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

512: Retraining Your Brain for More Effective Leadership with Matt Tenney

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Matt Tenney says: "The best leaders make love their top priority."

Matt Tenney discusses how mindfulness vastly improves the way we lead and relate with others.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How an emphasis on goals hurts your leadership
  2. A monastic practice that improves engagement
  3. Why mindfulness is the ultimate success habit

About Matt
Matt Tenney is a social entrepreneur and the author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a BoardroomHe is also an international keynote speaker, a trainer, and a consultant with the prestigious Perth Leadership Institute, whose clients include numerous Fortune 500 companies.  He works with companies, associations, universities, and non-profits to develop highly effective leaders who achieve lasting success by focusing on serving and inspiring greatness in the people around them.  Matt envisions a world where the vast majority of people realize that effectively serving others is the key to true greatness.  When he’s not traveling for speaking engagements, he can often be found in Nashville, TN.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Matt Tenney Interview Transcript

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

Matt Tenney
My pleasure, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into a lot of your good stuff from servant leadership and mindfulness and more. And in the subtitle of your book Serve to Be Great, you mentioned there’s some leadership lessons from a prison and a monastery. So, I love a good story. So, what are the cool stories coming from the prison and the monastery?

Matt Tenney
Well, there’s a lot.The summary here is that I’m pretty hardwired, I would say I’m 100% hardwired to be just a Type A, goal-driven, pretty selfish person, and I think we all have certain ways that we’re wired, and that’s certainly me.

But this certainly reached its peak when I was, this is 2001, that was about 18 years or so ago. When I was 24, I tried to take a shortcut to success and attempted a fraud against the government and, as a result of being both dishonest and stupid, I ended up spending five and a half years confined to prison. And, at first, of course, this was just the worst thing that had ever happened in my life and I was suicidal for a while.

Then, as everybody does, I think when you’re in a really difficult situation, whether it’s one you put yourself in like I did, or one that just kind of happens to you, you gradually adjust. And about a year into it though, I started learning about the practice of mindfulness and this actually made that experience of being confined, it transformed it into the most meaningful experience of my life.

Because I’m Type A, when I started learning about it, I went at it 100%. And within about six months of starting the practice, I was making the effort to be mindful, just about every waking moment of the day, during all of my daily activities. And it was around that time when it just hit me one day that, “Holy cow, I’m actually happier here that I’d ever been in my life.” And I don’t know anything, and I’m not achieving anything, I’m just being, and there’s no fun per se.

So, that inspired me to go as deep as I could in the practice and I ended up essentially ordaining and training as almost identically to how monks train in monasteries for the last three and a half years.

I found the monastic ideal to be extremely noble because the core of it is you’re making love the top priority. Instead of making your own selfish ambition or your own goals the top priority, you’re making, contributing to the wellbeing of others your top priority.

And that turned my time of confinement into the most meaningful experience of my life, so much so that that experience inspired me so much so that, after leaving, I went to live “real” monastery and almost ordained to become a monk the rest of my life, but then realized for me that would be like trying to take another shortcut because it was really easy for me.

I’m an introvert, I like having lots of quiet time, so I realized if I really want to be able to serve on a large scale and be most helpful to people, I need to go out in the real world and do stuff, and earn a living, and probably have a family, which I do now with two small kids, so people can relate better to what we’re talking about.

I would imagine if a monk came into the average company and said, “Here’s the way to be more at peace and more successful,” everything that person said is going to be taken with a grain of salt because you’re thinking, “Dude, all you do is sit around and meditate and do the dishes. Like, what do you have to worry about?” So, that was why I ended up not ordaining. But I’ve tried to live as close to the monastic ideal as possible for the last 17-18 years on my journey from prisoner to monk to social entrepreneur.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating and there’s so much to dig into there. All right. So, let’s talk about some of the nitty-gritties of mindfulness and practice a little bit later.

Matt Tenney
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
And, first, talk about sort of this mindset that when it comes to making love the ideal and serving others. So, you talk a lot about servant leadership. Can you share how exactly do you define that and how does that differ from the norm?

Matt Tenney
Well, the kind of the standard definition of servant leadership is if you imagine a pyramid and most organizations are structured with a C suite at the top of the pyramid and then below them are VPs, below them are directors, below them are mid-level managers, and then all of your frontline people fill out the base of the pyramid.

And the basic idea of servant leadership is that instead of viewing the hierarchy like that, where you’ve got these very senior people on the top and everyone in the organization is serving them and their agenda, it’s actually upside down. So, the senior people view their job as serving all the people that they lead.

And, counterintuitively, another way of putting this is the way that I like to put it is making love the top priority. In fact, I just did a TEDx Talk that that was the title, why the best leaders make love their top priority. And there’s an abundance of evidence demonstrating why this is so. But you can summarize it very, very simply. I mean, it’s kind of common sense.

The idea is if you make profit the top priority, you, as a leader, you’re either going to consciously or unconsciously neglect employees in a systematic way. And when employees are consistently neglected, they’re going to become increasingly disengaged over time and, as a result, customer service is going to decline, product quality is going to decline, and innovation is very unlikely to occur. In other words, the organization is eventually going to fail to serve the customer. In fact, they might be failing immediately.

Whereas, if you flip that, so to me a servant leader or someone who makes love the top priority, the filter that they use for every decision is, “How is this going to impact the long-term wellbeing of the people that I lead, that I take care of?” And if the answer is it’s going to have a negative impact, then it’s eliminated as an option.

And, counterintuitively, what happens when you do this is when people know that the leadership genuinely cares about them and is more concerned about their long-term wellbeing than they are on their next bonus, then what happens is people take very good care of their customers, right, through customer service, through better quality, through being more free to innovate because they’re not in a culture of fear. And, as a result, the customer is very well-served and, of course, the key to any organization, whether it’s for profit, non-profit, education, is having customers that are happy and loyal. And that’s the way that that’s achieved over the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, that filter is particularly applied from the employee perspective, like how all these affect their long-term wellbeing of those I lead. And so, those you lead, you’re thinking about employees as opposed to customers.

Matt Tenney
Exactly, yeah. If you take very good of the employees, they take good care of the customers. And that’s actually something that a lot of organizations get wrong, in my opinion, is that you hear a lot of organizations say, “We have this intense customer focus.” And so the problem with that is, it’s not that it’s wrong, and I’m sure everyone listening and knows a story that they can relate to about this, but if you have a customer that’s a real pain in your side, they’re a pain for all of the employees that serve that customer.

And if they’re demanding too much and it’s unrealistic, to continue to enable them to do that, what you’re ultimately doing is you’re degrading the wellbeing of your employees and their ability to serve not only that customer but other customers. Morale goes down, and it’s actually a net loss. Whereas, if you were to say, “Okay. Well, this customer is a real pain. We need to ask them to change their behavior or fire them,” in the short term that sounds really scary, right? You say, “Wait a second, but that’s a big source of revenue.” Well, revenue is nice but not at the expense of the morale and the wellbeing of your team members, because if that degrades, not only is that customer going to end up being failed to be served but others will be as well.

And this is actually one of the counterintuitive applications, I’m sure many of you have heard of the Pareto Principle, the 80-20 Rule, that many of the most successful entrepreneurs I’m aware of apply, is they realize that 20% of their customers are delivering 80% of their results and, usually, those 20% are really easy to work with. Many of that 80% of your customers that are only delivering 20% of the results, and oftentimes they’re the ones that complain the most, they create the most stress for employees. So, a good practice is to, as many of those as you can afford to do it, to refer them out to your competition. Let your competition serve them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. So then, I’m thinking about zooming in a little bit in terms of, okay, so we’re making love the top priority and you’re filtering out based on that guideline. What are some of the everyday practices, behaviors, activities that really make this come to life?

Matt Tenney
That’s the secret right there, Pete. So, in my experience, I wrote Serve to Be Great I think in 2012 or something so that book has been out for seven years and I’ve spoken extensively on this subject, interacted with many leaders, many employees and organizations, and, almost invariably, everyone wants to do this.

There are very few people that get up and say, “You know, my recipe for success is I’m going to go into work today and be a selfish jerk. That’s my plan.” I’ve never met anyone like that. I’m sure they’re out there but they certainly don’t come out and proclaim that to you. Everyone that I’ve met wants to do this. But I think if you were to ask most people to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being you do this consistently 100% of the time, and 1 you never do it, most people aren’t anywhere near at 10. Most people would rate themselves at a 6 or 7, maybe an 8 at best.

So, the way I like to look at it is, well, let’s think about it as, “What’s stopping us from doing it?” because we all want to, right? What are the biggest blocks to doing this? And this kind of comes back to your original question about the subtitle of the book, “Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom.” Interestingly, I think the three biggest blocks are resolved by living a little bit more like a monk.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Matt Tenney
By that, I don’t mean people need to go out and be monks. But I’ll give you the three big ideas and then you can dive in wherever you like and we can go as deep as you like.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Good.

Matt Tenney
So, here’s the summary. So, the three big blocks, in my mind, are, one, is that because of our conditioning and the way society has programmed us, we don’t focus on making love the top priority. We focus on achieving goals. And not that there’s anything wrong with achieving goals. The problem is if we focus on achieving goals at the expense of our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us, that’s when that becomes problematic.

So, the first biggest block is that we just don’t focus enough on what we know in our heart of hearts is the most important thing not just in business but in life, which is to prioritize loving people over getting stuff or getting stuff done in a worldly sense. The second block is we’re busy. Have you noticed this, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Matt Tenney
People are busy. As I’m sure every listener listening to this knows that we’re all very busy. And there is science supporting, and we can talk about the study if you like. It’s actually both a hilarious and sad study at once demonstrating what, I think, we all know to be true, is that the busier you are, the less likely you are to serve the people around you, the more likely you are to be focused on your own self-interests and short-term gain.

And then the third one is we’re incredibly distracted, and not just distracted by things, but even by our own thinking, and this is where mindfulness training becomes absolutely key. So, that’s the summary, and then, yeah, wherever you’d like to dive in, I’d be happy to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I am intrigued by, I think, the study you have in mind, the one about the seminarians who read the good Samaritan story.

Matt Tenney
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s come up a couple of times, so I’ll let those who haven’t heard of it yet Google it and enjoy, but it’s a goody. It’s a goody.

Matt Tenney
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s hear about we don’t focus on love, we focus on achieving goals. And you make a nice distinction between there’s being goals and there’s doing goals. And this has been kind of resonant for me lately because I’ve got a pretty crystal-clear picture on one page, like everything that I want to achieve in life, and I feel great. Like, that’s it. That’s everything, it’s on a page, we got clarity. Game on. But I don’t have as much crystal clarity on everything I want to be in life. And I’m working on that right now, I’m thinking about who I really admire, and what is it about them, but it’s a work in process for me at the moment, and so not yet at that level of clarity. So, lay it on us, how do we shift that focus?

Matt Tenney
Well, I think the first step that’s a very, very simple one, there are multiple steps of this, but the simple one that can be applied immediately and has immense benefit is to just simply shift our focus. Because if you think about what we’re focusing on, on a day-to-day basis, most of us reflect on that, there’s not a whole lot of time, especially if we’re in a really demanding work environment where we’re really focused on, “What am I doing to serve my teammates?” Or, if you’re in a leadership position, “What am I doing to serve my direct reports or my peers as leaders?” Where it’s just from one thing to the next, right? It’s like, “Well, I got this. I have got to take care of this. I have to take care…” and there’s pressure to achieve the goals, so we focus on that.

And where I think it can start most simply is just by simply changing your job description and using that as something that you review at least every day – to start, I would recommend multiple times a day – so that you start to refocus. In fact, at first, if you really feel like you’re just in a really demanding environment, you may want to read your job description once an hour, you know, take a five-minute break, go to the bathroom, come back and re-read this job description.

But what I suggest is if you simply change your primary job description and then place everything else as a secondary responsibility, because if you look at most job descriptions, they’re just terrible and they’re not inspiring. Your average leader job description is, “Oh, you’re in charge of the strategic planning and the direction of the organization and working with stakeholders, blah, blah, blah, blah.” That’s, for one, is not inspiring. Two, it doesn’t really give you an idea of what you really need to be focused on as your primary goal in making love and serving the people around you that primary goal.

So, what I suggest is you just simply reword it. I’m not saying go to HR and say, “Hey, can you rewrite my job description for me?” But this is what I’ve done with every job I had until I started working for myself, and when I worked for myself, it’s very easy because our mission is just obvious and the vision is obvious, so it’s not really written per se as a job description, but you could just change your first line of your job description as, “My job is to help the people around me to thrive.”

And if you want to be more elaborate, “To do whatever I can to do good by the people around me, to contribute to their wellbeing and their growth. And that’s my primary job. Everything else in my job description is a secondary duty.” And if you just remind yourself of that, it’s amazing what happens to brain.

This is actually one of the keys of the transformative process of the monastic training is that you recite vows every single day, reminding yourself multiple times. At first, it was probably 20 or 30 times a day reciting this vow that, essentially, my job is to help all people to be happy and to be free from suffering, which is obviously a bit grandiose but it’s inspiring. It’s like, “This is why I wake up in the morning. I work on myself to make myself better so that I can be a benefit to others and help them to be happy and to, thereby, make a better impact in the people around them.” That’s the core of monastic training.

So, to give little examples of how this works, we’ll start with maybe a case study, and you can cut me off, Pete, if this one has come up a lot as well. But, years ago, and I think this might be close to 15 years or so ago, Disney was having problems with their custodial staff. Do you remember hearing about this?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. Keep going.

Matt Tenney
Okay. So, the problem was, as I’m sure almost everyone knows, Disney pride themselves on an amazing guest experience. That’s what they want to deliver. They want everyone who comes there to have a magical experience as a guest. And what was happening was the custodial staff was getting all of these complaints about how they were being rude and they weren’t being helpful, and it just kind of degraded from the experience at Disney which, of course, was a huge problem for them.

So, they put a lot of energy into trying to resolve this. And what it turned out, they figured out what the problem ultimately was, was the job description. The job description read, “Your job is to keep the park clean. You need to keep the bathrooms clean. You need to keep the trash looking neat. You need to keep all the walkways clean and tidy.”

So, think about this, if that’s your job description, and you see guests walking around throwing trash all over the place, you view the guests as your enemy essentially, right? “This person is making my job really hard.” And so, when someone, when a guest who just threw trash on the ground came up and ask the custodian, “Hey, where is the Dumbo ride?” the custodian would say, “I don’t know. I’m just a janitor,” and that was their response.

So, they decided, “Well, they do more than that. They’re part of our team. They’re part of delivering happiness to our guests. Why don’t we let them know that?” And they changed the job description, they said, “Your job is to create happy guests, to contribute to the happiness of our guests. How do you do that? Well, you provide them with directions when they need it, you give a kind smiling face when they ask you questions. And, as a collateral duty, you pick up the trash, and you clean the bathrooms, and blah, blah, blah, blah.”

And guess what happened? All the complaints went away, janitors were motivated and inspired to come to work because they had a noble cause for coming to work, which is to serve people and bring happiness to people, which is something we all want to do, and the guest satisfaction scores went up, and the job satisfaction for the janitors went up. Everybody wins.

So, I don’t know if there’s any neuroscientist that can explain this perfectly, but I think what’s happening is, from my limited understanding of the neuroscientist friends in my circles, is that we have a portion of the brain, and a lot of people attribute this to the particular activating system or the particular formation that its job is to filter out that which we don’t think is important.

And we’ve all had the experience of you buy a new car or you meet a new friend with a unique name and then, all of a sudden, you start seeing that car everywhere, or you hear that name everywhere.  And we know, intellectually, that car just didn’t magically multiply all over the place because we bought it, or that name just didn’t magically get slapped on everyone just because we heard it. What happened is our brain started telling us that it’s important so we start to see it everywhere this thing that we had never seen because our brain didn’t allow us to see it.

And my guess is this is what’s happening, is when you start to tell your brain, over and over and over again, “This is what’s really important to me,” you start to see opportunities to serve others and to love well. You start seeking out opportunities to improve in that area. You start to eliminate activities that degrade your ability to love well. Why? Because you’ve simply shifted your focus.

And, again, I think the easiest way to do that is to just change your job description and read it every day for a while until you really start feeling that, “Hey, I believe this. I believe that my core job description is to help the people around me to thrive.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so, then you naturally notice those opportunities because it’s built in there. And that’s a nice tip there is that it may take a couple dozen reps and the first days to get into that groove. Excellent. Thank you. So, a lot of stuff coming together here with regard to that creates satisfaction for your own self in terms of you’re enjoying the job more as well as for the folks that you’re leading, they think, “This person is great. I enjoy working with them.” So, a lot of good stuff happening here.

So, let’s talk then about mindfulness in particular. You’ve called it the ultimate success habit. First, why is that?

Matt Tenney
Well, I use that word very intentionally and very precisely because I think we kind of live in two worlds at once, right? So, we have this conventional world where stuff like getting a paycheck and being able to pay your bills really matters. And then there’s something more ultimate, which all of us have a sense of. I don’t think any of us really know intellectually, but we have this sense that there’s something much deeper about life. In the end, what really matters is, “Were we happy?” and, “Did we love well?” That’s what really ultimately things come down to.

So, the reason I call mindfulness the ultimate success habit is because it actually has benefit in both of those realms. So, the practice can be very instrumental in improving our effectiveness in the conventional realm where we’re more effective at our job, we’re more effective as leaders, we make better decisions, so on and so forth. But it was designed not for those purposes. It was actually designed for the ultimate, which is to be happy under any circumstance, so no matter what happens to you, you’re okay and you have peace.

And because of that, you have this tremendous capacity to love well and your ability to overcome our selfish conditioning that we’re all subject to, to some degree, we can gradually overcome that conditioning. That’s actually what the practice was designed to do and that’s why I call mindfulness the ultimate success habit because it contributes to success in the conventional realm as well as what really, really matters, ultimate success.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, yeah, I’ve been playing around, reading some assorted studies on mindfulness and its benefits. I’d love it if, perhaps, you could share your favorite in terms of this result emerged from mindfulness practice, whatever sort of study is your favorite that has a big number that you find exciting.

Matt Tenney
The one that I’m most excited about is not necessarily a single study in particular, but it’s actually the work of a neuroscientist who’s a professor at the University of Wisconsin, named Richie Davidson, and he’s been doing this work for a long, long time.

And, in the ultimate sense, so we’ll skip some of the conventional things, and there are many benefits in the conventional sense, especially around decision-making and emotional intelligence. Those two benefits are fairly well-established in the scientific literature. But the one I’m most excited about is there seems to be very sound and replicated evidence for the fact that we can actually change traits with mindfulness, specifically traits like kindness and compassion.

And this isn’t like a flashy number or something that sounds super sexy, but I’d like you to think about this for a second. There a lot of things you can do to change your state, right? If you’re about to go give a speech in front of a group, you can do 20 pushups and then stand up and raise your arms over your head, like Amy Cuddy teaches in her TEDx Talk, and you’re going to go out there and be way more confident than you would have had you not done that.

But there are not too many things that we know of that literally rewire your brain so that you develop a new trait that becomes your baseline way of being in the world. And there’s very compelling evidence that Richie Davidson and his team at the University of Wisconsin had been putting together. In fact, he and Daniel Goleman wrote a book on it called Altered Traits.

So, if you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend that book. They go through all of the ups and downs and the shortcomings and the pluses of the research, and then kind of really focused in on this stuff that there’s consensus in the scientific community that this is actually fact and not just theory. And that’s where they seem to come to consensus, is that with prolonged training, although you can receive some benefit immediately, if you really make the effort to focus here on this type of training, you can change your traits so that you become the person that we all aspire to be, which is somebody who’s not just effective at their job, and earns a good living, and has friends, and so on and so forth, but we become a person who exemplifies kindness and compassion in all of our interactions.

And I know everyone listening, is somewhere inside that immediately resonates with them. Why? Because this is ultimately what we’re here for. We’re all in this together and we all know that being kind and compassionate and doing what we can to be of benefit to the people around us is what really makes life rich. And I’ve never met a person who there just isn’t some glimpse of aspiration to live that way. This is something that just, it seems to me like this is just why we’re here.

So, that’s why I’m most excited about that, is the idea that this doesn’t have to just be a high-minded ideal, “Yes, I’m inspired by someone like Martin Luther King, or Herb Kelleher at Southwest, or Gandhi, or someone like that,” and think, “I could never be like that.” Actually, that’s not true. We can be like that. We can rewire our brains in ways that allow us to embody the traits of the people we most admire in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, these traits are in the realm of service and generosity. But I imagine, it’s fair to say that, I guess, is it like any virtue that we can grab – courage, patience, fill in the blank – it’s within your reach via these approaches?

Matt Tenney
I think, immediately, people become skeptical, and think, “Oh, this can do everything?” Well, it’s not that it can do everything, but I think you’re right, Pete, it can help us to develop most of the qualities that we’re most interested in.

And just to give a brief explanation as to why, is that I think if we really look at what prevents us from having those qualities, it’s this tricky little thing that lives between our ears called the ego, right? It’s that little voice in our heads that’s always telling us that we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not beautiful enough, we don’t have enough stuff, we haven’t achieved enough goals, we need to be somebody, get something, do something. It’s just never satisfied.

And what mindfulness training, at its core, is all about is learning to recognize that that voice is just simply not who we are. It’s something that we can actually listen to, with third person objectivity, just as though we’re listening to a podcast. And that’s not a theory, that’s not something you have to believe, that’s something you can realize directly just by doing the practice, because that’s what the practice is.

The practice is to learn to wake up and, instead of being in your thoughts all the time as though you are your thoughts, to just wake up and realize, “Oh, I can observe these images going through my mind as though I’m watching a television screen. I can listen to this voice in my head just as though I was listening to a podcast. And when I do that, something really special happens. There’s a little bit of space between what I feel I truly am and that voice.” And the degree there was some space there is the degree to which we’re free from that voice.

And so, now that voice can say whatever it wants and it doesn’t affect what we actually do or how we actually behave in the world. It’s just something else. It’s like if you’re watching a television program, here’s a really interesting way of looking at this. So, let’s imagine that you’re watching a movie or a television program from start to finish, and you’re about halfway in, and there’s a really emotional scene, and it draws you in, and you can feel the emotion of the actors on the stage, and you’re just in it like it’s real, right? We can all relate to this.

Now, let’s imagine that you were in the kitchen getting a slice of pizza, and you came in, you haven’t watched any of this thing, and you just look at the TV screen. It’s just some actors doing stuff, right? You might laugh at somebody who’s at a funeral thinking, “Oh, that’s really bad acting.” Whereas the person on the couch is just in tears because the star just lost their beloved one and it’s really sad.

And so, this is what tends to happen. Everyone that I’ve ever worked with that practices mindfulness consistently, it’s more and more of this drama in our heads become something that’s like, “Oh, that’s just like programming. It’s just like a TV,” and it has less and less of effect on how we actually show up. So, if the thoughts are skillful, we engage them and we follow them. If they’re not, they can be allowed to just arise and pass away as though it was a television screen across the room while we’re eating a piece of pizza.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so then, when you are doing mindfulness or engaging in a mindfulness practice, what does that mean in terms of what’s happening? Like, I sit down, and then what?

Matt Tenney
Well, there’s a common misconception I’d like to clear up, Pete, I hope it’s okay with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Take it away.

Matt Tenney
It’s that I think that’s exactly what most people think of, is, “If I’m going to practice mindfulness, that means I need to go sit down and do nothing and engage in some type of special practice.” And there’s great benefit to sitting still and just being, and I highly recommend it. However, mindfulness can be practiced at any time in any situation. And so, how I recommend people start, especially if this is something that seems foreign or it’s just you’re thinking, “Oh, it’s one more thing I need to add to my schedule,” I recommend looking at this as like you don’t have to add anything to your schedule. What I recommend is just change the way that you do things that you’re going to do anyhow.

So, for the average person, if you were to make a list of all the things that you do in a day in relative solitude that you’re going to do anyhow, things like rolling out of bed, going to the toilet to go pee, washing your hands, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, commuting to work, sitting and waiting for a meeting to begin, standing in line waiting for something, if you were to add it all up, I think for the average person it’s probably right around two hours per day.

Make a list of all those things that you do every single day that you’re going to do anyhow, and for the first week just pick one of them. Let’s say it’s washing the hands, for instance, and unless you’re driving, listening to this podcast, you could actually play along with us while we do this.

So, if you think about what washing the hands is like most of the time, if we’re honest, we’re thinking about everything in the world other than washing the hands. Would you agree with me, Pete, that when you wash your hands?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah.

Matt Tenney
So, we’re thinking about, “Hey, the dog just crapped on the floor. I’ve got a report due for my work tomorrow.” Whatever. We’re thinking about all types of stuff. We’re not really present with washing the hands.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re going to wash your hands again after cleaning up after the dog.

Matt Tenney
Yeah, yeah, you wash your hands then you go, “Oh, man, I forgot about the crap on the floor.” You go clean that up and come back and wash again, yeah. So, this is what’s happening when we live our lives this way, is that we’re reinforcing this identification with thinking and we’re constantly distracted by our thinking, and this is taking us in the opposite direction of being free from that voice in our heads and from our thoughts.

So, the idea is to make it a practice of being free. It’s not like you have to get somewhere or achieve something. Like, just be free right now. So, when you’re going to wash your hands, just take a half a second and just remind yourself, “I’m washing the hands now.” And then that little reminder is a wakeup call to just be really curious about the experience of washing the hands. And if thoughts arise, it’s perfectly fine, they probably will. But the idea is just you’re curious about the thoughts, “Oh, there’s a thought about this or that. Okay, what else is going on? Oh, yeah, there’s this wonderful sensation.”

So, why don’t you try this for a second, those of you who are not driving? Just pretend like you just started washing your hands, you’ve got soap and water on your hands, just rub them together. And what I’d like you to do is just be intensely curious like you’ve never washed your hands before. And just notice, “What is it actually like to wash my hands? What does the skin feel like as it’s being massaged by the other hand? What do the muscles feel like that are making the arms and the hands move? Are there any thoughts happening?” If not, it doesn’t matter. Either way it’s not important. Just be curious about what is it like.

Now, every time I’ve done this exercise with any group, 100% of the time, unless people just didn’t raise their hands, people say that washing their hands like that is diametrically opposite of how they normally wash their hands. So, this is a very different experience, right? And some people even get anxious because what we’re so used to doing is washing the hands as fast as we can so we can get onto what’s important, right?

What we’re doing now is realizing that, “Well, if I want to have clean hands, I need to wash them for 30 seconds anyhow, so why not be here for that experience?” And what happens is there’s this, as silly as this might sound just with these little activities, of just being aware of the body, aware of the mind, aware of what it’s actually like to wash the hands during that experience, what’s happening is we’re creating what I think may be the most interesting paradigm shift that we can consider. Because if we think back to how we normally do it, what we’re doing is we’re rushing through it to get it over with so we can get onto what’s next, oftentimes either it’s partially or completely distracted by our thinking, so as a result three negative things are happening.

One, we’re reinforcing this bad habit of being identified with our thoughts. Two, we are creating a little bit more anxiety because we’re not there, we’re rushing through it. That’s going to make us less effective at whatever we do next. And, third, and perhaps most important, is we’re not actually living that moment of our life. We’re rushing through it to get onto whatever is next. And, sadly, there may not be a next. The person that you’re with right now, and what you’re doing right now, is the most important. And we don’t know, tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

And when we start making, allowing mindfulness to permeate our daily activities, those three negatives are transformed into three amazing positives. So, first, you’re training yourself to be mindfully self-aware, and self-awareness is arguably the most important professional skill that we can develop. So, you’re creating a very positive habit of being mindfully self-aware.

Two, your anxiety, you’ll find, as I’m sure you noticed when you wash your hands like that, it’s pretty relaxing. Did you notice that, Pete? Did you actually wash your hands with me?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in my mind’s eye, yes. No faucets in the…

Matt Tenney
Okay. I’m sure you’ve got things you’re working on there with the podcast, yeah. When you actually do it, what you’ll notice is, “Oh, that’s actually relaxing to just be fully present with the sensations of washing the hands.” So, your anxiety goes down a little bit, making you more effective at whatever you’re going to do next.

And then, of course, most important, is you’re actually living that moment of your life and you’re developing this new habit of actually living the moments of your life so that when you come home from work, and you greet your child, you’re actually there for him or her. And you come home from work and greet your spouse, or your dog, or whoever, you’re actually there for them instead of reliving everything that happened at work in your head.

And, as grandiose as that might sound, it’s not going to happen overnight, but it does happen little by little if we just start integrating mindfulness into our daily life. So, coming back to the list, we start with just washing the hands for week one. Then, for week two, continue with washing the hands and add a second activity, brushing the teeth, let’s say. And you can see where this is going, right? Each week you just add another activity.

After 12 weeks, you’re going to have 12 anchors that, if nothing else, you know you’ve got 12 30-second to 60-second activities where you’re breaking the habit of constantly being identified with and distracted by thinking, and instead being free.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool. And so then, in practice then, the difference is, one, you’re sort of noting what’s happening here, “I’m washing my hands now.” Two, you’re getting curious about each of these, I guess, the finer details of the experience, like, “Oh, that’s pretty warm. Oh, that’s pretty slippery. Okay, that’s pretty relaxing as they go together. I can hear the sound. I could maybe see some steam rising up a little bit. I could smell, perhaps, the soap.”

And so then, in so doing, you are there as opposed to elsewhere in terms of, “I better hurry up and reply to that email.” And so, there you have it. Okay. So, that’s really cool. All right. Well, thank you for that, Matt. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Matt Tenney
Nothing comes to mind immediately, Pete, other than just I have said it a couple of times, so I apologize if this is redundant, but I would just ask people to, as they’re finishing up listening to this podcast, to remember to just be kind.

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

Matt Tenney
A favorite quote. Yes. I apologize if this might be paraphrasing, but Martin Luther King said something that actually inspired the title of Serve to Be Great, which is, “You don’t need to have a Ph.D. to serve. Anyone can serve. And because anyone can serve, anyone can be great.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Matt Tenney
I think my all-time favorite book is actually a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Peace Is Every Step.

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

Matt Tenney
Well, I think Google Calendar is pretty magical believe it or not, so, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I can buy it. And how about a favorite habit?

Matt Tenney
Mindfulness, by far, is my favorite habit.

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

Matt Tenney
What I hear probably most often is just, “Yes, I want to be a leader who serves and loves well.”

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

Matt Tenney
Well, I guess you could go to MattTenney.com and that can direct you to anything else that you might be interested in.

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

Matt Tenney
Absolutely. I would, please, encourage anyone listening who stuck with us here to the end to please go ahead and create that list of all the things that you do every day anyhow, and see if you can incorporate those activities into your day in a more mindful way, just one activity at a time. And I think that simple exercise, you’ll find has some incredible benefit in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Matt, thank you. This has been a treat. And keep up the great work.

Matt Tenney
Thank you, Pete. Thanks so much for having me.

510: The Science Behind Successful Teams with Dr. Janice Presser

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Dr. Janice Presser says: "In efficient teams, people are able to share time appropriately... in the act of sharing it, they actually cause time to expand."

Dr. Janice Presser discusses how to build better teams using the science of teaming.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 10 ways people contribute to a team
  2. Three questions to resolve team friction
  3. Two strategies for managing up

About Janice

Dr. Janice Presser spent her formative years researching how people team together, and found answers in systems theory and physics. Having written her first line of code in high school, she was positioned to architect a system to measure how people work together and develop the underlying theory and practice of Teaming Science. The author of seven books on teaming, she consults to executives and is currently working on the question of how spatial technology will impact human relationships in the future.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Janice Presser Interview Transcript

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

Dr. Janice Presser
It’s awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom. And maybe you can start us off by orienting us a bit to what is Team Science and Teamability?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, I started out life like anybody else trying to get all kinds of education. And the most important thing, I think, that I learned in way too many years of education was about asking questions. So, eventually, I became assistant scientist, that’s what my doctorate is in, and I was very interested in physics. But I was always interested in people.

And so, I actually started to think about, “What’s going on between people? And can we apply what we know from general systems theory and from physics to really understand what’s happening?” Well, fast forward many years after that, and the result was two things. One, a theory of teaming that we eventually proved out, and I did have a research colleague, or three, to help me think that through. And then the second thing was developing a technology by which you could measure it in an objective way.

You see, back in the day, there were lots of personality tests and everybody has probably taken them. You can’t apply for a job often without being asked to do something, and so personality tests were pretty key. But a personality trait is really just a slice of a person, kind of how they represent themselves at the time. And that wasn’t getting to the kind of, “Where’s the meat of what I want to understand?”

I mean, I had a whole lot of questions that maybe you and your listeners have. For instance, I always have to ask this question, “Do you really want to work on a team? Or do you really want to lead a team? Maybe you’ll really have much more fun working on your own, whether that’s occasionally being with other people and teaming with them, which is the way most consultants are, independent consultants, anyway. Or do you have a particular talent that you just love to do, and you might be a performance artist in any way?” To try and think of teaming as something better than or above what’s in your very nature, to help you contribute to the world. That makes no sense.

So, what made a whole lot of sense to me was, “How can we help people figure that out?” And so, I found out that there were really three key measures to understanding that.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so what are those three measures?

Dr. Janice Presser
Okay. First is, and they have names, so the first one is role, not to be confused with the way recruiters will use it, like, “I think you’re ready for a leadership role,” or something like that. But in the sense of, “How do you, in your deepest heart of hearts, get the most satisfaction out of making some contribution to the larger world?”

And, in the course of our research, we, in fact, validated that there are 10 ways, very general ways, and you do them in your own way, of course, that people contribute to the world. Some of us, and I suspect, Pete, you may be very similar to me in this, we like to work with ideas, big, long-range, huge ideas that might even change the world. And that’s a very different way of contributing to the world than, for instance, loving to organize it.

If we’re very lucky, and even in our first job, and even before that, and definitely in our personal relationships, we get to be with people who love to do the things that, hmmm, kind of leave us cold. And they, in turn, don’t really want to do what we do, so it gives us lots of latitude to kind of perfect and try new things out on the way that we do.

So, we use that term to designate this. And when you go through Teamability, which is the technology, you get to star in a series of 10 movies, and that will determine that. And the important thing is that once you know that, you can better align what you are doing or the kind of job you’re looking for. And on the hiring side, you’ll actually get people who’ll perform better because we all do best what we like best, and we like best what we do best, so let’s stop trying to change that. That’s human nature. It’s how we work. So, that’s the first thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, so there’s 10 of them. We talked about ideas and organizing. What are the others?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, there are people who love to take those big visions that we come up with, and then drive them to strategic reality. And those are my favorite people for being consultants because they’re great at strategy. They analyze fantastically. But then they would prefer to break the work down, assign it out to other people who are just waiting to know what to do, and then when it all comes back to them, they might reorganize it and put the finishing touches on a report. But, essentially, their job is almost advisory and analytical in nature.

Now, that’s all great. But in order to put a company together, it’s very helpful to have someone who will then take those great big strategies and all that analyses, and help kind of hone everything down, in a sense, shape and form the strategy in a way that real people can do the work on a real day-to-day basis. And so, once they’re done doing that, then you’ve got a whole bunch of people who just love doing stuff. And those are the people who love doing things, like sales, like things that are much more immediate. When they lead, they lead on the ground, and they’re the greatest team-spirit people of all.

You know, the good neighbor that you have, the one who works all day, and then coaches the kids’ soccer team, and always wants to help you out, that very well may be a very action-oriented people. And then you need those organized ones. Then you need the people who go away from the team and bring treasures back to the team. Often, they don’t think of themselves as team players, but they’re so essential. They’re the innovation people and they’re almost magical. They see things that the rest of us might just not even notice.

And then it’s very helpful when they bring those great things back to organizations to have someone whose job is, well, best described by kind of like a controller does with money. Money comes in, and they use the money in such a way that will advance the goals of the organization in the best way. They don’t treat it like it’s theirs and hoard it, but it’s more of an investing in people, in process, in whatever it is that the company does.

Let’s see. I’ve got three more to go. There are the people who like to fix immediate problems that get in the rest of our way and mess up our ability to do our jobs. People like that often are very underappreciated because they’re there, they fix it, and they’re gone. And so, always remember, if they weren’t there to do it, you’d have to do it yourself. So, that’s an important thing.

And then there are the people who are kind of the historians of the organization, the librarians, in a sense, the curators of whatever it is that our business has done in the past, the things that have worked. And they’re very good at understanding, “What should we keep? And what should we just pass on, you know, kind of move on?”

And then there’s kind of the glue that holds all organizations together. And those are the people who go between everyone and they know what’s going on. In a very well-functioning organization, they know so many people that they can actually broker informal deals. You know, one part of a big organization may have lots of resources that another part of the organization is starving for. And these are the people whose great joy it is to bring needs and wants together, to bring people together for the spreading of community, of being that. Hopefully, we all have a great friend like that somewhere who we feel like when they’re listening to us, time goes away.

So, that’s the quick story on those.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the idea people, the organizing people, the visions and the strategy folks, the strategy, the tasks folks, the executing the task on the ground, the innovation treasures bringing back the allocation of resources, the immediate problem fixers, the historians, and then the glue, so those are 10.

Dr. Janice Presser
They are. They all have special names, of course, but you can learn about that on the website. But there’s more to that. There’s more to having a great fit with your job, and these are the two other things. First is what we call coherence because it’s straight out of physics. It answers the question of, “Under what working conditions will you do your best?”

So, here’s my favorite example because, well, I kind of been in both. For most people, stress, ambiguity, uncertainty, is very uncomfortable and so they really don’t want a job that’s more stressful than they’re comfortable with, right? We’re all pretty much like that. But there’s a small subset of people for whom what other people call stress, well, let’s just say we call that excitement and fun. And we probably work best as entrepreneurs, which is about as uncertain as you can get.

People might say, “Well, you’re a risk-taker.” Well, there’s a difference between taking risks and really enjoying a pretty tumultuous kind of culture. So, lots of startup tech is like that. And if you don’t enjoy it, the environment is not going to change and probably you aren’t either. So, why are you working in an environment which isn’t any fun for you? And this works in the reverse.

My very first job, which was very long time ago, when, I’m sorry to say, women did not have the breadth of choices that they have now, I worked for a very large city. And it was probably the most boring job I ever had, and that was because nothing changed. There was no excitement. I would’ve enjoyed being named the commissioner but, of course, I was only 21, and that wasn’t going to happen. There just wasn’t enough opportunity to make something happen.

And so, if you really, really want to make something happen, don’t be in a job where you can’t do anything. It will only be uncomfortable just in the opposite direction. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And so then, what are some of the particular parameters by which we often see, “Ooh, we got high coherence here or low coherence there”?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, if you were in the kind of job where making a decision and having it carried out very quickly is very important, then that’s a very high coherence, requires a very high coherence kind of culture. On the other hand, in many government-type of agencies, and I hope this would change, somebody used to refer to this to me as the Department of Redundancy department, to have the desire to make fast change will only be frustrating.

So, if in fact you’re selling into an environment like that, you need to enjoy a slower, more leisurely, and probably more enjoyable to you, kind of environment. What you want is the match. What isn’t better than the other or worse, the question is, “What’s good for you?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you listed a couple dimensions where we might find coherence. We got the sort of like the sameness versus difference, the quick versus slow. What are some of those other key dimensions?

Dr. Janice Presser
Ambiguity. Uncertainty. If you don’t like change, it’s okay, but you’re not going to be happy in a very high-change kind of environment. So, with startup tech companies making the fast pivot. Well, a fast pivot in tech is like a fast pivot on a basketball court. It can leave your head spinning. And the fact is some people enjoy that sensation and other people don’t, so it’s more of a matchup. And that’s what the technology is used for on both sides.

So, I do a lot of consulting now not only to organizations but to people who just want to know, “Do I have to keep doing what I always did?” Well, the answer is, if you listen to many career counselors, the answer will be yes. And the fact is it’s true, the HR Department might toss your resume if you’ve never had experience in the thing that you really believe is going to make your heart sing.

But you know what? It’s a gig economy now and you don’t have to have a 9:00 to 5:00 job anymore if what’s preferable to you is to really enjoy what you’re doing. There are so many different ways to learn new things and to then try them out and they’ll either fly or they’ll fail. But until you’ve had a couple of good failures under your belt, life may be boring. Again, it’s, “What are you going to be interested in?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the role, we got the coherence, and what’s the third one?

Dr. Janice Presser
The third one is a big group, and collectively we refer to them as teaming characteristics. There are tens of thousands, and many people say, “Well, that’s synonymous kind of with culture.” And people are measuring culture in a whole lot of different ways now but, yes, you can use that to dig a little deeper into what you think your culture is, because, actually, in a well-functioning company, you have a lot of subcultures.

Nobody wants the, oh, let’s say, the scientific development part of the company to be like the culture in the customer service department or social media, if you have one. Think about what do you have to do to do you job well? Does it involve chit chatting with a whole lot of people and making them feel comfortable and part of your community? Or are you much more cut and dried and let’s get to the bottom of how are we going to cure this disease?

Nobody expects chitchat in the laboratory. In fact, many of the best scientists I know, other people might call antisocial. No, it’s just that in order to think about the things you have to think about, if you’re going to be a scientist, you just don’t have all that much time to give to things that aren’t related to that. So, as I said, there are tens of thousands of different teaming characteristics, and they’ll show up on a report or not if they’re not prominent. And the fact is they’re for kind of micro fitting to an environment. So, for instance, believe it not, there are actually some accountants who are very friendly and very social.

Pete Mockaitis
I can believe this. I can believe it, yeah.

Dr. Janice Presser
I know. I’ve even known some of them, even though the stereotype is you have your head in the numbers and all of that. Well, guess what? If you went to school and you’ve got that coveted CPA and you’re keeping up with those credits, now make sure you put it on your calendar, because if you’re like this and you’re good with people, you’re probably not great with times. Just put it on your calendar and you’ll be okay.

You have the perfect job waiting for you. All those accounting companies, they need somebody like you who both understands accounting and loves to talk to people so you should be the one that’s going out to all of the, oh, you know, the meetups where the new companies are and selling the services of those other people who’ll then do this part of the work which you probably don’t enjoy that much.

So, this is true for anyone. You’re going to have some teaming characteristics maybe that make you a great fit in one environment. But the same job title in a completely different environment? They just leave you cold and not be satisfying at all. And then there are some that are not going to be relevant at all to what you’re doing but maybe they’re important to you in your personal life because you know how happy you are at work will be reflected when you come home.

I mean, seriously, if the thing that happens after you’ve been at work all day is that you come home and you kick the cat or you pick a fight with the person who loves you the most in this world, you’re not having an awesome work day at all. And it’s not that you aren’t awesome as a human being, and that that job isn’t awesome for somebody else, but that oomph, it’s just that the awesomeness is not aligning and nobody is going to be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you talked about teaming characteristics, you’ve mentioned some, hey, you like talking to people, or be in deep inside the lab and not talking to people. Do you have sort of like the 10 for the roles, you have a set list that show up the most often?

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, no. No. Actually, no, because this is a multidimensional way of looking at things. We’re actually measuring how the space will go between you and someone else. So, for instance, here’s an example straight out of reality. I was talking to someone, and she had a particular teaming characteristic… You know how we all have our blind spots? We’re human. We all have our blind spots and we pretty much all have the stuff that we really don’t enjoy doing.

Well, she happened to have a pretty big blind spot and, in the course of our conversation, she said to me, “Oh, my God, that’s my husband. And when he does that,” she said, “I have a terrible time listening to him.” She said, “Sometimes it’s like I don’t even understand the words that he’s saying.” And I said, “Well, that’s really great. Obviously, you’ve been brought together so that you can learn from him, how to then apply, loving what he does and he contributes to your world, into your professional life.” And she said, she was a little speechless, and she said, “That’s exactly how it worked.”

And I found out later that when they were planning to get married, they had both been sent by their premarital counselor at their church, they’ve both been given a personality test. And two separate religious advisors advised them not to get married because they were so different. Well, 10 years later and a couple of kids, and these people are happy. But understanding even more why that seemingly odd block was there to their getting together, “Why should this be here?” when, otherwise, everything works well is not dissimilar from what happens in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there we have it. So, we’ve got these components, and so then I guess I’m curious in terms of there’s a lot to be said associated with match and then the interaction amongst people there. And so, are there any particular best practice behaviors within teams and organizations that just are quite wise because they make good application of this knowledge?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, understanding that people are healthier when they do what they love, and they’ll get along better with everyone. What you want to do is start out by aligning what the person really is like, that is their role, their coherence, their teaming characteristics, with the work that you’re expecting them to do. And so, my favorite best practice for managers is this.

You know how we all hate doing performance evaluations? Seriously, if there’s anyone out there who loves doing performance evaluations, please let me know. I haven’t met you yet. But most people, we don’t like doing them as managers, and people don’t like listening to them because nobody’s ever perfect. And sometimes your compensation is tied to it. So, this is my way of evaluating people as a manager, three simple questions.

First, “Are you doing enough of what you really like?” Pete, are you? I think you are in this job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Dr. Janice Presser
Right. “Are you doing too many things that you don’t like?” Now, I know you’re doing a few things you don’t like because, well, doing a podcast involves having to do a whole lot of technical things that are besides the point, but you do it just like startup people do it. You do that stuff because it’s important to the achievement of the vision, which is, in your case obviously, the world-changing podcast, right? So, that’s okay.

But if you were working for someone else, and let’s say 10% of your work are things that you love and 90% are things that you didn’t, you’d probably go looking for a new job and I wouldn’t blame you. And then the final question I asks is, “So, what can we do together to make it better?” That’s it. And then for the manager, you can start to look at the work that your team is expected to do in a whole new way. Just look at it from above. Think of your team as a living, breathing thing, the team itself, I mean. And that team has needs to get to whatever its mission is, whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and that part doesn’t matter.

And then you can look at, “What does the team actually need in order to get to the achievement of the mission? And who would like to do these things the best?” So, sometimes the job descriptions that get handed down from HR to HR to HR don’t really align with the real people that are in your team. Just because you have an official description doesn’t mean that you, as a manager, shouldn’t just be able to just get the work done, take care of business in the way that makes sense for everybody.

It isn’t that difficult and I’m always delighted when I’ve gone in and advised someone and everybody’s gone through the technology, and we’re looking at reports, and coming up with suggestions, and I find out that they already started moving some bits and pieces of job descriptions around and redistributing work to make people happier. And then, of course, they always report back the positive effect it has because it has the physical effect of removing friction. It takes out the friction.

Sometimes what you discover is that you have hired a little too much in your own image and it’s not an uncommon thing. So, very strategic people will often hire people who they see as being strategic thinkers. The problem is that’s not required if the job is to manage day-to-day operations. All you’re going to do is have a lot of people who want to do the same thing for the team and nobody who wants to do what the team really needs in one or more areas. And that’s a guaranteed fail.

You’ll get somebody to halfheartedly do it, they’ll probably do it, but they’ll be either putting their resume out on the street or they’ll be getting their satisfaction somewhere else and you will sink to the bottom on their important list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a cautionary tale. Thank you. And so then, if you are the individual professional and you are getting some awareness for what you need, and you would like to get more of that, what are some of your pro tips for managing up effectively to make that happen?

Dr. Janice Presser
Ah, managing up is always a challenge. Managing up is a whole interesting kind of thing. We often think of our boss like kind of a super parent, right? So, they know more, they’re more powerful, and please stop making that assumption because it’s probably not true. In fact, very often you may be reporting to someone who is not, in fact, making your work ready for you, to make it more accessible to you. It’s not a failing on their part, it’s kind of a systemic failing that there is nobody kind of managing the transition from the strategy into the action.

But sometimes you’re below in the hierarchy but you’re really, really good at that. So, keeping in mind that one of the things that you need to not do is to invoke a whole lot of fear in the person who you’re reporting to. Oh, that’s very important. Fear diffuses people’s energy. Fear just makes them less coherent. You want to encourage the coherence, or the holding together, the sharpness, the focus of the person who you’re reporting to.

And so, now again, depending on your field for what kind of certainty environment do they want, you may need to give them the feeling that things are very even keel before you go to them with a whole lot of complaints about how things are not working out. If you have somebody who gives you that fear response or defensive response immediately, retreat. Because if you make them more defensive, they will turn that back on you. Unless, of course, you want to get fired to collect some unemployment while you’re following your dream. I make no judgment whatsoever on that.

Remember, you have your special way of contributing to the world and so do other people. And your way may actually be more effective in your boss’ job than they are, so you have to tread carefully. Here’s another little secret. We are all motivated by the same things, and I’m just going to talk about two of them quickly and tell you how you can use that.

So, everybody has some level of motivation towards power, not power over people but empowerment, you know, feeling, “I’ll be able to do this. I can drive the business,” whatever it is that makes you feel exhilarated and powerful and instrumental in your world.

The other major motivator is affiliation, friendliness, being liked. Now, you can’t make assumptions on that. We sound like we’re having a very friendly conversation, I’m sure, to podcast listeners. But I will be the first to confess, I’m all about the power and affiliation pretty much has always taking a backseat in my life. So, it’s not bothered me if somebody didn’t like me or I’d scared them enough that they didn’t want me in their company anymore because I really wanted to do my own company and have a culture. That was the way I envisioned it. That would be fun for everyone.

So, if you can get a feel for what’s more important to your boss, this is what you can do. Are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

Dr. Janice Presser
So, if your boss is very high in power, and, Pete, I’m going to make the assumption you are because if you weren’t wanting to be instrumental in this world, you never would’ve started a podcast, or been a great consultant, or anything else that you do. So, how I’m going to approach you is, even though I’m normally a real power person, I’m going to go in very low in power, and I’m going to say something like, “You know, Pete, I’ve been trying to solve this customer problem, and I just need to ask your help.”

Now that’s going to be hard for me because normally I’ve got 17 solutions and I’d like to go in and say, “Pete, could you give me like 50 people so we could try these things out?” But recognizing you’re a motivator, I can enhance that and bring it over to my side to engage you to use your desire for power to help me solve my problem.

Second thing, so I’m going to go opposite. Now, by the reverse, let’s say I’m trying to manage up and I’ve got a boss who’s not very motivated by power. If you’re working in customer service, particularly in a call center, that may be true for you. So, I want to go in with the reverse. For instance, something like, and I can’t even say, Pete, because it’s very unlike you, but let’s say, “Joe, I’ve been giving this some thought and I’m wondering if this might be a very effective way to do things and I’m going to give you a chart with maybe a few bullet points or something. And I’m going to be very happy if you adopt it for your own.”

So, I’d be going in in the opposite direction, so on that power gradient you always want to be the reverse of what the other person is. But, on the cordiality dimension, you want to match up with someone. So, that’s pretty easy. If somebody is very friendly, go in first with a giant smile on your face no matter how much you have to complain about. And if you’re a power person, this can be a hard lesson to learn, okay, because you’re going to have to use some of your desire to be powerful to learn how friendly people interact. It’s not that difficult, just observe a few.

For instance, they always smile. No one ever has to tell a very cordial customer service person, “Smile before you pick the phone up.” No, it’s we power people who need that reminder. So, go in with a smile and with love in your heart, that’s love on a casual, cordial level, not bad, don’t get the HR police on you, none of that stuff. And go in with something that matches their level of cordiality when they’re on the friendly level.

Now, here’s the caveat here. Sometimes you walk into a situation where the other person is anything but cordial. In fact, they’re spitting nails, they’re furious and all that, and your instinct, and, of course, since I’ve just told you to match that cordiality level, might be to yell right back at them. Don’t do that. The way you’d match low cordiality would be to just go cold, kind of blank, blank expression, no smiles. If you smile, the other person is going to think you’re a complete idiot, so try not to do that even though that may be always your natural inclination to try and warm people up.

If you go in minus your usual cordiality level, that is you go in with no smile, no yelling, but no smile, eventually that will move the needle on the other person’s cordiality as they warm it up a little bit, and they say maybe, “Ugh, excuse me, I’ve been having a horrible day. The furnace exploded and the cat had 17 kittens, and I don’t know what to do.” Then you can warm it up and say, “I’ve had those days too,” a little half smile. If they go to full smile, bring it up to full smile.

But managing somebody is a matter of really managing them where they are. And that has some changes during the day. Everyone has kind of the motivator that is always going to spark something in them. But there’s always enough room for you to get in under there. As long as you understand that you can never, don’t yell back, that will never be effective. And what you really want to get to is a level of respect and trust on a mutually-agreed upon framework that actually works to help you both be more productive.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, my God, let’s see. I think the main thing for managing up, it dates back to our childhood. When we’re kids, the person who has the more powerful title is always the one we’re afraid of, and we know they’re more powerful because mommy and daddy can make that car go, and they can sign their name, and we get food in the house and things like that. It doesn’t work that way at work. We’re all adults, right?

You may be working for someone much more educated or anything else, but you deserve to have that respect and trust at the level that you give out also. So, just do not be afraid of it. Go ahead and use it. I’m forever challenging particularly because, I guess, I run into it more, younger women who are not taking command of their scene. Go ahead. Just do it. Whatever you think is in the way, you can overcome it. And if you trip over it, just get up and do it again. It will be fine. I’m living proof.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
You know, this is the back in the olden days, and I don’t know if this is true now. We had to memorize a poem, and I think this might’ve been third or fourth grade. And I think I probably memorized this one because it was dark but it was powerful. And it’s “Invictus,” it’s the last stanza of “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”

That’s always spoken to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Dr. Janice Presser
My favorite is my ongoing research, and it’s about the only quantitative research that I actually enjoy. And that’s my counting the number of times people have said to me, after I’ve told them about something, not knowing the person that we’re talking about, but just on the basis of their Teamabilty report. And they said, “Oh, my God, that’s dead accurate.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And how about a favorite book?

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, all right. Well, I don’t know if you’ve read this, but they did make a movie, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to see the movie because I love the book so much. And it’s Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time and it’s a children’s book, and it’s part of her Time Trilogy which won all kinds of wonderful awards. And I love it because of the science in it.

But I mostly love it for what she said about it. And what she said was, “When I have a topic that’s too difficult for adults to understand, I write it as a children’s book.” And she inspired me enormously.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
Ah, Lose It! LoseIt.com because you live in a physical body and you need lots of energy. And, yes, I am older than I look, and I have to give lots of credit to Lose It! I think I’ve been using it way past 10 years. It’s just, “What are you eating? What are you exercising? And what other goals do you have?” It’s grown as I guess as I’ve grown and used with it. So, there are lots of things you can track with it that are measures of, “Am I spending enough time during the day reflecting on am I going to have enough energy to accomplish all these things I want to do?” And if you haven’t figured it out by now, retirement is not one of those things that I want to do.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, boy. Well, I will tell you what someone else has told me. I actually don’t remember when I even wrote this, but people are always reminding me that I said it. And I said, “In efficient teams, people are able to share time appropriately. They cooperate over it. And in the act of sharing it, they actually cause it to expand.”

And that’s what happens on great teams, is that at the end of the day, we don’t feel tired. We go home and we feel renewed and so we give more to our people, our family, our friends, or whoever is in our community, our cities, our states, our countries, the whole world, our entire environment. And that’s what is important to me.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
TeamingScience.com where you’ll learn about teaming science. Of course, if you want to follow my blog, I do, some is team-oriented but some of it goes off in other directions. And it’s just my name, DrJanicePresser.com, and I think there are links on either that will take you to the other. Please feel free to send me an email through either site. I love hearing from people in how they’re doing things. And, of course, you can always follow me on Twitter @DrJanice. She sometimes tweets a little rude but it’s been over 10 years and still tweeting there. And @TeamingScience is more new. So, if it’s tips you’re looking for, I’ll be getting to get those out soon.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Janice, this has been a lot of fun. Please keep up the great work.

Dr. Janice Presser
Thank you. It’s been great to be here with you, Pete.

508: Becoming an Impactful and Influential Leader with Ron Price

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Ron Price says: "How much time are you spending working on you? Because that's the strength that we're going to draw from for you to be successful in these other areas."

Ron Price delivers insights on how to build your character and grow your influence to unlock your full leadership potential.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four keys to landing your next promotion
  2. Two approaches to getting excellent feedback
  3. How to get others to listen to you

About Ron

Ron Price is an internationally recognized business advisor, executive coach, speaker, and author. Known for his creative and systematic thinking, business versatility, and practical optimism, Ron has worked in 15 countries and served in almost every level of executive management over the past 40 years.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ron Price Interview Transcript

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

Ron Price

Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the first thing we need to cover is your career in truck tire retreading. Tell us about this?

Ron Price

Well, it goes way back. My dad owned a truck tire retreading shop. And when I was 12 years old, my first job was repairing truck tire tubes, and I got paid piecemeal. So, each tube that we’d haul there overnight I think I got a quarter. I have to confess my work ethic wasn’t real great then. There were some afternoons I just took a nap in a bunch of tubes that were piled up.

But, eventually, that led to, after getting out of school, I went to work and learned every bit of the business, did a lot of years of changing semi-truck tires along the highway in Michigan in January and February. And I really learned something about resilience then and eventually became a part owner. And my dad and I, together, owned four different manufacturing facilities across the state of Michigan. So, it was a great place to learn work ethic and to learn how to run a business. Back then we didn’t have credit cards so we had to actually manage credit risks and things like that. It was really a wonderful experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, what a transformation with work ethic from taking a nap in the tubes to being in the cold Michigan winter on the side of the road fixing the truck tires. That’s impressive.

Ron Price
And, Pete, I think I could say that it’s sort of come in full circle because now that I’m in my later 60s, I go back to taking naps again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would maintain that a strategic nap is, in fact, a productive, sensible strategic choice. So, no arguments from me here.

Ron Price
Hear, hear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I want to talk to you about growing influence, how that’s done, and maybe to kick us off, could you share an inspiring story of a professional who was not so influential, and then they’ve made some changes, and then they saw some real nice upgrade to that?

Ron Price

Boy, there’s so many. I’ve had such a wonderful career of working with great people. One that I think of was a woman who came to work at a business that I was running during most of the ‘90s. I started there in ’89 and retired from it in 2000. She came as a customer service representative answering the phone. And I saw something in her that made her stand out. She really cared about what she was doing. She made you feel like what she was doing was worthwhile every day. And, eventually, that led to us saying maybe she could supervise the people who were answering our phones. And she started as a supervisor of a small group of people and she eventually grew to being a VP of customer service.

She, I would say, this was a company that was about $100 million company, and we had 200 employees spread across eight countries, and she was made the number two, number three person in the whole company. And she started as somebody answering the phone, and she kept learning and growing, and demonstrating character, and she won more and more and more loyalty from the people around her. And I think they would’ve thrown me out had I not promoted her to that position later in her career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. And maybe, I guess we’re going to get into some of the particular principles and actions and tactics, but was there anything in particular you noticed that made all the difference in terms of her rise?

Ron Price

I think it was two-folds. I think one is that she brought her humanity to work with her. She treated people like human beings, and it didn’t mean that she lowered the standards, didn’t mean that she wasn’t clear about what needed to be accomplished. But she recognized that those were human beings that all brought their own life with them to work and it was worthy of respect. That was the first thing.

The second thing is that she was a continuous learner. And she didn’t start out as an expert in this field but she became an expert all the way to the point that she was recognized internationally for the kind of leadership that she brought to incoming call centers. So, during her tenure, we went from a traditional kind of a phone system to a phone system that was hooked up to data analytics and we ended up learning how to do statistical quality control monitoring. We did a lot of things both on the technical side of understanding how to make the most out of a call center, and also on the people development side, of empowering people, giving them clear career paths, letting them see the numbers.

One of the big things that she did is one of the early phone systems that we bought had a big screen that the supervisor could look at to determine how many people were on hold, and if people abandoned, and what our average call time was, all those kinds of things. And she said, this was long before anybody was thinking of this, she said, “Why is it that the supervisor sees this and the whole office can’t see it?”

So, she brought in a huge monitor, put it up near the ceiling so that every single person in that call center could see what was going on. And it was one of the early demonstrations of combining technology with empowerment so that people felt that they could own their job, and it made a huge difference in our culture and in our performance.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s powerful. I can just visualize that like a scene from a movie, you know, triumphantly placing a huge monitor on the ceiling, and it’s like, “Oh, we’re really serious about that. That’s cool.”

Ron Price
Yeah, and, “Why do we need somebody to monitor that for everybody else like they’re children or something? Why don’t we treat them like adults and let them take their own initiative?” You know, the funny thing about it, Pete, was the people paid attention to that and if, all of a sudden, we had a spike in calls and somebody was on a break, they self-governed, they immediately responded because they were all focused on one goal together as a team, and no supervisor had to tell them how to do that. The supervisor was there to support them and to help eliminate obstacles from them doing good work. It was a wonderful example to me and to everybody who was a part of our company.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, so your book Growing Influence is a business fable, and it speaks to a lot of people and a lot of situations. But one issue that you cover is why is it that some people get passed up for promotions? What’s sort of the top driver and what can be done about that?

Ron Price
Yeah. And, of course, there are probably a lot of different reasons that somebody could get passed up. Some of them are external, some of them they might not have any control over. It may be something to do with the culture, unconscious biases that exists inside the organization, and sometimes those need to be addressed. But there can also be internal reasons why somebody gets passed up.

I like to think that if a person is really working consistently on being the best version of themselves, and they’re doing that in a way that they develop their character, and they’re doing that in a way that they develop their expertise, that in a healthy environment, the positions, the promotions will come find them because most of us who’ve been in leadership roles, when we’re looking at promoting people, we’ve got a lot of self-interest. We want to promote somebody who can perform, somebody who can get the work done, somebody who gets along well with others, somebody who has intelligence that they bring to their work.

And if you bring all those things, and you don’t throw up a lot of obstacles, you make it a lot easier to get promoted. So, sometimes people, they don’t get promoted because of something that’s happening in the culture that needs to be addressed, and other times they don’t get promoted because they don’t realize that they’re their own worst enemy in some ways. Like, my wife and I were out on a fall walk earlier today, and we laughed about this statement that I find myself making over and over and over again. And that is the darnedest thing about blind spots is you can’t see them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, makes sense.

Ron Price
And sometimes people don’t get promoted because they don’t recognize how they’re being perceived by others. It’s a blind spot to them. And if they understood that, and adapted themselves accordingly, they make themselves much more promotable.

Pete Mockaitis
And are there any particular character or expertise, shortcomings, or blind spots that seem to pop up again and again?

Ron Price

Oh, boy, what a great question. And this really is why we wrote the book is that after years of thinking about this and helping people with it, I thought there actually is a model. It’s not that difficult that makes a big difference. So, first, let’s talk about character.

In the book, we talk about, “How do you define integrity of character?” And most people think, “Well, honest and ethical and you don’t do things when people aren’t looking that you wouldn’t do if they were looking,” things like that. But we want to expand the meaning of that word, integrity, to think about what does wholeness look like for character.

When I go to my doctor and he starts talking to me about the integrity of my nervous system, he’s not talking about whether it’s honest or ethical, he’s talking about whether it’s working properly, whether all the parts are there and they’re properly related to each other. So, we posit that as our definition of character, and then we asked these two questions. The first question is, “What are the values by which I choose to govern my own behavior?”

A great example for me, my number one value that I look at every week, and ask myself how am I doing is personal accountability. And, of course, the power of that value is in how you defined it. So, the first question is, “What are the values I choose to govern myself and how am I doing?” The second question is, “What are the values I choose to relate to other people and how am I doing?”

And, in my case, my number one value for how I relate to other people is collaboration. And that word is almost a spiritual or a religious word to me because I believe that when you really connect with somebody else, you understand what they want, they understand what you want, and you learn how to work together that there’s the possibility for real magic to occur.

And, in fact, that’s what Stacy and I felt that we reached in writing the book Growing Influence is this wonderful synergism that happen when we both brought all of who we were with respect for the other, and we learned how to work well together. So, that’s my number one value for how I choose to relate to others.

So, how do you grow character in a way that other people notice you and it makes you promotable, it makes you more influential? Well, what are the values by which you govern your own behaviors, and what are the values by which you relate to other people? Sometimes we can think of where we fall short and that might help to guide us in what values we want to adapt. But it’s the steady, consistent development of more and more strength in the way that you not only aspire to those values, but practice those values that causes people to want to follow you as an influencer because of how you show up. That’s character, Pete.

I know that’s kind of long-winded, but we use a similar kind of approach to expertise. To be an expert influencer in a way that people listen to you more, you have to recognize that expert leadership is based on creating value for others not just sounding smart yourself. So, the real question is, “What value, what benefit is my expertise going to deliver to other people?” And it might be marketing, or finance, or operations, or, in my case, it’s my tax attorney or my tax accountant. Because of their expertise, because they understand the tax laws, they have a tremendous amount of influence over me when it comes to my tax returns.

Now, they may not have much influence over me when I decide whether or not I’m going to get my gallbladder taken out. But in the area of expertise, they’ve got a lot of power. And if you decide that you’re going to create value for others and then you lay out a pathway for how to get better and better and better at that, you’re gaining power. You’re gaining influence and you’re becoming more promotable.

We encourage people along those lines to pick one or two areas that they’re really passionate about, and start to study the other leaders in that area of expertise. Read what they write, listen to their podcasts or watch their TED Talks, and just begin to saturate your mind with the thoughts of other leaders or experts in that area. And if you do that long enough, there’s something amazing that happens in your subconscious. You begin to take one idea from this person, another idea from this person, a third idea from this person, and you begin to create your own thought recipes. And in doing that, you become an expert yourself.

So, it’s really a practical way. And if you just do a little bit at a time over one year, two years, three years, you become an expert. And, eventually, you’re coming up with unique ideas that nobody else has ever come up with because you’re combining other people’s ideas in new ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. So, then the action step there in terms of increasing your value is you’re picking an area of expertise and you’re absorbing all the wisdom from the top folks there and, before you know it, you’ve got it yourself, and you’re coming up with original stuff. So, then when it comes to the “living more in accordance with your values,” what are some of the key action steps associated with identifying some of the shortcomings and shoring them up?

Ron Price

The first thing is being more self-aware. Oftentimes, the thing that we probably should work on, the people around us see it more clearly than we do. So, I like to think of this idea that I’ve never seen the back of my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Even after a haircut with the mirror in the barber, it’s not as great.

Ron Price
Yeah, it’s a reflection. It’s not the real thing. And, in fact, if you think about that, I’ve never seen my face. All we see is a reflection of our face. So, that metaphor tells us that we don’t even know what we look like, which is a big part of who we are, without the use of something outside of us. And in the same way, you don’t know how you show up at work, whether you’re a leader, or a manager, or you’re aspiring to be one, you don’t fully know who you are without the help of people around you who can be your mirrors.

Of course, they should be people that you trust and that you know they care about your success because you don’t want to get stuck in a house of mirrors. But you want people who are going to give you honest feedback. And it’s amazing to me when we learn how to ask for, and we’re open to feedback and we’re not defensive, how much wisdom we get from the people around us.

When I first started to learn this, and I have to confess it took a long time before I got comfortable enough in my own skin to be able to listen to this feedback, but when I first started to hear it, I had to resist the temptation to be embarrassed, or to feel ashamed, or to defend myself, or to deny that, because they do a pretty good job of pointing out what you’re not so good at.

And when I opened myself up and said, “It doesn’t have an impact on my quality as a human being, on my value as a human being, but they’re giving me really valuable input that helps me understand the difference between what my intention is and what my impact is.” And when I could let them begin to show me what my impact was, it began to open up a whole new level of growth.

And I have to tell you, I’m still working at that. I still really treasure the feedback that people give me, and I’ve trained myself to be quiet and not to defend myself, not even to agree with them, but just to say, “Thank you for that feedback. You gave me some important stuff for me to think about.” And that’s one of the big things that keeps me growing even in my late ‘60s.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you receive it, you’re not being defensive here, you’re saying, “Thank you,” and you’re chewing on it. And then how do you go about making the requests?

Ron Price
Making the requests for the feedback?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Ron Price
Yeah. Well, the way I do it is I let people know, “I understand that there are parts of me that I can’t see without your help. And I believe that you care for me, and you care for my success, and I believe that I could understand myself better and develop better self-awareness if you could give me some feedback.” And there are two approaches I’ll take. I’ll say, “If there were one thing that I could work at getting better at, and that it would make it easier for us to work together, what would you want me to work on?” That’s one way I approach it.

The second way I approach it is, I might’ve already identified, I might say, “I want to get better at planning and organizing.” And I might go to a person and say, “I’m working on getting better at planning and organizing, and I wonder, you’ve watched me, you’ve seen how I do my work, I wonder if you have one or two tips that you could give me for how I could get better?” And I don’t have to agree with the tips. I just thank them for the tips and I might come back later and tell them that I’ve implemented one of the tips or I might not.

But what I found is that if you don’t answer people back with either that “This is why it won’t work. I already tried that,” or, “No, that’s not really true,” if you don’t answer back that way, you make them feel more and more comfortable over time getting more honest with the feedback that they give you. And honest feedback with somebody who’s direct and caring is one of the greatest gifts that anybody can ever give you. And if you develop that openness, that receptiveness where people feel they can give it to you directly and caringly, it’s one of the greatest accelerators to you growing influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. All right. Well, so those are some master keys there. So, if you’re doing those sorts of things on an ongoing basis, I’d love to get your tips for, sort of, when you’re in the thick of things, you’re working on developing your character and your expertise, and you’re getting your feedback, is there anything you recommend some top do’s and don’ts for kind of day in, day out you’re interacting with folks and these things make a world of difference?

Ron Price
The biggest thing, by far, I look back on my career, and it’s had the greatest positive impact of anything I’ve done is making sure that every day I spend time with myself. And that that time is set aside not to look at my task list. It’s not for me to worry or to go read the newspaper, be all frustrated with what’s happening in politics or anything. It is time dedicated for me to think about who I am and who I want to become.

And I started it back and it was around 1978, I was getting frustrated because I was overwhelmed with all of the tasks I needed to get done. And I bought an audio cassette series on time management, and it sat on my shelf for six months because I didn’t have time to listen to it. And I realized how that was my fault. There was nobody to blame but me that I hadn’t given time to that.

So, I started working half hour early. I said for that first half hour, at that time I had a private office, I had a secretary, and I told my secretary, “This first half hour I’m coming in early and unless law enforcement is at the door or somebody’s life is at threat, that’s my time. I don’t want to be interrupted by anything.” And over the years, I worked on expanding that time. I obviously finished that cassette series pretty quickly, but I realized, “Wow, I always had this time and I had never owned it. I had never taken it.”

So, over the years I’ve experimented with doing it different times of day. And, at one point, when I was running this international business, I had expanded that time to four hours a day. I had people in eight countries who were working for us that I was in communication with regularly. I had a senior leadership team that I was working with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a lot to do, I had more to do than ever before, but because of the way I had worked with owning that time to work on myself. Now, during those four hours I would also work on company strategy and the really big ideas that needed more careful thought.

Now, I’m not there anymore. I retired from that business in 2000 and I have another business now, and I’m about two hours a day right now. But it might sound a little counterintuitive, Pete, but the time you spend with yourself, working on yourself, thinking about your own resilience, your flexibility, your personal accountability, thinking about your own values, that’s the reservoir that you draw from the rest of the day when you’re interacting with other people.

And when I see people who are struggling in their relationships, they’re struggling with their work, I always go back to, “How much time are you spending working on you? Because that’s the strength that we’re going to draw from for you to be successful in these other areas.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no surprise I love that. Hosting How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, there’s a wealth of power that’s unleashed when you do that. And so, I’m curious, when it comes to that 30-minute time or the four-hour time, what is happening? So, in some instances it sounds like you got some content, some programming you’re working through, like the time management audio course. Are there sort of key questions that you ask yourself? Or kind of what’s that process look like in terms of, “All right. It’s me time and I’m getting down, hunkering down to work on myself”? What’s happening in that work?

Ron Price
I mix it up. I use a variety of things because sometimes I think they stimulate my thinking in a different way. But a lot of the things that it’s included reading with a highlighter in my hand, and taking time not just to read but to jot notes down as I come across what I think is an important paragraph from an author. It may be listening to a podcast that is focused on growth. It may be listening to a book on Audible while I’m out hiking.

Oftentimes, it’s journaling and journaling around my values. So, one of my values is courage, and so I might journal one morning about, “How am I demonstrating courage right now? What are the obstacles to courage? What does courage mean to me right now?” It’s these things that help me to self-evaluate and to think about who I am and who I want to be.

And then it may, sometimes, it’s around a problem that’s come up. Maybe I have a problem relationship with somebody that I feel has let me down, or maybe they feel that I’ve let them down. I may take some of that time just to journal about, “What am I feeling? What might they be feeling? What are some different alternatives for how we could work to a more positive solution here?” But it’s always something that has to do with developing my own character, developing my own expertise and my ability to show up stronger in the workplace. Those are a number of the different things that are included.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then your experience has been that when you spend the time there, you reap more time savings, results, efficiencies in the rest of the hours of the day because you’ve spent the time there.

Ron Price
Yes. One of my mentors was a guy named Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. He was bigger than life. They called him “Tremendous” because everything was tremendous for him, and he was a character. He was really a throwback to the old comedians but also as a motivational speaker. And he said to me once, he said, “Ron, you’re going to be the same five years from now as you are today except for two things. The books you read and the people you meet, so value them both.”

And, of course, today we have a lot of other mediums to work from but that phrase always stuck with me, “The books you read…” Because I dedicate at least, a minimum of 30 minutes a day to reading books that are around my profession, or around the development of my character, I’ve now got over 3,000 books that I’ve read. That has an impact on your subconscious. And I wouldn’t say I was necessarily a great container of what I read, but you’d keep doing it and eventually it produces a benefit for you.

And then the people you meet. One of the things that has enriched my life dramatically and I think made me a better leader has been recognizing that everybody I meet is superior to me in some way. And if I’ll be humble and search for it, I can find treasure in every relationship. So, every new relationship, every relationship I’m revisiting, even with our team, maybe I’ve worked with them for 10 years, I’m still looking for more treasure. There’s something they’ve learned, something they’ve mastered that can benefit me. And I always say the expert in the room is the person who learns the least. So, if I can intentionally make myself the student in every room that I go into, I have a chance of learning the most.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. I like these perspectives. And so then, when you are transitioning out away from the solo time into the interacting with other folks, are there any particular things you recommend when we are trying to be influential, we want someone to say yes? Start having great character and expertise certainly is a huge foundation. But is there anything in particular with regard to how you do the communication?

Ron Price
First, I think it’s important to be clear yourself, to make sure that you understand your priorities and you’re organizing around your priorities, because it’s hard to influence other people if they see you changing gears, often going different directions, or chasing shiny objects. So, the first thing is to be clear yourself.

The second thing is to realize that the greatest power in working with somebody else is shared interests. So, is the thing that you want them to do something that falls into the realm of shared interests for them? They may or may not recognize that, but if you can get to that place where they see what’s in it for them and their shared interests, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to work together.

And then I would say the third thing is make sure that you’re giving them the level of support that’s appropriate, which changes depending on what assignment you’re talking about together, what you’re asking them to do. And, by the way, Pete, I’m not talking about this in a hierarchical organization only, and I’m not talking about it with people who are your subordinates. I think it’s just as important to understand the shared interests of your boss, to understand what kind of support your boss needs, to understand what’s going to help them be successful as it is somebody who’s a subordinate or a peer.

So, it’s really those three things. It’s make sure you’re clear, look for the shared interests, and then really clearly define how you can support them to help them be successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, what are the key things to not do during the course of these conversations?

Ron Price
To talk and not listen. Of course, if you’re giving an assignment, there’s an important communication component of you speaking, but to take the time to ask what they think and to find out whether or not what you’re asking them to do is what they want to do. We find that something like 60%, 70% of the time that people don’t follow through on an assignment that was asked of them. The reason is because the person who gave them the assignment never asked them whether or not they were committed to doing it. They just assumed they were.

So, taking the time to ask and not just assume that somebody is going to follow through. So, I guess you said, “What should you not do?” Probably the biggest trouble we get into is our assumptions, the stories that we tell ourselves without ever validating whether they’re true or not. And I don’t know how many times I thought I knew what the other person was thinking, and I took the time to ask and found out what they were thinking was not at all what I had in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you are asking, “Hey, are you committed to this or what are you thinking?” what are some of the particular questions that seem to yield insight again and again?

Ron Price
“Is this something that you feel comfortable being involved with? Is this something that you feel you can do well? Is this something that you will enjoy doing? And help me understand the timeframe because everything else that you have going on, help me understand the timeframe that you need in order to get this done well and in a way that you’ll enjoy it. Is there anything I’m missing? Are there issues that you’re dealing with or other responsibilities you’re carrying that may get in the way of this that it would be important for me to know about?”

And this last question is, “If it doesn’t go well, how are you going to reach out and let me know that it’s not going well?” So, I want them to feel empowered and I want them to realize that I recognize that there are a lot of things that interrupt what are our best intentions are, and that’s okay. And when that happens, let’s work on it together.

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

Ron Price
I think one of the most powerful models that I learned from another mentor, actually it’s a husband and wife team, Steve and Jill Morris, they taught me something called the “Triangle of Choice.” They said everybody has perceptions, and our perceptions are different. Everybody has wants, that’s really what drives us to get out of bed each day and go to work. And everybody has behaviors. And people will choose the behaviors that they think will best help them close the gap between their perceptions of the way things are and what they want.

And if I can respect that in everybody that I work with, if I can take the time to understand what their perceptions are and help them make sure that they’re accurate, what their wants are, and have a conversation about whether or not those wants are realistic, then, together, we can work on what are the behaviors that are going to close that gap between perceptions and wants. To me, that’s one of the most powerful leadership models I’ve been able to use in helping other people become the best version of themselves.

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

Ron Price
One of them that has stuck with me for many years was written by Napoleon Hill who is an amazing story in and of himself, and I won’t take the time to tell his story. But he said, “Whatever you can vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.”

So, I’ve tried for years to prove him wrong. “Whatever you can vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.” I use that in my personal life, I use it in my professional life, it’s been a wonderful compass for the way that I want to live my life.

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

Ron Price
I’ve been really fascinated with where neuroscience is going, and I’m associated with a brain science lab where we’re measuring seven different levels of people’s brainwaves. We’re looking at how they respond to things subconsciously. As a matter of fact, we’ll throw a picture or a phrase or word up on a computer screen, and before they’ve had time to read it or absorb it, we already have six pictures of their brain, what’s happening in their subconscious mind.

And what I’m fascinated about is this new science that’s just developed in the last 10 to 15 years, is when we combine it with psychology, it’s creating a whole new science of understanding how people think, what their tendencies are, and who they could become. So, I’m really captured by, or captivated by what’s happening in the world of neuroscience right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Ron Price

Well, it’s hard to get too far away from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it. Every time I read it, I see something new that inspires me.

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

Ron Price
This is kind of cheating but it’s my iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure. Any particular apps that make all the difference?

Ron Price
Well, the apps that I use every single day, I use Reminders. I figured out how to customize it so that it only shows me what I need to get done today. And I have another 250 tasks that are not going to show up until the day that they need to be done. I use Notes quite a bit because it’s a great place for me to capture ideas and categorize them. I use Evernote. I really use Evernote for my reflection about character and expertise. And that morning reflection Evernote is my key tool for that.

And, of course, you can’t get too far away from the Calendar and the way that it helps you to keep track of your schedules. So, having come from the days when you had to do all that on paper, I know people complain about all the noise that we have with email and everything to-date, but I view it as what tremendous power we have in our hands. And I heard it, I’m not a scientist to be able to validate, but I heard that the computing power in our iPhones or Androids today is more computing power than it took to land a man on the moon.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ron Price
It’s that early morning time. I also love hiking, and that’s a habit that I try to get at least six miles in five days a week. But that early morning time is really the greatest source of strength.

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

Ron Price
The thing that people talk to me a lot about after they’ve read Growing Influence is this little dialogue that takes place between the two main characters, where David, who’s a retired CEO, is mentoring Emily who’s a middle manager in a tech company. Just as she’s leaving one of their conversations, he says, “Remember, Emily, lead with logic, follow with emotion.”

And it’s the whole idea that if you want to optimize your influence, never let emotion get in front of logic. And sometimes that means you have to wait and calm down. But people come back and quote that to me over and over and over again, that that really impacted the way that they deal with this noise between logic and emotion.

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

Ron Price
Price-Associates.com. And that leads you to our other websites. We have a lot of videos and podcasts and blogs and all kinds of resources that are available there. So, Price-Associates.com.

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

Ron Price
Well, I think you can already hear my bias, Pete, that is that people really have unlimited potential, only limited by how much they decide they want to develop who they can be. I really think that the more you pour into becoming the best version of yourself, the more you recognize how unlimited that potential is, and it’s a little bit each day, even if it’s 10 minutes or 15 minutes, it’s a little bit each day, over time, will transform your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Ron, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for taking this time. And good luck in all your adventures.

Ron Price
Thanks, Pete. It’s been great to be with you.

500: Building Unshakeable Self-Esteem and Confidence with Victor Cheng

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Victor Cheng says: "I'm worthy simply because I exist."

Victor Cheng discusses the mindset and habits that lead to powerful self-esteem and self-confidence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The foundational mindset that yields self-esteem
  2. The three skills for developing healthy self-esteem
  3. How to recover from confidence-shaking setbacks

About Victor:

Victor Cheng is the founder of CaseInterview.com, the most prominent blog on the management consulting industry.  He also serves as a strategic advisor to Inc. 500 CEOs, and has been featured as a business expert in media, including Fox Business TV Network, MSNBC, TIME, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.

Victor is a former McKinsey & Company consultant and has been a senior executive in several publicly owned technology companies. He’s a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in quantitative economics, and the author of several business books.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Victor Cheng Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Victor, thanks so much for joining us on the 500th episode of How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Victor Cheng
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate that and honored to be the 500th episode.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m delighted to have you and, in a way, I really think of you, I don’t know if you know this, Victor, but your voice is inside my head almost every workday as I think about how to make epic content and build audience. And you’re sort of like maybe my content conscience, the little voice in my head who won’t let me get away with publishing suboptimal stuff, so I think all the listeners can thank you for that.

Victor Cheng
Thank you. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think one of my favorite tidbits along those lines was we were making a program together for interns, and I had something about, “Hey, have enough clothes ready so that you don’t have to do laundry for two weeks.” And you said, “Pete, this is not sufficient. I need to hear how many blue dress shirts, how many white dress shirts, Like, “Okay. Yes, sir.” And that’s really stuck with me, it’s like, “Okay, am I thinking about this from a, ‘I have two weeks of clothes,’ or am I thinking about this from a, ‘These are the particular garments that you need?’” It makes all the difference.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, I know I think I always like to have, when I help people, I try to be as actionable-oriented as possible and I know some of the preparations you sent over for our talk today was around be actionable as you can, and I strive to do that as best I can and it sounds like you do too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, yes. Well, so let’s talk a little bit, you and your team at CaseInterview.com, you serve another audience of professionals who would like to achieve and more and do better. Can you orient us, what’s this brand all about?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, so the case interview term refers to a kind of interview that’s very widely used in the management consulting industry, and I help people who aspire to enter that industry with that interview process, which is very different than other industries. And so, most of my audience are people who at one point in their careers were very interested in that interview process, and most of my readers are either have worked in consulting, used to work in consulting, tried to work in consulting but went in a different direction. And the one thing they have in common, which I think they share with your audience, is they really want to be awesome at their jobs. And so, that’s kind of a tie-in between the two of us.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’re also really great at zeroing in on what do folks really want and need to learn and then building that for them. And so, I understand you and your team, you were kind of surprised when you discovered this need for developing self-confidence and self-esteem. How did that come about?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, the short answer is listening and paying attention. So, I noticed that we would try to help people be successful in their careers in this particular industry. The industry is very difficult to get into, maybe like less than 1% acceptance rate. So, there are a lot of people who strive to get in but can’t, and a lot of them will contact me, and say, “I just feel so down and out. I went very far in the interview process but I didn’t get a job offer that I wanted, or I got a second-tier offer.”

And so, you find these people who are, in many cases, with Ivy League degrees, sometimes multiple Ivy League degrees, feeling they’re kind of worthless when they’ve accomplished almost everything except kind of these one or two things that were really important for them. And so, I realized there was kind of a gap between kind of their achievements and how they feel about themselves. And so, I’m noticing, “Hey, there’s a self-esteem problem.” I see sort of, quite often, within my audience and started to help them with that issue.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating right there in terms of you said multiple Ivy League degrees and all kinds of credentials and achievements, and yet that’s sort of not enough, they’re not experiencing or feeling the self-esteem and the self-confidence. What do you suppose is underneath that?

Victor Cheng
Well, one of the things I like to distinguish between is the concept of self-esteem versus other esteem. And esteem really is how one feels about one’s self. And how one feels about one’s self kind of either come internally, right, and that would be self-esteem, or it can come from external sources. So, when someone is feeling really rotten about themselves because something outside of them has occurred, they didn’t get into this school they wanted to, they didn’t get the job offer, there was recession, their net worth took a big hit, stock market went down, they didn’t get a promotion, whatever that might be, and that is what I call other-based esteem. And that is when you tie your identity and sense of self worth to things outside of your control in your environment that aren’t always your decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so I think that that’s common and I would certainly prefer to have my esteem coming from myself as opposed to the fluctuating whims of the economy or other people’s opinions. So, how do you pull that off in terms of building that internal fortress of self-esteem?

Victor Cheng
Well, this starts with the mindset and the mentality. I think there are sort of two schools of thought or two ways of looking at the world and human worth, right? So, one is what I call the newborn baby approach, which is when a new child is born, like everyone looks at this baby, “Oh, they’re so amazing, they’re so precious, they’re like perfect in every way possible,” even though probably they aren’t in an objective sense, but that they have inherent worth, that they’re amazing purely because they exist. They haven’t got into Harvard yet, they haven’t had major achievements, they haven’t done many, many things in life because they’re literally just existing. And so, that idea of inherent worth I like a lot. And it’s very much associated with healthy self-esteem.

The other approach, which I mentioned, I alluded to earlier, was we tie our identity to outside achievements. So, one of the important things with developing self-esteem is to accept the premise of self-based esteem. And the premise of good, healthy self-esteem is this concept of inherent worth, that you and I, we’re worthy human beings solely because we are human beings and for no other reason. So, it’s a starting point to buy into that belief.

And anytime one’s actions or instinctive impulses of beating one’s self up for some kind of perceived failure, you have to remind yourself, “I’m worthy simply because I exist.” So, that mindset is an important starting point to have to kick off that process. And then the rest of the process really involves a lot of self-acceptance. When you have, externally, wanting to esteem, your esteem will fluctuate based on kind of the whims and volatility of the external world.

And what a lot of people do when they have the external environment changes for the negative, they feel worse about themselves, and they either beat themselves up, feel ashamed, embarrassed, or irritated at themselves, or shaming themselves. And that is a symptom or a sign of lack of self-acceptance, right?

So, when the world changes, when your life changes, when you make a mistake, healthy self-esteem people say, “No, I still care about myself, I still value myself, I still love myself. I may choose to do things differently going forward based on mistakes and lessons I’ve learned, but as a human being, my worth does not fluctuate based on my achievements or how the external world perceives me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, there are so much really good stuff here and these are some really, I guess, profound philosophical nuggets in terms of I’m thinking about many religions or wisdom traditions. We talked about the intrinsic dignity of a human being, whether it’s Christianity, humans being made in the image and likeness of God, or from a secular perspective, like the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. And so, I’m with you, I’m bought into that. But if folks aren’t, do you have any kind of support pillars or evidence or how do you persuade them to make the leap?

Victor Cheng
Well, I think it comes twofold. One is the choice, making that choice consciously, and then the second part is there are certain sets of behavior       s and habits and practices that help reinforce that. And so, I don’t have a magic pill, if you would, on how to get someone to sort of buy into that idea. It really is deciding that’s the way you want to live your life. And after that, it’s making a lot of habitual choices and habit changes, which I’d love to talk about, in terms of reinforcing that. But, really, it comes down to a choice because you either say, “Hey, I’m going to live that way,” or not. And then if you decide to live that way, then it’s getting better at the habits around that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, what are some of those habits that go a long way in terms of reinforcing that?

Victor Cheng
Right. So, once you believe that sort of philosophy in life, if you would, and you’ve come to realize the importance of self-acceptance, there are three other skills that are really important to developing healthy self-esteem. And those are what I call individuation, boundaries, and self-care. So, let me explain what each of those are because they’re kind of, you know, those terms come from the psychology world so not everyone may be familiar with them.

But individuation is a huge one. I think this is where a lot of people, myself included, have had difficulty in making the transition from other-based esteem to self-esteem. And individuation basically says, “I am comfortable with myself, with my thoughts, and my feelings, and my identity. And my thoughts, feelings, and identity will not be altered based on your thoughts, and your feelings, and your identity.”

So, for example, do you have a favorite sport, Pete, or a favorite team?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I don’t follow sports much but my favorite sport to participate in would be swimming or weightlifting.

Victor Cheng
Got it, okay. So, Michael Phelps, great swimmer, most of us have heard of him. You could argue Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer of all time. I could argue something completely different. The ability to have what’s called good individuation is where I can feel confident in my decision on who I think the greatest swimmer of all time is, you can feel confident in yours, and we can both acknowledge that we have a difference of opinion on that, right?

So, where you find is some people with very low self-esteem and no self-esteem cannot agree to disagree, right? They have difficulty agreeing to disagree. And what ends up happening is when you see two people with low self-esteem who lack this skill, the arguments never end because they’re trying to convince the other person they are right.

So, a simple example is my favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla, yours might be chocolate. We could argue who’s right, but what this really is, is a conflict of opinion. You have your opinion for what you feel is the best flavor of ice cream, I have mine, and if we were sort of two healthy people with great self-esteem, we go, “Wait. You like chocolate, I like vanilla,” we agree to disagree, end of conversation, right?

And if you watch most sitcoms, most movies, a lot of marriages, you’ll find people will just argue forever. And the reality is there is no right, particularly when it’s a subjective subject, there is no right answer, right? And it’s really what you decide for yourself. So, people with good individuation won’t get riled up, or triggered, or irritated, or sucked into social media debates about something that’s basically an opinion. And so, that’s one part of healthy individuation, and you can separate the validity of your thoughts around your ideas from other people’s opinions about your ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose maybe and this could be a totally different concept.

Victor Cheng
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’m guessing that if you’re strong and healthy there, then you can also be okay discovering that you’re wrong and adopting a new belief, like, “Holy smokes, Victor, you’ve brought up some excellent points about Michael Phelps that I was not previously aware of. I’m going to chew on this, and I may choose to adopt your position, but that doesn’t mean that I am a loser or a moron for having previously held a prior position.”

Victor Cheng
That’s right. And so, people with healthy self-esteem and self-based esteem are able to hear feedback without getting defensive because either of us are totally wrong, or actually there’s some merit there and I can consider it, but regardless of whether I accept it or reject your feedback, in no way is your feedback going to impact my sense of identity and worth because I’m pretty secure in my identity and worth.

And so, that’s why there’s a huge advantage at being awesome at your career when you have good healthy self-esteem because you can listen to feedback without getting defensive. And if you look at some notable figures in sort of in the news these days, some very high-profile people cannot take criticism, they cannot admit when they’re wrong, they can’t take feedback, they can’t apologize, they double and triple down on a position even when all objective data and feedback says they’re wrong, and that can oftentimes be a sign of someone who’s uncomfortable being wrong because they tie being wrong to a sense of poor identity. And so, that can be a very difficult situation to navigate.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think there’s a famous scientist, and maybe you’ll know this, but there was quote I thought was awesome. It went something like there were two scientists, they were having a bit of a disagreement over time about a theory of sorts, and then one scientist got some great experimental data, then the other scientist said, “Hey, all right. It looks like your theory is right.” And then the person who changed his view got criticized by the prevailing scientist, but then the changing scientist said, “Well, when new evidence, just that my prior beliefs were incorrect, I change my beliefs. What, sir, do you do?” Zing!

Victor Cheng
There you go. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I better look that up. All right. Okay, so that’s individuation. And we also got boundaries and self-care.

Victor Cheng
Yeah. So, boundaries would be setting rules for yourself to protect from people who have sort of toxic behaviors. So, one example is like name-calling. Name-calling is very, very damaging on esteem. If you call yourself a name, like, “I’m such a loser,” you do that a thousand times in your life, or 10,000 times, or 100,000 times, it’s going to have an impact, right? So, name-calling and avoiding it is super important to protecting your esteem.

So, one rule is I will never call myself a name, right? And if I do, I will call a timeout and find a different way to express my frustration. That’s an example about an internal boundary, a rule that I govern my own behavior. Another one is around governing what situations I am willing to allow myself to be in. So, for example, for me, if I’m in a situation when someone does engage in sort of very toxic name-calling at me, I have a rule that I will remove myself from that situation.

So, if it is one of my kids, and they’re getting really volatile, I will call timeout for myself. I will leave that room, I let my kids know, “When you’re ready to have this conversation in a respectful way, I’m willing to continue, and let me know when you’ve calmed down.” If it’s a client that does that, which does not last very long, I say the same thing, or eventually I fire them fairly quickly because I don’t want to be around people who would try to bring me down because it is not healthy behavior, not good for me.

So, boundaries are a set of rules, kind of if-then statements, if you would, that ensures that you’re going to be safe and your esteem is going to be protected. It’s a form of self-defense in a healthy productive way. And the way you define a boundary is, “If this scenario happens, then I’m going to do this.” “If I catch myself calling myself a name, then I’m going to immediately stop and try to find some other way to address that feeling.” So, it’s an if-then rule that you decide in advance as you discover the kinds of situations where you really feel very bad, like you don’t want that situation to repeat, you create a new boundary rule for yourself as a way to continually get you safer and safer and protecting your sense of worth.

Pete Mockaitis
So, name-calling, that’s a great area to put some boundaries around. Any other top boundaries you recommend?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, another one would be lack of acceptance of differences. So, for example, you know, we got in this debate of vanilla ice cream versus chocolate. A healthy version of that conversation would be, “Oh, I see, Pete, you like chocolate, I like vanilla. What do you know? We’re different. Okay, that’s great.” And I can affirm and validate that, “I can see clearly, Pete, you like chocolate ice cream,” right? And I don’t have to feel a pressure to try to change your mind, I don’t have to like shame you or say, “Only losers think chocolate ice cream is a bit like…you’ve got to be kidding me, that’s so 1990s.” I don’t have to do any of that putting you down.

So, one form of boundary is to look for people who can receive your ideas and not try to tell you your ideas are wrong. They might share additional information, they might try to persuade you, but they don’t make you try to feel bad just for having an opinion. Another variation of that that’s even more important is feelings. When you have a feeling, a feeling is always valid. A feeling is really a personal experience in how you’re experiencing a situation.

So, for example, if you go to a funeral, and maybe you didn’t know that person very well because you’re maybe with somebody, a significant other and they know the person really well, and you’re very sad because you just felt sad at the funeral. If someone who says, “Why do you feel sad? You didn’t know him, right? Like, that’s so lame,” that would be an example of someone who is encroaching on your right to have your own emotional experience about the situations you encounter.

And it’s neither right or wrong but all emotions have their own experiential validity that can be acknowledged. It’s such a healthy behavior to acknowledge your own feelings and to be around people who are able to acknowledge your feelings even though they don’t necessarily agree with them, and that’s a form of respect that’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, not to muddy the waters too much here, but I’d love it if we can maybe make this even more difficult with regard to, so sometimes we have opinions about things that maybe they are perceived as right and wrong, have big consequences. So, let’s just say that there’s someone who’s vegan and they believe that meat is murder, and that the cows and all of the resources to tend to them are terrible for the earth and the greenhouse gases and CO2 and climate change, and meat is just bad news, and then someone else is an enthusiastic beef eater who’s into that. So, now, these folks need to co-exist and they have strong feelings. So, does that change the game at all or how do you think about those situations?

Victor Cheng
It depends on the context of the disagreement. If it is in general, “Is veganism right or wrong? Is eating meat right or wrong?” that’s one kind of conversation. And the other would be more like policy change, make changing the laws that govern society because laws impact all of us and, therefore, we need to settle that dispute. But if it’s a matter of personal choice, relating a healthy interaction is, “Pete, I see you feel very strongly about being vegan and I respect that choice that you make for yourself. It’s not the choice I’m comfortable making for myself and I can see that we’re different, but I totally honor and respect that that’s what you’ve chosen for your life.”

And you might say, “Hey, Victor, there’s some new information that you might not be aware of, we should be open to hearing some reasons why you, Victor, might want to consider eating less meat or even converting to veganism.” And I would say either, “Yes, I’m open to hearing about it,” or, “No, I’m not,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Victor Cheng
If I say, “No, I’m not,” and you push it anyway then you’re crossing a boundary. You’re trying to control my personal life choices. This is my body, I control what I do with my body, and you’re encroaching on that limit. If I invite you, “You know, I heard a lot about it, I’ve seen some documentaries, I’ve seen some companies that try to make money in that market, yeah, I’m curious. What have you seen? Why are you vegan? Is it environmental? Is it philosophical? Is it moral? I’d be curious to learn more.” So, if I give you an invitation, and you accept that, then you can fully discuss that.

So, it is recognizing when a choice is yours to make, when it is somebody else’s to make, or if it is something that we are in it together. So, for example, we’ve got a coupon to go buy ice cream and we can only get like one pint of ice cream and we got to choose vanilla or chocolate, then we have a decision to make, that’s a joint decision. And we can agree that you like chocolate, that I like vanilla, you think chocolate is the best in the world, I think vanilla is the best in the world, that’s fine. We agree to disagree on our opinions on that but we still have to make a resource allocation decision because we can only get one, and that becomes a problem-solving exercise of, well, how do we solve that problem.

So, again, it depends on whether this is a judgment of somebody’s personal choice or is some kind of joint decision, or social decision, or team decision, or in a couple, a marital decision that impacts both people. So, that’s kind of the distinction between those two.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And now let’s hear about self-care.

Victor Cheng
Well, self-care is recognizing that in many ways you have to take care of yourself because you can’t always rely on somebody else to do it for you. And I think healthy relating is about taking responsibility for your own health, physically and mentally, and to look out for yourself. And I think healthy relating is when two people, if we’re talking about a romantic context, two people in a couple, they’re monitoring themselves, they’re figuring out what they need, they are requesting help from their partner when that help is needed, but it is their own responsibility to look out for themselves and to ask for help when they need it.

I think things get problematic when people sort of assume somebody else is going to take care of them for you, particularly if you just assume it but don’t actually ask or have them consent to it or form some kind of agreement. So, I think good maintenance and support of self-esteem involves taking care of yourself.

So, a simple example, it is very hard to have high self-esteem if, for example, you lack the ability to provide for yourself financially, right? So if you’re in an abusive relationship, whether that’d be like a marital one or working for a terrible boss, if you are dependent on that other person for your financial resources and they put you down, for example, it’s very hard to walk away because you have a form of dependence on them that makes it very hard to assert your boundaries to keep yourself emotionally safe.

So, if you have your own ability to earn your own living, you have a resume that’s strong, you have the ability to go get other jobs if you need to, then it becomes easier to say, when someone steps across the line, to say, “You know, that wasn’t cool with me. I’d like you to stop doing that.” And if it happens repeatedly then I need to reevaluate whether I can be in this form of relationship with you or not. And that gives you a lot of power to take care of your needs when you have the ability and means to take care of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say self-care, I was originally envisioning meditation and massage and sleep, but you’re thinking about just actually having the means to care for yourself.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and that’s certainly included in that, but it is a very broad sense. So medical health, dental, like the basics of life. It is very hard to feel good about yourself if you feel ill, right? And so those two go together. So, all those skills become a form of esteem. So, think about the opposite, think about sort of the stereotype of the man-child, right? Usually male, maybe in the 20s, 30 years of age, and they just can’t take care of themselves at all. They aren’t able to feed themselves. They can’t do their own laundry, they have difficulty paying bills, and they feel bad about themselves.

And so even though they have inherent worth, they feel bad because, like, “I have to rely on everyone else around me to do anything.” And so, it’s very hard to feel that sense of internal power when a lot of basic needs you can’t meet for yourself. You’re just so reliant on other people. So, you can see how someone would naturally gravitate towards having this sense of worth be tied to other people’s opinions that fluctuate just because they do when you can’t take care of yourself. You get much more sense of a grounded-ness around a volatile world when you have the ability to take care of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, that’s really true. And what’s coming to mind for me right now is the funniest example. But we had a situation in which, well, I guess, so we’re recent homeowners.

Victor Cheng
Oh, cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And so it’s kind of doesn’t feel so great, I guess from a self-care perspective, when I don’t really understand what the heck is going on with so many of the systems, with plumbing, or electrical, or whatever, and maybe people feel this way like when they go to the mechanic with their car. And like, “I don’t know what’s going on, I hope you’re not lying to me and ripping me off with the work that needs to happen.”

And then, by contrast, we had this experience where our refrigerator temperature was just going up in such that it wasn’t even cool anymore and we had to throw some things out, and that was sort of frustrating because it was only like three years old. And so, I went through a process of assessing the temperature with this cool temperature laser gun and watching some YouTube videos.

Victor Cheng
That sounds like you, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, clearing some stuff out and opening a panel on the freezer and discovering that there was a huge ice clog where the cold air flow would go from the freezer so I resolved all of this, and then things worked properly. And I just felt awesome.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
I am capable of ensuring that my family’s food remains safe and cool.

Victor Cheng
Yep, I can totally relate. And I recently moved in this new house. Like, a lot of little things I didn’t like, it’s like light switches and light bulbs are wrong, so I changed all the light switches, they’re all motion-sensor lights. I put timers in the bathrooms because I wanted them to have an auto off, so I changed all that, and a few amounts of electrical works, I changed out a chandelier. I did this like 15 years ago when I first bought a house a long time ago, and it felt really good to be able to do it myself. And, sure, I could’ve hired an electrician but these are literally 10-minute jobs, there’s something very satisfying for me about doing that.

And this will be kind of crossed over from self-esteem into self-confidence. So, what you just talked about, what I just talked about, is we are developing competence in certain areas, and part of that feeling of feeling really good is feeling confidence in our competence in our ability to do certain things. And sometimes people kind of get self-esteem and confidence mixed up, but this is probably a great segue to switch it over to talk more about self-confidence and where that comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, please. Well, how about we hit that distinction, and then we talk about self-confidence?

Victor Cheng
So, self-esteem really is how you feel about yourself and your worth as a human being. It’s very global around the essence of who you are. And confidence tends to be situational-dependent around particular areas of skill. So, I am not confident at dancing ballet, okay? Not my thing, never done it, never taken a class, I watched my kids do it when they’re little, but I feel very un-confident in my ability to dance ballet. In fact, I feel terrified if I had to do that in public.

But when it comes to this case interview thing, the thing I’m known for professionally, I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve done it so many times, I’m very confident in my core area of expertise professionally. And so, confidence is about a specific domain of activity whereas self-esteem is about your domain as a human being. That’s kind of the difference in scope between those two concepts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s very clear. And so, when it comes to boosting self-confidence within a domain, how does that go about?

Victor Cheng
First, there’s competence. How good are you at something objectively? There is what I call outer confidence. What are your behaviors and actions, and how do they signal your comfort level with that particular skill? So, an example would be you see something in a job interview and they feel, they act very nervous, very fidgety, they say, “Hmm,” and “Ahh” a lot, and they look un-confident, and that prompts an external person to question their competence. So, it’s this idea of outside or external confidence, how you come across.

And then there’s internal confidence which is really how you feel about your skill level in that particular area. So those three, I think, are more useful way to think about this idea of confidence because sometimes you can act confident but be really incompetent and not know what you’re doing and people figure that out eventually. You can be really good at what you do but you sort of underperceive your own skill level and you sell yourself short a lot. That might be something called like impostor syndrome if you’re familiar with that term. So, it’s useful to have those distinctions because you address each of those particular challenges in those three different areas quite differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d love to hear, so if you want to build that up, how would you recommend making it happen?

Victor Cheng
Several what not to do. So, one thing people often suggest is to come across as more confident, “Fake it till you make it.” You’ve heard that phrase. And I disagree with that a lot. I like this idea of what I call earned confidence, which means like I put in the work, I feel good about myself, and I demonstrate that. So, in your case, it’s around the refrigerator. In my case it’s around light switches. We put in the work, we learned the skill, we got better at it, we feel really good internally about it, that inner confidence, and then as we talk about what we’ve done, we express our stories and our experiences in a confident way, and it comes across. It’s sort of a standard cycle when everything works really well.

So, the first foundation of all this is to really accurately assess your competence level. Like, what is your skill level in this area? So, with ballet, for example, my skill level is zero, right? My confidence is also zero. It makes no sense for me to try to fake till I make it because I’m just going to look like a fool. Better to admit it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, these are the American Idol people.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, better to admit it than to prove it to other people. So, if I want to improve my confidence as a ballet dancer, what I really need to do is to work on my competence, work on my skill level, and learn, and put in the work, to learn the skill, and to get good at it. And as that improves, for someone with good self-esteem, as your competence improves so does your confidence because they’re supposed to go hand-in-hand when you have a good sense of self-esteem.

So, for those situations where, again, foundation is there, good sense of self-esteem, you’re lacking a skill in an area, you don’t feel defensive about it, you can completely admit you don’t know, you want to learn, you want to receive feedback, the next step really is just to go get the skill. Learn, read a book, YouTube videos, whatever it is, get the skill, practice the skill, get good, and confidence naturally flows from that because you’ve earned it, because you’ve rightfully earned it. So, that’s sort of like the ideal scenario.

Sometimes people have a situation where they have that skill level but for whatever reason they are either over or underconfident particularly externally. And oftentimes that can be sometimes a sign of low self-esteem. So, for example, if I’m really good at what I do, but I constantly put myself down, I’m constantly like really unsure of myself, yet my track record is 100% correct, like my objective track record is amazing, but the way I act about that and express that is very, very poor, that can be a self-esteem, a signal of a self-esteem problem because maybe I feel like I don’t deserve this feeling of confidence that I’ve rightfully have earned but don’t feel comfortable accepting. And so that becomes a different way of solving that problem.
So when you’ve earned the right to be confident but you just can’t do it, that becomes more of an issue of looking at your sense of self-esteem, the things we talked about earlier about self-acceptance, individuation, having good boundaries, and self-care, and you kind of go back to the foundation sort of shore up the foundation. The flipside is also true where if you are always overconfident and the way you express your level of skill is far greater than your actual skill level, that’s called arrogance, right? And you’ll see people oftentimes perceived as arrogant.

In those situations, their sort of cockiness is one that’s not earned and kind of rubs a lot of people the wrong way when they’re overly confident, they have not earned the right to have that confidence. Michael Phelps says he’s the best swimmer of all time. That’s like called accurate thinking, right? He’s confident, he’s not cocky, he’s not arrogant, it’s just true. If I say I’m the greatest swimmer in the world, I’m being an arrogant fool because, clearly, I’m not, right?

And so, if I’m doing that regularly, always overestimating my own sense of competence in an area, projecting a level of confidence that is not earned, that, too, is a form, oftentimes a form of low self-esteem. And it’s a little counterintuitive but the reason that happens is because people with low self-esteem cannot bear the thought of being thought of as poorly, or being imperfect, or having flaws, or having to learn something because they haven’t developed the skill yet so they go around pretending and projecting a level of confidence that’s not warranted as a way to hide the fact that they’re really ashamed of their skill level. And so that, too, can also be a form of self-esteem problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, this is very helpful in terms of the distinctions and a means of folks recognizing themselves in some of this. you can kind of diagnose, “Okay, well, then what are the interventions that’s going to make the impact?” Because it’s a very different road in terms of, “Okay, hey, got to build some skills,” versus, “I got to see if I really do buy into this notion that my worth doesn’t fluctuate with other people’s opinions.”

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and it’s an entire process. I like the word practice. It’s a practice to stay focused on yourself, to stay grounded, and to get your sense of worth from internally. And I think it’s important to only be in situations that can reinforce that and try to avoid situations where that gets eroded over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear, if you do take a hit, like so you have many folks that you know who they had big dreams, the dream job, the interview didn’t go their way, or there’s disappointment, or demotion, or getting fired, when you take a hit, what’s sort of your recommended SOS or recovery strategy there?

Victor Cheng
Yeah, so when you want something, you don’t get it, sort of the natural and appropriate and healthy reaction is a feeling of disappointment, right? “I wanted that, I didn’t get it, I feel disappointed.” So, someone with healthy self-esteem will feel naturally disappointed. They’re human, that’s what they do. What’s unhealthy and more indicative of low or no self-esteem is when a setback occurs and rather than be disappointed, they go way beyond that to say, “I’m a loser. I feel worthless.” At the extreme, it’s, “Maybe I should kill myself,” that would be the extreme version of that, “because I didn’t achieve, and, therefore I have no value. When I have no value, well, logically, why would you want to continue living if you have no value.” That’s kind of the weird mental cognitive distortion of that sort of spirals around suicidal ideation and whatnot.

So, the SOS on that really is sort of going back to around self-esteem, and when there is a setback, one of the things you want to do is to have self-acceptance. This goes back to one of the key steps of self-esteem, is having self-acceptance. And one thing I didn’t mention earlier about self-acceptance is rather than using other people’s opinions or achievement as sort of your scorecard on how you feel about yourself, the opposite of that is to have an internal scorecard, if you would, on how you feel about yourself and, in particular, have the internal scorecard not be around achievement but around values, what are your personal values, what’s important to you in life.

And so, I’ll give you an example. So, a couple of my values includes respect, kindness, love, adventure, learning, teaching, these are things that are important to me. And, for me, at the end of my day, like, “Did I have a good day?” That’s the question I ask myself, “Did I have a good day this week? Or this day? Did I have a good week this week? A good month this month? Did I have a good year?” And it’s easy to use as sort of measuring stick to make that determination. Again, the alternative is to have an internal measuring stick around your own values.

So, for me, regardless of whether I have a setback or not, I say, “Well, today, was I respectful to myself and to others?” I go, “Yeah, I think I was.” “Was I kind to myself and others?” “Well, yeah, I was.” “Did I learn something new today?” “Oh, yeah, I definitely learned a lot today because I made some mistakes.” “Did I teach something today?” because I’m big on teaching. “Like, yeah, I did teach somethings to my kids. I turned this failure into a lesson for my kids and so they can learn from my mistakes so I feel good about that.”

And, basically, you kind of go through the list of your own personal values, and you go, “Okay, did I live by my values today? Separate from outcomes, separate from what may have happened, positive or negative, did I live by my values?” And if I do, it was a good day. And if I didn’t then I have the option to do better tomorrow. So, it’s a good way to buffer one’s self from specific outcomes because you can’t always control the outcomes. We can only control what we put into the outcome.

So, you can control the inputs, cannot always control the outputs, and the way to measure your value from a sense of self-worth standpoint is to compare your inputs relative to your values and see if you’ve lived the way you wanted to and did you put in the effort the way that you wanted to. And then if you did, be happy with yourself because you did what you’re supposed to do in the way you want to do it. And what happens, not always in your control.

Pete Mockaitis
And I imagine it really is powerful compounded sort of day after day, week after week, with those check-ins in terms of really forming kind of like an unshakeable core in terms of, “This is who I am and what I’m about and what’s more important to me is how my check-in goes internally than whether you give me this opportunity right now.”

Victor Cheng
Yeah, and I think the inverse is also true. If you don’t do the internal check-in against your internal scorecard, then the temptation is very, very strong to do it with the external scorecard, right? So, “I didn’t get the job offer,” “My net worth wasn’t as high as my friends and peers,” “I didn’t get the promotion. I got passed over.” Whatever setback you have in your external world and have lived it. It’s a miserable way to live because these are things that aren’t in your control. But how you contribute to what you do and how you show up, how you put in the effort, how you conduct yourself and your own behaviors, that is 100% in your control. 

And so that’s why it’s less volatile is because it’s in your control. And you can control it. And if it doesn’t go well, you can change it. When it’s very achieve- and externally-driven, you can’t control it, which means if you had a bad day you can’t even fix it because it’s something somebody else is deciding, not yourself. And that’s a very hard way to have a very calm and peaceful life when you’re always dependent on the whims of the external world, which is at times quite whimsical.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, that’s powerful stuff. Victor, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Victor Cheng
I’ll mention one other thing that kind of can sort of get people on the wrong track around self-esteem. Self-esteem, when done well, comes from parents with good self-esteem, that’s maybe a better way to say that. So, when they’re pretty comfortable with who they are, they’re very well individuated in the sense that you can disagree with your parents and they’ll be okay with that, and they have good boundaries, and they have good self-care, they’re good parents who have that skillset are going to naturally teach that to the kids.

When that process sort of goes awry is how you end up with adults who have other esteem, like myself for most of my life. And so, this concept of what I call traumas, that’s useful to be aware of. A trauma can be like a major life event. So, like if your parents were killed in a car crash and you’re orphaned at five years of age, like this whole process of building self-esteem gets completely contorted and can get really off the rails, right? That’s an example of a major trauma.

Another example of trauma is what I call a micro trauma. It’s lots of little things that erode your esteem what otherwise would develop in childhood, and that could be as simple as your parents only paid attention to you when you brought back a perfect 4.0 GPA. You got all As and suddenly they’re really excited about that. And you got one B and they kind of look the other way. And it was very clear that you weren’t approved of, right? When that happens hundreds of times, thousands of times in little ways, those micro traumas, they really add up. And so, even if nothing major negative happened in your life going up until maybe age 20, if a lot of little things just repeat over and over and over again, you can still destroy the normal path of self-esteem through sort of this erosion of what I call micro traumas.

So, that’s something to realize. If you haven’t been around people with a lot of high self-esteem, particularly the people who raised you, that’s a very high likelihood you’re going to have the same kind of other-based esteem that they may have. And people with other esteem tend to inflict micro traumas on the people around them. And so, it’s just something to be aware of to get with your own behavior towards others and also to be mindful of the other behaviors that you’re receiving from others to determine whether that’s something you want to be around or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you.

Victor Cheng
Sure.

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

Victor Cheng
There are several that I like coming out of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I found that book when I was 17, 16, and it’s taken me more decades than I care to count to try to master the seven habits. I think I’ve gotten six down. I’m still working on the last one for the last two decades which is around self-care, ironically. He calls it renewal or sharpening the saw, which is another word for self-care and taking good care of yourself in all aspects.

So, I like all the seven habits. I think one is “Begin with the end in mind,” what do you want to achieve in your life and kind of work backwards. Another one which is really great for self-esteem is “First seek to understand the other person before you seek to be understood.” And so that goes back to our example of why you like veganism versus not, why you like chocolate ice cream versus vanilla, and be able to hear other people. You can only do that really well if you have good esteem where you don’t feel threatened by somebody’s opinion that might be different than yours. You can genuinely hear them and understand them, that’s a very useful skill.

So, I love all of seven habits and I find those quite useful as a way to live life.

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

Victor Cheng
Let’s see. Well, personally, I carry a Leatherman. I have one in my belt right now. It’s a multifunction tool, kind of like a Swiss Army knife but better.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, literally, a collection of physical tools.

Victor Cheng
Yeah, literally. It does really. That helps me function around the house much better. I like that. And then, let’s see, on the job. I like Trello, which is a workflow management tool. I use that as a workflow management tool. I like that for coordinating multiple tasks, I need to follow a set process, that’s really useful for my team from a management standpoint and working in collaboration with others.

And then, individually, it seems really basic but let me explain it because it’ll seem kind of too basic, but my calendar. I think the calendar is a very, very powerful tool and there are probably two things I do with it that are probably a little atypical which I’ll mention. So, one is, and this reminds me, I’m not doing it currently but I’m going to start because I don’t like being a hypocrite. But for many years I would set appointments with myself.

So, most of us will set appointments with other people. I like to set appointments with myself. And the appointments I set with myself or for myself are either do things I want to work on because they’re important, or they are related to self-care. So, there are certain timeslots in a week that I do self-care activities and I will schedule that in there as a deliberate way of taking care of myself in being productive and effective.

And this can be time to read, the time to take an online class, they can be more mundane like I go to the chiropractor regularly, I had one yesterday. That was on my calendar. I carved out time to go to do that. And that can be very, very useful. The other part around the calendar that I use is I really like setting recurring appointments. I use Google Calendar and they can do this sort of every Monday, every Thursday at 2:00 o’clock kind of a thing. And what I’ll do is I will set recurring appointments with people that I’m close to, like my close friends.

And so, the reason I like that is I can make one decision to have a recurring phone call with somebody, like every Tuesday at 2:00 o’clock, and that can oftentimes, in my case, it’s gone on for years, in some cases decades.

And so it takes a lot of time to connect with people with a similar sort of philosophy in life, and that’s very enjoyable without spending, in some cases, more time trying to schedule the phone call than the actual phone call itself, which is very true for myself because I’m quite busy and a lot of my friends who are equally busy. So, I like that as a productivity tool as well.

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

Victor Cheng
Sure. So, one of the things I wanted to offer for your folks is I have a class around how to improve your self-esteem, and I wanted to give everyone an excerpt to that free as a gift. And people can get that at CaseInterview.com/awesome sort of as a gift to all the people who are awesome here looking to be awesome at their careers. So, again, that’s CaseInterview.com/awesome and that’s a free excerpt from my class on how to improve your self-esteem and develop unshakable confidence.

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

Victor Cheng
Yeah, I think I’ll leave everyone sort of a quote from Stephen Covey, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind,” figure out what you want for your life, your career, and work backwards, it’s a process for getting there. It’s been very useful for me. I encourage others to do it, and I would challenge everyone to think about that and to work backwards and to work towards it once you figure that process.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Victor, thank you so much for sharing this good stuff here and for all the ways you’ve helped me learned and grow. It’s been a real treat.

Victor Cheng
Great. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.

490: Uncovering Your Why and Bringing it to Work with Justin Jones-Fosu

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Justin Jones-Fosu explains how to lead a more enriching work life by aligning your now with your why.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get into your “achieve more” zone
  2. 12 questions for uncovering your why
  3. How to turn any job into meaningful work

About Justin

Justin is on a mission to help professionals and workplaces to Work like they mean it!  He is a meaningful work speaker and social entrepreneur who speaks 60-70 times per year to companies, organizations and associations in the US and internationally.  His latest book Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t challenges the reader to merge their purpose and productivity to get more out of work and life.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you Sponsors!

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Justin Jones-Fosu Interview Transcript

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Justin, my mental picture of you comes from maybe the day after I met you in which you were dancing around in a blue boxing robe. Can you explain this situation to our listeners?

Justin Jones-Fosu
What happens with Pete and Justin stays with Pete and Justin except on this podcast. But, no, so when I first started speaking, one of the things for me, I was doing a presentation about fighting for your life. And so, a great way to illustrate that was with I had a boxing robe that was created for me, a genuine one, from like the boxing people themselves, and had like TBA, which stood for Think, Believe, Act, and had the boxing gloves.

And so, like that was my little thing where I’d come in to the Rocky music, and it was a really cool experience. So, that’s probably what happened. I ended up speaking at that organization and somebody stole it, I have no idea where it went, but I never replaced it. So, that’s my boxing robe story.

Pete Mockaitis
That was not cool. And you know what, that’s going to be on eBay somewhere, you’re going to bump into like, “What the heck, guys?”

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. If I ever get famous, like that’s what’s going to happen, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so lately you’ve been doing a lot of work and research and speaking associated with the idea of meaningful work and how that comes about. And you have an interesting perspective when it comes to your why and your now. Can you sort of unpack this idea for us?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, probably about, I don’t know how long now, about eight years ago I started digging into kind of your why and purpose, and I’ve been studying purpose for a while, something that was very meaningful for me. And as I’ve started travelling around, I was doing some speaking, and I started hearing these rumblings of kind of the why and purpose and I started meeting people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it.

And so, I was like, “All right.” I initially went into… because all my focus back in the day was all about action in terms of, “How do you actualize leadership?” I do action-based leadership. And it shifted because I started asking the questions of people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it. And then I realized there was a whole another group of people. And there’s a whole group of people, there were what I call now people. And the now people, these were kind of people who were doing a lot of good stuff just in the wrong places, and they were connected to their whys.

And so, that for me became the kind of the contribution to the conversation is that I want to help people to achieve more, right? And so, people achieve when they know their why because they’re able to kind of move forward. People are also able to achieve when they’re engaged in now and they’re super productive but maybe in the wrong places. But the true sweet spot of what I call the achieve more zone is where people connect their why and their now. And those things, together, when they’re operating in congruency, that allows people to achieve more.

And if anyone is like me, I’ve gone through my phases of what I call purpose and productivity seesaw, where I get into my zone of purpose, “Oh, I’ve got to be purposeful. I have to do things that mean something to me,” and I become a little less productive because it’s all about purposeful and meaning. And then I jump to the other side, “I need to be productive and I need to get things done now.” And then I start losing purpose and the things that were meaningful.

I was like, “What if we didn’t have to go through that seesaw? What if we could actually bridge the two together to achieve more?” And that’s where the why and the now came together.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you maybe tell us some stories, some examples, paint a picture of an articulation of a why, and sort of, “We got the why without the now.” And then, “We got the now without the why.” Sort of what does that look and feel like in practice?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, many times I hear of so many, even my audiences, the people that engage in terms of like why. So, some people with the why and without the now can be two different ways, so I created a whole quadrant around it but I’ll talk about one of the, say, the wanderers, right? And so, in my WHY matters quadrant, one of the things, if you have a little why little now, the wanderers are the kind of people that they don’t know their why, they’re not practicing, they’re not passionate about it, they’re not giving it their all. If I had to give them a TV show, I’ll call them The Walking Dead.

But the next group of people, the thinkers, these are the kind of people that they know their why. These are the kind of people that they read the books on purpose, they read the books on why. And I’ll give you a great example, I was that person who was super purpose-oriented, I was reading books on it, even wrote a book that dealt with purpose and values. But as I was dealing with that, I wasn’t productive, like I wasn’t getting a lot of things done, I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I could. I felt super content but I wasn’t progressing forward.

And so, that was a time in my life where I was like super focused on purpose and I thought about my career, and I was super reflective. And so, those are the type of people that they get in to reflection mode, and the quadrant is the thinkers, right? So, these are people that they’re just thinking, they’re thinking, they’re thinking, but for whatever reason, whether the fear of success, fear of failure, or they’re simply just following the herd of society that they just get stuck just thinking about their why but it doesn’t translate to create action, to accomplishing more, to being productive, to doing productive behaviors, or what I call being on 10, which we can talk about later. And so, that’s the why people.

Then the other group of people, which I’ve also been as well, are those who have a high now but a low why. And in my quadrant, those are misplaced. And the misplaced are the kind of people that, like I mentioned, they’re doing a lot of great stuff just in the wrong places. And so, for me, I had those moments where I would read books, like Getting Things Done, and Eat That Frog, and a whole bunch of productivity books, and I was just being super productive but I wasn’t checking it according to my why. I wasn’t making sure that I was doing things on purpose.

So, I’ll give you a great example. So, I used to be a radio show host, right? And part of the radio show host, just three years, Listen up with Justin Jones-Fosu, we had a real great time, an FM radio station, MPR affiliate. And as I was doing the radio show for three years, I found myself in a misplaced quadrant because I was doing it and people were like, “This is awesome. You’re killing it, Justin. You’re reaching thousands of people in the Baltimore area and surrounding,” but it wasn’t connected to my why. I was doing it because it was a good thing to do and it felt like the right thing to do, like the right progression and be productive. I have a radio show host where thousands of people listen to you every week but it wasn’t according to my why.

And when I really sat down and thought through, “Why was I doing what I was doing? What was the purpose behind it? What was the intent?” I realized that the radio show wasn’t the right conduit for me, that I was actually productive but zapping me of aspects of purpose and meaning for me. And so, I decided to give up the radio show after three years, and everybody was like, “Why? Why would you do that?” But it’s because I wanted to have greater why alignment, and so I ended up pursuing and diving into things in terms of speaking and writing that were much more in line with my why but I was also able to get more time and be super productive to what really mattered to me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, and what do you call it, I guess in your ideal quadrant where you got it both going on?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes, the pursuer quadrant. And it’s those who understand clarity, connection, and consistency which are the components of the why and having a strong why. And those people who are engaged and on 10 behaviors which when people are maximizing kind of the effort, their intensity, how hard they go. And so, if I had to summarize why, the definition of why, it’s simply purpose, what motivates you, what drives you, the intent behind what you do. And the now is passion. When we talk about passion, we’re talking about not what you do but how you do it, the effort, the intensity with what you give and it’s a concept that I call being on 10.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s interesting here because I can see where you’re going. So, we got the thinkers who are doing a fine job of doing that internal reflection and zooming in on, “Well, what am I all about? What’s behind this? What are my values? What really lights me up? What doesn’t light me up?” And so, they’re having some good time where they’re articulating some of that stuff but in the process, they’re not making stuff happen so they aren’t generating a bunch of to-do’s slayed behind them in their wake.

And so, at the same time though, you can go in the other direction, in which you’re not doing any of that reflection, you’re rocking and rolling in terms of just dominating hundreds of emails and all these things.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Zero box.

Pete Mockaitis
But what is it really doing for you in terms of connecting? So, I hear what you’re saying that it can only be possible to have one and not the other. So, let’s talk a bit about arriving at a good articulation of your why. And we talked about this a couple of times in the show. So, you mentioned clarity, connection and consistency. How do we get at that clarity? And maybe, for starters, you can articulate for us your why and maybe some whys of other folks that you’ve interacted with that just inspired the crap out of you.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. So, my why is to inspire people, to achieve actionable results by challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible. And it took me a long time to really begin to articulate and get to that why because, for me, I looked back at my life, and so I did kind of a reflection in terms of, “What has been the core messaging throughout my life? What’s been part of that journey of my life?”

And my story is one where I had a lot of obstacles, extensive homelessness, we were poor initially in terms of financially but rich in spirit, had hand-me-downs at Salvation Army. I mean, all the stuff and had to really kind of overcome the boundaries that were there, single mom with two rambunctious boys. I mean, a lot of things, grew up in the hood initially. So, a lot of things that were boundaries for me and I realized that my own life was one of challenging the boundaries of what I believed were possible.

But that also translates into kind of what I do, what I call my intentional hobby, where my intentional hobby is I like trekking and climbing mountains and I like challenging the boundaries. I remember one story where me and my buddy, Marlon Barton, we do a thing called the birthday challenge. And so, we went skiing for the first time and failed. I’ve never been skiing before. A great place to go skiing for the first time. And I remember we were climbing, snowshoeing on this mountain, and literally sometimes all we could do is take 20 steps and stop for like three minutes because we were at a high altitude but we continued to climb.

And so, for me, that became my why. And so, that’s just symbolic of the nature, for me, is I’m always challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible for being, coming from single home, from being poor financially, to being a black male in society, a lot of different things. And so, just challenging those boundaries has become a component of my journey with others.

And so, it’s not something that I have to think about doing, I just do it, right? And sometimes I have to control myself in doing it because I can come off so hard, like, “Hey, are you challenging your boundaries?” And people are like, “Justin, I just said hi, right?” And so, for me, that became, and as I reflected, that became crystal clear for my why. So, to start off, that’s my why and that’s kind of how I came about it. And it took me really about a month to really kind of think through and process and reflect, and I asked myself several different questions in order to get there, to get to that why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it’s very helpful. And could you share some other folks you know and their whys articulated?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Absolutely. So, other people I’ve met, I met this young lady actually about a month ago, and she talked about, you know, we went through, because she was struggling with how does she identified her why. And we started kind of going through life and questions, and I have this thing called the 12 uncovering questions that help people to kind of think through their why and develop their why statement, and we started going through some of these questions. And we came to her why, dealt with both helping fixing things but also centered around technology.

And so, she started thinking through like, “What does this look like for me in my everyday life?” And so, we started talking about like, “How do you interact with your friends?” “I always have to fix it. I always have to be a fixer.” And so, part of her why statement became, in terms of fixing things, but it also looked at how does technology help people in their lives to fix things. And so she does like A/V and IT stuff and so she’s always thinking through of connecting people to technology in ways that can help them fix some of the aspects and challenges in their lives. And so, that’s her why statement.

Other people have developed why statements because, again, this is not what you do but kind of the overall umbrella of how you do something or kind of the lens in what you look through things. So, I met another gentleman, and one of the things around his why just dealt with helping people to develop a greater sense of grit because he had to work his butt off and ended up going to the military.

And one really amazing person that I encountered, Summer Owens, and she has a great story in terms of she was a teen mom and ended up going to The University of Memphis, and her story of all that she encountered. And, actually, the way she became a teen mom that was with a sexual assault, and her why is built on what’s called so-what in terms of her resilience. And so, she became Miss University of Memphis and is now even like the national president of The University of Memphis Alumni, and just really doing a great job. And her why centers around so-what in resilience. So, “So, what you went through that? How are you going to continue to go up?”

So, she helps people to become so-what in their lives. And so, like those are people’s whys, and everybody gets to their whys differently. But, for me, in the book, some people had struggled with their why. I created these 12 questions just to help people to start thinking and processing how they approach their why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I would definitely want to hit those in just a moment. But, first, you mentioned that it’s not even about what you’re doing in a moment, but bringing that lens and that perspective to whatever you’re doing. So, can you share how once you have that why, how you bring it to a job that might not have anything to do with technology or whatever the case may be, but it infuses it with something magical?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, one of the things that I found as I was really kind of discovering why is like some people, I feel, have stated their whys as what they do, right? And so, “My why is to help people to being a trainer.” And I’m saying, “Well, no, not necessarily. Your why could be helping people but it may not be as a trainer because that should be the thing that you do in all aspects of your life. And if you’re helping people, you’re engaging with your friends, you’re helping them to solve their problems and bring solutions.”

And so, for me, part of my why just permeated through not just what I did but like all the aspects of what I do should be my why. And so, with my family, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible and so we’re doing things that we’ve never done. So, at work, you may have nothing to do, like this person who loves fixing things and love that kind of infusion with technology, she was able to find a job which is great in terms of ways that integrate with what she did, but she still would be helping to fix things as part of her why in her job.

And so, it could’ve been aspects of problems and bringing solutions to those problems. So, whatever those things are, it’s very important that we don’t finetune because we may change what we do but why we do it is something that really is consistent. And so, I’m very fortunate, I love speaking, and so people bring me in and speak all the good stuff. But even with my friends, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible.

So, like when everybody has a birthday whether on LinkedIn and even some Facebook, I sometimes send what I call the birthday challenge. This is what I do every year, which is one thing that you’ve never done that you’ve always wanted to do or that you haven’t done in a long time, and that’s to challenge you to stay in what I call the learning-based mindset.

And so, it’s one of the things I just naturally do. It has nothing to do with my job or my work, but it just permeates through all that I do. And so, some people that’s helping to fix things, for other people it’s developing greater sense of resilience, for some people it’s helping to connect people to deeper sense of family, or belonging in a family, or could be within the context of corporate America, or it could be at home, whatever those things are, it permeates that. Even if you changed job titles, why you do something, the meaning, the intent, the purpose behind it stays the same.

And so, that’s where I come to the why, not just what you do, really, it’s not what you do, but the umbrella, the lens in which you do almost all aspects of your life. Even at the gym, I’m challenging boundaries of what I believe are possible. Sometimes that’s not whys because I think I can do more than I can do but I’m still challenging those boundaries, and that’s why my birthday challenge this year is actually competing in a men’s physique competition. Don’t judge me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. These photos, bust.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I’d take my shirt off, like, “No.” My wife is going to kill me. But all aspects of my life are centered around challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible and achieving actionable results in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I had a buddy who participated in a men’s physique contest, I don’t know if he wants me to say his name or not, but it was impressive, like, wow, check that out.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I hope mine will be too.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I was at a wedding and he was missing the wedding because he had already signed up for this thing. And so, I kept kind of asking him for the updates, like, “Yeah, so how did it go?” And then I had the distinct privilege of being able to show the first photos of him in the men’s physique contest to his girlfriend, I mean, that was at the wedding. And I was like, “Oh, it’s so good when you have something. Well, so, hey, this actually kind of connects to my purpose, I guess.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve chewed on this in terms of this is my purpose just for like work or more broadly, and you gave me some good stuff to chew on, and I think it’s not just work, but I don’t know if it’s yet all-encompassing, some are work in progress but it’s to discover, develop, and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive.

Justin Jones-Fosu
That’s powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it really does genuinely light me up, like when I have conversations with you, like I’m discovering stuff, like, “Ooh, that’s really cool. You know, it’s like I’m developing it. Okay, we’re working this episode, we’re making it sharp, we’re polishing it, we’re cutting some parts, we’re trying to get some good teasers, and we’re distributing it, like, ‘Hey, many thousands of folks are checking out the episode and they say good things.’” And so, that’s a thrill and then it also shows up in other sort of trainings and speaking and coaching and whatnot that I’m doing as well as even just conversation with folks about a product. it’s like, “Oh, hey, I got this Bluetooth meat thermometer. It’s amazing, you know. It’s pouring my life with all the low-fat chicken breast so I’m ready for a physique contest, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? We’ll be competing together it sounds like. And How to be Awesome at Your Physique will be your next podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have to be really extreme, but even in that moment, I was so delighted to be able to, I guess, disseminate the knowledge, “Hey, there’s a photo of your man on his bodybuilding contest thing.” You know, it was a thrill for me and it transformed her experience of being alive because she was like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? And your why is permeating all aspects. There was no podcast for that, there was no speaking engagement for that. It was just you being you.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I dig it. So, I feel like I’m getting pretty close of finetuning it and so very cool. Let’s hear about these uncovering questions. Do tell. What do they uncover and how do we do them?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I’ll go through the 12, there’s some that mean more than others in how people interpret it and so some may seem redundant but they’re really trying to piece together, it’s almost like when you put your fingerprint, when you do the fingerprint scan, that it’s like, okay, you still put your fingerprint down but it gets at it a different way.

And so, these 12 questions are, the first is, “Why are you here?” And for some people they’re like, “Why am I here?” Like, existentially, “Whoa!” Second is, “What major life experiences have you faced both positive and negative?” Third is, “What interested you growing up?” Fourth, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Fifth, “What interests and intrigues you in life?” Sixth, “What do you wish was better in the world?”

Seven, “Have you ever had a moment when you felt like you came alive? What were you doing and why did that make you feel amazing?” Eight, “What impact do you have on others/society? What impact do you want to have on others/society?” Nine, “When have you felt inspired, hopeful, full of learning and growing?” Ten, “What excites you?” Eleven, “What do you believe about the world? What do you think the world should be like?” And twelve, “How are others better after time with you or by what you do?”

And so, asking these questions and, yeah, I’ve sometimes done workshops with these and we’ve kind of gone through aspects of the book and, man, to see people really diving in and engaging childhood, and engaging the journey of their lives, and asking questions, like, “What’s been a consistent theme over the course of my life, from childhood to adolescent to adulthood, that really helps me identifying, have a clearer why of like purpose and what I provide and bring to society, and really the impact and the legacy that I want to leave, an imprint on this world?” And people wrestle with that.

And so, this is one of the things I tell people often, especially my perfectionist people, like, “I need to write the perfect statement,” and I’m like, “It’s not about getting the perfect statement. It’s about taking that true genuine time to reflect. And then I also, like I did something, or I encourage people to do the same thing, I sent it to my three top family members and friends, and I was like, “Hey, this is what I’m really identifying with my why and my why statement. And, externally, do you think it reflects me?” And some people are like, “Justin, I’ve never even heard you say that phrase, right? Like, that came out of nowhere. So, I don’t think that’s true or remains to who you were.” I felt like I was just trying too had to come up with something that sounded really cool.

But, really, identifying like what meant something to me and people talked about challenging them, I’m always challenging. I talk about boundaries. I talk about how you challenge those boundaries and what’s possible. So, like these key themes and phrases came from my childhood and adolescence and adulthood and from me. And when people start asking themselves those questions and start reflecting, it’s not that they’ll get their immediate why statement there, but it’s them now being open to hearing and experience and not for themselves but also their closer friends and family members, what this really looks like and how they can live it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig what you’re saying here. And we also interviewed David Mead on the podcast who worked with Simon Sinek with Find Your Why and that book. And there are some nice overlaps, but he was all about, “Hey, have a partner and have them kind of carefully observe as you share sort of life stories with them, and they can kind of identify some themes from those.” And I thought, “Well that’s a good approach, yes.”

But what I love about your questions is we can get started right away in terms of right now, don’t have to find a partner, you don’t need training, facilitation, or have any interest in this, and so you can really get the wheels turning immediately which is cool. And, yeah, I kind of want to just be alone and think about this right now. Go away, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone. And that’s what a lot of people like to do. I mean, I figure from a great perspective, just having time to reflect, and I love that method in terms of having a partner to observe. But just sometimes you having time to reflect and just to sit back and engage and to think is really emotional for some people.

Some people in my workshops and trainings have been like many tears because people go through some really painful experiences. One of the things I talk about, both positive and negative, and I went through experiences of abuse and abandonment and a lot of different things that I had to really kind of wrestle with. And so, there’s actually a part in the book where I tell people, like, “Hey, if you need a moment, put the book down and come back to it when you’re okay. And if it really gets serious for you, please seek help and get counseling to process some of these things,” because some people actually dredge up things that’s challenging for them, and they’ve put away in a nice box what’s been a part of their story.

And so, I think it’s helpful for people to take that time, like you just said, and like, “Justin, get away,” and just to reflect, and then maybe bring on a partner and/or have three to five friends or family members to look at and engage in your stories and what you shared.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s say we have even a rough nascent preliminary draft sense of the why before a perfect articulation or a decent articulation. So, with that in mind, how do we, sort of day-to-day, enjoy kind of more passion of your job based upon having this?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different ways to approach that, right? And so, when you know your why, I mean, it allows you to better engage. One of the things is there’s a lot of work going around meaning, right? So, I talk a lot about meaning as part of the one of the definitions of why that’s meaningful. And so, I challenge the notion of meaning and so I’m like really developing this movement around helping people to work meaningfully, not to have meaningful work but work meaningfully because, often, I found that we’ve created almost this meaningful workspace where it’s external focus on meaning, it’s like the external loci.

Stephen Covey talks about internal locus of control, and we got deeper into that. But, this internal loci, it’s not about finding meaning in your work, it’s about bringing meaning to your work. It’s not about doing work that you love, it’s about loving the work that you do because one is external, one is internal. And there’s actually some really cool research that shows there’s a group of hospital cleaners, and one of the things that they found was that there’s two different groups of hospital cleaners. There’s one group of hospital cleaners that came to the hospital, they cleaned the hospital, and they left the hospital. It makes sense because they were hospital cleaners, right?

But there’s another group of hospital cleaners that they engaged with the nurses to find out when is the best time to actually come into the room, they would talk with visitors and family members, say, “Hello, is there anything I could get for you?” They saw themselves as extensions of the mission of the hospital. Now, these groups were both doing the exact same work, but one brought meaning with them while other were potentially finding meaning in their work.

And so, I think when you talk about passion and engaging at work, it first starts with us showing up and choosing each and every day to bring our meaning with us. No matter what you identify as your why statement, even if you don’t have a why statement yet, it’s that we can show up and bring that meaning, and there’s ways to do that, right?

So, a lot of our research stems in job crafting, and there’s really three ways that you can have job crafting or crafted jobs that’s meaningful for you. It’s identifying task crafting, relational crafting, and mental crafting. And so, what task crafting is simply adding a component of your job that is meaningful for you. So, for some people, what they do is repetitive, it’s not sexy, they’re like, “Oh, I want to do something else.” But that task crafting is saying, “Well, I love helping people. So, could I potentially be one of the leads for volunteering? Could I start a volunteering? Could we do something as relates to a breast cancer awareness or do one of the walks?” Whatever that could be that they may start that or be a part of the lead. And so, that small aspect of task crafting shifts how they bring themselves to work.

The second, around relational crafting, is simply enjoying friends or the people that are there so the relationships access thing. In my presentation, I talk about Cool Hand Luke, , right? If you’ve ever seen that movie, it’s one of my favorite movies of Paul Newman, and one of the things he says, the statement, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” right? It came from that movie. And one of the things with the relational crafting is he created these games with the people he was with.

And so, they were doing like mundane things, they’re supposed to be in prison, but they had so much fun doing it with each other, right? And so, they created this relational component, and so developing strong sense of belonging and relationships, whether that’s going happy hour, whether that’s engaging and going out to lunch with one person a week, whatever that thing may be, that you come to work, and even if your work is not sexy, you don’t really find it really awesome, that you can still be awesome at your job by the relationships that you create.

But the third aspect is the mental crafting and it’s all about how do you see the work that you do. And so some of the things in my research, and I was looking at people who do repetitive jobs, and also one of the articles like “Meaningful Work in Meaningless Places” and so it talked about like even a janitor that saw themselves in an educational institution, and that janitor saw themselves helping people to learn more effectively and learn better because they created an environment where people could bring their best selves to learn.

And they ask themselves, “If I did not clean, if I didn’t do what I did today, what would this place be and how would people respond? And would they be their best selves in their learning?” And so, like that’s a great example of how do we bring what we do. And so, that’s just some of the research that dives into how can you bring that passion, how do you bring that meaning, and it’s not simply just waiting for meaning to fall on your lap.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. And I’m thinking now with regard to the task component, so the folks who were cleaning the hospital sort of just did little extra touches with regard to checking with the nurses, like, “When is the best time to do this cleaning?”

So, you’re doing a task that you’re not feeling, and you could just sort of invent whatever it may be. And so, what are some of the little tweaks, kind of like the hospital cleaner asking about what times they could clean that would be best for the patient, might help give a boost to the meaning when we’re doing some task crafting?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, there are so many different opportunities or examples of task crafting that are there. So, one I mentioned before was just in terms of changing or adding a little component of something that’s meaningful for you. So, for some people, like we mentioned, is helping people. So, it could mean getting involved and engaged with community service aspect. For some people, they love creating presentations so they may volunteer to do the presentations or even just create them in PowerPoint, or Keynote, or Prezi if you still use it. But it’s like they ask how they can best engage in the things that are meaningful for them. So, that’s another example.

For some other people, I’ll give you my example. For me, when I was working for a financial service company, I wasn’t happy in my job. So, really, a lot of this movement came from me. I wasn’t being awesome at my job nor was I happy at my job. And I started asking for little different things, and so they allowed me to be a part of the learning management system in what we called My Learning. And I was able to also engage, I was really passionate about diversity equity inclusion, and so they included me as part of their implementing new diversity strategies within the company. So, my manager allowed me to be a part of that team, and it impacted my overall work.

And what’s beautiful about that, and a book called The Progress Principle, one of the things that they found when they interviewed 12,000 workers is that when people felt like they were making progress, even if it was incremental, towards something that was meaningful to them that they felt better, healthier and happier about what they called the IWL, or inner work life.

And so, like all of those components is like we all can find, we just have to stop, press pause, reflect, and ask, “What are some of the tasks that are meaningful for me?” And that’s why I love what Google used to do, they moved away from that according to recent conversations, but they used to have like this 20% rule where they challenged and encouraged people to work on tasks or things 20% of the time that were meaningful to them, that they love.

So, some of the things that we experience and have now came from that 20%, right? And so, people would do that and they would come away with great things, some things failed and worked, but those were ways that I saw companies help to implement aspects of task crafting. So, as individuals, we have to ask and press pause and reflect and ask, “What makes me smile at work? Like, what are some of the things I really just enjoy doing? Is it the interactions I have with people?”

I met a lady at the Charlotte Airport, she would sing all the time, right? She’d sell like the candy and the mints which I eat a lot of, the mints not the candy, and, remember, I’ve been working out. But she would sing all the time, and I loved it, right? So, she created this little way to bring a different component of her tasks and she loved singing, and she applied that.

So, in all the different walks of life, I think there’s opportunities for us to identify the task that make us smile, some things that we really enjoy, and find out, one, “Can we get involved in that that exists already at our job or commuting or doing other things online and/or create it?” So, maybe there’s not a social committee. Hopefully you don’t do it like The Office did, but maybe there’s opportunity for you to coordinate happy hours if you really like bringing people together, or to get people involved and create a bowling night, or whatever that thing may be, I think there’s opportunities to craft that in our tasks.

So, there’s an opposite of that, I want to help people be mindful of, that sometimes, one, people have to get buy-in from their leadership and management. Two, add that to their work, and I’ve seen in some of the research that people have gone to the opposite side, and they’ve spent too much time on the thing that they’re crafting and not enough time on their job, and so it doesn’t allow their management leadership to support some of their task crafting. So, that’s some of the risks of task crafting is that you have to get, one, buy-in but then, two, you have to make sure that it doesn’t negatively impact your job where you’re spending too much time on what you enjoy. But just occasionally implementing some of those components into your everyday work.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I think the other component of just the now, is the companion to the why, right? So, yes, it’s great in terms of bringing meaning with you, but how do you bring that meaning, right? What does it mean to be what I call on 10, right? Now, to kind of illustrate the on 10, at least through air, it’s almost like this. Have you ever been to a place where people have been dancing? And, Pete, you know this too well, right? It’s like they’re using two different types of dances, aren’t they, Pete, right?

There’s like one type of dancer that’s like cool, comic-like, like boom, boom, boom, hey. “They’re not going to see me sweat, right?” And they have this other type of dancer, like, “Woo, woo, woo, brr,” right? And the first type of dancer there’s so concerned, they’re consumed about people watching them that they either remix it, they make it slower, like, “They’re not going to see me sweat, yeah, right?” But this other type of dancer that they came with like three undershirts because they’re going to sweat on every single one. Like, they came ready to get everything they had on the dancefloor of their lives. And I’ve seen you dance, Pete, that is you.

I mean, they came ready. And that’s the question mark for us in real life, is like, “Which type of dancer are we?” Not in real life because we all need to know that. But are we the dancer number one who they’re so concerned about people watching them, looking at them, that they don’t give their all, they don’t give what their 10 is? Or are they dancer number two where they’re willing even if people put them on IG or people put them on Snap or LinkedIn, Live, or whatever that may be, that they’re willing to give everything that they have.

I often find it’s people have to answer that question for themselves, “Are they on 10? Are they maximizing? Like, what are their on-10 behaviors? What are the things that they do that communicates their excellence, their best, right?” Now, one of the challenges I find with people that engage or don’t engage with fully being on 10 is that they suffer from what I call on-10 comparisons where one of the things that they consistently compare themselves to other people. So, it’s almost like somebody else doing a podcast that would compare themselves to how awesome your podcast is, and they wouldn’t give their best because they’re like, “I’ll never measure up to Pete.”

But you only have two different capacities. What they’re able to and what you’re able to do is different and there may be different parts of their lives, and so like, “How do you look at just your own reflection, do your own reflection, and identify your own self, for what is my best?

And so, while having your why and bringing meaning is super important, also how important your now is is amazing. So, even for the listeners, I simply ask you, if you had to rate yourself on a scale from one to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how passionately are you currently living your why, right, whether that’s professionally and/or personally? What does that look like? What would you rate yourself?

And even a deeper question sometimes is, “How would the people around you rate you?” If we went and did an informal 360 at your office, or even if you’re telecommuting and different things like that, it’s the people that you support or work with or other team members, how would they rate you? And then, on the other side, because all my conversations are not just professional but also personal, like what would family members say?

And so, those are ways that we can ask, “What are our on-10 behaviors? How would I currently rate myself? And what does it look like for me to truly be on 10 to fully engage?” And so, in the book and other places, I talk about just ways to challenge our cruise control, but also what I call the principle of the frog, step, seed, and smile which are ways to be on 10 to have a high now and to engage in the true now.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
One of my favorite quotes is “Anything can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” It’s unknown. I guess that’s probably intentional, all right, as a quote, like, “Yeah, let me put my credit for the quote.” That’s one of the most powerful quotes that I love as a social entrepreneur. One of the things that matters to me is the impact that we’re having on people. And it’s something that’s super powerful.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Woo, I love some of the research around the herd theory. And the herd theory simply, it looked at a group of creatures, and what it notices is that when this group of creatures saw impending danger was coming that they all begin going the exact same way. And I sometimes illustrate that in our presentations where I like have people get up and have them walk around the room. And normally about 80% to 90% of time, people go the same way.

And you see that play out and there’s some studies, I don’t know the official name but I’m going to call them unofficially the elevator studies. You can probably find it on YouTube where they did a study where people would get on elevators and like everybody would be faced the wrong way in the elevator. And they would study what the person who got on the elevator would do, right?

Often you would see this person would turn around and face the back of the elevator like these other people, and that’s just another example of the herd theory and why that’s important to me.

But what I love about the herd theory and what that communicates is often, experientially, we just simply follow the herd, we follow the path of least resistance. We do what everybody else does at our company. We do all the same things and we sometimes don’t ask, “What does this mean to me?”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Justin Jones-Fosu
My favorite book still is Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Amazing power book that helps you to better reflect and to see, “Am I projecting negativity on others based upon me not taking responsibility for my own life?” And so, that book, when I did my MBA, that transformed the way I look at life. And so, yeah, that’s one of my favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Situational Leadership II by Ken Blanchard. A great tool. It focuses on the different components on how do you, one, serve and lead others? But then also, two, where can you ask for help?

I found people that just go to their leadership without using those terminology and being able to say, “Hey, like on this specific task or this role, I need some help, I need some support. I need to know if I’m going in the right direction. I need to know if I’m failing or falling short of this.” And it’s just been a helpful way for people to, one, communicate where they are on a task or a role, but, two, to get support and direction in that same process.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Ooh, a really good habit is what I call #extravagantappreciation. I’ve been on a mission lately and part of my research in terms of how we can be more productive is how do we show extravagant appreciation on other people. It actually falls into my principle the frog, step, seed and smile. It’s what I call #imoa or an intentional moment of appreciation where we go out of our way to celebrate people around us. And I think in this beautiful world of technology, we got to go back to old school, Pete, like back to handwritten thank you notes.

And so, one of the things that I’ve been really developing a strong habit of is, twofold, I’m writing handwritten thank you notes to people and so people can do that right in their office. I challenge people to do at least two, one professionally, and one personally. And let them know the impact that they’ve had on you at work and/or the person at home.

So, my bigger habit is I encourage everyone who stays at hotels. Often, we don’t appreciate and value as much people who are housekeeping or janitors, custodial staff members. Like, I try my best to go out of my way to show them extravagant appreciation.

And, Pete, you would not imagine the smiles that come out of people’s faces. So, that’s one thing that I do, and I encourage everyone who stays at hotel, please leave a tip for your housekeeper, but not just leave a tip but, you know those little pads of paper and a pen? Write them a handwritten thank you note on your last day of your stay and let them know how grateful you are that they’re doing an amazing work. And just don’t leave the note, please leave a tip as well. But that’s one of the habits I think I’m valuing the most because it’s one that’s inspiring other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and they re-tweet it a lot?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, one of the things that I talk about in challenging the herd and identifying and embracing our uniqueness that this is a quote I share, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” Again, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” And that’s one of the most recorded, re-tweeted, and even in an organization, they made a big banner, I had no idea, somebody showed it to me. They put a big banner and put that in the hallway just to speak to unique-ability.

And the last, I know you just asked for one, but I have to an overachiever, I’m sorry about that, sometimes I underachieve there, is, “There are people who would love to have our bad days.” And so, it’s just a perspective, a challenge of kind of when we engage our day could be super easy to focus on things that are negative and all the things that are going wrong, but sometimes in that process and think through, like, “Man, there’s somebody who would love to switch box with me right now. Oh, I hate this situation. I hate my job. I hate my manager.” Whatever. I have a job that I can hate, right? I have a job that I can not like my manager, and other people would love to be in that position.

I know it seems at times trivial that it doesn’t mean to make people’s challenges small, but it is about, “How do we change and reflect in a unique and different way?” And so, identifying that there are people who would love to have my bad days is one of those things that helps me and in my work and in my personal life to have just a changed of perspective.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
They can go right to the website JustinInspires.com where they can find information about Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t. Or, if they want to do the old-fashioned way, they can give me a call at 704-750-5574, but JustinInspires.com is plenty. You can see the videos and see my crazy high energy. I don’t use the boxing robe anymore but I still do dance in the presentations, and so, yeah, that’s where they can get in touch with me.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. My challenge is stop asking if the glass is half empty or half full and let’s fill the stupid glass back up, right?

And so, like that’s the thing, it’s, “How do we take action? What is one thing that we can do to move forward?” Like, even from this podcast or all the podcasts you listen with Pete, is what one thing can you take away from this that you can apply and to fill the glass back up? Now, this is not a call to go to your nearest bar, if you’re over 21, and tell your bartender, “Fill the glass up. Fill the glass up,” right?
But this is a clarion call to fill our own glasses up with continuous learning, continuous growing, listening to podcasts like this one right now that will help you to grow and develop professionally but also you get some nuggets to grow personally as well.

So, don’t ask if the glass is half empty or half full, take action and fill the glass back up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Justin, this has been a treat. Thank you and keep on inspiring.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Thank you so much, Pete.