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

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:

 

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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.

489: The Mindset of the Most Effective Leaders with Bob Anderson

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Bob Anderson says: "'How am I getting in my own way?' is a constant conversation or area of reflection."

Bob Anderson discusses the ways you’re inhibiting your leadership potential—and how to remedy them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising source of highly-accurate feedback
  2. The two leadership operating systems
  3. Powerful questions for unlocking your leadership potential

About Bob

Robert J. Anderson has been a pace setter in the field of Leadership Development for over 30 years. He is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Development Officer of The Leadership Circle and

the Full Circle Group, and the co-author of Scaling Leadership andMastering Leadership. Bob created The Leadership Circle Profile, a 360° assessment used by organizations worldwide to measure the effectiveness of their leaders (individually and collectively), chart a pathway for their development, and assess their progress as they develop.

The MEECO Leadership Institute awarded him the International Thought Leader of Distinction in 2018.

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Bob Anderson Interview Transcript

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

Bob Anderson
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would love to hear, first of all, I understand that you went ahead and got your pilot’s license. What is the backstory here?

Bob Anderson
Well, the backstory was I was trying to figure out how to be a consultant on the road and be home at a sooner time, so those are two competing commitments, right, success in both arenas. So, I decided to learn to fly a little airplane, and I bought a Beechcraft Bonanza, and got an instrument rating, and I could fly in most weather. And it allowed me to get to places and get home sooner. So, leave later and get home sooner.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you actually fly your own plane to like speaking engagements and such.

Bob Anderson
I don’t anymore. I did for a good number of years but I’ve given it up. It’s like I get busy, I don’t have as much time to really stay current.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I was actually thinking about doing this but I think, “Oh, Pete, that’s probably not actually going to save you real time once you get into whatever.” But your experience was, yes, you saved lots of time because you’re flying your own plane.

Bob Anderson
There were times that I was home for dinner that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, and there were times when I was not due to weather. So, I finally said, “You know, I’m not sure this is working as well as I thought.” You need a lot of airplane to be able to get there in difficult weather.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Bob Anderson
So, yeah, we could take 40 minutes on that.

Pete Mockaitis
The ins and outs of aircraft. That’s a skill. For listeners who are considering getting a pilot’s license and their own airplane for your travels we’re going to get to the bottom of it.

Bob Anderson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But we’re not, that is for another show. You might get some invitations. So, I want to hear, you’ve done some impressive research into leadership, and so I want to dig into it. So, your team, I understand, has surveyed over a million leaders around the world. Can you tell us a bit about that research and maybe the most striking discovery you gained from that?

Bob Anderson
Well, I created a leadership assessment 360 years ago, and it goes much broader and deeper than most 360s, and we’d get into some of that. But we’ve probably given feedback to 150,000-160,000 leaders around the world with the leaders that report to them providing feedback so that gives us the database of 1.5 million and growing to do research with and one of the nicest research databases in the world probably on leadership. And so, we can research that nine ways from Sunday.

Bob Anderson
One of the things that struck us, which was why we wrote. We did this research project on all the written comments.

So, we asked the raters, the people providing feedback, to write in what’s this person’s greatest strengths, or assets, and what are their liabilities and so on. And the data blew us away with the precision with which leaders see the people that they work with and how poignantly they can describe it and how directly those written comments match to the quantitative feedback.

So, if you write in, “Bob is an arrogant SOB,” you’re going to see that a high score on arrogance, right? So, the match, we saw just a kind of surprising match, our statisticians were actually stunned by it, between things people said in writing and then how the quantitative came out.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know. Maybe I’m not capturing why that’s impressive. Wouldn’t we expect that to be the case?

Bob Anderson
I think what we saw in that was that, as a leader, you’re in a feedback-rich environment. We used to think you had to go set that up, “Let’s go create a feedback-rich environment so leaders can really grow,” which is critical. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, right? And so, we realized that you’re breathing it and you swim in it. It’s all around you. It’s the air you breathe.

There’s feedback-rich environment all around you. The question is, “Do you actually tap it? Do you harness it? Do you listen? Do you go out and seek it?” Most don’t. It’s an acquired taste and most would prefer not to go there because it can be strong medicine to really, “Yeah, that’s how you’re showing up as a leader.” And people see you in action and they see you with real accuracy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess that’s sort of the takeaway there is that folks who just sort of pipe up with their feedback if you ask them and they’re willing to give it to you, then you can probably feel pretty good that that’s accurate as opposed to kind of off-base or you won’t get it unless we have sort of a scoring system to get it.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m hearing you. That’s great news, I suppose, is that if you want feedback you can get it or at least they know it whether or not they care to share it with you, and you care to listen, I guess, over the challenges. Okay, so you say you’ve got kind of full-blown framework and a kind of architecture there when it comes to defining leadership. And so, you talk a lot about high creative versus high reactive. Can you unpack a little bit of that idea?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, the basic principle, one of them, that underlies our work is that there’s an inner game and an outer game, and you’re playing both all the time. Outer game of your knowledge, your experience, your competency skills, you bring that to every meeting you’re in as a leader, and you’re honing that game all the time. And it’s really an important game and if you don’t play it well, you’d wash out, so you’re working that all the time.

Also, what’s running that game is your inner game, your operating system, if you will. So, the level of maturity in that operating system drives the ways you show up in your outer game and what you have access to in terms of behaviors and capabilities in a moment, and what you may not have access to. And that drives effectiveness in highly-charged complex situations which leaders find themselves all the time.

So, a reactive leader, their inner game typically is authored by others. About 75% of adults will have an inner operating system that’s authored by others. Meaning I tend to be pursuing my objectives in a, what Larry Wilson called the “play not to lose” game, “I’m trying to move forward and not lose faith.” So, what I’m not aware of is that the fear that’s running me and the assumptions underneath that.

So, I talk about the leader who’s overly-cautious and deferential, the inner game that they’re playing is, “You define me, and I’m defined by how much you like me and the kind of harmony in our relationship.” So, not to be accepted is not to be. I lose myself if you don’t see me as a good, likable, somebody who’s a team player and so on.”

Somebody else might have a similar equation but opposite. So, I might define myself as results. My results, my power to drive result is me. That makes me valuable. And so, I’m always running the show. There are times when that’s really helpful and there are times when you need to back off, let others learn, grow, take responsibility, delegate, and so on. But the more your sense of worth and security and safety is tied up in “The results always have to be so perfect and stellar all the time,” the less latitude you have to really allow people to learn and grow with you.

Both of these impacts your ability to scale your leadership which is what the book was about. So, if I’m running every meeting, there are limits to scale. If I’m not able to address the difficult issues and move them forward, my leadership has built-in limits and scale. So, that’s a reactive operating system. It’s outside-in, the expectations of others, long past and in my current environment, are driving me in ways I’m not as much aware of as I need to be. So, their, these beliefs and assumptions have me, they’re running me.

When you shift to the creative, that turns around. You start to notice them, “Oh, I always make up that it’s too risky for me to put my voice in the room with higherups, or speak truth to power, or let go, not take over the meeting. Let the group find their own way. Or not have to impress people with my ideas in every encounter. I can give more space now.” And that’s huge.

When you can start to see your old operating system as just that, “It’s a set of assumptions I grew up with but it’s not necessarily how I want to show up in the moment,” then you have choice. And then what happens is you start to ask the question, “Well, how do I want to show up? Or what do I really want here? What am I really after in this moment, or in my life, or as a leader?”

And you start to, what’s now driving you is that question, “What matters most? What matters most in terms of my life’s purpose and vision? What matters most in terms of the organization that I believe in and I’m trying to create? What matters most in terms of this meeting or what we’re trying to accomplish and get done in this meeting?” That full spectrum is what’s in focus now. And it isn’t that you don’t have the fears, they’re there, but you are now in a different relationship with them. They’re just there, “Okay, I’m nervous. I’m scared. I don’t know how this is going to work out. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here,” and you go forward anyway.

And you go forward with more presence, more clarity, more authenticity, more flexibility in your behaviors so you can listen or advocate your position as opposed to, “I’m always advocating my position,” or, “I’m always listening.” You have that kind of flexibility to move back and forth, when to push, when not to push. When to take on a difficult issue, when to say, “Hmm, better not right now.” And so, you get much more fluidity with the full bandwidth of what it takes to be effective in complex situations that leaders are in.

In the reactive structure, you have limited bandwidth. You default to your reactive pattern or strategy under pressure, and that has built-in limits. So, that’s what we mean by a creative leader versus a reactive leader.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s intriguing. I can certainly see how, yes, I would certainly prefer to be a creative leader as opposed to a reactive leader. But you’ve gone ahead and got some real research that proves that high-creative leaders are way, way more effective. Can you speak to that?

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, we have unearthed, they’re assessment measures, both, right, so all the different variations we talked about, of reactive and the inverse of that, or the corollary to that, in the creative. So, it’s got like 29 to 30 dimensions on it of leadership, and some are reactive, some are creative. So, we have a pretty rich database of, “If you’re more of a reactive in your leadership, here’s what it looks like. If you’re more creative in your leadership, here’s what kind of competence and capability you get access to.”

And then we correlate that with measures of business performance in one case and/or leadership effectiveness measures which are people perceiving you as either effective or ineffective, how effective do they perceive you. And the correlation on creative leadership to perceived effectiveness as a leader by the people that lead is like 0.93. You know, 1.0 is a perfect correlation so 0.93 is about as high as you’d get in this kind of research.

In other words, if you show up as a creative leader, people will see you as an effective leader. And in the inverse of that is true on reactive, and it’s a pretty good strong inverse correlation to effectiveness. And business performance data follows that. So, we have that too, both in terms of what we see with anecdotally or with case studies but also in the research where we can research.

We did a study while ordering Mastering Leadership where after the death of one of our clients who was the president of the association for their industry, the industry took on an entire industry-wide study, a financial industry study, on the relationship between business performance and the culture, whether it be more creative or reactive leadership culture in the organization. And they found pretty stunning, like five times more performance from organizations that were more creative than the ones that were more reactive. The year-over-year performance was about five-fold different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these are striking results and so I’m intrigued. So, we talked about sort of the inner game in terms of what it’s like when you’re experiencing and in the grips of being reactive versus you’ve got some more flexibility to be creative. But can you maybe paint a bit of a picture for what are some of the behaviors and activities and approaches of a high-reactive leader in action versus a high-creative leader in action?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, so I’ll tell you one of my own. I can pick and choose here because I’ve got the whole bandwidth, most of us do. We did our 360 on ourselves as a firm and we gave feedback to each other.

And I got a really high score on arrogance and a pretty low score on cooperation or collaboration, which impacts other dimensions but that was the primary pattern in the data and a check. In fact, I didn’t see it coming and you have different breakout groups. And so, Bill, my co-author, and we’re cofounders in this merger, I put Bill in the bus as a category so I could see his scores because if we don’t give boss anonymity then everybody else gets in but not the boss, so Bill sees his scores and he scored me 4.5 out of 5 on a 5-point scale, 4.5 out of 5. Now, I’m the statistician so I know that that’s five standard deviation units above the mean, right?
So, I call him over, and my first move is to talk him out of his scores, he really didn’t mean this. And I said, “Bill, you gave me a 4.5 out of 5 on arrogance.” And he goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, that’s five standard deviation units above the mean. You must see me as one of the most arrogant people in the world.” And he goes, “Uh-huh.” And I was like, “Oh,” I wasn’t laughing then. That was hard. He wasn’t willing to back down and say, “Well, that wasn’t really that.” And I got a lot of feedback from the team, and I made a commitment, I said, “Well, two things. One, I’m choosing to collaborate or more. And I want to know when I’m showing up arrogant, so I want your feedback, real time, when I show up in ways that shut down the conversation.”

Well, a couple of years later, I’m in with Bill on an issue and we’re going back and forth. And I’m right, and I know I’m right, and he’s wrong, and it’s not okay that he’s wrong. And I’m writing these emails he’s not responding. I’m writing a long history of why I’m right on this and not getting a response, and I can tell he’s probably pretty upset in his silence and so I’m pretty scared about that because you got two founders that are having a pretty important and significant conflict.

And at some point, I realized that my energy on this was all reactive, and you ask for behavior, so it’s like, “Look, let me tell you where you’re off here. Here’s what you don’t get,” in that kind of tone and energy of interaction, both verbally and in writing. And Bill, to his credit, just didn’t respond to that. So, I went out one day and I was working it, I said, “Okay, what’s this got to do with me?”

And somewhere on a walk, I saw for the first time, I don’t know how insights happen when they happen, but this one was huge, just hit me like a ton of bricks, “Oh, my God. I’m defined by my ideas. My ideas are me. These books are me. Huh, that’s not true. I’m good with ideas but I am not my ideas.” So, when you disagree with me or when there’s real conflict about the core of some of these IP, our IP, well, I’m threatened now pretty fundamentally because I am my ideas. My ideas and my capability around ideas is me.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re reacting, I mean, can you sort of unpack a little bit what does that sound like inside your brain? Certainly, your ideas are kind of under scrutiny or under attack. What is your brain saying?

Bob Anderson
Well, if I listen to the silent story in my brain, on the surface it’s going, “You’re wrong and it’s not okay that you’re wrong. Look, who are you to challenge me? You don’t really get it.” There’s that story and I’m in blame, “This issue is your doing.” And so, that’s the way I’m showing up, that’s the weather I’m bringing to the conversation.

The inner conversation is something like, “It’s not okay for me not to be seen as the smartest guy around or the most wise. I need to be seen as wise, more wise than you. But not too much wiser than you because then you’ll reject me or you’ll feel, think of me as arrogant.” So, I’m playing this inner game that I wasn’t aware of. I want to be smarter and wiser than you but I don’t want you to see it. I want you to admire me as brilliant but not be put off by it so I need to modulate, and I’m in it all the time. And then I get threatened when I’m not see that way. “That’s not okay. Okay, now I’m at risk. I’m losing my identity in ways I didn’t ever realize was right there.” And this goes on in every meeting.

Every one of us has these layers in us where we stake claim to our identity. In one of three camps, it’s either in relationship, “I’m okay if you like and accept me, and I’m seen as loyal and supportive,” or results, “I’m perfect and perfect at getting results, or my results and my success is me, my ambition to move up and status, and this career that I built is me. And so, anything that threatens that edifice is not okay and I need to swing into gear, take it over, attack that, push it away, let you know why you’re wrong.”

so, relationships, results, ideas, your intellect. So, head, heart, and will are the three core energies. It’s like electron, proton, and neutron, there’s a three-core energy, and we define ourselves, “I’m really good at this and this makes me valuable.” And you’ll see it. You’ve got two kids below two, right? You’ll see it. They’re different, they come in with different, I think, souls and soul energy. And they will take their unique gift and strength and say, “This is me and I am one child and all heart.”

The teddy bear, loving, caring, and their natural orientation is to be pleasing and that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a limitation if you start to identify that, “I’m not okay. I have to be seen this way and I’m not okay if I’m not.” So, risking relationship becomes a problem. And I’ve got another son that’s the other side. It’s about drive to make things happy, and that’s a beautiful thing. And, at some point, when I get into more complex leadership roles, that ambitious drive controlling tendency can be an issue.

And so, it isn’t that reactive is wrong, it’s actually a strength that I’m running through a less mature operating system. It’s like I’m trying to run my gifts and strengths through DOS.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember DOS.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, some of our listeners may not, but it’s not complex enough for what we’re into, and that’s the issue. There’s nothing wrong with us, 75% of adults are living in this operating system which is like what we’re socialized into. And then, with the volatile, complex, ambiguous, fast-paced, disrupted leadership environment that we plant ourselves in, that operating system, it just gets outmatched. And we have to be able to manage it.

And as soon as we start to see, “Oh, I’m not my ideas,” well, then, they can listen to you and I can notice when I’m getting defensive, “Oh, here I am again. Okay, let me just keep listening. Tell me more about that. Oh, okay. Well, now, here’s where I disagree with that,” and it’s a whole different energy. And so, this is the shift, so I got down with that awareness with Bill, and I started to laugh because I went, “All this time I’ve been thinking about Bill is the arrogant jerk and I’m the one who’s the arrogant jerk. What’s with that?” Funny.

So, I was laughing about it at this point and I go back home, I get on my computer, and I write in three sentences, “Bill, I’ve been wrong. And, furthermore, I’ve been wrong in the partnership for a while for years, and I’m ready to talk.” That was the email. Very different than, “Let me prove to you why I’m right.” And he said, “I feel your heart, brother. Let’s talk.” We had an extraordinary conversation at breakfast the morning before we did some work with a client. And I just, later on, “Here’s how I’ve been showing up, here’s what I’ve learned, here’s what my commitment is to do differently.”

Our relationship changed the whole dynamic in the firm, so I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since then we’ve been like on a pretty good 30%, 40%, 50%-year growth trajectory. And my relationship with Bill is so much more creative and synergistic. We’re in a company that’s like our job, our competitive advantage is IP, and the quality of our ability to frame that up with leaders.

And so, to take that and 10X it in terms of the synergy that’s in the conversation is a big deal for the company, and so it changed everything. And what’s really interesting is it changed Bill. So, when I got clear on my stuff, there was no intention that Bill would change. Like, that’s the power of this more creative authentic leader, it’s like, “Oh, I’m the one that needs to really get clear and change.” And then you’ll respond in kind or not, but I’m not making a demand on Bill to show up different.

And the field of our new interaction shows up differently and more effectively, and he’s learned a ton from it, and it’s changed him. And he’ll say that very candidly. So, when we do our work as a leader, all things change when we do. And so, one of the things we saw in our research and wrote up in Scaling Leadership is that the kind of the first principle leading an organizational transformation is take it on person as the leader. Step in transparently and vulnerably with the radical, kind of we call it radical humanity, and I have the most to learn here.

Yeah, if it’s going to change it’s up to me. The fact that there’s a level of function or dysfunction in the organization, the culture, is a shadow of me, directly connected to me. So, what do I need to learn here in order for this organization to go the next level? And when leaders step in and lead from that place, everybody is invited to raise their game. And a side of a conversation that now has grace in it, “Oh, you too?”

So, we’re working with a senior team, I won’t mention the company name, a senior team of a large company in the United States. The CEO is working an issue, a conflict with the person that he brought in to help transform the organization, so he’s there to lead the transformation, from like a professional change agent perspective. And they weren’t connecting and there’s real disconnect in their relationship, plus the whole organizational change effort was being interrupted by all this.

And at some point, he said, “Here’s what happens to me when you come at me with that attitude.” It was a kind of attitude, “You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. You don’t get it.” And the attitude that this change agent was coming at him with, and he said, “I’m back with my dad.” Now, this is a family-owned business so dad was founder. “I’m back with my dad as a kid, and I didn’t mow the yard perfectly enough, there’s one leaf left in the yard that I missed. So, when you come at me with that, I go small, and then I get angry. It’s not okay.”

And so, now you’ve got a CEO very directly talking about his own reactive condition and where it comes from and how it’s playing out in the senior team. And everybody knew it was playing out in the senior team because they watched these two go at it, and then they have their role in it. They stand by, they take sides, they run from it. The whole team is part of that. Everybody is a part of it. But unless you start to really get to depth with it, you’re not going to break through on it.

So, that was a moment where a leader really stepped in, and said, “Okay, I’m going to show up here. But what’s really going for me in this conflict,” and it broke open. It broke the whole conversation open in a beautiful way for them to kind of really work this.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that is powerful and cool. And so, I guess, to pull this off requires some soul-searching, some acquiring feedback. I guess, in some ways, it’s great because now we know what we’re looking for in terms of, “Where do you get reactive? Where do you get defensive? Where do you feel like a small child?” Any pro tips for how we find that and mitigate it once we do?

Bob Anderson
So, that’s one of the reasons I created the 360 was I was at a much deeper level when it gets at this inner game as well as the outer game in the same assessment because I saw this so often with leaders who were championing a significant change effort which they really believed in. And when you meet them, you go, “Wow, this is really extraordinary. What a vision they have not only for the organization but the whole industry.”

And then I would watch them show up in their old pattern of leadership in ways that completely discounted them, discounted their change effort, and people one layer below them go, “Oh, you’re not really serious. And I’ll get on board when they start walking their talk.” And so, any good, well-orchestrated, “Let’s get some feedback in the system. How am I really showing up as a leader? What kind of weather am I bringing? How do I create possibilities and open up the space? How do I shut it down? How do I get in my own way? What are the strengths that I have that I want to keep really deploying or I want to leverage further?” That’s the really rich conversation.

And there are many ways to get it. But getting yourself and your senior team at whatever level of leader you are listening to this, you and the people around you, and the people that report to you or around you, “How do we get in this conversation where we’re learning together how to be more effective both individually and then how we show up together collectively to lead the organization we’re responsible for?”

Pete Mockaitis
And then inside your head, how do you proceed with kind of reprogramming or myth-busting the “I am my ideas,” or, “I am my results”? That’s there, I mean, it’s been a while that. We’ve got to move beyond.

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, this is where most of us lack literacy. We’re not ignorant. We lack a literacy. So, at some point, we had to learn math or arithmetic not because we were stupid. There’s a literacy to it that one and one is two, and so on. And then higher mathematics, and algebra or whatever, geometry, and so on. There’s literacy in the pathways of one’s own transformation and how to be self-transforming.

And I’ve talked about two of the key practice. Well, actually, I talked about three of them. So, one is the ability or to listen to your inner game, to this self-talk. So, when you ask me the question, “Well, what were you saying to yourself?” that’s the question and getting good at that, “Okay, so if this meeting doesn’t go well, then we could fall short on results, right. If we fell short on results, then what’s at risk for me? Well, I’m going to get a lousy review from my boss. Great. So, if I get a lousy review, what’s at risk for me?”

So if you learn to track your fear. So, I was working with a mid-level leader that really high-scores on autocratic leadership. And we’re talking about, I said, “You know what that is or what that looks like?” He goes, “Oh, yeah, I pounce. I’m in a meeting, I just take it over.” I said, “Well, why do you take it over?” “Because it’s not going well.” And I said, “So, were you willing to look at that?” He said, “Sure.” So, I said, “Well, just before you pounce, how do you feel? What kind of feelings are going on in your body? Can you describe fear, anger, this kind of upsurge of energy and it’s starts from its gut then to its chest and throat?” “I just feel like [heaves].”

And I said, “Good. So, what’s at risk for you if you don’t pounce?” And he went through, we just walked right down through some form of, “I’m not okay. My results define me.” That’s a practice, and getting good at it, and getting the ability to take perspective on your programming is a literacy. And most of us haven’t learned it.

So, when I drop in, I was practicing that literacy. It doesn’t mean that I always get to the bottom of it by any stretch or that I’ve seen all of my reactivity, or I’m at 60 years old and I’ve gotten, “Jeez, I’m defined by my ideas that’s been running me my whole life. I didn’t realize it.” So, that’s one practice, and it’s a breakthrough practice. It’s breakthrough. It’s like you see the illusion. Underneath fear and the behaviors that it’s running, underneath it is an illusion, “I’m not my ideas. Other people don’t define me. I’m not my results. One failure is not the whole game. If people don’t like me, that’s their issue.”

So, when you can start to manage that conditioning that we all have, you can’t not have it, the question is, “Does it have you or do you have it?” So, when we have it, we’re managing it. And then, the second literacy is the practice of getting clear about, “What is it I’m really after? What do I want most deeply?” I had an experience early in my life of this. I was working for our family business, I grew up in a family business, it was grain business, and I was running the feed manufacturing plant.

So, I’m out in the receiving bay and unloading railroad cars at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, and I’m exhausted and I’m getting finished unloading this railroad car full of wheat. And I get inside and I’m sweeping up the last little bit in this upper bottom car. And I sit down in this hopper and I just catch my breath. I got my dust mask on. And, out loud, un-reflected, unrehearsed came, “I’m not becoming who I am.”

And I’m, “Who said that?” It was authoritative. It just came out of my mouth, “I’m not becoming who I am.” And that began, for me, a process of, “Okay, what was that? What do I really want my life to be about?” And I started what I called my must journal, “What must I be about with my life in order to live the life I came here to live and not somebody else’s? What are my musts? Not my bucket lists, goals, objectives, things that would be cool. But, fundamentally, what do I need to be about?”

And I wrote down things that I didn’t have a clue on. We’re making dog food and I’m going, “I want to help people grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.” I’m like, “I’m going to vet the farm on that? What is that?” But I knew it was true because of my experience and my life, there’d been this tension between my dad the engineer and all of my love of technical stuff and building things.

Another must was, “I must have technical challenge in my life.”
And I didn’t know how I was going to help people grow and develop personally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and have technical challenge in my life.

Well, I have both now because I have a business that’s about as high-tech as you get with IT and statistics and surveys, and it’s a pretty technical challenging, rigorously-challenging business, and it’s all about helping people bring forth their highest and best. And I didn’t have a clue. I’m making dog food. So, this principle is a constant focus at one level or a meta level, “What am I here for?” And then it’s like, “Okay, what’s the life I want to create? Or what’s the business or career that I want to create that expresses that?” And then it comes down to vision after vision after vision.

So, I’m going to create a 360 assessment. I didn’t have it that this was going to be global. I mean, it’s grown into quite a global standard. It’s a world-standard assessment. I didn’t have that. I was just passionate about the work, and I needed an assessment that went deeper. So, I couldn’t find one out there so I went and I made it up.

So, all of that is the pursuit, a vision that’s pulling us forward. And, “How am I getting in my own way?” is a constant conversation or area of reflection.

And if you can do both of those, then you show up more authentically in your conversations, more clean, less reactive, more open, vulnerable, willing to listen, not always having to be right, and so on. And then you’re much more effective. So, those three, “What do I want? How do I get in my own way in getting good at tracking that to my inner game? And how do I show up then in ways that are more direct, authentic, straight, and an expression, an embodiment or an expression of the organization and the culture I’m trying to leave in my wake as a leader?” Those are three that I think are really important. And if you practice that, you will boot up a more creative operating system that defines the creative operating system.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bob, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite  , something you find inspiring?

Bob Anderson
Albert Schweitzer is one of them, “I don’t know what your destiny will be but this much I do know. Only those among you who have sought and bound how to serve will truly be happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Bob Anderson
I’m reading physics for lay people. I’m not a physicist but I think there’s a physics to all this that we’re talking about, a physics to consciousness, and a physics of leadership. And so, I’m fascinated by what they’re discovering at the very edge of physics.

Bob Anderson
You tip your toe into physics and it will bust your paradise. And we need them busted because we’re at a time in human history where we must break through with higher-order solutions. And Einstein said, “The solutions to our current problems can’t be found from the consciousness that created them. It can only be found from the next higher-order of consciousness.”

And that gets often quoted. But I’m starting to really understand it now from the perspective that I think he was talking about, about how you can access stuff like relativity theory, how you can access higher-order knowledge and information, and he talked about that.

And so, I think we don’t have mental models that are at all adequate to who we are as human beings. Our mental models are limiting our creative capacities, our ability to create breakthroughs and ideas, and bring in the kind of new forms of government, new forms of technology, new forms of organization and culture that we need both in organizations and globally to really thrive. So, I’m interested in what physics has to teach us as it can break us out of our limited paradigms of what it means to be a conscious person and how to really create breakthroughs.

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

Bob Anderson
To TheLeadershipCircle.com. The Leadership Circle is our organization. Go there, you’ll see all kinds of stuff that we can talk about.

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

Bob Anderson
Be a learner not a knower. We have so much to learn. And if I can get out of my own way and be a learner and be vulnerable enough to not know, ask for help, ask for feedback, that’s the best place to lead from. Most of us don’t want to go there. We’ve got to always put forward a kind of front of, “I’ve got it all together.” And the best leaders drop that and lead from a place of, “Man, we’ve got a lot to learn here. Me, too. Let’s get started.”

Pete Mockaitis
Bob, thank you so much for sharing the good stuff. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in scaling your leadership in your organization and your impact and all the good stuff you’re doing.

Bob Anderson
It was really fun. Enjoyed the conversation. I hope your listeners find it valuable. I enjoyed myself. So, thank you. You did a great job of drawing this forth.

470: How to Give and Receive Useful Feedback Every Month: Insider Tips on Making Performance Reviews Not Suck with Dr. Craig Dowden

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Craig Dowden says: "If we want to give appreciation, give only appreciation. The most common blunder is that we combine coaching and evaluation."

Craig Dowden exposes gaps in common performance review practices and presents an empowering alternative approach everybody can use–no matter where you work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the current performance review practice is broken
  2. The key thing NOT to do when giving feedback
  3. A different and better strategy for regular reviews

About Craig:

Craig Dowden (Ph.D.) is an inspiring and thought-provoking executive coach, Forbes author and keynote speaker who partners with leaders and executives to tackle their most important personal and organizational challenges. Craig holds a Doctorate in psychology, with a concentration in business and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach. In his role as a trusted advisor, he integrates the latest findings in the science of leadership, team, and organizational excellence into his coaching and consulting work. In 2009, Craig was recognized as one of Ottawa’s 40 under 40 business leaders by the Ottawa Business Journal.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

Craig Dowden Interview Transcript

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

Craig Dowden
Thanks so much for the invitation, Pete. Looking forward to chatting with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to it as well. But, first, I want to hear a quick tale about your nickname Egg in high school and how you used that to your advantage.

Craig Dowden
Nice. Well, good background searching and sleuthing there. When I was growing up, I was kind of an awkward gangly tall kid, and so we would have races around the neighborhood. And so, of course, the classic last one to Craig’s house is the rotten egg. And then, I was routinely last, so you can see how they quickly made the link between, “Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig is the egg.” And, thus, the legend of Egg was born.

And so, not to be thwarted by the nickname, I ran for Student Council President, and we actually had a very boisterous group of supporters, and we had a lot of different campaign slogans attached to them, like, “Vote for Egg. He won’t crack under pressure.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, zing.

Craig Dowden
Or, “Vote for Egg, or the yolk is on you.” So, we got a little playful. And, apparently, that worked, branding, won by a landslide, so it was quite the campaign. Very enjoyable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-done. Well, I’m going to go for an awkward for a segue, and I want to hear about how often people feel like there may be egg on their face on the giving and receiving of performance reviews out there.

Craig Dowden
Exactly, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was inspired. I enjoyed your incoming pitch and we’re getting more and more selective these days as we’re getting clearer and clearer on what listeners want. But you nailed it, you and your publicist got it going on. Performance reviews, that is a pain point for a lot of people. Can you orient us maybe what’s current practice in most organizations with performance reviews and how well is that working for us?

Craig Dowden
Well, thank you for the feedback. I’m glad the pitch was received well. And, yes, it’s one of those internal pain points. What’s really interesting is if you look at organizational research, in very few circumstances does management and employees agree on certain things. You talk about engagement levels, transparency, you name it, there often tends to be a disconnect between leadership and employees. And, yet, for performance reviews, this is one of those areas that are universally loathed.

Pete Mockaitis
Loathed with a T-H, not a V as in Valentine’s. T-H as in Thermopylae.

Craig Dowden
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
The first T-H word I thought. How about thumb?

Craig Dowden
Exactly. So, yes, they just absolutely, people just dislike them. So, managers really dislike giving the feedback, and employees really hate receiving the feedback. Oftentimes they’ll use a lot of ineffective strategies like the compliment sandwich, which, you know, say something nice and then you follow it up with something really critical, and then, of course, just to make sure they leave on a positive note, you end it with a positive.

And so, all of these tips and tricks just lead to a lot of disappointed participants in this process. There was a study done a couple of years ago where 55% of people said they didn’t feel that their annual performance review was fair or accurate representation of their performance. Two-thirds said there was surprising feedback in the review, which you would think that shouldn’t happen. And then three quarters of employees said there were no specific behavioral examples given to support the feedback.

So, this is a really broken process which many leading organizations are starting to realize and make changes as a result of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’ll tell you, this just fires me up. I just think feedback is so important.

Craig Dowden
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard it said that it’s the breakfast of champions.

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so powerful and useful as a tool for learning, growth, and development which I am big in, big on, and to hear that in some organizations this may be the only or the majority of the feedback they get, which is sad as well, and then to hear that it’s not working for people, and isn’t accurate, doesn’t have specific examples, it makes me sad because it could be a cause for celebration.

I actually enjoyed getting reviews because I viewed them, well, one at Bain, they gave very detailed and thorough reviews and lots of examples, and I like that. But, two, I thought I’m in this job largely for the learning, and a lot of the learning is happening during my performance review, for me. And, thusly, I was like excited to go into them because I thought, “This is part of my compensation. It’s like I’m getting a bonus.”

And I was a little bit odd in most of my college life, like, “Okay, Pete, I kind of liked it a little but you’re weird.” But organizations that are not advanced or in that domain, of which it sounds like they are a majority, leave a pretty crappy experience all the way around.

Craig Dowden
Well, for sure, and I think and I love your personal experience and being a bit of an outlier to say in terms of just loving the process. And when you look at the evidence, people are open to receiving feedback, and I think there’s just a lot of challenges. I think that if it’s constructed well, the conversation can go fantastic because it provides an opportunity for leaders to give some feedback to people in terms of where they are and where they need to be.

It also provides people in the organization an opportunity to learn and grow, which this is one of the keys when you look at the research around engagement, that’s one of the key indicators, “Do people, feel like they’re learning new skills, having an opportunity to challenge themselves and grow?” So, fundamentally, the process is a wonderful one to really drive and facilitate peak performance and learning, yet, unfortunately, the way in which we handle it just ends up leaving invariably to some really challenging circumstances because people either don’t deliver the feedback particularly well.

Doug Stone, out of Harvard, did some fabulous work around the different types of feedback so this is one huge challenge in terms of how some missteps that we make. So, he identified three primary forms of feedback. So, there’s appreciation, which is, “Hey, Pete, great job. Really love what you’re doing. Couldn’t achieve what we’re doing without you.”

Then there’s coaching, which is essentially bidirectional conversation where you’re exploring with someone different ways of approaching a particular challenge or opportunity. And then the last one is evaluation, which is essentially saying, “Hey, Pete, this is where you are based on what we initially projected, or what our end goals were, and so let’s discuss that.”

And so, based on Doug’s research, and I’ve spoken to him extensively around this, the difficulty is it’s almost like the movie “Ghostbusters,” right? Don’t cross the streams. And, unfortunately, we have this terrible habit of crossing the stream. So, according to his work, and he’s been at the Harvard Negotiation Project for well over 30 years, and what he’s found is we’ll combine those.

So, if we want to give appreciation, give appreciation. The most common blunder is, is that we combine coaching and evaluation. And as he shared with me a little while ago, he said, you know, Pete, you can deliver the best coaching advice anyone has ever received or the best coaching conversation anyone has ever experienced, and if you combine it with evaluation, guess what happens? They basically just totally lose all of the coaching and focus on the evaluation, “So, why did I score a three out of five on this?”

And so, he said for the maximum impact to ensure that feedback is received and is actionable, the best thing we can possibly do, focus on evaluation for one conversation, and then have the coaching conversation following up on that. So, don’t mix them. And, sometimes, again, in the interest of efficiency, we mix the two, we’re like, “Hey, we’ll do the evaluation and then spend time coaching so that the person can really put this into practice.” Unfortunately, even though it may intuitively make sense or feel like it makes sense, in practice it has an opposite effect and actually leads to real challenges in the development and adoption of new behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a very helpful rule of thumb, that I think that could take you far just following that forever. So, you were saying, “Let us not mingle the coaching and evaluation bits of feedback in the same conversation because we’re going to miss out on that coaching goodness.” Now, is it kosher to mingle appreciation and coaching, or are those too helpful to be separated?

Craig Dowden
Again, the safest route, based on the work that he has done, is to separate them. Keep them because, again, it’s going to be around, “Hey, great job. This is wonderful. Really appreciate your efforts on this.” So, it keeps the conversation focused on, “We want you to feel recognized and acknowledged for your contribution.” Once again, as soon as you throw coaching into the mix, the person may forget about the appreciation and then focus on, “What are different strategies I can use around this?”

So, keeping our focus on what kind of feedback do we want to deliver, and then keep or maintain that focus on delivering that message. And then, later, you can talk, again, have a coaching conversation. So, all of those pieces can be much more effective in terms of supporting behavioral change and/or maintenance in someone else by being cognizant of those three different pieces of feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, now, you have a particular approach you recommend when it comes to performance reviews. Tell us about this.

Craig Dowden
Well, I think it’s basically a do-it-yourself employee review, and Daniel Pink, an international bestselling author, talks about this in “Drive” around having do-it-yourself performance reviews. And there’s lots of fundamental reasons as to why this is so effective. So, number one is that so feedback becomes less threatening through familiarity.

So, every month, if you and I are going to sit down, Pete, and have a conversation about performance, then I’m going to basically hand the reins over to you and say, “Okay, tell me how you did. Tell me where you think you thrived. Tell me where there were some challenges.” And so, in that way, what it does is it empowers someone else to be able to deliver their own feedback conversation.

Also, there’s less kind of threat around it because it’s more familiar to them. And it also empowers the other person to highlight some things within their own performance. So, really, it enables someone else to take the lead.

One of the worst things around performance reviews, and how organizations typically do it, is that you’re going to deliver the feedback to me. So, it’s very unidirectional and you’ll essentially stand on high and essentially pronounce judgment on how I’ve done over the past 12 months. By making a do-it-yourself performance review, and do it on a monthly basis, it’s much more common, frequent, routine, and now the individual feels empowered around what they’re going to share with you.

And so, that provides a sense of autonomy. It provides a sense of input. It provides a sense of ownership. And it’s really framed as a learning conversation, which is so essential. And then the benefit to managers, one of the key benefits to leaders and executives and business owners that I worked with, that they’ll talk to me about in terms of their own practices, they’ll have a laundry list of feedback that they want to be able to provide to the person. Well, oftentimes, their employees will tick off the boxes of all the things that they want to share so it takes the pressure off them to deliver that message.

And, secondarily, in some cases, you will volunteer things that I don’t even have on my list. So, it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to get insight that you might not have captured with someone else and, again, without the pressure of trying to figure out, “How can I best frame that conversation?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s also really awesome is that if you are the manager, like you’ve reduced so much of your workload as well.

Craig Dowden
Right. I love that, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And the benefits are huge in terms of, okay, so you’re less defensive because you’re the one generating these things about yourself.

So, are there any kind of key particular prompts that you recommend to structure or to latch onto a DIY review, or is it just like, “Hey, how do you think you did? How about it?”

Craig Dowden
Yeah, great question and I think it’s important to explain to people. And this, again, a major gap around just feedback processes in general is that they’re rarely explained, the purpose is rarely explained. So, leaders, executives, business owners, that I’ve worked with, they’ll talk about. So, what we want to do is make feedback an ongoing part of our DNA. Feedback is not something every six months or 12 months. We want to get to a space where we want to have feedback as a regular part of our organization and our organizational DNA because the world moves in such a fast pace these days. We need to have information. We need to have it readily available.

And so, what we’re going to do is have a monthly performance review where you come in and tell me where you’ve done well and what your successes are as well as some of the challenge areas and even what some proposals around what you think you and I can do to be able to address them. And so, it’s a wonderful way within that prompt. And then once you have that discussion in the first month, you can a check in after the first conversation and ask your employee, “How did that go? What did you think about it? Is there anymore specific direction that I can provide and anything I can do differently?” so you really start to have, open up the dialogue around that space.

And I think another really powerful benefit of this is that by employee sharing their feedback with you, then at the end of the conversation you can say, “Hey, do you mind if I share a couple of components or a couple of observations that I have?” So, it really benefits from the reciprocity principle. If you ask someone how they’re doing, well, they’ll generally ask you how you’re doing. So, it’s a wonderful way to create a bidirectional conversation that really kind of lowers the anxiety on both levels because it’s seen as, “Well, this is cooperative. We need each other in order to paint an accurate picture here.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, how do we deal with, I don’t know, numbers, ratings, rankings, competencies, you know, raises, bonuses, like the numbery things of it all?

Craig Dowden
Well, I think this is where some of the performance review processes are really broken because, like a forced ranking system as an example, right? And this is where a lot of them lose credibility, which is, “Well, we’ve got to have a certain number of stars, and a certain number of average performances, and a certain number of low performances.” So, this is where a lot of organizations are just redefining how they do performance reviews.

Some of the larger more progressive organizations are just getting rid of them altogether and moving it to a more kind of check in type of process. Adobe is an example as one organization that just stopped doing them altogether. And so then, I think this is an opportunity for senior leadership in an organization to start talking about.

So, what is the purpose of feedback? Because if the purpose of feedback is going to be around performance metrics, as an example, well, now, what motivation is there for individuals to disclose what’s going on? So, I think the metrics are an important part of it and how do we achieve it. Now, the process is around, “Okay, so how do we have that feedback conversation so we maximally set people up for success so that they can attain the goals that they set out?”

So, again, fundamentally, so let’s go back to that standard kind of Bell curve example that so many organizations use from a metric standpoint, or a financial incentive standpoint, “Hey, if everybody is knocking the ball out of the park through terrific feedback conversations, isn’t that awesome?” So, I think this is where fundamentally we have to rethink how we deliver incentives and how the feedback system is connected to that and be much more thoughtful around its implementation.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’d be great to be more thoughtful around it, and so I’d like to hear then, you mentioned Adobe and some other. Let’s hear some more best practices with regard to is it kind of more separated with regard to how we’re thinking about raises and promotions and compensation things? It’s kind of a different set of conversations than is the performance reviews or how does that go? Because often, you’re right, I think that these things come together and that can be.

Pete Mockaitis
So, Craig, within this model, how do you think about raises and promotions and compensation sorts of things? Are those like completely different set of conversations, kind of separate from the performance review conversations?

Craig Dowden
Yeah, I think that’s a great question, and they are. They’re separate because you can talk about, “Have the objectives, the goals, what are we trying to achieve be it quarterly, monthly, yearly?” And then that’ll be a different discussion around, “So, how well did I do in terms of achieving those objectives?” And then when we talked about the do-it-yourself performance review, essentially, and that’s something that could be readily integrated into that framework, which is, “Okay, for my Q1 goals, if I’m doing this monthly, how do I think I’m doing? Why do I think that I’m doing as well or not as well as I’m doing?” And then be able to provide that as a counterbalance to that discussion. So, they are issues that would be dealt with separately.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. And so then, I’m curious, if we have individuals listening who are thinking, “Boy, DIY do sound really cool.” We have a broken review process that you sort of discussed already also operating. Have you seen just sort of like individual professionals and their managers say, “You know what, this is cool. We’re going to go do it even if nobody else in our organization is.” How does that work?

Craig Dowden
For sure, yeah. One of the challenges is that it can feel awkward, almost like doing a new exercise at the gym. It can feel awkward so I think what’s really important is for both the manager as well as their team can talk about, “Okay, this may be awkward and we may have some stops and starts, and so let’s raise our hand and learn through the process.”

And I think when they have done it, what’s another challenge is that the manager, in particular the leader, almost has a scorecard, and what they may feel is the “right answer.” And so, giving control over to the employee can feel daunting and what’s going to happen, so there’s an uneasiness. And it’s really interesting and almost, to me, the parallel is having a difficult conversation.

I do a lot of work with executives and executive teams. And, particularly, if someone is having conflict with another colleague or other members of the team, when they actually sit down and have the discussion, it’s not nearly as painful or as challenging as they thought. And it’s the exact same thing with do-it-yourself performance reviews. When it’s over, a lot of times I’ll hear the executives say, “Wow, you know what, my employee shared things that I didn’t see, I didn’t have on my list, I didn’t feel was as great of an issue,” or, “I found that the conversation was much more constructive and productive.”

Or, “If they didn’t raise something that I had on my list, it seemed like they appreciated that I didn’t have the same level of defensiveness sharing my feedback with them.” So, there are so many benefits from doing it. Once again, kind of acknowledging that awkwardness. And I think it’s interesting because it is a very different way of approaching things.

And I think the other pieces, too, is that I hear is that then feedback becomes more normalized. It’s part of day to day, so it’s less awkward, so you don’t raise your hand when you only have something to complain about or a bad thing. So, it just becomes a natural extension of the discussion that you have each day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so then, you have seen then those individuals who just decide, “Screw the broken corporate system that we’re in. We’re going to do this on top of it.” And it works just fine once they get past those kind of awkward adjustment bits.

Craig Dowden
Well, I love that you highlight that because, let’s say, you are working in an organization where they want to hold on to the standard performance review. Well, then there’s nothing that prevents a leader from adding that into the toolkit, and say, “You know what, we’re going to apply this within the traditional, or within our mandated performance review system.”

And what’s interesting, the benefits still translate because, “Now, I’m having regular conversations. You and I are having regular conversations, Pete, and so then we can talk about things. And then when the actual performance review comes up, we’ve laid so much of the groundwork that they’re really straightforward. Very little, if anything, is surprising,” which is the way it should be.

And so, fundamentally, whether or not your organization adopts it at large, or whether or not they resist and that you do it yourself, this strategy can be used regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, so I’d love it if we can maybe do a roleplay or a demonstration of a DIY performance review in action. I mean, I guess part of it is quiet reflective thought on your own before you engage in the conversation. So, let’s say that I did that.

Craig Dowden
Right. That’s right, assuming that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll make this like, okay, let’s just say you are the owner of my whole company, and I’m an employee who is in charge of making the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, and we’re having a monthly check-in here. How would we start?

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say, “Pete, thank you for taking the time to come in and meet with me today. As you know, we do do-it-yourself performance review on a monthly basis, really, so we can have an open and constructive dialogue around how things are going. And so, I appreciate you taking the time to go through the questions, reflection questions, and fundamentally what I want us to talk about this afternoon are a couple of things.”

“Number one, how do you feel things are going in terms of the goals that you set out this month? How do you feel that you’re performing? Then, also, what are the gaps? What are some areas where you feel there are possibilities to raise your level of performance? And then, also, what’s some feedback that you have for me? So, how can I do a better job of supporting you in terms of where you are and what you’re trying to achieve? And then, lastly, I would love to be able to share my insights, observations with you to close the conversation, and just talk about the next steps.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Okay, cool. Well, thank you, Craig. I really appreciate you investing the time to do this with all of your many direct reports and it could add up perhaps. And I feel that it’s going smashingly well with regard to the podcast having completed a huge listener survey. It gave me a clear idea of what people are into and seeking those folks out to deliver upon that.”

“I think in terms of the gaps, I think it’s that I’ve not yet sort of systematized an approach so that we can sort of take listener requests, write to guests like very quickly in terms of figuring out how to do that over and over again when it’s a lot harder to do that than to just snag an author who sounds relevant, who’s got a book coming out because they said yes immediately to invitations on the podcast.”

“And my feedback for you, Craig, is that we speak very rarely, and I’d love it if you could provide some more input more frequently into my performance there. So, that’s what I’m thinking right now.”

Craig Dowden
“That’s fabulous. Well, a couple of things, and I’ll certainly add that. That’s valuable feedback and I appreciate it and I agree that if we had an opportunity to speak more, have much more constructive conversations, so I definitely will commit to doing that.”

“A couple of things that I think you touched on in terms of what has been going awesomely well. I’m thrilled to hear that, so congratulations and that’s great news and great feedback. I really appreciate that you took your insights from customer feedback and client feedback that you have so that’s really compelling.”

“And so, what steps, what are some lessons that you’ve learned through the positive feedback you received in terms of what you’re going to continue to do, and then also ideas you may have from what they shared on the positive spectrum around how to potentially move the podcast to another level?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Certainly.” Well, I think we got the idea as far as demonstration goes.

Craig Dowden
And then just add to that, too, and back to systematize the approach, and then, on the flipside, then I would ask questions like, “Okay, that’s great. I think it’s really valuable that you looked at that. What are some ideas that you think could assist you in that? And then how might I be able to support you in systematizing? Do you have the resources that you need?”

So, you kind of counterbalance because sometimes, and the reason I started with the positive is sometimes people will kind of focus right in on the negative, you know, like where you would improve. And so, there can be lessons learned on both sides of the docket, and then you want to ask questions on each of those follow-up questions in each of those domains.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I hear what you’re saying with regard to the reduction and defensiveness because it’s totally like, “Well, hey, I brought it up.”

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And even if I didn’t bring it up, it’s like, “I’m already in the zone of having thoughtfully introspected on what are some things I might do better.” And so, it’s not like you’re giving me a jarring sort of state-shifting attack, like, “Here’s how you screwed it up.” “What?”

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “No, this is what we’re talking about.” And I’m already in that kind of place so it’s a lot easier.

Craig Dowden
And I love that you said that you brought it up. And I think that’s what’s really important is, well, because let’s say you bring it up, and then I reframe it or I probe a little, and then you get defensive. Then, as a leader, as a business owner, you can come back and say, “Well, Pete, just for a moment, appreciate the response and just I’m following up on something that you raised.” So, sometimes back to dealing with fear or dealing with a trigger, maybe I’m triggered by it. Then this can help raise, bring the discussion back on point, where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I did raise that, and so I wonder why, what triggered me on that.” So, there’s real richness to that discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I guess, certainly, if you want to go meta there for a moment with regard to what’s happening and then I don’t think that happen sometimes. It’s probably rare that folks start crying and sharing some deep historical therapy-type elements, but they might. And that might be just the thing for that particular conversation. But it could be just like, “Oh, you know, it’s always been a little bit of a sore spot for me ever since this happened that I’ve been quite conscientious about this sort of thing. It gets me going.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s really good to understand.”

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, and this is, as an example, I mean, this is what then can bring a conversation back versus if you raise it as the feedback provider versus operating as a feedback facilitator. So, if I get triggered defensively by something I’ve openly shared, that in of itself shows the complexity and complications attached to delivering a feedback, because hearing it from you might trigger me differently than if I’m talking about it myself.

Because if I’m self-anointing and self-identifying, that can feel safer than when you do it. Then it’s like, “Wow, okay, I’m reacting to this.” So, it can be a really powerful moment of self-insight for the individual because they can actually hold up a mirror and say, “Gee, even though this is something that I recognize within myself, if anyone else around here points it out, I can get defensive.”

And then through a conversation with the manager, now they can add that to, “Hey, you may want to be aware of that in terms of how you receive feedback.” So, it can be a really powerful learning mechanism in that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, we talked a bit about some of the emotions there with regard to removing some of the defensiveness in there. Do you have any other pro tips when it comes to handling some of the emotional bits if folks are scared to talk about stuff, they’re frustrated to revisit things again and again, they’re disappointed that they’re not, you know, maybe they heard some surprises, like, there’s a whole lot of emotion wrapped up in all of this? Any kind of overarching pro tips for working with that well?

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, a couple of things that you can have that as almost preparatory. So, when we have these, and that’s what’s beautiful about having this as a systematized approach where it’s monthly. You can say, “Okay, during our monthly do-it-yourself performance reviews, there may be times when you feel fearful, frustrated, disappointed in what we’re talking about. How can I best show up to minimize triggering those emotions within you?”

And so, it has, “And what are some things that may lead you to experience this poorly? So, before we even embark on this journey together, you can start to lay out the ground rules about, ‘Hey, if you say purple unicorn, that can tend to trigger me in a particular direction.’ So, then it’s like, “Okay, now, I can manage that.”

The other piece can be around saying, “Well, there may be times when I have to share constructive feedback, critical feedback, in terms of what I see. How can I best deliver that so it’s perceived with positive intent and so I can make it as constructive a message as possible? And then what are some things that I can do if I sense that you are reacting emotionally to be able to address that?”

And so, once again, same thing, where the person is actually sharing the answers to that exam. Now, when you bring that up, then you will already have a preordained conversation about, “Hey, Pete, we did talk about it, and I sense this happening. So, as we agreed, I’m doing X and now it’s, ‘Oh, okay.’” So, it softens that transition.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. That’s handy.

Craig Dowden
And I think for all of us, I mean, as a lifehack, it’s a wonderful opportunity, personally or professionally, to talk to the people in our lives about, “How do I best perceive feedback? How do I prefer to give feedback? What’s the best context? What’s the safest environment? And how can I best share those feelings?”

So, as another example, you can say, “If there’s anything that’s in my approach or what’s happening that’s provoking fear or frustration or disappointment, please raise your hand because to maximize the impact of this discussion and really leverage the power of what we’re doing here, we want to ensure that those emotions are minimized. They may not be eliminated entirely. Our job, collectively, is to figure out how to minimize those so we can have a safe discussion and really talk about what matters. So, in order for us both to get the most out of it, this is what we need. So, anything I can do to facilitate that, let me know.”

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

Craig Dowden
I’ve really appreciated the questions and the comments and the exploration. And I think, to me, the most important piece is the research shows that the vast majority of us desire feedback. We want to receive feedback. We want to figure out how we can stretch ourselves and grow. And so, for us, as feedback providers and receivers, it’s critical to develop both of those skills. And, again, I think, to me, the research in that is so important, that in order to be effective, we have to excel in both and be really committed to doing that and being curious explorers when we’re fulfilling both roles.

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

Craig Dowden
Favorite quote. I’m not sure if it’s a quote. Maybe it’s a practice. Something that I think is really powerful for me is around, “The answer is always no unless you ask the question.” So, it’s something that, for me, personally, as well as a lot of clients that I work with, sometimes we can put up artificial barriers and assume there’s going to be a negative, like, “No, this isn’t going to happen.”

And I feel like it’s so empowering for us to recognize that just by asking the question, asking someone to be a guest on a podcast, asking someone to interview, asking someone to have a coffee to discuss a business opportunity, if we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to play the game, then the answer is going to be no, and we’re going to have a losing hand. And so, to remind ourselves of the power in asking questions.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what I like about that is, it’s sort of like there’s a guaranteed zero percent chance if you don’t ask. And even if you’ve upgraded yourself to a 1% chance, you know, divided by zero it’s like an infinite increase.

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not like you’re ten times more likely to get a reply, or infinitely more likely to get a reply, in your favor even if you’re only going to like a half a percent or 1% chance. And I’m impressed. I think one guy, I did a big blogpost, I don’t know, on a different website. But he reached out to just tons of people, and say, “Hey, do you want to talk about consulting over coffee?” And he had a very detailed notebook about who to reach out to and what the results were. I was like, “Whoa! Tell me, how often do people say yes?”

And he had computed, because he reached to like more than a hundred people, it was like 28% of folks said yes to a total stranger to like chat with him about career stuff. And that was mind-blowing to me. Like, on average, if you ask four strangers, you’d expect one of them to say yes. That’s pretty cool.

Craig Dowden
It is. And I think, again, a wonderful piece of reflection for us around, “Okay, how much do I get in my own way of advancing the goals that are most important to me? So, if I’m okay with receiving a no, then that’s okay. Then I think that’s wonderful, and so why not, right?” And so, I would rather, I feel it’s important that we remind ourselves that it’s better for us to put it out there and then be told no, rather than not do it, and then you get zero percent, as you said, and 28% of people like to help. That’s the other really interesting thing.

When you ask people, “Do you like helping other people?” Most people say, “Yeah, it feels good and I try to do that as much as possible.” Yet, we can be really reluctant to ask other people just, again, to talk about consulting, or to talk about how to be an effective leader, or to build a great podcast, and then we’re eliminating particular potential resources for us to learn from and grow relationships with and thrive.

One quote that did come to mind, to be able to circle back to your question, I remember interviewing Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, and so they just finished, I think, the largest acquisition ever, multibillion dollars. And he talked about, during his time, he said, “People have an amazing capacity for forgiveness if you give them the opportunity to do so.” And I thought that was very powerful as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Craig Dowden
Oh, that’s so challenging. Every piece of research, to me, there’s just golden nuggets. I love the one which showed that empathy is the third strongest predictor of executive excellence. So, that was done by the Management Research Group. So, the third strongest predictor of executive excellence out of 22. And then it was the strongest predictor of ethical leadership out of the 22. And the top two were strategy and communication.

And so, I think what’s really fascinating about their research is not only is empathy the third strongest predictor of executive excellence, you can make a pretty compelling argument as to empathy informs our ability to think strategically as well as communicate effectively. So, I feel like the fact that empathy is either directly or indirectly related to what I call the holy trinity of executive excellence. I think that’s really, really powerful and, especially, considering how empathy is going down.

Our levels of empathy are reducing on a pretty substantial rate, and it’s been identified as a key competitive advantage for organizations and executives, so it’s this really powerful piece of research which I love to cite and talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Do you recall the author, journal, article?

Craig Dowden
So, it was out of the Management Research Group, so they’re in the northeastern U.S., and they had a whitepaper attached to it. So, they sent me some of their individual data as well. So, they have whitepapers on their website. It was over a half a million people contributed to that. I referenced a study in one of the articles I wrote for the Financial Post. So, they have one internal whitepaper, so they have hundreds of thousands of 360 feedbacks of paper on, and that was a really compelling study that they put together.

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

Craig Dowden
Wow! So tough. Anything by Dan Pink, Adam Grant, Marshall Goldsmith, I think is exceptional. One book that I love to refer because it’s relatively unknown is by William Ury who wrote “Getting To Yes.” So, a lot of people know that book. My favorite of the trilogy that he wrote was called “The Power of a Positive No.” And I just found the concept so really compelling in terms of its application and execution.

So, essentially, what his argument is, and he does a lot of the toughest international negotiations and crisis situations, and he talks about how people are generally awful at saying no. And because we’re so afraid of hurting someone else, and so either we do one of two things. We either avoid the other person, or ghost them altogether, or we just say yes to things we’re not prepared to do.

So, in his book, he provides this really awesome methodology to be able to deliver a positive no which basically goes, “Yes. No. Yes. Question mark.” So, essentially, “Hey, Pete, I appreciate that that’s really important to you. The timeline for me is not going to work because of these competing commitments. How about we do X?” So, it’s, affirm the other person, affirm my own position, and then propose a solution with a question mark, say, “Hey, I’m prepared to collaborate,” and it’s just absolutely golden.

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

Craig Dowden
Tool? I love StrengthsFinder. I find doing a StrengthsFinder is really powerful and I love having access, I subscribe to HBR, so I love, I have to say, I really enjoy getting the articles, blogposts that come through there.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Craig Dowden
Wow, a favorite habit. I would say there’s a great book called “The ONE Thing” that was written by Keller Williams, the real estate…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Craig Dowden
And it’s amazing. And so, I strive to, each day, say, “What’s that one thing that if I do it will move the needle more than anything else?” And so, really be focused on the one thing, making sure by the end of each day, I have done my one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks that they say, “Yes, Craig, that’s brilliant”?

Craig Dowden
I think the power of the positive no is really powerful. I think, really, the importance of letting go. So, the power of “I know.” So, when I have discussions with people and they have a conflict with someone, again, personally or professionally, I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you talked to Pete about this?” “No.” “Well, how come? Like, what was…?” And then they’ll say, “Well, I know how he’s going to respond.” And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, how do you know that?” They’ll say, “Well, I just know, okay?”

And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you tried to approach him about this topic and then he shut you down or a similar topic and he reacted this way?” “No.” “Have you ever been in a social setting where you’ve observed him react in that way?” “No.” “Have you heard third hand, like around the watercooler that he’s done this?” “No.” And then it’s, “Hey, you know what, are you sure that he’s going to…how do you know this?” And I think that’s really powerful in terms of challenging our own insights.

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

Craig Dowden
CraigDowden.com is the best way, and also @craigdowden on Twitter, and you can use my name on LinkedIn.

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

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say to think about the impact that you want to have on the world and each day, both in any organization or community that you serve, and be mindful of what your core values are. And at the end of every day, sit back and see the degree to which you’re living your core values. And a lot of my coaching clients, I do it as well, do a quick five-minute take on, “Hey, did I do today what I set out to do? Am I living my values every day?” And a lot of research shows the better we are at accomplishing that, the more effective we are and the more likely we are to achieve our goals.

Pete Mockaitis
And happier, too, I imagine.

Craig Dowden
And much happier, yeah, exactly. An added bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, Craig, this has been fun. Thank you and good luck in all your adventures.

Craig Dowden
Thanks. Well, I look forward to going back to our performance review and staying in touch. So, I’ll commit to that.

467: Finding Internal Clarity and Purpose with Paul Durham

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Paul Durham shares strategies to develop and execute your personal vision with great clarity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The wonders of guided journaling
  2. How to get your days to lead to your desired future
  3. Why you need to involve others to get to your vision

About Paul 

Paul Durham’s passion for studying models of human development expresses itself in his mentoring and executive coaching. After earning a degree in Philosophy from Oberlin College and teaching in the Oakland public schools, he embarked on a career as a successful musician in Los Angeles, releasing albums on major labels, receiving widespread radio play, appearing on film and TV soundtracks, and developing a fan base that persists to this day. Always entrepreneurial, he parlayed his industry experiences into a variety of businesses including commercial music production, song licensing, and ringtones. Now 50 and the father of a teenage son, he has blended his comprehensive experiences into executive coaching and programs designed to help people find their paths and take flight.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Paul Durham Interview Transcript

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

Paul Durham
You’re welcome, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we have so much fun stuff to dig into. But I want to go to a moment in which you said your band was playing and you had 70,000 people throwing mud at you. What is this?

Paul Durham
Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. It was more like only the thousand people in front were throwing mud at us, so 2,000 it seemed.

Pete Mockaitis
Were they pleased or angry? Why were they throwing the mud?

Paul Durham
We were in Florida. It was a little bit of a mystery. It was 1998, my band was on tour. We had a song on MTV, and a song in the Top 40, I think top 5. Like, rock and alternative track, so we were playing all these big radio festivals. We’re opening for Foo Fighters and Green Day, and all this kind of classic ‘90s band. And when we hit the stage in Florida, they seemed like they liked us but I think it had rained. And I think throwing a little bit of mud at the band was just kind of part of the fun, which is not so great when you’re playing like a $4,000 vintage electric guitar, which we were young, we didn’t know better at the time. You take your crappy guitars out on tour with you.

But, anyway, my bass player got very irritated and then, finally, at some point, threw the whole audience the finger, and waved his arms in the universal signal for bring it on. And a black cloud of mud descended on us from there. And, yeah, we were basically covered in mud, and we just played all the louder and harder at that point.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, was any of the equipment destroyed?

Paul Durham
No, but our poor crew guy was up all night pulling mud out of like the hollow body and the drums.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the glamor of rock and roll, huh?

Paul Durham
Well, I had our manager kick him an extra couple of hundred bucks because he was really above and beyond. We were idiots.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we all have kind of fun points of intersection. Now, you use my podcast microphone, the Shure Beta 87A when you’re singing on stage.

Paul Durham
I do. On stage, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Which is cool. And so that makes me feel all the more validated. Thank you for that. And I became aware of you from my father-in law, he said you do some really cool stuff with YearOne education which is for younger people, but I think there’s so many parallels and valuable takeaways. So, could you orient us to what do you do there and what kind of results do you see there?

Paul Durham
Well, I’ve been in the music business for 25 years, I’ve relied on mentors. And so, when the sons and daughters of my friends get interested in the music business, and their parents don’t know what to do, they ask me if I can mentor them, which I’m always really happy to do, and have been doing for years.

And then, several years ago, a friend of mine said, “Can I hire you to coach my son? He wants to drop out of college and go become a professional musician?” And I had been meeting with this kid and I recognized that some of my advice may have influenced his decision, which I then went into a moral panic, and I was like, “Yes, I will coach your son.” And he was like, “Well, how much should I pay you?” I said, “I have no idea.” So, he said, “How about $40,000? That’s what I’m spending on his private school.” And I was like, “Well, that seems like a bit much but how about half that?”

So, then I went home and realized, “Oh, I need to create a curriculum to justify charging money for this thing that I’ve been doing for years.” And, in creating that curriculum, I got really excited about the idea of creating a framework for young people who are smart and ambitious and interested in things, but maybe not the best fit for going to college, not ready to go work at 7-Eleven either, but something in between.

And then I really started realizing that pretty much kids who are going to college as well should probably take a year. They’ve been in school for 13 years, like three quarters of their life, maybe they just want to take a year, figure a few things out, get some experience under their belt, grow up a little bit, get some skills so that when they do head to college, and they face the culture shock of being totally responsible for themselves, their eating, their bedtimes, their homework. They’re not in school eight hours a day, and studying two hours a night. They’re in school for two hours a day and need to be studying a lot of the rest of that time. That’s a big shock.

That maybe if they went to a program and got some preparation, that they would be much more likely to be successful in college, which is good, given how incredibly expensive college has become. Three times more expensive than when you and I were in school and adjust the dollars. So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I understand that as you engaged these folks, you see some real transformation. So, could you maybe tell us a tale or two that illustrates this?

Paul Durham
Well, it’s such a great age, 18, 19, 20, where people, especially the way we raise kids these days. They’ve really been under our thumb. That’s how I raised my son too. It’s sad but true. We’re really kind of overmanaging our children in such a way that when they hit 18, a lot of them don’t know very much about the real world.

And so, for example, Kaito, this friend’s son of mine, he was really unclear about paying rent, about getting a checking account, about how often the oil needed to be changed in his car, etc. And when we sat down and we started to work some of those out and started to help him get clear about his vision, to show him, plug him into a really effective powerful time management system, and getting responsible for his money and that kind of thing, he really just started to blossom in a way.

And we might think, “Oh, well, that’s something that parents should handle.” But I think we underestimate the fact that the degree to which teenagers don’t listen to their parents, you know. And as a culture, we have disconnected young people from mentors. And we’re hyper social species like bees and ants. We need more than just our parents to get ourselves raised into full adulthood. We need mentorship.

And so, I sort of recognized the power of having someone that a kid could rely on, that could hold them accountable. And, in Kaito’s case, he went from mastering a lot of kind of basic life skills into getting clear about what kind of music he wanted to record, and then going through a transition of connecting with him with a mentor in the music business who was a string player like himself. And he started doing publishing chores and kind of administration for that guy, and soon discovered, “Oh, my gosh, this is what I want to do. I don’t want to play music. I want to be in the business of music,” which was a big remarkable shift for him that he went through.

And then he just really got lit up. He just started reading music business books like crazy. This was a kid, we couldn’t even get him to read a novel. And now he’s reading music business books, he’s reading personal development books because he found that fire that I think most of us have experienced at different points in our life, that pointed him in a direction, and he just really went crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to what extent do you see a similarity carry over in terms of professionals who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and the teenagers?

Paul Durham
I think it’s really more similar than we would think. I do executive coaching with real estate developers and corporate guys in Silicon Valley. And I think we have this idea that we’re going to figure out what we’re really good at, and that once we figure out what we’re good at, we’re just going to keep doing that. It’s kind of this old industrial model where you go work at a job, and then get a gold watch at the end, you know.

And I just don’t think that’s how people actually are. I think passion is a moving target. And as we work, and as we master things, those passions shift and we become more interested in other things. And so, really getting clear about vision, everybody talks about this, but spending the time, going deep, going deep over time and continuing to develop that clarity of vision is so important and people staying connected to their work, staying connected to their job, staying connected to that business that they started, that they love, and now they’re tired of, staying connected to that role in their corporation that they were so excited to get, and it was so interesting for a few years and now it’s just not. It’s not that interesting.

It’s like we blame ourselves because we’re not being good cogs. But the fact is that our vision and interest have evolved but we have not kept up in terms of our awareness of that evolution. So, for me, when I work with an adult, it really begins with the clarity, the excavation, and the definition of vision. So, we can start from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, so let’s hear just that. So, how did you go about getting that clarity and excavating a vision?

Paul Durham
Well, I do a lot of guided journaling. I think writing is very powerful. I think when a client is talking to me, or they’re talking to their wife or husband, or they’re talking with their therapist or their boss, people bend themselves depending on who it is that they’re speaking to. But when you’re writing on pages that no one else is ever going to see, you don’t have to bend yourself. It’s the one safe space in which you can receive feedback from the person who knows you best, which is you.

I don’t like to tell people what to do a lot. It’s tempting as a coach because it’s fun to exercise power. But what I really try to do is to create frameworks in which people, in which I draw out of people what they know, the wisdom that they have, and the clarity that they have, which we just don’t take time in our cellphone, Netflix, driving to work kind of world. We just don’t take time. We got kids. We got jobs. It’s stressful. And if we don’t take that time, we don’t get the level of clarity that we really need to connect to our hearts and then to connect our hearts to our work.

So, yeah, I would say guided journaling, conversation, inquiry, really asking why, asking, “Okay, so you created this situation. Where is the benefit in it for you? Or maybe there isn’t a benefit. Okay, so what else would you want? What else would you imagine?” You give yourself permission to really, “What if failure wasn’t an option? What would your life look like? What would you try?” Just really kind of get people to expand beyond their survival emotional status that is arising for all of us week by week, and get into more of a visionary space where something else is possible, something different is possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, with the guided journaling, is it your view that pen and paper is superior than digital media?

Paul Durham
Absolutely. Maybe because I’ve been scribbling songs in notebooks for 30 years, but I have a huge prejudice against typing when it comes to really connecting to the deepest part of ourselves. I think this culture is like brains on a stick, and we’re not brains on a stick. We are bodies and the brain is a part of the body. So, for me, writing is really a great way that I find that I can connect to the wisdom of the body by moving my body, by moving my hand across the page, and having to navigate the whole physicality of it. I think that that actually evokes a lot of, yeah, just the body’s deeper wisdom.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you sort of mentioned a number of those questions pretty quickly. But could you highlight one or two or three that just seem to open up the floodgates of self-awareness and insight quite frequently?

Paul Durham
Yeah, it’s a lot of different things. I have people do a five-year exercise where you describe the life that you’re living five years from now. What kind of sheets are you sleeping in? What kind of house do you live in? Who’s beside you? What do you do for a living? What do you do with your days? What’s your physical exercise like? What’s your diet like? What is your life like in detail? So that people can really get a sense of, “There is a desire in my heart for a life that I have not yet achieved.”

And not that it’s all about more, better, different because a lot of times it’s just about settling into who you are and what you have. But that life that we can imagine often has important elements of what we’re not being true to in terms of who we are. Because maybe you’re not living on mansion on a beach. Maybe you’re living in South America and you’re providing healthcare to a village. Or maybe there’s some vision in you that you’re afraid to express because of the pressure of modern life that needs to come out and walk around a little bit, breathe.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. So, you do some of these journaling. And, let’s say, once you zero in on something like, “Yes, that is a desire,” what then?

Paul Durham
Well, then we start testing it. Then we start testing it over time. Write some letters to your parents that you don’t mail to them. Write a letter to your spouse that you don’t give to them. Write a letter to yourself as a young person. Walk around in the world and feel what it’s like with that vision in you. It’s, all of a sudden, your job lit up because you recognize that there’s a way in which you can express that vision at work with your coworkers. Like, maybe there’s an element of service that emerges in your vision that you’re not actually expressing at work.

A lot of times people’s jobs are dead and dry because they are there for themselves and their families. And it’s not that we don’t serve our families by going off to work every day. But I find that without a service attitude, an attitude towards service, anything can get dry. You can be a singer or songwriter in a rock band, and it can get very dry if, for me, if I’m not thinking about the people who have sent me. Facebook messages in the middle of the night, saying, “You saved my life,” you know. It means a lot to me. And if I don’t think about those people in my work, the service I’m doing, then my work gets very much about logistics and technical craft and money, stuff like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And this is a theme that’s come up a few times and it’s amazing how easy it is to slip out of the service orientation and forget who you’re enriching, and then go focus on like what’s right in front of you, like, “There’s 83 emails. I need to answer them all.”

Paul Durham
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, boy, when you’re in that moment, what are some of your favorite ways to reconnect to the purpose and the service that’s going on there?

Paul Durham
Well, I mean, me, probably like a lot of other guests that you have, I really believe in structures, I believe in automating your finances, I believe in spending a lot of time leveraging time management tools. I think the FranklinCovey paper planners are unbelievably powerful. I think trying to organize, prioritize your life on a computer screen is, on some level, hopeless. That’s just my opinion. I think you need a separate device. It’s the same reason why I wear a watch so I don’t have to look at my phone to tell what time it is.

And I think it’s important to organize your email. Use smart folders so that you’re not staring at 10 emails. You’re staring at the two important emails. So, I think those things are really important. But I also just find that if you are looking at your phone first thing in the morning, and you’re prioritizing the world’s, it’s basically you’re putting the priorities of the world ahead of the priorities of yourself and your heart, whether it’s your boss or coworkers emailing you, or nonsense on Facebook, the fantasies that people put up on Instagram, just all the crap we poison ourselves with first thing in the morning.

Maybe we have 20, 30, 40 minutes before our kids wake up to actually be a person and figure out who we are. And I find that the most important thing is to take that time and to meditate, or to journal, or to exercise if you need to. But to do something that settles you into who you are into yourself and what’s important to you because, otherwise, the day, and we’re off to the races and the rest of the day doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to your email box.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s intense. And so, we got some journaling, we got some smart practices associated with time management. Well, let’s say we just get one or two of these practices in terms of like that’s the most transformational and gets you the most kind of realigned to your desires and priorities. What would you say are some of the biggies there?

Paul Durham
In terms of the morning practices?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I guess the morning practices as well as it sounds like I don’t yet want to resign that the rest of the day is not mine.

Paul Durham
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
How can I get a little more for me?

Paul Durham
Okay. Well, I think weekly time management is critical. I love the FranklinCovey system where you figure out your roles and your goals so that you know what the absolute most important thing you need to do or the two most important things you need to do today as a father, or as a boss, or as a spouse, or as a person with a body who needs to exercise and eat a certain way.

I think defining those big rocks, as they call them, that whole metaphor of the guy comes in, he’s got a jar of big rocks and gravel and sand and water, and he’s like, “How am I going to get all this stuff in the jar?” And he’s like, “No, you can’t.” He’s like, “Well, I can.” But the way he does it, he puts the big rocks in first, then he puts the gravel, then he puts the sand, then he puts the water. And if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you can’t get all of the little rocks in the jar. So, it’s really starting with those big rocks.

And I find the weekly is vastly superior to daily.

Daily is just really kind of keeping your head above water. It’s weekly time management that we define, that we can sit back on a Sunday afternoon, and define the big priorities in our lives, and make sure that we’re taking one step forward in each one of those. And, yeah, it’s only one step, but you take one step forward in each of the main priorities, the main roles in your life, one year is going to go and you’re going to be a different person in one year.

Honestly, a lot of what I do in my coaching is just saying, “Look, we spend all this time getting clarity about these deep long-term goals that you’ve been putting off for a decade and that you really want to do. Okay, let’s take the steps because we’ve got to take the steps this week. Send me a picture of your weekly plan, and I’ll be holding you accountable a week from now.” I think that accountability is really powerful.

It’s easy for me to sit here and say all this stuff into the microphone, but in my own life, when I want to make a shift, I hire a coach because if I could’ve done it by myself, I would’ve done it. I have all the tools. I know what the tools are. If I haven’t made the shift, it’s because I need help. We need help as people. So, weekly time management, and if I had to point to one other thing other than really taking the time to get clarity of vision, doing a course.

I just saw there’s life book course where they guide you through all this stuff. I’m like, “Oh, I’ve been doing that.” It’s like, “Yeah, that’s important. It’s important to get clarity about your vision and what you really want, who you want to become. Who do you want to be? What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?” A lot of us are no on track to hit that target of who we want to be on our deathbed. And we think, “Well, I got the house paid for.” It’s like, “Man, none of that stuff matters.” Who you are and who you’re becoming, that’s what matters. That’s what’s going to matter to your kids. Not some Swiss watch you left them.

So, yeah, it’s the vision, it’s the weekly planning, and then it is connecting to your soul. And some people do that through meditation. I practice Zen meditation for years, and I love meditating, but I find that, nowadays, I wake up and I really want to get my day started, so I need something more active than meditation so I really turn to the journaling. And I find that you can get the artist way. That’s, really, I’ve been doing those daily morning pages for years, just sit down and write through pages. No matter what it is, or even if it’s like writing and writing, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, over and over. Pretty soon you will know what to write and you’ll connect to a source of wisdom about yourself that you didn’t know was there.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m curious to hear, if you think about some of your clients, the most dramatic transformations that you’ve witnessed, kind of what’s core to the human nature or condition when it comes to making change? And it’s kind of difficult for us. How do we succeed when we’re kind of in the thick of it?

Paul Durham
Well, I think it’s different for different people. I think it’s different at different age. I think we really have to honor our part in the lifecycle. When I was in my 30s, I was working 60 hours a week. I was just killing myself to build a number of different businesses, and that’s what I was interested in. And now, at 50, if I say, “Man, I just don’t have a 60-hour week in me anymore. I just don’t have it.” There’s a reason for that.

I think working with people at 18, 19 and 20, working with people in their late 30s, and then working with people kind of around 50 has helped me see that honoring lifecycle plays. A lot of guys who hit 42, 45, they’ve had some success, and the color just goes out of the world for them, and they’re like, “What’s wrong with me? I got a nice relationship, or I got a nice house, or I got nice kids, or I got a great job, or whatever. But, man, what is it? What is it that I have been neglecting all these years that now has finally caught up to me?”

And the solution for that is not to take testosterone and go to the gym five days a week and just try to bust your ass back down to 30 years old. The solution to that is to listen to what your lifecycle is pointing you towards. And, in doing that, that’s where I feel like I’ve had a lot of success for these young people. I’m like, “Get hungry. Get passionate. Make mistakes. Go make mistakes so you can learn how to fail, and you can build your resilience, and you cannot be afraid.”

But for someone, just get out there and do it. Just take people out to lunch, like interrupt people in the lobby, make a fool of yourself. Do whatever it takes. But for a man or a woman in their 50s, it might be very much more like, “Hey, maybe have you thought about working less? Have you thought about finding a way to stop trying to grow your career and start trying to grow your being?”

So, I don’t know, I would say the specific success stories, I don’t know, it’s also individual. Sometimes guys just need to be told what incredible jerks they are. Seriously. Like, sometimes they hire me to tell them what jerks they are because they’re just jerks, and no one will tell them because if anybody tells them that, everyone around them pays too high of a price. And they’re like, “Oh, man, I really am a jerk.” I’m like, “Yeah, maybe you should look into that.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Paul Durham
But, you know, we live in these isolated boxes and we insulate ourselves with money from the perspective and wisdom that others have of us and it’s too bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get your take then in terms of how do we have less of that insulation and to get more valuable input from other people so we can see things more accurately?

Paul Durham
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I would say that another way in which 18-year-olds are the same as 45-year-olds is that 45-year-olds don’t take risks either. We just don’t take risks, man. We just stay in our comfort zone. We don’t go talk to people we don’t know at a party unless we absolutely have to. We don’t necessarily go take some online education course and take it really seriously or have a goal and really hire a coach and just say, “Look, I’m just going to take this money and I’m going to make this shift. I’m going to make this shift.”

And I think that there are opportunities all around us that many of those opportunities lie in the service realm, in the realm of volunteers, it’s like, “Oh, I need to spend time with my kids.” Okay, well, take your kids. Take your kids and go volunteer. Take your kids with you and go out for a day and do something that really helps other people in a direct fashion, not just write a cheque kind of fashion.

So, that’s what I would really say is that we don’t take risks. We are afraid to fail, “I’m afraid of signing up for that online education course that seems like really legit and like it would be speaking to exactly what I’m suffering with right now because what if I don’t take the time and I waste the money?” It’s like, “Okay, so you don’t take the time and waste the money. But if you did follow through, you know you would get 50 times the value back from that course.”

Or, “Oh, I’m stuck in my job. I don’t know what to do about it.” Well, there’s all kinds of nonsense that shows up in my Facebook feed every single day about starting your own business. Have you tried one of those? Because, yeah, maybe it will be nonsense and a scam, but maybe it would be real. You actually could like be able to quit your job, or at least learn more about business which you might be able to then bring back into your job and create more value and success there.

So, that’s what I would say. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s like the richer we get as Americans, the more afraid we get and the more risk-averse we get.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, boy, I don’t remember the quote. I think it was St. Augustine of Hippo said something about when we don’t have wealth, we just worry about how we’re going to survive and acquire it. And when we do have it, we worry about how we might lose it.

Paul Durham
I know. I know. Well, it’s like the Buddha saying, “Suffering comes from losing things and from having things,” because when we lose things, it’s painful. And then when we have things, we’re afraid of losing them, and that’s painful. So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I also want to get your take in terms of when you’re in the moment and you know a certain thing needs to be done, it’s on your weekly plan, by golly, and you’re just not feeling it, how do you power through?

Paul Durham
Yeah, I don’t power through.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Paul Durham
That’s what I don’t do. When I was 30, I just power through, man. I could just eat a big, giant wheelbarrow full of crap from morning to night, all day long.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s quite an image.

Paul Durham
I just pile up those tasks and just motor through them. And, partly, I work a lot smarter now than I used to. But I would say go for a walk. Go walk around the block. Find out who you are. Just reconnect with who you are. You’ll get it done faster I promise you. You might, “Oh, I don’t have time.” Yeah, you have time. You have time to look at Instagram. You have time to waste your time. You’re returning emails that if you actually like were a little bit more centered you would recognize should be ignored.

So, that’s what I try to do more and more and more. Try to settle into who I am rather than what I have to do, what I’m trying to get. If I can settle into who I am, so much stuff falls away, so much stuff that doesn’t need to be dealt with, and certainly doesn’t need to be dealt with in a kind of unskillful fire-setting ways that happen when I just jump on it, “I’m just going to crank through this stuff.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m thinking certainly there’s many things that we’d be better off not doing, that don’t fit us and need to go, so I’m right with you there. But I guess I’m thinking like if you’ve been through all the process associated with the journaling and the pondering and the identifying of a desire and, “Yes, that is very important, and then, yes, this is the key step I need to take in order to do that.” And then it’s the moment that you’ve calendared for yourself to do that, and you’re like, “Hey, I’m not really feeling it.” Then what?

Paul Durham
Totally. Yeah, it’s funny. I’m building a new business right now over the last few years, so this new education business for young people. And it’s a whole new world. I talk to people and they’re like, “Oh, you’re kind of making a new thing.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m making a new thing. There’s nothing I can go out and just rip off.” It’s very disheartening in moments.

And when I run up against that, if I have the presence of mind to think of my clients, to think about their lives, to think about the struggles that they have, to think about some of my clients that are a year or two out of the program and the lives that they’re living and the messages that I get from them and where they were when they started, and I think about, man, if I hadn’t kind of done this weird thing and put a bunch of time into developing something that I had no idea whether it would work, that kid would still be in her parents’ basement, in conflict with her parents about wanting to do something that she didn’t really know what it was, or she might be still using drugs or whatever.

It’s like I just get so stuck when I’m in myself and for myself. And I even extend that, even thinking about my son or my family, it’s like my son is kind of, in certain ways, an extension of myself. I’m doing this for my family. It’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re doing it for your family but there’s a way in which your family is an extension of yourself.”

And if I can take myself and de-center my perspective a little bit so that I’m thinking about my clients, I’m thinking about my collaborators, I think about my mentors, how much they’ve invested in me, so on the one hand I’m contradicting myself if I’m saying, “Yeah, this all should really come from your deepest internal vision.”

But I tell you, if your deepest internal vision doesn’t have a service portion, if it doesn’t encapsulate something, especially if you’re getting up there in years, if you’re not giving back on some level, it’s not going to do it for you. And the day-to-day process of executing that vision is also not going to do it for you if you lose sight of the people that you’re here to serve. So, that’s what I try to do.

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

Paul Durham
No, I think I’ve been running my mouth a lot.

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

Paul Durham
Something that I find inspiring.

Pete Mockaitis
As a quote, yeah.

Paul Durham
Well, I think I mentioned it earlier, which is a quote from the coach that I worked with and who kind of trained me to be a coach. He always used to say, “If you were going to do it, you would’ve done it. If you could’ve done it by yourself, you would’ve done it by yourself.”

And so, really, we need help. We need help. We need help from our friends, man. We need help from our enemies. We need help from people who have the hard truth to tell us, our nemesis at work, or the spouse that we’re in conflict. We need help from them. We need help from allies, from coaches, from mentors. And if we can bring ourselves to reach out, I’ve got to tell you, it’s like pulling teeth to get these kids to ask even just family and friends out for lunch, let alone potential mentors. It’s one of the biggest things I have to get them over.

And then I say to myself, “Yeah, but you’re the same way. You’re the same way. There’s people you know that could help you that you’re reticent to reach out to and ask for help.” So, I really try to. And when they have big breakthroughs, I really try to take that as a model for myself of reaching out. If you could’ve done it by yourself, you would’ve done it by yourself.

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

Paul Durham
A favorite book. Well, I got to say I still really love “The War of Art.” I’m sure a lot of people say that on here. But it’s kind of a masculine book. There’s a lot of push to it. But in the spirit of reaching out and getting help, like that book is a resource where you can reach out and you can get help and you can be reminded that the thing you are resisting, you are resisting for a reason, and that that reason may very well be because it’s the thing you need to do, and we’re just scared of failing. In a way, we’re scared of being committed.

Everything I’ve been talking about is just about commitment basically. And when you commit to something, it’s scary because now you’re all in. So, that book can really help support that process of getting all in and rushing forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Paul Durham
A favorite habit. Well, if I had to mention the habit that I like the most I would have to say Bulletproof Coffee. I really don’t like to eat in the morning, and having a cup of coffee with a bunch of fat in it allows me to get from when I wake up to when I actually want to eat, which is not usually until 11:00 or 12:00, so that is a good habit. It’s probably not a habit. It’s more of an addiction. So, here, I’ll try do better.

My favorite habit is to wake up in the morning and do something that provides a framework for me in which I can feel what I feel. Because I wake up and all kinds of things, you know, a weird dream, financial, relationship, parenting, business concerns. And if I can just, either through journaling or by meditation, or by kind of guided internal process, I can come to a place in which I feel what I actually feel, then that’s really valuable.

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

Paul Durham
So, my website is PaulDurham.com and from there you can go to YearOne, which is my program for 18 to 24-year-olds who want to take a gap year from college or who know they don’t want to go to college and are interested in forging a creative career through an apprenticeship model. Or you can connect to my coaching page, which I think I only have up because my GoDaddy client said I needed to have a website. All my clients come through word of mouth. So, yes, so I have a small website there as well, and then you can also connect to my band Black Lab.

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

Paul Durham
Yes, if you’re seeking to be awesome at your job, your coworkers are your number one resource. And the obstacle to accessing that resource is your pride and your fear. Like, your coworkers know who you are, they know what your strengths are, they know what your weaknesses are, and they can help you grow and develop. They can tell you strengths that you don’t even know that you have that you could really be capitalizing on. And they know the weaknesses that are crippling you and that are the reason why you didn’t get that promotion.

And so, if we can stop treating our coworkers as those neurotic annoyances in our life, and instead start looking them as valuable mentors, and even if they’re 20 years younger and dumber and more arrogant than you are, if we can just take them out to lunch, or take them out to a nice lunch, and say, “I want to take you out to lunch and pick your brain because I want to know what you think I could do better at work.” You make yourself vulnerable in that way, you will be awesome at work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Paul, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in your adventures and music and all you’re up to.

Paul Durham
Thank you so much, Pete. I really enjoyed it.

465: The Cure for Impostor Syndrome: How to Feel Less Like a Fraud and Appreciate Your Successes with Dr. Valerie Young

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Valerie Young says: "We think we're supposed to excel at everything but we're not going to."

Valerie Young sheds light on the impostor syndrome and shows the healthy way out.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how prevalent impostor syndrome is
  2. The 5 impostor syndrome archetypes
  3. How to strategically shift your thinking from impostor to non-impostor

About Valerie 

Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally-known expert on impostor syndrome and author of award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business/Random House), now available in five languages.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Valerie Young Interview Transcript

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

Valerie Young
I’m really excited, Pete. Thanks for asking me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited too. And so, we’re going to talk about impostor syndrome, which is a hot topic for listeners. But I want to start with hearing a little bit about your personal history and I guess origin story for how you and the impostor syndrome topic got to be well-acquainted.

Valerie Young
Well, very, very well-acquainted. I didn’t even know there was a name for these feelings until I was in a doctoral program when I was about 21 years old at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and someone brought in a paper by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes. Those are the two psychologists who first coined the term the impostor phenomenon, as it is more accurately known in the world of psychology.

And she started reading from this study, and going, “Oh, my gosh, listen to this, everybody. They found that all these intelligent, capable, competent people feel like they’re fooling folks and they’re going to be found out.” I was just nodding my head like a bobblehead doll.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

Valerie Young
I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s me. There’s a name for this? Other people feel this way?” So, it’s tremendously liberating just to know that there was a name.

Pete Mockaitis
And then you found a posse of impostors. Tell us about that.

Valerie Young
Well, I did. Now, I’ve gone on to speak to many tens of thousands of graduate students and, yeah, it turns out it’s really epidemic amongst, especially, graduate students for a host of reasons. But, basically, looked around the room, while I was nodding my head like a bobblehead doll, and all the other graduate students were nodding their head.

So, I often tell the story, Pete, that we decide to get together after class for a little impostor support group, and we would talk about being intellectual frauds and how we’re fooling all of our professors, and everything went great for about three weeks. And then I started to get this nagging sense that even though the other students were all saying they were an impostor, like I knew I was the only real impostor. So, clearly, they were phony impostors and I was like a super impostor.

Pete Mockaitis
An impostor amongst impostors.

Valerie Young
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And they were probably thinking the same thing, like, “Ha, ha, ha, this is really kind of a funny joke that we’re saying but I don’t think they mean it.”

Valerie Young
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, you mentioned then, I guess, a little bit of the definition for impostor phenomenon or impostor syndrome. Can we hear, I guess, the official or, since you’ve done decades of research on this, your definition for what we call impostor syndrome if you were to give like a quick dictionary sentence or two?

Valerie Young
Sure. Well, I think, as it’s commonly understood, Pete, is this sense, this feeling experienced by countless millions of people around the world, across culturally, across industries, this sense that, “I’m in over my head and I’m going to be found out.” And what really makes impostor syndrome very specific is that there’s concrete clear evidence of one’s accomplishments or capabilities and, yet, people who felt like impostors tend to dismiss them, minimize them, or chalk them up to external factors like luck, timing, computer error, personality, and those kinds of things. But the overwhelming fear then, really, is that you’re going to be found out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the fear, it’s a fear you’re going to be found out as opposed to, I guess, low self-esteem, it’s just like, “I’m not really very smart or good or anything.” But I guess impostor syndrome has that extra dose of there’s an outcome that you’re dreading and think really could happen to you.

Valerie Young
Yeah, there’s definitely an outcome. But I think, additionally, Pete, now there are some studies, let me be clear, some studies on impostor phenomenon have connected, found a connection between self-esteem and impostor feelings. Other studies have not found a connection, which tells me, it’s possible to have healthy self-esteem and still have impostor feelings.

How I look at it is self-esteem, think of it as kind of a global sense we have about ourselves kind of across the board. But impostor feelings are very specific to achievement areas, work, school, business, career. You don’t feel like an impostor when you’re walking the dog or emptying the dishwasher, right? But you do at a job interview, or going to your first pitch when you start your new business, or when you’re being challenged on your work, things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, just to make it clear, you shared a couple of words, thoughts, phrases, internal sub-talk, bits you might have in terms of, “Oh, they’re going to find me out.” But just to make this really real and resonant and connected for people, can we hear some kind of recurring words and phrases internally that impostors say to themselves all the time and so we can maybe recognize ourselves within that?

Valerie Young
Well, I think, clearly, it’s the “I’m going to be found out, that I’m in over my head. I don’t know what I’m doing. Everyone else is smarter than me. If I was really competent, I wouldn’t need any help. If was really competent I’d feel confident.” It’s interesting, like the fact that you even struggle with impostor feelings or confidence, in the mind of the person who feels like an impostor, just kind of proves that they must be an impostor, “Because if I was really competent, I wouldn’t feel this way.”

The sense that, “I should know 150%. This shouldn’t be this hard. If I was really competent, I should be able to kind of hit the ground running and figure this out and master it very quickly.” So, the voices kind of vary depending on how the person is judging or measuring their own competence.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s an interesting notion right there, it’s like it’s sort of related to a catch 22 or is it the opposite? But it’s sort of just like, “If I am feeling unconfident, or if I’m having a hard time, I’m struggling, there’s difficulty, then that means I’m no good.” And so, could you share the truth of the matter? What does it mean when we struggle and are feeling unconfident? If it does not mean that we’re frauds, what does it mean?

Valerie Young
I think it probably means we’re in the middle of a normal learning curve.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

Valerie Young
You know, where we started something new or unfamiliar. But the problem is that how we view that. The non-impostor, if you will, says, “Well, gee, I’ll figure it out as I go along,” or, “Well, I’ve only been here a week. I can’t possibly know everything there is to know about this job,” right? But the non-impostor walks in and expects themselves to hit the ground running and to pick things up incredibly quickly. So, it’s a difference between how you frame that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s talk about non-impostors for a moment. And, first, so can you share with us what’s the data suggest in terms of the proportion of people, professionals if you have it, who experience this impostor syndrome?

Valerie Young
You know, Pete, there’s this percentage that’s been thrown around since the 1980s, I believe, late ‘70s, early ‘80s from Gail Matthews, where it kind of originated, is that up to 70% of high-achieving people have experienced these feelings to varying degrees at one time or another, which is pretty high, which means we’re actually in the majority, which of course begs the question, “What’s up with the other 30? Why aren’t we studying them? Why aren’t we writing dissertations about them?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, 70% that is striking. Well, Gail Matthews, I’ve cited a paper of hers about goal setting in dozen of keynote speeches, so I feel like I should give her a high five or a hug.

Valerie Young
Oh, wow, that’s very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’ve never met her in person but I can see the bar chart slide in my mind’s eye, but back to the number at hand. Seventy percent are saying that they experience it and 30% don’t. Can we just get a glimpse of their world for a moment? Like, I don’t know, is that dangerous in its own right if you don’t have any impostor syndrome? Are these the folks who have exaggerated views of their own competence and end up singing terribly on American Idol and feeling very foolish? Or what’s the non-impostor life like?

Valerie Young
You know, it’s interesting you say that because that’s definitely some portion of that 30% have, as you say, the opposite problem, which is irrational self-confidence syndrome, that their sense of their knowledge and abilities far exceeds their actual knowledge and abilities, which was actually a phenomenon that became documented by Professor Dunning at Cornell. It’s now known as the Dunning-Krueger Effect that did find through multiple consistent studies, that found that the people who have the lowest expectations for how they’re going to perform on an exam, for example, performed the best, and the people who were quite certain that they were going to ace it, often performed the worst. So, we often don’t see our own limitations.

But here’s the thing, and that’s why I don’t buy into this notion of we should embrace our impostor syndrome because it keeps us humble, because I think it’s a false choice, Pete. It’s like the choices between, “I’m going to be an arrogant kind of smartest guy in the room person who really isn’t that competent, or an impostor,” I mean, you know, most are going to go, “Oh, I’ll keep the impostor syndrome.” But I think that there’s a whole middle ground of people I describe as kind of non-impostors who are part of that 30% who just have a very different way of viewing the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing. And so, they might view the world in that they have exaggerated views of themselves. Or, do you think they’re just super healthy with regard to their acknowledging, “Yeah, so I am in the middle of a normal learning curve”? Do you think that’s more the picture there?

Valerie Young
Absolutely. I always tell people that the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor. Let’s separate out the arrogant people who really are not competent, let’s kind of put them in a different box right now. What I’m talking about is people who don’t feel like impostors in a healthy kind of way. They’re more intelligent, capable, competent, qualified than the rest of us. The only difference between them and us is in the exact same situation that triggers an impostor response in us, they are thinking different thoughts. That’s it. Which I think is incredibly good news because it means all we have to do is learn how to think like non-impostors.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I was going to get to it later but I can’t resist. All right. How do we do that? What are the key ways we need to adjust our thinking?

Valerie Young
Well, there’s three kind of categories of things that non-impostors think differently about, Pete. First of all, they think differently about competence.

Pete Mockaitis
Competence.

Valerie Young
Competence, yeah.
People who feel like impostors tend to fall into different kind of mindsets about how they measure our competence, right? We hold ourselves to these unrealistically high, unsustainably high standards that no human could consistently hit. So, you might be a perfectionist, for example, in your kind of mental rulebook, 99 out of 100 will be unacceptable. Forgetting to make some minor point in an otherwise flawless presentation, you’ll beat yourself up endlessly.

But the non-impostor, they still can set high standards for themselves, and they have a healthy drive to excel, but they don’t feel shame when they fall short as long as they tried their best. Other people who feel like impostors, their definition of impostor syndrome, and this is five of them, I’m happy to go through them or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do them all, yeah.

Valerie Young
But the second one is kind of the knowledge version of the perfectionist, the person I think of as kind of the expert. That doesn’t mean they are an expert. It means that they think they have to know 150% before they speak up, raise their hand, start their business, go after a promotion, and they’re just endlessly searching for that, like waiting to wake up one day and think, “Now, I’m an expert.” So, they never feel like they know enough.

Then there’s the person I describe as the natural genius. Again, it’s not that they’re a genius. It’s that they’ve somehow got it into their head that, “If I was really intelligent, capable, competent, this wouldn’t be this hard.” So, the fact that they struggle to understand something, or master something, in their mind kind of proves they’re an impostor because they’re defining competence as being about ease and speed. They look at other people, and they think, “Oh, that looks so easy.” And then they try it, and it’s hard. But they don’t understand that that other person worked their ass off to get good, or they might be naturally good at something, which we all are.

Then there’s the soloist, as it sounds, who thinks it only counts if they do it all by themselves. So, they’re going to feel shame if they have to ask for help, they don’t give themselves credit if it’s a team effort, and then, of course, the superwoman/superman/super student who expects themselves to excel across multiple roles they play in their life.

So, non-impostors think differently about competence in that they realize that not everything can or needs to be perfect. Sometimes you just have to kind of jump in and figure it out, or like just don’t persevere over the routine tasks. Obviously, if you’re flying a plane or you’re performing surgery, please be a perfectionist. But the mantra I hear from a lot of very successful multimillionaire entrepreneurs is, “Half ass is better than no ass.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Valerie Young
And they don’t mean do a bad job. But they’re not letting perfectionism hold them back. It’s like they know the first version is never going to be as good as the tenth version. So, kind of get it out the door and you can course correct as you go along. So, they’re looking at it very differently.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so there you have it. We have sort of five archetypes.

Valerie Young
Yeah, kind of competence types really.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so, let’s see. We got the knowledge, we got the natural genius, we got the soloist, we got the super students.

Valerie Young
Superwoman/Superman.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And what’s the fifth one?

Valerie Young
The perfectionist, the expert, the natural genius.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, perfectionist. Okay, got it. Interesting. So, each of these, they have sort of a lie that they’re clinging to and you sort of need to see the light based upon sort of where you fall in. And so, is there any kind of bridge you recommend that we cross in order to pull that off successfully or consistently?

Valerie Young
Yeah, I think it goes back to learning to think like a non-impostor. Like, when you’re having this moment where you’re holding yourself to these unrealistic unsustainable standards, to kind of step back and say, “How would a non-impostor think and feel and act in this same situation?”
And it’s not just competence that they think differently about. People who don’t feel like impostors also look at failure, mistakes, and criticisms differently and they have a different response to fear.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s cover each of these contrasts or distinctions then. So, how do we think like non-impostors in each of those contexts?

Valerie Young
Well, people who feel like impostors, experience shame when they fail, right? Nobody likes to fail and make a mistake, or have an off day, or have to struggle to master something, or have to ask for help. But when these things happen to non-impostors, they don’t experience shame. Impostors feel shame, and that’s a key difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, can we define shame here?

Valerie Young
I cannot give you a psychological version of that, a definition of shame.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess it’s different than, “Aw, shucks, that didn’t work out the way I wanted to.”

Valerie Young
Oh, no, no, it’s personal, by beating yourself up, embarrassment, humiliation.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m stupid. How could I have been so foolish, etc.?”

Valerie Young
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Valerie Young
It’s the difference between non-impostors, they recognize they have setbacks, they have failures, and I just want to be clear with people. It’s not that they’re okay with it. They can be crushingly disappointed. Think about sports, right? Intellectually we all know one team is going to win and one team is going to lose. One team is going to be crying in their towel on the sidelines at the end of the championship. But they don’t go home and hang up their uniform and quit, right? They go watch the game tape, they get more coaching, they get back in there, and they say, “We’ll get them next time.”

So, it’s really how you handle failures and setbacks that matter. And, again, you can be crushingly disappointed if you fail or fall short, but not ashamed. The only time you feel ashamed is if you didn’t try, or maybe you procrastinated to the very last minute, it didn’t really reflect your best effort, yeah, then shame is called for. But, otherwise, there’s no shame.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it. And how about the next one?

Valerie Young
Well, let me just add one more to that because criticism is something that is really problematic for people with impostor syndrome. It wounds and crushes our soul, right? So, if you’re in a job and your boss tells you four things you did outstanding, right? You’re having your performance review, four things you’re outstanding, one thing you need to work on. What do you obsess over and feel horrible about, right?

It’s the equivalent of wanting to win an Oscar every time you make a film. But people who feel like impostors becomes over-personalized. So, if someone says, “That report was inadequate,” what we hear is, “I’m inadequate.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Valerie Young
And non-impostors not only see constructive feedback and criticism as invaluable, but they seek it out. They might pay coaches ridiculously good money, as I have in the past, to give them really direct honest feedback about how they can perform. Or even if someone says they did an outstanding job, the non-impostor will say, “Thank you so much. What’s one thing I could’ve done even better?”

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some distinction there between your performance and your, I guess, worthiness or goodness as a fundamental human being.

Valerie Young
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. Cool.

Valerie Young
And to see yourself as kind of this work in progress, you’re always going to be getting better. And the last thing that non-impostors think differently about is fear. When I’m speaking to a large audience, Pete, I’ll often say, “How many of you would like to feel confident 24/7?” And lots of people raise their hand. And my response is always, “Good luck with that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you know, it’s so funny. In almost, as you say that, I imagine a life that’s a little bit less exciting in terms of like if I always felt confident, I think I’d get bored. Like, a little bit of, “Oh, boy, can I handle this?” makes things kind of exciting for me.

Valerie Young
Well, yeah, and it’s normal, it’s realistic. Denzel Washington, before he walked on stage to be in a Broadway show in “Fences,” he said, “Well, you’re standing in the wings, if you don’t have that what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here moment, it’s time to hang it up.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, then how do the non-impostors handle a fear? They just sort of, like Denzel Washington say, “Yup, that’s there and it’s all good.”

Valerie Young
Absolutely. Some incredibly successful performers, artists, entertainers, singers, have terrible stage fright, but they don’t lean into the fear. I always recommend people understand that your body doesn’t know the difference between fear and excitement. You have sweaty palms, nervous stomach, dry throat. So, are you’re walking on stage, or into the job interview, or up to the podium, or whatever it might be, you just have to keep telling yourself, “I’m excited, I’m excited,” then you have to keep going regardless of how you feel.

Because what everyone is waiting for, Pete, is to feel more confident. And then it’s like, “Well, when I feel more confident, then I’ll do it.” No, it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to do the thing, you’re like, “Maybe I can’t perform on Broadway, but I’m going to give it my best shot,” right? Put yourself out there and do it, learn from it, try again, and keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s well-put. So, we’re waiting to feel more confident before we do it but that is just backwards. You’ve got to do it and then you’ll feel more confident.

Valerie Young
Absolutely. Or to really change your thoughts, start thinking like a non-impostor even though you don’t believe the new thought yet. Somebody said to me, I was speaking at a group, and she raised her hand, she said, “Well, this is great, Valerie. But what if you tell yourself all this stuff and you still don’t believe it?” And my response is, “No, trust me, you won’t believe it. You believe the old thoughts, the old impostor rulebook but you have to keep telling yourself.”

But if you just can say to yourself, “Aren’t I entitled to make a mistake once in a while? Aren’t I entitled to have an off day?” That’s the way non-impostors think. You may not 100% believe it that day, but over time you start thinking, “Yeah, I am entitled as the next person to get it wrong, have an off day, not know the answer.”

Pete Mockaitis
And you also have a strategy you recommend when it comes to reframing. Can we hear about this?

Valerie Young
Well, that really is the process of thinking like a non-impostor is to step back and to say, “Okay,” become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re having a very normal impostor moment, and then try to reframe it the way you imagine a non-impostor would. I’ll share one of my favorite reframes was Daniel Boone, the wilderness explorer, who said, “I was never lost but I was bewildered once for three days.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good, yeah. And even if you’re successful, like you can frame that like an impostor or a non-impostor. Can you give us an example of that?

Valerie Young
I’m not sure what you’re asking. Say more about that.

Pete Mockaitis
So, Daniel Boone got lost and he reframed that as he was bewildered, which is cool. But sometimes an impostor can even frame a success or a good result or a victory in a non-affirming way about themselves. whereas the non-impostor would do so differently.

Valerie Young
Right. So, the impostor, I think this is what you’re getting at, might say, “Well, it’s only because I had help,” or, “It’s just, yeah, they say they love my presentation, but it’s just because they like me or was a good audience,” right? And those two things might be true, but you’re not including yourself in that equation.

And I think non-impostors make an effort to celebrate successes so that it becomes, whether it’s a conscious desire or not, but it kind of consciously wedge it in your mind and makes that connection between your efforts and outcome, and that you need to reward yourself. If we spent nearly enough time rewarding ourselves in positive ways for the little and big wins, there’ll be less for an impostor about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we had BJ Fogg on the show earlier who’s amazing and he was talking about how important it is to celebrate because he’s talking about the context of making habits, saying that emotions build habits, and most people are very bad at celebrating themselves, even if it’s just a little, “Nice job, Valerie,” like internally for three seconds. Most of us struggle with that.

Valerie Young
Absolutely. And I think it’s really important. As you said, even from small things, for folks who are familiar with making a list of things they’re grateful for to just step back at the end of a project and say, “I’m really happy that I did these three things,” or, “I did a good job,” or, “Good for you for trying,” regardless of the outcome. And I think that’s important, too, to not just celebrate the wins. It’s like, “Did you give it your best shot?”

You know, I got my book deal with Random House. I had a great agent, she took me around New York, we had two days of interview schedule with some of the biggest publishing houses in the industry. And I was pretty nervous for the first one. And the irony was not lost on me, Pete, pitching this book, right?

Pete Mockaitis
I have a log here. I can give you the top publishers.

Valerie Young
Right, exactly, looking at the skyline of Manhattan, sitting in these beautiful conference rooms. But I decided, no matter what, this when the iPhone just came out, I was going to get myself an iPhone for just kind of being in the running, right?

When my book came out, I’d already decided I was going to buy this painting. Again, a friend of mine said, “What if you buy this painting and then the book is a flop? It’s going to remind you of that all the time.” I said, “To the contrary, the picture is going to remind me that I gave it my best shot, and after that the outcome is out of my control.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That is good. Oh, we’re having so much fun here. I had lots of stuff I wanted to make sure we covered. So, I’m curious, for the hardcore impostors, whoever are like, “Okay, Valerie is saying some really encouraging things. But, no, I seriously don’t belong in my role.” Like, I guess at times our doubts about our capabilities are accurate.

Valerie Young
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how can we kind of get nuanced and appropriately distinguished? Like, what sort of just an impostory thought we should discard, like, “Oh, that’s silly,” versus what’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. I am kind of outmatched here, and I got to take some steps to get where I need to be”?

Valerie Young
Oh, well, you just said it right there. The reality is you may be in a situation, as we all probably have been at one time, where we’re really out of our element, or thrown into something where we’re really over our head. But, again, it goes back to the difference between saying, “I’m an impostor. They’re going to find out,” versus saying, “What an amazing learning opportunity. Let me marshal whatever resources there are available to me whether it’s time or brain power. Or, how can I grow into this position and recognize that I’m in the middle of a really, you know, I’m in a learning curve?”

Think about it. There are CEOs that go from the CEO of an insurance company to a manufacturing company. They have zero experience in manufacturing but they look at that, and, again, they’re scared by the way. There was a study out of the UK that found 80% of CEOs and 81% of managing directors sometimes feel out of their depth.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s encouraging. Thank you.

Valerie Young
But I think I look at it as a normal response to being in new situations. In a rapidly-changing world, whether technology-wise, or advancements, or just trends where you’re never going to know it all, and you’re never going to do everything perfectly yourself, and you don’t need to. There are other people who can, you know. We think we’re supposed to excel at everything but we’re not going to excel at everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, I was going to ask, so we had that 70% figure that’s been thrown around, and not that we need to slice and dice it 50 different ways as scientists sometimes like to do. But you shared an interesting stat there with 80% of CEOs feel out of their depth at times. Do we see the proportion of folks who feel impostory vary by either gender, industry, seniority, functional area? It sounds like the more senior people felt it even more than the 70%.

Valerie Young
Yeah, I do think the higher up you are, you go, the more susceptible you are. There’s more scrutiny, there’s farther to fall. If you’re in a highly-educated environment, like academia, or in certain scientific fields. Somebody said to me recently, Pete, I was speaking at a university, I think it was Michigan State, and she said, “This is crazy. I shouldn’t feel like an impostor. I have a PhD.” I said, “No, you feel like an impostor because you have a PhD because now people look at you a certain way.”

You’re right. Certain fields, creative fields, writing, acting, music, even producing. Chuck Lorre, producer of Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, other shows, have talked about feeling like a fraud when he walks out on a set. When you’re in a creative field, you’re only as good as your last book, your last performance. You’re being judged by subjective standards, by people whose job title is professional critic. People in medicine, technology, areas that are rapidly advancing and very information-dense, they also tend to be more susceptible.

Pete Mockaitis
And you wrote your book specifically for women. How do you think about gender in this?

Valerie Young
Women, as a group, tend to be, you know, we’re kind of generalizing here, right, they tend to be more susceptible for a host of reasons. But there are plenty of men who feel like impostors. And that’s one reason, honestly, I absolutely hate the title of my book. I hate it. I didn’t want it. I argued against it. Clearly, I lost the battle. And I hate it for a few reasons. It does leave men out, and men almost are always at my talks and when I speak in organizations, so it leaves men out, but also even women who, by any measure, are successful, we don’t often resonate with that term. So, you can have a junior in college in an engineering program, and she really could benefit from the book, but she’s not going to see herself in that title.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Valerie Young
When, what is her name, Sandberg, why am I forgetting her? Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook. Is that her name? Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Valerie Young
When she was asked a question by a reporter once, and the question was something like, “Do you consider yourself successful?” And she hesitated before she answered in the affirmative, but she hesitated, which I really get because success can also separate us from other people. So, I think it’s important to say here that sometimes we might hesitate in the face of achieving greater levels of success, and we think it’s confidence, and it could be, but it can also be other factors. Like, in varying iterations, success can separate us from other people. And if relationships are important to you, then that might kind of hold you back even on a very unconscious level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so let’s talk about sort of the long term here. I think we have a lot of great respect in terms of in the heat of the moment, reframing and thinking about things differently. When it comes to building your career, day after day, month after month, year after year, how do you think about this differently at all?

Valerie Young
Do you mean me or how would someone…?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say those who experience impostor syndrome who are looking to grow their careers over the long term, do you have any pro tips from all your research here?

Valerie Young
Well, I think in some ways the answer is right in the question, that it’s always a long game, and the more you can see yourself as a work in progress and understand that you don’t need to know it all and have done it all. One thing that I think holds people back from becoming even more successful is we make this assumption that we have to know or already basically done that previous job before.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Valerie Young
Again, a mind shift. Let me give you an example. There was a guy in my town here in Massachusetts who he was on the town select board for 12 years. He ran for reelection and he lost. Well, for a lot of people who feel like impostors that would just be devastating to lose this election. The next day this guy went out, he submitted the papers in Boston at the state house to run for state rep, which is like a statewide level. He was on the town level. He went to the next level.

And his quote was, “It was the next natural step.” And so, the message there is sometimes shooting higher after a setback is the next natural step. But that’s not going to be intuitive to people who feel like impostors.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And then when it comes even taking on specific challenges or opportunities that you don’t quite think you’re ready for, how do you evaluate those decisions?

Valerie Young
Well, I think it’s important to talk it through with people, but I would say there’s very few instances where I will tell somebody, “No, you really can’t do it.” I would say, “Jump in, trust that you can figure it out as you go along. Figure out who your support network is and how you’re going to learn and grow into this new role and just give it your best shot. But put your hat into the ring and understand that you’re being hired based on your capacity and your potential.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Valerie, I’d love to get, maybe before we shift gears into your favorite things, maybe. Could you share with us a couple quotations or stories from some of your most super-accomplished impostors?
Valerie Young
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there’s a guy at Stanford University, he said, “If I can get a PhD in astrophysics from Caltech, anybody can,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
“Because I’m a moron.”

Valerie Young
Right. Exactly. I had to point out to him that most of us can’t even balance our checkbook, so I don’t think so.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s awesome. More please.

Valerie Young
A famous quote, right? Jodie Foster did an interview on 60 Minutes many, many years ago, which she had gotten the Academy Awards for “The Accused.” Now, when she was at Yale University, she took time out of acting to go to Yale. She felt like an impostor when she got accepted into Yale, and she felt like an impostor when she got the Academy Award. And the quote was something to the effect of, “I kept waiting for them to come, knock on the door and take the Oscar back and say, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to Meryl Streep.’”

Which is fascinating because Meryl Streep, years later, did an interview with Ken Burns, and he asked her, “Do you think you’ll always act?” And her response was, “Well, I always think, ‘Who would want to see me act and what do I know about acting?’” It’s like the most Academy Award nominated actor of all times, right? If that doesn’t make you realize this is irrational, nothing will.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Thank you. Well, any final thoughts about impostor syndrome before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Valerie Young
I will say two seeds I want to plant. One is that when you think about it, Pete, there’s a certain amount of arrogance to the impostor syndrome because what we’re really saying is, “Other people are so stupid, they don’t realize we’re inept.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. It’s like you’re a master conman.

Valerie Young
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re able to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes.

Valerie Young
Right. So, imagine if you would introduce me, Pete, “Valerie Young, internationally-recognized expert,” and I was like, “Oh, brother. Come on, Pete. I mean, have you ever had an expert on your show before? Seriously?”

Pete Mockaitis
One person in Canada recognizes me, that’s all that means.

Valerie Young
Well, no, it’s more about kind of insulting you. Like, “Do you got a house much or what, Pete? You picked me.” It assumes that whether it’s professors, or managers, or people who hired or promoted you, or clients, or customers are so inept that they don’t recognize you’re incompetent, which is very arrogant. The other thing I think people need to realize is that this is not all about them, that everyone loses when bright people play small.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Valerie Young
Somebody out there could be benefiting from your full range of knowledge and skills and potential. But when we hold back, there’s a consequence that go far beyond us.

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

Valerie Young
You know, this is not about impostor syndrome, but this is a quote that I’ve loved for many, many years, and it’s by the actor Will Smith who said, “Being realistic is the most commonly-travelled road to mediocrity.”

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

Valerie Young
I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s work. She wrote a book called “Mindset.” Honestly, I used to read her stuff in the academic literature, she’s in psychology, but people in academia write in such dense convoluted jargony ways that it’s not always easy to see the raw power in the findings. So, I read her stuff for many years.

Now, when she wrote her book “Mindset,” which is much more written in very accessible kind of way, it was like very conforming because she was doing all this quantitative research that confirmed everything I’ve been saying for the last 20 years about how people who don’t think like impostors, and impostors for that matter, how they think differently about competence basically.

So, it was very confirming. If you’re a parent, I think you’ll really enjoy her book. Let me give you one little, if I have a minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Valerie Young
One, I think her best exercises is to think about that typical kind of dinnertime conversation with school-age kids, which is, “What did you learn in school today?” to which they say, “Nothing,” which we did too, right, or, “I don’t remember.”

And Dweck said, “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if once a week, a couple times a month, you say, ‘Let’s all go around the table and talk about something that was difficult, challenging, or we failed at, and how we dealt with it. I’ll start.’” Because what you want to teach is resiliency.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Valerie Young
I was going to go back to kind of normalizing self-doubt, reframing and kind of keep going regardless.

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

Valerie Young
Gosh, I don’t know. I hope it’s what I shared that the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is stop thinking like an impostor. Remember, nothing else. And if you truly understood you are entitled to make a mistake, be wrong, have an off day, there’ll be nothing to feel like an impostor about.

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

Valerie Young
It’s so easy. Just go to ImpostorSyndrome.com.

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

Valerie Young
Just don’t play small. Look for an opportunity. Well, let me say this. We’re all going to have an opportunity to feel stupid sometime in the next 24-48 hours, so step up, seize the opportunity, and just keep saying to yourself, “Somebody is going to get that cool job, somebody is going to do that cool thing, it might as well be me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Valerie, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you so much. And good luck in all of your adventures.

Valerie Young
Thank you so much, Pete, for having me. Great job.