t know if it’s just my own spin on the research or if that’s actually the research, but that’s how I roll.

Michael Solomon
Yeah, I agree with that. There’s also the idea of sandwiching negative feedbacks where you say something positive, you say something negative, and then you end with something positive again. I know I have, earlier in my career, have been guilty of not practicing this. And I had one experience where I did a performance review, and I was very happy with the person I was reviewing but I focused on a critique, and she came back at the end and said, “Am I doing anything right?” And I was like, “Oh, my God, have I failed at conveying the big picture here.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s a handy question in terms of feedback getting the whole story.

Michael Solomon
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Solomon
Currently reading a book called The Anatomy of Peace, which is really interesting, based on psychology and parenting.

Michael Solomon
The thesis is that you can treat people like people or you can treat them like objects, and have a different perspective when you see them in the different ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s huge. I think Arbinger Institute has a lot of good themes on that, and so true.

Michael Solomon
I think that’s actually who wrote that book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, then I’m just behind the eight ball, and I got to pick up their latest. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Michael Solomon
I love dictation for email, so the tools that I would cite for that are Siri, and then a plugin that actually somebody built for me when I was complaining, “You couldn’t dictate into Gmail other than on your phone,” so he built, a client of mine, he built a Chrome plugin that allows you to dictate into Gmail, which is called Dictation for Gmail.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, this is AI dictation? You’re speaking, it’s…

Michael Solomon
It’s me speaking and it’s transcribing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And that’s officially accurate to accelerate you.

Michael Solomon
Oh, yes. I would say 80% or 90% of my composing that way, I draft articles and books and emails. It’s my biggest timesaving hack. I can draft an email, like a serious email, walking down the street.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. All right. And how about a favorite habit?

Michael Solomon
I’m going to go with pushups. I do a hundred pushups. I’ve done that now consistently for eight years every day. I’ve missed five days in eight years. And it’s not so much that the pushups are my favorite habit. It’s the religiosity or the fervor with which I’ve committed to it and to myself that really is what I love. And I got that from an EQ training I did.

Pete Mockaitis
And is this 100 consecutive pushups?

Michael Solomon
No, it’s five sets in 20.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Solomon
But all within five minutes, so at least it’s…

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, there’s not much of a break. Okay.

Michael Solomon
No. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Michael Solomon
It’s going back to the idea I said when we talked about experiments or studies. I gave a speech a few years ago, it was for a non-profit, and I ended it by saying, “Be selfish. Help somebody else.” And I really love that concept and that nugget of the more you do for somebody else, the better you’re going to feel.

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

Michael Solomon
I’m happy to take emails directly at Michael@10XManagement.com.

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

Michael Solomon
I would say take the quiz at GameChangerTheBook.com. I think that the act of taking it will teach you something, the results will teach you something, and you can learn a lot more about us and the ideas that we were talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Michael, thanks so much for taking the time. And good luck in all the ways you’re 10xing it.

Michael Solomon
I’m trying. I got a ways to go but I got time still, I hope.

604: Closing the Seven Power Gaps that Limit Your Career with Kathy Caprino

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Kathy Caprino says: "Be strong, be confident, but that doesn't mean abrasive, aggressive."

Kathy Caprino discusses how to bridge the power gaps that hold you back from career success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The seven most common barriers to career success 
  2. An easy way to start advocating for yourself more 
  3. The one habit that drastically minimizes your presence 

About Kathy

Kathy Caprino is a career and executive coach, author, speaker, and leadership trainer dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is a former VP and trained coach and marriage and family therapist, a Senior Forbes contributor, and offers career consulting, executive, and leadership and communications coaching and training, as well as keynotes and workshops. 

She’s also the Founder and President of her own coaching and consulting firm, Kathy Caprino, LLC as well as the host of the podcast, Finding Brave. 

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Kathy Caprino Transcript

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

Kathy Caprino
I’m so happy to be here, Pete. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m happy to have you. And I’m excited to talk about Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, the subtitle of “The Most Powerful You.”

Kathy Caprino
It’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a fun one to say. Well, how about you kick us off with an inspiring story of a professional who felt like they needed some bravery-boosting, and then they did some stuff, and they saw some cool results flow from it?

Kathy Caprino
Can I make it my story for two minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Kathy Caprino
Okay. The hard thing is to keep it short, but I’ll try. Eighteen-year corporate career, successful on the outside, not successful on the inside, and I faced bumps, bumps and bumps. And when I hit 40, they were full-blown crises. Sexual harassment, gender discrimination, toxic bosses, actually narcissistic bosses, toxic colleagues, zero work-life balance, chronic illness, I had infections of the trachea every three months for four years. It was a mess, Pete, really. And I know a lot about this now because this is my work, but it wasn’t back then, and I didn’t know what hit me, and I thought I was to blame. It was a mess.

So, I didn’t really move forward. I didn’t move forward at all to change career. The last VP job, literally, I swear, I felt like it almost killed me. And instead of doing the right thing, which was to pivot or leave, I didn’t. And one month after buying a bigger house and more financial responsibilities, it was 9/11, and one month after I was laid off. So, talking about bravery and power, for 18 years I didn’t have it, and there’s reasons for that, which we’ll talk about, why a lot of people don’t have the bravery and power they need to change things.

But, often, human beings need a breakdown. They just have to collapse into a heap. It’s got to be a breakdown moment, and that’s what I had. And there’s a story in the book about I’m sitting in my therapist’s office crying because I knew I could never return to that life but I didn’t know what to do. And he said, “I know from where you sit, it’s the worst crisis you’ve ever faced. But from where I sit, it’s the first moment you can choose who you want to be in the world. Now, who do you want to be?”

And now I know why I didn’t have any answer, and so I went, “I want to be you.” That’s all. That’s all I knew. And he said, “What does that mean?” And I said, “I want to help people, not hurt people and be hurt.” So, flash forward, I became a marriage and family therapist, and that wasn’t the end destination. And, as we know, a lot of times we think, “Yay, we’ve made it. We’re done.” I wasn’t done at all. That wasn’t the final thing. And then I became a career coach for professional women. So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years.

And there are stories in the book, seven different ones, of clients and course members that have closed these seven power gaps that we’re going to talk about, from “I don’t know how to speak up,” to “I can’t say stop to the mistreatment I’m facing,” to “I can’t even figure out what I want to ask for, let alone think I deserve it.” So, there’s really riveting stories of real-life people that have faced these seven gaps and overcame them and, in every case, it’s incredibly inspiring, because if we have these gaps, Pete, and 98% of the women I interviewed, I surveyed, 98% have one of these, and over 75% have three or more. When you have these, you cannot thrive at the highest level in your work or your life, so that’s that story.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Thank you. And our audience is mostly women. But as I perused these gaps, they’re certainly not exclusive to women.

Kathy Caprino
They’re not but I got to say, Pete, I think men do experience it, and they say, “Write a book for me, for goodness’ sake,” but they don’t internalize them and process them in the same way.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Kathy Caprino
They don’t, and I think I know why that is, but we’ll talk about that later.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, you got me so intrigued, Kathy. Bring it. What’s going on?

Kathy Caprino
Bring it on. So, what we have to know, and I mention this a lot, a few people have said, “Are you blaming the victim here?” And the whole point is to rise people out of victimhood, to let them take control of what they can control. But the reason, one of the reasons women have these gaps, and I’m not trying to paint every woman with the same brush, or every man, but it’s this – we live in a patriarchal world. It’s not to bash men, this is just to look to the system we live in. And in a patriarchal world, we split ourselves in half. We talk about the “masculine” and the feminine. The masculine is strong, dominant, not vulnerable, not emotional, gets it done, assertive, makes it happen. The feminine is soft, malleable, pleasing, accommodating, emotional.

Well, the reality is, when you grow up in a world that that is what is expected of your gender, most people live up to that, and it really starts early on. It starts, the research shows, that before age 13, girls and boys are really on par in how they feel about themselves as leaders, interest in STEM, raising their hand to share their thoughts. And at age about 13, girls start to go underground, and stay there. So, all of these gaps, I feel, are hitting women harder than men because we’re conditioned and trained that they should be, that we should not be speaking up powerfully, not asking for what we deserve, all of that.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Well, how about we maybe take one or two minutes to just hear the list of the seven gaps, and then we’ll dig deeper into a couple of them, shall we?

Kathy Caprino
I love it. And I’m going to give you the number, the percent, of the over 1,000 women who said yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love data. Thank you, Kathy.

Kathy Caprino
Data, yeah. Can I tell you? I’m not making this up, right? This is from 15 years of work, thousands of people I’ve worked with. All right, gap number one, not recognizing your special talents, abilities, and accomplishments, 63% said yes or maybe. There’s this underpinning of this, which is, “I don’t even know what I’m great at. And even if I did, I don’t want to say I’m great.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Kathy Caprino
Okay. Number two, communicating from fear, not strength, 70%. It means you weaken your message, you soften it, you apologize, you start your important messages with, “I don’t know if this is smart or…” You are communicating not on strength. Number three, reluctance to ask for what you deserve, 77%. “I’m not sure I deserve more. And even if I do, I don’t know how to ask for it,” is what they say in some way or another.

Number four is isolating from influential support, 71%. What this means is, “I hate networking, and I’m very uncomfortable networking higher, networking up to influential people.” Number five is acquiescing instead of saying stop to mistreatment. And by mistreatment, I mean everything we know: harassment, gender bias, racial discrimination. It’s, “I’m afraid to challenge the mistreatment I’m facing and that I see around me.” And, interestingly, 48%, that’s not as high as other numbers, say it. Frankly, after I get talking to women, every one of them. Do you know the research shows that eight out of ten women are going to be sexually harassed in their careers? And four out of ten feel they’ve experienced gender bias, so I think that number is too low because we don’t really recognize what we’re in.

Number six is losing sight of your thrilling dream for your life, and that is 76%. And what that means is, “I have no idea what I want to do for a career. I’m not meant for an amazing career, and I bailed on the dream I once have for myself.” Number seven is allowing the past, or past trauma, which is a word that therapists throw around a little more easily than non-therapists, allowing the past to define you still, and that is 62%. And, interestingly, so I worked with thousands of people around the world, almost all of them are being impacted by something that happened in the past but they don’t know they’re being impacted by it.

So, it’s only when I’m looking at their career path assessment, which is 11 pages of questions I wish someone had asked me 30 years ago, and if I’d answered them, honestly, I wouldn’t have made some of the mistakes I made. When I see their answers, I can sense there’s something more here. Something happened. Something happened in childhood. Something happened. And then they’ll sometimes mention it and sometimes it’s in the first call, I’ll say, “I’m really sensing something. Could it be this?” And if you were raised, I love to say this, you are what your childhood taught you to be unless you unlearned it. And for so many, Pete, including me, the messages I got, while they might’ve been coming from love and wellbeing, I mean, wanting us to have wellbeing, they got in in the wrong way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thanks for giving us the rundown there. I guess the percentages are somewhat similar when you bring up the low one to what we think the true number may be. So, maybe could you share, what do you think is perhaps the most debilitating in terms of finding career bliss and excelling, “Boy, this one really seems to pack an outsized punch for killing the bliss”?

Kathy Caprino
I have to say it’s number one where if you…I really love to talk about this because women are so tied up around this. If you cannot see how you are special, and there’s tips and strategies all over the place, like TEDx Talk talks about it. If you can’t see how you are different and how you are better than the competition, whether that’s, “I’m an HR director,” or, “I’m an entrepreneur,” if you can’t see how you’re special, number one, and you can’t leverage it because you don’t even know you have it, and part of that is talking about it. So, if someone says to me, and I use this example a lot, “Kathy, why should I hire you? There’s a lot of coaches.” I rattle off four facts.

Pete Mockaitis
Facts.

Kathy Caprino
They’re facts. So, I call this the process of 20 facts of you. Listen to this podcast, and this weekend, pull out a pad of paper, and for an hour sit with yourself, no distractions, and write down everything you’ve accomplished that you are darn proud of. Everything. And then I want you to kind of embrace how that was made possible through who you are, your ancestry, your cultural training, your interests, your passions, your failures, your miserable flops, your relationships, everything that’s made you you. What are the 20 facts of you?

And when you can say that, can I give one example? Would you mind? If someone says, “Why should I hire you?” And this is not a sales pitch. This is for people to understand what I’m saying. Number one I say, “I had an 18-year corporate career. I know the challenges mid- to high-level professional women face. Number two, I’m a trained therapist so I go deeper. I’m not just going to talk about your interviewing and your LinkedIn profile, I’m going to go deep, deep, deep.”

“Number three, I focused on professional women’s challenges and written the book, two books on it. And I, honest to goodness, think I probably know women’s challenges, professional women’s challenges better than most people on the planet.” That’s not a fact, but it’s close to it. “Number four, I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m in that arena of what it is to be brave and powerful. It’s not just me in my jammies not needing to be out there and run a business. It’s me speaking from…and I have my own podcast, and I’m speaking to amazing folks making a difference in a brave way.”

So, the question I have for people is, “Do you think that sounds like I’m bragging?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, especially not if you’re asked. It’s sort of like, “You’ve asked me a question, and here is your answer,” and it’s a darn good one.

Kathy Caprino
Well, thank you for that. But does it smack to you of, “Oh, she thinks highly of herself. Eeh.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, it doesn’t. And I suppose, I guess, it’s all about the context. If I said, “Oh,” if I met you at a cocktail party, it’s like, “Oh, hey, Kathy. Tell me about yourself.” It’s like, “Well,” and then you went there.

Kathy Caprino
“Do you have an hour?”

Pete Mockaitis
I would say, “Okay…”

Kathy Caprino
“She’s a narcissist.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I don’t know. That’s not quite what I was going for.” So, that’ll be a little off-putting in that context, but in a normal context, in terms of, hey, what are you all about, or an interview, or a performance review, or, “Hey, let’s have a conversation about which teammates should fill which roles,” it’s like, “Yeah, these are facts I want and need to know right now. Thank you.”

Kathy Caprino
But the way you said it, Pete, is so interesting. I want, if you don’t mind, go and ask five women in your life to do it. They can’t. It’s heartbreaking, “I don’t know, I think I’m kind of good at maybe analyzing systems.” It’s like that. Or, “I don’t know. I don’t know that I’d say I’m great, but I really listen well.” I’m like, “No, I don’t mean that.” And when I look at people on LinkedIn and I’ve got a big following there. I’m on it constantly. I love it. I can tell in five minutes what is holding someone back from a great career by looking at their LinkedIn profile.

Their headline is their job title. That’s not your headline. That’s not it. Or their summary is one sentence, or they have the jobs listed but no bullets, or they don’t share any thought leadership, they don’t share content that’s interesting to them, they’re hiding, or they’re confused. So, while it seems kind of straightforward to you, I think you’re going to be shot if you ask five women in your life, “Tell me what makes you great at work.” You’ll let me know if I’m wrong, but they pretty much can’t answer it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Wow, that hits hard. Thank you for sharing. And I think that’s a brilliant technique into get those 20 facts, and then once you’ve got them, they’re there, they’re top of mind ready to go. Serve it up.

Kathy Caprino
That’s it. Weave it. I don’t mean you’re talking about your HR thing and you’re weaving into the story, “By the way, I’m this.” But use that. And when we talk about networking, which is another thing, women, especially introverts, it’s so hard for them, and here’s a little tip. When you hate what you do, you don’t want to network because what are you going to say?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Kathy Caprino
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not fun, “So what do you do?” It’s like, “How do I talk about this? It’s not fun.”

Kathy Caprino
“Ah, I don’t like my vice president job. I hate the people I work with, and it’s putting out not so good stuff.” “Oh, very good.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beating it, Kathy.

Kathy Caprino
Right. “I’ll see at the bar.” But what’s cool is when you have those soundbites, even if it’s half a percent of what you do in this job. Like, I remember when I was laid off, I really thought I was a loser. Although a hundred people were laid off after 9/11, why did I internalize it? But it took me a few years, but then I went, “Wait a minute. I did some great things there.” And then you really pull them out and you do weave them into the story about what you love to do, what makes you proud. So, that’s that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so I’d love to dig a little deeper even. So, when it comes to your special talents, abilities, and accomplishments, one of the tricky funny things about strengths is that to you they may just seem normal, but to outsiders, they’re like, “Wow, you did this?” and you’re like, “Well, it wasn’t that hard. I just did…and then, hey, it’s all done.” So, that’s a great exercise with that reflection in that hour and the facts. How else do you recommend we surface that, “Hey, this is a pretty special thing about me”?

Kathy Caprino
Love it. Love the question. Ask people. So, I’m a big fan of giving recommendations on LinkedIn but also asking. The first time you ask, you cough up a hairball, it’s like, “Ewk, I don’t want to.” But then you get good at asking. And what people write back will blow you away. It won’t be what you think they loved about you. Like, this job that I keep talking about that was the death of me almost, I thought I was a lousy leader because I was getting my tush kicked constantly. I was not inspiring, and that’s hard when you hate who you’ve become.

On LinkedIn, somebody wrote me, a young woman, she wrote, “I was not in Kathy’s department, but she was always something…” and you can read it. That’s the first one I got.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m there.

Kathy Caprino
Something like, “She was always inspiring, and someone who always seemed calm and,” whatever, “someone I emulate or wanted to emulate.” I swear to you I cried when I saw that. It was a healing statement because I thought I was just the worst. So, people are going to tell you things you don’t know with language that you would never use, so ask for recommendations. Not randomly. Pick the 10 people you know who love you in the past five years or 10 years of working, and ask.

The other thing is, ask your family and friends. The really good friends who don’t just whitewash it will tell you, “You know what, Pete, like I have to say, even your prep work for this shows me a lot about you.” You want to know what it shows?

Pete Mockaitis
I hope that not that I’m anal.

Kathy Caprino
All right. Well, I wasn’t going to say that. No, it shows…I’m making this up. I didn’t think of this before. It shows how much you care about how good this is and how good your guest looks. You don’t want them to look bad. You don’t want them to sound bad. It’s not just about you. I see it. Also, you ask some really interesting things here that other people don’t ask. So, I do a lot of podcasts myself and I’m on a lot. You wouldn’t believe how many people just show up and haven’t looked at the material, and don’t know where to go. It says so much about you, about the level of work you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. You’re right. That feels great.

Kathy Caprino
Does that seem right?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. I care a boatload, sometimes too much, it’s like, I’m thinking about the podcast with my kids, it’s like, “Yeah, I got to try to turn that off and…”

Kathy Caprino
I dream about my Forbes blog, like writing it. I wake up and go, “Really? You didn’t need to do that at 3:00 in the morning. It’s terrible what you’re dreaming to write.” Anyway. So, ask people.

Pete Mockaitis
If I may, Kathy, I just couldn’t resist, so I went on your LinkedIn, and I’m looking at your first recommendation, and I’ll go ahead and read it, and it is awesome.

Kathy Caprino
Read it. Who is it?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s Rica.

Kathy Caprino
That’s who it is.

Pete Mockaitis
“While I was not in Kathy’s group, she served as an example of how a professional woman should be in a corporate environment. Kathy was one of several female executives that I looked up to, and, on occasion, would offer mentorship during my career,” I’ll just skip the name. I don’t know. “To me, that kind of impression left on an up-and-coming professional in the marketing world speaks volumes about the caliber of work and motivation that a woman like Kathy leaves behind.”

Kathy Caprino
What year was that, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s 2008.

Kathy Caprino
I mean, I still get choked up because it healed me to read it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s beautiful. And I love…and it’s so powerful what you’re sharing here, is that you say you ask, and it was uncomfortable at first but then you got good. And then, sure enough, you got 61 recommendations, which is in the ballpark of the most I’ve ever seen, which leaves a huge impression and is something you can look back to if you’re feeling bombed on a given day.

Kathy Caprino
It’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
And it makes anyone checking you out, be like, “Oh, wow. Okay.”

Kathy Caprino
Thank you, Pete. Nobody’s ever read that to me. See? That’s so interesting. But a lot of people go, “Do we really need those? Why do we need those?” People, if someone can write something about you, that’s lasting as long as LinkedIn is going to be around. Why wouldn’t you want that?

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ll tell you this, candidly, people are making decisions about you and opportunities all the time. Sometimes we, most of the time actually, these days, we proactively seek out guests who match a listener request, like, their expertise matches what someone needs. But yours came from a publicist, and that’s the minority of guests these days, and so my team checks them out, including LinkedIn. And so, there it is, the fact that you’re here means you’re leaving great impressions.

Kathy Caprino
I passed. Oh, that’s nice to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you’re doing what you need to do to make sure that those special talents, abilities, and accomplishments are shining through and not hidden and invisible.

Kathy Caprino
Right. Thank you for that. And one final thing about that, now that I’m doing a lot more speaking, even virtually, if someone says, “Holy cow, that was fantastic,” I do ask them to write a speaker recommendation because they’re going to say it’s fantastic for a completely different reason from this bank or PayPal. So, yes, ask for them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s beautiful. We’re just still in the first gap so there’s a lot of richness here.

Kathy Caprino
Do we have seven hours?

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’re doing the 20 facts, some reflection time solo, and then you are asking people, and sometimes those asks can be in a public place, like a LinkedIn recommendation. Any other pro tips on identifying your strengths that may be hidden to you?

Kathy Caprino
Well, I love your point that what comes easily to us we don’t recognize. So, go back and connect the dots of who you always were that you let go of. So, for me, when I was 16 to 20, I was a competitive tennis player, went to the state of New York. I was a singer, I loved to be on stage, I loved to use the voice. I was intensely interested in psychology, “Why do people do what they do?” to the point where my dad was like, “Oh, here she goes with trying to figure out why mom did that, or whatever.”

Number four, I didn’t understand this but I had a therapeutic ear, so people would call me, young people, my friends, my peers, guys would say, “Can I come talk to you?” “Yeah. What about?” “Well, I really like Sally and she doesn’t like me.” I can’t tell you how many times people would want to talk to me about that. And I’d say to my mom, “Why are they calling me? I’m 16,” or 18. And I loved ideas. I loved books. My mom used to read literally a book a week, and when I was bored, she’d say, “Read a book,” and I would.

When I look back, it’s every one of those things that makes me love what I do today. But in 18 years of corporate life, none of that was being used. So, look at who you are now. A lot of people say, “Well, at 16, I was miserable, I was depressed. My parents were getting divorced. I didn’t know who I was.” Okay, I don’t mean literally 16. For me, 16 to 20 did it. It’s who I was and then I lost it. But look at when you were really rocking it. As far as you can remember, what were those things that people say, “Ooh, wow”? Like, the standing on stage, I think that’s number two in the most stress-inducing thing after losing a spouse to most people.

So, if you love it, people are going to say, “I can’t believe you love to do that,” or, “You love to write,” or, “You love to flip or horseback ride,” or whatever it is. Look back on those things because it’s usually the things that came so easily to you, you don’t see that it’s a strength, and then connect the dots and leverage that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. That’s great. Well, let’s talk about the second one here, communicating from fear and not strength, and saying, “Oh, I don’t know if this is any good.” I guess there’s a limited context where that is helpful in the sense that you don’t want to overpower or shut down free discussion in a group and you want to explore variance of diverse opinions. But it sounds like, in your experience, hey, the vast majority of the time it’s just the opposite. We’ve got folks who are sort of undervaluing, underemphasizing, underselling, what they have to communicate. So, how do you address that one?

Kathy Caprino
Well, I want to say this because it’s really important. I interviewed The Behavioral Science Guys, Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, in my Forbes blog, and the article, look it up, it was “Gender Bias is Real.” And what they did was take a video enactment of an actress, now we call them female actor, and a male actor, saying the same exact thing, and it was forceful. And they were in a meeting, at a table, and they said, “I don’t agree with the direction the team is going here.” Audiences, both male and female, when they looked at the woman saying that, her perceived competency and literal dollar value dropped exponentially. His dropped a little, so, apparently, we don’t like forceful people. Period. But hers plummeted.

So, what we have to understand here is we, women have been trained not to speak powerfully. If you ask the women in your life, I’m an assertive person, I have been a powerful person in the corporate world, I’ve been called, I can’t say it here, biatch. I talk about in the book, I had a senior vice president call me a, “Buzzsaw.” He goes, “You’re a buzzsaw.” And I said, “I’m speechless. Is that good or is that bad?” “It’s that good.”

Pete Mockaitis
You mean, you’re able to cut through large pieces of wood easily.

Kathy Caprino
“You get it done. You get it done. And where no one else does.” The thing is, would he ever have called a man a buzzsaw? No, I’ve never heard him use that word, and I don’t want to be a buzzsaw. But what I found is, because I was suppressed as a child, meaning I felt, and this is a fun story, but I felt like I had to be obedient for my mom and brilliant for my dad. I grew up with a Greek mom. You don’t challenge your Greek mom. And she came from an upbringing where you speak only when spoken to, and you don’t challenge authority. So, I could not speak up. Thus, the chronic infection of my throat.

When you come from that, when you’re trained that you’re going to be punished, and forceful women are punished. It’s just the way it is, we’re penalized. I mean, still today, I’m 60 years old and I still deal with, when I say very clearly, when I push back, whether it’s on my publisher or anybody, “This is what I need. This is what I’m asking for,” you can sense that they think, “What a…” not my publisher per se, but it’s just not accepted yet.

So, the first thing I ask women to do is just watch yourself in the way you speak for the next week. Now, I do want to say this. Being strong doesn’t mean harsh, mean, abusive, critical. It means strong. It means, “Hey, this is my view, this is what I’m thinking,” and, in fact, The Behavioral Science Guys, they did a research on “What statement can you put before a forceful statement that’s going to mitigate the backlash?” Brilliant. And the one that worked the best is if you put a value statement before.

So, in this case that I’m going to say, listen, people, and I’m on a board of a small singing group, I have to say this all the time that we don’t agree with each other at all, ideologically or otherwise, half the time. They say put the value statement. So, it might be something like, “Hey, folks, I really value honesty and transparency, and that is why I have to share that I don’t agree with the direction we’re going.” And what happens is…

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good.

Kathy Caprino
Is it that good? And part of it is human beings are fragile. If you bring up something, Pete, and I go, “Can I tell you I don’t agree with that at all?” you know, you’re going to be like, “Oh, okay.” But if I say, “Wow, I think that’s a really good point and I’d love to build on that. I see it slightly differently.” I mean, am I backpedaling? Am I making myself weaker? I don’t think so. I think I’m helping you hear it. What do you think?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think it’s brilliant in that it’s…you accomplish the goal of not getting people rankled…

Kathy Caprino
Right. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
…without saying less of what you want to say, so I think it’s landing excellently. And so, I’m sort of thinking, give us some more examples. I’m chewing on this real time. We’ve got a value and then a statement.

Kathy Caprino
All right. So, let me say this, so in this board meeting we were having we’re talking about…we’re singers so super spreaders, so we’re talking about what we’re going to do, and I won’t reveal, but this is what I said. We made decisions and we have to present these decisions. And what I’ve always found, and whether this is to your spouse, or your mother, or your friend, or your singing group, if you half-bake an idea and present it, “This is what we are putting forth as what we feel is the best decision, and we’d love to share it with you.” You’re going to get a heck of a lot more positive response and engagement than, “The board met. Here’s what we’re doing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, half-baked, not so much as you haven’t thought it through but, “We’re inviting additional collaboration and input.”

Kathy Caprino
Yes. And now somebody said, “I love you to pieces but, no. We’re the board and we’re going to say what needs to be said.” And, in fact, if they don’t agree, what are we going to do about it? We made the decision. I don’t agree with that at all. When you’re asking people to do things, like in this case it’s not what anyone wants. We want to sing together. Nobody wants to sing in a mask. And I believe in masks. So, if you’re going to slap them with some mandates, it’s going to make them angry.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Kathy Caprino
So, my view is, “Here’s what…” and we did this before. We made a big change, and I stood up there, and said, “Here’s why we’re thinking of this. Here’s what the research shows. Here’s what…” not about COVID and masks, but something else. And we expected, out of the 50 people, maybe five to 10 to be furious. Not one person was angry.

Now, some people didn’t like this change we made but there wasn’t that hysteria you get when you’re slapping someone with something. So, I feel like where you can make it so that it can be a dialogue and that you can…I think part of why people don’t like this is they don’t want to hear the feedback, they don’t want to have to deal. But if you’re a leader and you want to move something forward…Now, I’m not saying that every president who’s closing their offices for another three months is going to say they don’t invite a lot of feedback. But wherever you can, wherever there can be an open engagement of ideas, it’s better than the mandate, if you ask me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And even if you’re making, “This is the decision and this is what holds,” I mean, getting that input in advance is great both so you make a better decision and that people feel included. So, even if you get a survey in terms of like, “Hey, to what extent are you interested in returning to the office versus are you thinking, ‘Hey, working from home is awesome’?” Kind of collecting that is good to know, and makes people feel heard, and can influence some great stuff in terms of, “All right. Well, hey, you know what, there’s…” I don’t know, if it’s a walk-up office, you can have a limited number of spots available for those who really want it, and like you sign up on the system, and it’s like, “Okay, that’s cool. Thanks. Thanks for thinking about me there. It would be nice to get away from the kids here and there,” and that’s a possibility. So, I dig it.

Kathy Caprino
So, the point is be strong, be confident, but that doesn’t mean abrasive, aggressive, “This is what it’s going to be.” One more tip, I want women, and men, to watch how much they apologize. So, the study shows women apologize, I don’t even have the number in front of me, exponentially more. They say the words, “I’m sorry.” And my son, who’s now working right in the bedroom over there, says, “Oh, mom, that’s just like an idiom. It doesn’t matter.” It does matter.

And I say it so much. Here’s an example. You’re in line and someone cuts that line. How many people say, women, “I’m sorry, there’s a line here.” You’re not sorry. You’re angry. Don’t say the word sorry say, “Excuse me,” or, “Oh, I need to tell you there’s a line here.” Watch the words that come out.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’ve thought about this in terms of, I think, it was years ago. Yeah, I remember I was headed somewhere and I was with my girlfriend in the car, and I was driving, and I don’t remember the specific context, but she was going to send a message to somebody that we’re meeting, and she started by saying, “Hey, sorry,” something, something, something. And I said, “Can we remove the sorry?” And she said, “What? Why?” And it’s like, “Well, I don’t think we’ve actually done anything wrong. We haven’t made a commitment that we’re falling short of.”

Kathy Caprino
Interesting. Interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
“It would be an unjustified expectation for them to have that we do…” and she was so surprised.

Kathy Caprino
And she was probably thinking, “For goodness’ sake. Just say you’re sorry already.”

Pete Mockaitis
Because I guess I just really like my words to have integrity, to be true, to be complete. And when I say I’m sorry to mean it in terms of like, “Hey, I’m saying sorry all the time.” But in terms of it’s like, “You know what, I did something that I shouldn’t have done,” or, “I didn’t do something that I should’ve done,” or, “I didn’t even consider that perspective of yours, and I really should have. That was inconsiderate.” So, that’s sort of how I view sorry. And I guess, in a way, there’s a balancing act. You don’t want to be stubborn or rigid or…

Kathy Caprino
Or narcissistic where you can’t say you’re sorry. But you said a key thing, Pete. You think of every word. You want it to be what you mean. And those of us in the media or when you write, I don’t even ever fire off an email ever. I don’t care how short it is. I look at it and I read it again, and I’m always editing. I didn’t mean I’m sorry, I didn’t mean thank you when I don’t mean thank you, because your words are powerful. And if you weaken them because you’re saying what you don’t mean, it’s going to weaken your whole impact.

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

Kathy Caprino
Can I suggest and ask that anybody listening take my power gap survey?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Kathy Caprino
And if you’re like 98%, you’re going to have one of these gaps at least, and do something about it. I have a free 7-Day Power Boost Challenge. Ooh, wordy. A workbook if you want to give it away, I’m happy to, and it’s a condensed version of the book where you can look at “What can I say to myself differently? What can I literally do differently in the external world in a positive reframe? How do I look at this challenge differently so I embrace it more fully?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that sounds great. And how do folks get that?

Kathy Caprino
Certainly, if you buy my book you can get it. But I am putting up a page where people can just add their name and get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kathy Caprino
It’s Madeleine Albright. Let me get it right, she says, “It took me a long time to develop a voice. And now that I have it, I’m not going to be silent.”

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

Kathy Caprino
Okay. I don’t mean to sound it’s all about me but it’s the power gap survey because it showed me the incredible epidemic proportions of powerlessness that so many women have.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Kathy Caprino
It’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Kathy Caprino
Oh, my gosh. It’s so powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. It is.

Kathy Caprino
I try to read it every year and remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I found it helpful actually with COVID.

Kathy Caprino
Really?

Pete Mockaitis
In that, oh, in some ways, I feel, not be melodramatic, but a bit imprisoned, constrained, many of the things I would like to do I cannot do. But then to look at what the man went through and survived and found meaning and value and enrichment for others from it, it’s like it just puts things in perspective.

Kathy Caprino
Yes. And the idea that you can choose. The one thing you can choose is how you’re going to respond. That’s all you can choose. So great.

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

Kathy Caprino
You know, this may sound boring but I’ve just recently used Slack, found Slack, with my team. I adore it. I have a small team, a team of four, but I feel like we’re in the fabric of each other’s lives that way. And it’s, to me, so much better than email or text. I adore it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Kathy Caprino
Okay, this is a little bit of a spiritual thing. But I do believe we have a higher self that knows more, that’s more connected to everything, to wisdom. And my favorite habit is, every morning, literally, I have a little candle here, fake candle but I love it. And I will look at it and think, I will say this to myself, “What is it that I need to learn today? And what is it that I need to let go of?” And I listen. And, usually, there’s a big nugget of truth there.

Pete Mockaitis
Love it. Oh, I was just about to ask you for a big nugget of truth. Is there something you share that people frequently quote back to you or retweet or highlight in your books?

Kathy Caprino
It’s something around this, “We are all like our thumbprint – absolutely unique. And there is so much specialness in that uniqueness.” And so, what I’m really begging people to do is love themselves enough to see that specialness and bring it forward, talk about it more, use it more, leverage it more, because the truth is, the world needs it. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the world because, look at what we’re in here, we’re in a tough time, so we need your special talents, abilities, and gifts. And do not, for a minute, think you’re not great. And just look at your thumb and your thumbprint, and remember. That’s how special you are. Now is the time to use that in service.

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

Kathy Caprino
KathyCaprino.com. FindingBrave.org is my podcast, and you can find The Most Powerful You anywhere you love to buy books, audio, hardcover, wherever you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Kathy, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best.

Kathy Caprino
Thank you, Pete. Thanks so much for having me, and your really thoughtful questions. I so appreciate it.