Tag

KF #30. Self-Development Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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.

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Monday.com. Collaborate more effectively–and beautifully–at monday.com/awesome.
  • Four Sigmatic. Give your brain a boost with superfood mushroom coffee with half the caffeine and double the mental clarity. Save 15% at foursigmatic.com/awesome.

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.

462: Increasing Your Self-Awareness to Improve Your Leadership with Pamela McLean

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Pam McLean says: "Our presence is an intervention."

Pamela McLean reveals how your inner landscape helps and hinders your leadership capabilities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most common obstacle to developing your leadership potential
  2. How to address self-limiting beliefs
  3. The most critical internal areas to develop

About Pamela 

Pamela McLean is the CEO and cofounder of the Hudson Institute of Coaching, which provides consulting to organizations worldwide. Working in the arenas of clinical and organizational psychology, and leadership coaching and development, Pam has worked with hundreds of organizational leaders and seasoned professionals inside organizations and in solo practice to deepen and strengthen their coaching skills. Pam is the author and co-author of several books, articles and whitepapers focused on coaching, human development and transformational learning. Her titles include: The Completely Revised Handbook of Coaching and LifeForward, Charting the Journey Ahead.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You Sponsors!

  • Get insurance the quick, easy, and affordable way with Policygenius.com.
  • Learn a new language anytime, anywhere with Babbel.com

Pamela McLean Interview Transcript

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

Pam McLean
So happy to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I, first, want to hear a little bit about your fondness for birdwatching.

Pam McLean
That’s great. Well, I’ve been a birdwatcher for a long time and it is interesting that there are a lot of birdwatchers in the world. It turns out, I grew up on the prairie right on the border of Manitoba up in the corner of North Dakota, Minnesota, and when one grows up on a farm on a prairie, the appreciation for wildlife is accentuated. And I’ve just carried that through all of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And so, can you identify the birds then readily, “That’s a yellowtail, blue belly…”?

Pam McLean
There’s always room for improvement, but I do have a repertoire that I can identify, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, birdwatching, it seems like a relaxing hobby as opposed to, I don’t know, bungee jumping.

Pam McLean
Much more relaxing and it’s everywhere. You don’t have to go find a bungee jump. There are birds everywhere so it’s a wonderful thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued. So, you’ve also done a lot of human watching and observing and coaching and training of coaches. Boy, there are so many things I want to dig into but I’m just going to start to dig and ask. Coaches really have a privileged way of a view, I’d say, of the human condition and how we really operate deep down. So, I’d love to know what have you found is the most surprising, or striking, or reliable insight into how we humans tick that you’ve discovered from all your decades of coaching and coach training?

Pam McLean
Great question. Definitely a broad one. There are several things that come to my mind. One is in the world of coaching, especially leadership coaching, which is really what I have spent the last 30 years in here at Hudson, one theme is that almost all leaders want to do their best work. They want to be at their best. So, that’s quite something to work with people who are willing to continue to grow and develop. That is, I think, one of the unique features of leadership coaching.

Another one that is interesting, Pete, and I spent my first half of my career as a clinical psychologist and then now as a leadership coach, or running a leadership coaching organization. One of the other things that I see as a theme is that change is hard for all of us. That to make a change, even what might seem like a small change, takes a lot of conscious effort, and that is part of what makes coaching valuable, to have someone walking alongside you and helping to look at how you can build some practices and continue to make some shifts that are really going to matter for you.
But it strikes me,

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m reminded of the oddest things sometimes in the podcast interviews, and now I’m thinking about an old Dane Cook, a comedian, joke about someone in the bad romantic relationship, and her friends are saying, “You should just get out. You should just get out of there. You just get out. Just go.” And she’s like, “Well, it’s not that simple, Karen. My CDs are in his truck.” And I just think there’s so much truth to that. Like, “Yeah, there’s a few changes that have to happen, and that’s hard to do.”

Pam McLean
Yeah, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, yet I find that reassuring. So, my last person I interviewed was a Navy Seal, and so he’s sort of speaking likewise about how, yeah, that’s a scary thing to do, standup comedy for the first time as he was venturing into this or that. And so, it’s reassuring that even sort of like the toughest and most elite among us also struggle with doing change. And I guess I might want to get your take on why do you suppose that is? Is it just habit and comfort just…has a pull on us?

Pam McLean
Well, yeah, I think that’s right, that it does have a pull on us, and we know from the neuroscience as well that we build these, we could almost think of them as like grooves in our brain that we’re on autopilot when we’re in habit. And so, if I’m going to shift my way of being, here’s a kind of common one that might come up in coaching. I’m just thinking of those.

You know, as an early manager, here’s one that can be common, that someone goes, “Oh, gosh, I don’t really want to get my person feedback because it makes me kind of uncomfortable. I’d like to be liked. I haven’t really done much of it before.” And so, to rewire to see that providing feedback to someone that you’re managing is actually an important part of developing them, and everybody wants to grow. That’s quite different then, the mindset that, “I might make them feel badly,” or, “That would be uncomfortable for me to do.”

So, it takes us quite a bit of time to deconstruct what gets in the way, to really look at what the underlying obstacles are, and to pay attention to them. There’s this tendency that we have when we want to change something, and we look at, “What do I need to do? What do I need to do? Just give me the answers. Tell me what to do.” And what we know in coaching is that what we need first is to notice how we are now, “How I’m showing up now, and to really develop a heightened awareness for the habit that I’m

Here’s one that I hear often, is people talk about how often they say yes before even thinking. And we often talk about, in working with coaches and development, that when we learn to say no, we know how to set a boundary and that becomes important for us in our work with others. But it’s not as simple as, “Boy, I say yes all the time, so let me just start saying no.” First, we have to notice, “How many times in a day do I say yes? And what happens? What’s the cost of that? What triggers that?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, it really is because, I think, it’s dead on in terms of, “Okay, what do I need to do?” is a natural question and, particularly for me, one of my top strengths is Activator, it’s like, “Let’s go do it. Make it happen.” And so, but that awareness strikes me as really a potent means of accelerating change because you start to get emotional and visceral and real about it. It’s not like, “Yes, I say yes too much and that’s bad and I should say no more.”

That’s one thing intellectually, as opposed to, “Oh, my gosh, I have taken stock at how this is devastating my life.” And, not to be overdramatic, it really can. It’s like, “I have no time to rest, to do what’s important to me. I’m always serving everybody in every way and urgently and frantically and distractedly with mediocre quality because I haven’t said no enough to prioritize and focus and deliver excellence on those things that really matter there.”

So, I really like that because some might say awareness, they can sort of brush it aside, like, “Yadda, yadda, yadda, those coaches would say that. They can book some more hours and they drudge up your past and the awareness.” But, really, I see it as a bridge to getting that emotional stuff going.

Pam McLean
Well, you make such great point because we can’t think ourselves through change and we have to have the head and heart connected to make those connections, so we have to be in the moment with ourselves, paying attention to ourselves, noticing what triggers us, so you’re spot on there, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I really want to dig in. So, in your book Self as Coach, Self as Leader, you sort of lay out six key dimensions to think through with regard to yourself and how that shows up as a leader and enriches folks. So, I’d love it if maybe you could talk us through a little bit of each of the dimensions, like what is it, why is it important, and how do we get better at that?

Pam McLean
Yeah, happy to. And I might start by giving it a little bit of context to say that, in the life of a leader or a coach, we know we have skill-based competencies that are must-haves. It’s kind of like our IQ is the cost of admission, that’s just a must-have. But often, most often,  And I use this phrase, “Our use of  We do many things at Hudson, working inside organizations, providing coaching services, and we also have a yearlong program where leaders come and go through this process of developing coaching skills.

Often, leaders will say, “Oh, I just want the tools. I just want the tools and I think I’ll be good.” And we go, “Oh, here’s the deal. ” So, our ability to use our self…

Pete Mockaitis
How dare you?

Pam McLean
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
You want to be a tool?

Pam McLean
It requires that we cultivate our internal landscape. And some of us are more inclined to do this, some fields of study bring us into this territory more than others, but it is in that cultivation of our internal landscape, whether we’re a coach or a leader, that really allows us to show up in a way that maximizes our ability to work with others, to inspire others, to lead others, to develop others.

So, one of the things I start with in the book is I talk a bit about this notion that, well, in coaching our work is not the same as in psychology or psychotherapy where we might naturally go back and take a look at the family of origin and do some deconstruction and some reconstructing. And, yet, what is true is that all of us human beings have some kind of a family of origin, and that who we are is so significantly impacted by our early years.

And so, it’s helpful for us, as leaders and coaches, to understand what has shaped us into our adult years. And that, of course, parallels some of what we do, certainly what we do as a coach when we’re working with someone. If you just imagine that some people might call our ways being, we have self-limiting beliefs. You hear this, right? And others might say that we have narratives that we live in. Or I often talk about stories that we have. And I talk in the book about how a story that I have, that is a lifelong story, I grew up on a cattle ranch in a very rural area. There was a lot of positive strokes for being strong and absolutely, extra credit, for never asking for help.

And so, that was a story. It worked so well as I was growing up. And that’s how we develop these. We’re smart, resourceful, little people, and we figure out, “What do I need to do? Maybe if I go small, it’ll work better in my family. Or, maybe if I talk a lot, it’ll work better. Or, maybe if I cry.” We figure out what ways of being we need to develop in order to, “Make life work as best it can in my family,” because all families have some level of dysfunction, right?

So, my “be strong and extra credit for not asking for help” was clever when I was growing up, but as a leader of an organization, which is a role I’ve been in for over a couple of decades now, it’s not an effective strategy. And so, it has required me to really be attuned to that old story and to do my work noticing how often that can show up in order that I can expand my capacity, in order that I can see the value of asking for input, asking for help, and I can see the cost of going it alone.

And so, that is a starting point for the  And in those six dimensions that I write about, they are really lenses into our internal landscape. We’ve talked for a long time, in the earlier book I wrote, I talked about this notion of self as coach, but I really dig into it in this book. And so, these are dimensions of self. It’s more than EQ. EQ is about knowing our emotions, managing our emotions. But these are dimensions that include our presence.

I have this colleague that says this wonderful phrase, “Our presence is an intervention.” Now, imagine that as a leader or as a coach. The very way I show up in the first moments with you is an intervention. And so, to hone my presence, for most of us, and certainly in the world we’re living in today, requires a lot of practice. And it’s not just closing the screen, putting your cellphone away, it’s paying attention to the chatter that’s in my head, the biases or the assumptions that I might bring with me into a particular conversation as a leader or as a coach.

And so, it has many layers to it and it requires for us practices that allow us to strengthen our presence. And it’s not surprising that neuroscience has taught us that mindfulness practice helps us tune in to the internal chatter, helps us learn how to settle and to be in the moment, and to be  And I don’t know, Pete, if you have a mindfulness practice, but every time I’m with a group of people, and I ask, “How many of you have a mindfulness practice?”

First of all, the number of people in any number of settings has grown so much over the past several years. Then, when you ask the next question, “How has that changed you?” It’s quite compelling to listen to people talk about how a practice that might only take 5 or 10 minutes a day, you don’t have to sit on a pillow, you don’t have to have your meditation room, or a candle burning. You can do it at your desk with the door closed. You can do it as you walk if you’re able to do that. That it changes our attention to self and our ability to be there more fully for another. So, that’s one area, is

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. Thank you. And with the mindfulness practice, I mean, there’s many such practices. But if you were to make a recommendation for folks who have none, by the way, what percentages are you seeing these days? What proportion of folks are you saying that have a mindfulness practice?

Pam McLean
So, I may be working with many people who are quite invested in their own development. So, when I say 40%, that’s probably higher than the average, but I’m always impressed by how many people are taking this on. And there are some really great apps on the phone that are helpful for those who want to just dip into it. And I don’t have my phone sitting right here or I would tell you a couple. I think one is Calm, but there are three or four that are quite well known, quite effective. Some of them cost absolutely nothing. Insight is the one that I think I like, but they are a great support.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. So, that’s the presence side of things, just how you show up can impact folks, be an intervention, whether you’re frenetic and frenzied or calm and listening and that sort of thing. So, let’s shift over from presence to empathy now.

Pam McLean
Yeah, so empathy is such an important one, and in coaching it’s our glue. In the field of psychology, you often hear about the term, “a working alliance.” We have to have this connection with the person that we’re working with in order for anything to happen, for conversations that matter to unfold. It provides that safety, it provides that sense of being seen, and it is bedrock in our work.

And what I talk about in the book is that we could imagine there’s a continuum. And on the one end of the continuum, I am almost disconnected from the human being in front of me. I don’t see, when you’re having a difficult moment, or maybe tearing up, or getting frustrated, I just don’t clock that, I don’t connect in that way. The far end, the other end of the continuum, when you feel badly, I feel badly. When you’re upset, I’m upset.

And so, this empathy requires a calibration because neither end of that continuum allows us to be at our best with another. But I use this phrase, “The ability to walk in someone’s shoes without wearing them.” So, the ability to imagine what this experience is like for you without taking it on, without taking it home, and at the end of the day continuing to think about it, worry about it, wonder about it.

And so, to take another’s perspective, to walk in their shoes without lacing them up and staying there, that is where we want to be, calibrating our  And it’s so interesting for people to explore this, and to notice where they might be, and where the recalibration might be. And there’s, for some, a natural inclination to want to take care of others.

I, sometimes, say it’s like handing someone the box of Kleenex, and you start to feel badly, or you’re upset. And if I hand you, metaphorically, a box of Kleenex, I really am now drawn into your story, and you’re not able to fully share all that you might want to share.

Pete Mockaitis
You say the handing of the box of Kleenex, is it like a distancing?

Pam McLean
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “You take care of yourself now. Tidy up.”

Pam McLean
“That’s enough. That’s enough. That’s enough,” right? “Now, get yourself together,” or, “Everything is going to be okay.” We’ve all been in those situations where we’re going through something that’s hard, and even good friends will say, “You know, you’re really strong. You’re going to be fine. Oh, I know that you’re going to get through this.” And it’s a conversation stopper because that’s not where I am at that time.

And so, having that ability to stay with, to connect with, and be with someone wherever they are, in many ways, is a bit of an art for us and certainly requires that presence, that mindfulness to maximize

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really helpful there in terms of don’t say, “Everything’s okay. You’re going to be super strong,” or hand them a box of Kleenex in terms of sort of shutting it down. But do kind of imagine what it’s like to experience that and to be there but without taking it home or to own those shoes. So, I get what we’re going for here in terms of, okay, avoid those extremes, utterly disconnected, and complete unity of feeling. But how do you recommend one adjusts? Like, if we need to notch it up because we’re heavily disconnected, or we need to notch it down because we’re crying and wrecked for the rest of the day because we’ve had such a conversation with someone, how do we do that?

Pam McLean
Well, I think we need input from others. So, getting feedback and perspectives from others is always helpful. But there’s a very interesting bit of work that is useful in empathy, and that is the notion that when we are able to take good care of ourselves, it increases our ability to be empathic. And it makes sense when you think about it.

So, as I’m more mindful of my, and connected to myself, able to pay attention to what my needs are, it seems to impact our empathic

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that makes sense both in terms of, okay, you’re exercising empathy to yourself and to another, as well as just the actual results of your self-care.

Pam McLean
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
One of my favorite studies is about the seminarians who were learning about the good Samaritan bible story, and then they placed a Confederate person who was coughing and in need of help. The seminarists didn’t too well with regard to helping out this person like you might hope even though that’s going to be their jobs.

And the main variable they’re testing was those who were told they were behind schedule had to rush and hurry up and get their assignment turned in, helped far less than those who were in a calmer place and felt less stressed, and more resourced to help out when someone was in need. And so, I think that’s sort of a double whammy with regard to that self-care.

Pam McLean
Yeah, and it’s a great comment because you’re really connecting presence and empathy in that story. I often say there are 5 minutes and there are 5 minutes. It’s just a matter of the way that we show up and get present and connected, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so good. Those who are reading the transcripts are not going to capture the power of what you just said, but it’s hitting home for me. Thank you.

Pam McLean
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, awesome. So, we talked about presence and empathy. How about range of feelings?

Pam McLean
Yes, range of feelings is an interesting one that connects back to how our early years were. And this notion that most of us—here’s a story I tell in the book about, I have a colleague whose early years, she’s Italian, her parents were immigrants, they came to this country, opened a café in an urban area, an Italian restaurant, and a large family, a lot of yelling and screaming and getting angry and getting happy. And these emotions just came and went, and it was all part of the general course of any day.

And I grew up in a northern European family. My grandparents came from Scotland. They were pretty buttoned down, never too happy, never too angry. And so, these ways of being, the way that we grow up impacts our repertoire of feelings and the way that we judge some feelings.

I like to say . And, as a coach, and as a leader perhaps as well, in order to work with a broad range of people, we need to be at ease with a broad range of feelings. If I am uncomfortable with anger, and I am working with a client who’s angry, I will not give much space for that to show up or I’ll be very uncomfortable when it

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Pam McLean
And the same can be said for tears, or whatever it might be. So, the work of a coach is so different than the work of a dentist or an accountant. We have to have this work invested in expanding our repertoire so that we can work with as many different sorts of people as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
That totally makes sense. And I guess I’m just thinking about all kinds of situations where usually I’m visualizing, stereotypically, I guess, a man who’s strong and quiet, and then they encounter crying, it’s like, “There’s no crying in baseball.” Or, it’s sort of like there’s no internal comfort with the feeling and, thusly, when an outside person is emoting in that, it’s just uneasy, like, “Uggghh, I want to get out of here immediately.” So, yeah, how do you work on that?

Pam McLean
One thing I think is helpful is, again, back to self-awareness, is to do some monitoring around what my go-to feelings are, those ones I’m naturally at ease with and those that are on my no-go list that I just don’t like to go to. I think, first, building awareness of what my range of feelings is and where I might extend myself, and then finding those safe, small, little steps to step into that territory is at least a good

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, I’d love to get your quick take on the menu of feelings so that we might do a little bit of a checklist inventory there. I’m thinking about the movie Inside Out now. But how would you lay out the array of feelings to see how our repertoire is?

Pam McLean
Yes, so here’s a general way. I think of it as, again, a continuum where perhaps at the lowest level of feelings, or near that edge, I might be working in that sphere of, you know how people used to talk about mad, sad, glad? And as we go along that continuum, I’m really able to build a repertoire that’s much broader than that. And, more importantly, I’m able to understand and experience the reality that I can have two almost diametrically opposed feelings simultaneously, that it is possible for me to feel deep grief and joy at the same time. We’re able to do this.

And, as well, as I build my repertoire, I’m able to see and experience the reality that there are different levels of intensity of any one feeling. So, when someone says, “I’m angry,” that will mean something for you that might be different then for me. So, we have to know, “What does that mean? On a scale of 1 to 5, how strong is that anger, or that sadness, or whatever it might be?”

So, I think that in the world of coaching, and certainly in leadership as well, for us to have a depth of understanding about the range of feelings, the intensity of feelings, the possibility that feelings that seem contradictory can actually be overlapping and simultaneously experienced, that ability to really have a rich collection of accessible feelings

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, just for kicks, could you name a few?

Pam McLean
Well, I think that on the list of feelings that we feel comfortable with, it’s all of the – I’m speaking cultural-specific perhaps here – it’s happy, it’s joyful, gleeful, all of those kinds of things. And that feelings that’s so often we don’t like to go to are the anger, the rage, the grief, and the ones in between, are the frustration, annoyance, right? The vocabulary is expansive in this area.

I think what is most helpful for us, if we want to take this on, is to pay attention to, “What my repertoire is, what my go-to feelings are in my day and day out life.” And that helps us see, “Where might I expand? Where might I grow more

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And so, thinking about the fourth area there, the boundaries and systems, how should we think about that?

Pam McLean
Perhaps I’ll just talk a little about systems, and we can have some fun with that. The notion that in the work of coaching and leading, to have a sense of our boundaries, how permeable our boundaries are, what happens when they’re too tight or when they’re too porous? I have a wonderful friend, Pat Adson, who talks about this metaphor that goes like this. Imagine that we both have a garden, and your garden has a fence around it and a gate, as does mine. Yours has weeds, flowers, vegetables, as does mine. And that I look at your garden, without asking permission, I walk in your garden and I start doing your weeding for you. I have now lost my boundary, and I’m lost in your story.

So, imagine as a coach, you come to me and say, “Oh, my gosh, I’m just up against the wall. I just found out that my whole department is being eliminated. I don’t even have enough money for rent for next month. What am I going to do?” And I go, “Oh, let me just think about this. I think I know someone who can do…” I’m doing your weeding for you as opposed to being able to step back and go, “So, let’s just stop for a minute and see what’s most important in this,” and be able to see this experience through the other’s eyes, and help them see it, as opposed to getting in and rescuing or colluding, or whatever we might do when we walk in someone else’s garden without permission.

And this area is very subtle for a coach. For a leader, I think it so often comes in the form of hearing about a situation and, instead of stepping back and asking some questions and thinking alongside someone, you move into telling someone what to do, just giving them your answer, and without any regard for what’s unique about this for them. So, this notion of boundaries turns out to be really critical in our ability to help someone do their own growing as opposed to wanting to do it for

Pete Mockaitis
So, many of these boundaries are just for your own behavior.

Pam McLean
They are. They are. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “I’m not going to allow you to cross this boundary.” It’s like, “I’m not going to cross this boundary.”

Pam McLean
Yes. Yes, that’s right. Yeah, that’s right. You know, I was talking to someone the other day in the field of drug and alcohol, and we were having this great conversation about it. It’s so glaring in this that so often what becomes the biggest hurdle is in the family system, that collusion, that continually rescuing someone. And if someone can hold from a boundary and resist doing that, it allows the other to take the steps that are either going to lead to growth, or maybe take them to where they need to go, before they decide that they’re ready to make a

So, yeah, it’s powerful territory for us. And some of us are more inclined than others to want to help, to want to rescue. Some of us are very uncomfortable when we see someone suffering, and in order to manage ourselves, or to help ourselves feel better, we run in with our cape, and rescue instead of stepping back and helping someone see themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in that alcohol context, what are some of the behaviors of family members that are counterproductive even though they think they’re helping out?

Pam McLean
Well, I suppose it can take many, many forms. Coming to the rescue, often I think coming to the rescue with a financial aid, or any number of things, that simply facilitate through that kind of collusion, no

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, you sort of prevent the feeling of consequences, ramifications, rock bottom, unpleasantness that can be the force for change.

Pam McLean
Yeah. And so, we could go all the way back to that story I told earlier about the early manager who has a hard time giving feedback, that because their boundary is not yet developed, and they’re worried they’re going to hurt their feelings, or something. So, when one’s boundaries gets stronger, we have the ability to stay in our own garden and help someone observe themselves, or share observations, or offer feedback knowing that this is a part of how we help people

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Then how about embodiment?

Pam McLean
Yes, so this wonderful woman, Wendy Palmer, who wrote a book called Leadership Embodiment, and she says, “The way we sit and stand changes the way we think and feel.” And I love that. The notion that, back to our earlier stories, that if living in my family was smartest for me to play it small, and I bring this all the way into my adult years, and I want to have, people often talking leadership development, about executive presence, and yet my chest is a little caved in, and I’m just not showing up as fully there, and strong, and standing tall, and taking up all of my space. They are embodiment, our ability to embody that which we are as coach or leader is a powerful source of strength for us and a way to center ourselves.

We’re not living, although many of us try from the neck up, right, we have an entire body. And so, to be able to fully experience our body, to pay attention to the somatic triggers that show up, that help inform what might happen next, and to center ourselves fully in the moment. It helps us in every way that we’ve just talked about, it helps us be more present, it helps us connect with the other, it helps us tune into our own feelings, and it helps us hold boundaries that are going to be more helpful in our

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love it if maybe you could lay out, again, a couple menu options, if you will, in terms of, boy, embodiment A, B, C, D each create dramatically different yet helpful emotional states from which to operate.

Pam McLean
Yes, and I think that one can have a lot of fun experimenting in this area, so certainly even some of the martial arts can be a great way to explore your body and to learn how to live in your body from the head down to your feet, or yoga might, or a regular even a breathing exercise that we engage in. Three deep breaths that go all the way down to the belly, and that you slowly exhale is a way to get closer to what’s happening with all of us, and to get out of that tendency to be in our head. So, the wonderful thing is that our body is always here, right? And so, to be able to really center ourselves fully is at our disposal every

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, courage, we’ve talked with a few guests recently about courage, but I want to go six for six. What do you have to say about courage?

Pam McLean
Well, I think that in the work of a coach or a leader, courage is one of the big differentiators and it connects to, in many ways, it’s the culmination of everything we’ve talked about. So, in coaching, it might be the courage to share an observation that is a little bit uncomfortable but that you know the other cannot see. In leadership, it’s certainly back to that early manager and all the way to a senior leader, the ability to share feedback, to share observations that are going to help somebody grow.

So often we live in a world that shrinks away from being courageous. And people often say, “Well, how do I build my courage?” And I think we look at what are small acts of courage that we can engage in in our everyday life. Pick two or three and build a practice around  The people that come to leaders, who come to coaches, come to coaches because there’s something that they know is not working as well as they wanted to, or there’s something that is important for them to shift that they haven’t been able to do on their own.

And the reality for all of us is we can only see, we only have this, the view of ourselves is a limited one. And in our work with another, what a coach can bring to that work is that which I can see. And when I am willing to share that, then something of meaning happens in this relationship. So, if, for example, I’m coaching someone who wants to be recognized, who feels that every time they sit down at a senior team meeting, they’re not taken seriously as they want to be taken, or they’re not listened to, or that when it’s their idea, nobody says anything, but when somebody else does, they’re, “Oh, fantastic

And what you notice in the coaching, in the dynamics of the relationship is that this person is, at every turn and every conversation, highly deferential, “Well, I’m not sure this might be…” And so, for the coach to be able to say, “Oh, I want to stop for a minute and share an observation. What I notice is how often blah, blah, blah,” right? And so, that takes some courage for us. And that is one of the ways, as coaches, that we can really provide value for that leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Pam, this is so much good stuff. I want to make sure that we don’t have an uber long episode in responding to my listener feedback. So, tell me, is there anything else you really think is important for professionals to know about your world of coaching expertise before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Pam McLean
No, I think maybe in my final comment might be that what we’re really talking about here are kind of meta skills that have an enormous impact on how we are able to effectively show up in our roles as a leader or coach, and there is no destination. This is a journey. We’re always in development.

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

Pam McLean
Well, here’s one. I have a colleague in the U.K., Edna Murdoch, who has a quote, she says, “Who you are is how you coach.” And that just speaks so much, gets to the heart of this work on self as coach. Who we are is how we coach, it’s how we lead, it’s how we show up. And so, we need to know who we are.

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

Pam McLean
Well, so many different areas. I think that in the world we’re living in today, the work that’s happening in neuroscience is particularly relevant for us to understand that the science of the brain, the science of the body, is more important than ever. And so, I definitely dip into that regularly.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Pam McLean
A couple that I’m crazy about recently, there’s a book Tasha Eurich wrote, INSIGHT—

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, we had her on the show.

Pam McLean
It’s fantastic. I think she just hits it on the nail that we have to have this input from others to see all of our self. Another one—who would be great on your show—is James Hollis who wrote his most recent book Living an Examined Life. Fantastic, a short read,

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

Pam McLean
Oh, my goodness. I don’t know that I have a favorite that comes to mind, but I am pretty disciplined, and anything that holds me accountable is helpful in the area of tools.

Pete Mockaitis
And what does hold you accountable?

Pam McLean
I have a practice, at the beginning of each week, and I do a sort of an uber practice at the beginning of each month, to really spend time getting focused on what is most important, high level, and kind of medium level, and then in the weeds. And I stay attuned to that as I go through my week to make sure that I accomplish what’s most important.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Pam McLean
My favorite habit these days is I’m a very early riser. Of course, the sun is coming out earlier this time of the year. I love to go for a walk. I live at the kind of peak of a canyon, and so I go up to the very top and get to look out on the Pacific Ocean, and walk all the way down. And that’s just a beautiful habit.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audiences?

Pam McLean
I mentioned before this nugget that a colleague, Dorothy Siminovich, gave me years ago, and that is that  I do think that people resonate with that, and that it reminds us that the way we show up in the first few seconds is that is how we’re seen by others. So, that one is one of my favorites.
Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Pam McLean
Our website is www.HudsonInstitute.com. There is, as well, when you go to that website, there is a special resource center for Self as Coach, Self as Leader that has videos and worksheets and all sorts of resources.

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

Pam McLean

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Pam, this has been so much fun. Thank you for sharing this and bringing yourself. It’s just been a lot of fun, a lot of enrichment, and I appreciate the time.

Pam McLean
Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

459: How to Make Work More Sustainable Through Reinvention with Diana Wu David

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Diana Wu David says: "We really have to take agency over our own careers and our own job, and think about how to constantly improve it... the value it provides to us."

Diana Wu David shares how to future-proof your work-life with approaches for reinvention and re-framing.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Approaches for taking agency over your own career
  2. How to recognize the “treadmill of self-sacrifice” and get off it
  3. The right way to ask for what you want at work

About Diana 

Diana Wu David is a strategist, innovator, entrepreneur, and the founder of Sarana Capital and Sarana Labs. Her companies transform how executives work and prepare companies for the future of work, invest in Edtech and HRtech, and support innovative education initiatives across public and private sectors. Her diverse, global career includes assisting Henry Kissinger and leading executive education initiatives for Financial Times. A superconnector of people and a sought-after speaker, Diana lives in Hong Kong with her husband and their three children.  

Resources Mentioned in this Show:

Thank you sponsors!

Diana Wu David Interview Transcript

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

Diana Wu David
Thank you, Peter.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve done a lot of research on you and I’ve seen you’ve had a cool variety of experiences. But I want to go way back to your youth where you did some barrel racing and rodeo parading. What’s the story here?

Diana Wu David
So, it’s not an interesting story for where I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, but now that I’ve spent 20 years living abroad, most people can’t believe that I was in the rodeo parade and I used to ride horses and do barrel racing. In Hong Kong here, now, I’m surrounded by a lot of people who like horses but are very much into dressage and show horses, so it’s a very unusual thing to be a rodeo queen in Hong Kong.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is funny to just imagine. And just so we’re on the same page, what precisely does barrel racing refer to?

Diana Wu David
You get on your horse and they have actual barrels, and it’s like a slalom. You race around the barrels as fast as you can on horseback.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds a lot of fun to me.

Diana Wu David
It is. It’s very fast, and I have had some brush ups against the fence and so it’s dangerous, but it was super fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a good time. I grew up in Danville, Illinois, which is the central part of the state, and it was quite common that I would have friends showing cattle for these kinds of things, a fair, so respect.

Diana Wu David
I’m glad I have your respect. It’s a good way to start the podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve reminisced about our past, so let’s segue into the future. Your book Future Proof has a lot of good stuff in there. Maybe, could you start us off to get the intrigue flowing? What was, maybe your most surprising and fascinating discovery as you were researching and putting this together?

Diana Wu David
I think that the most surprising discovery is that I was thinking people who I interviewed were looking for some kind of work-life balance, but instead what I found is that they were incredibly ambitious to live life on their terms. So, many of them went off to do something a little bit offbeat or entrepreneurial. Many of them started side hustles. A lot of them are still in their jobs but just approaching things a bit differently. So, they’re super ambitious, they’re not taking a step down, or really focused on balance so much as living life on their own terms.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, it sounds like if they weren’t pursuing balance, then they were going after something with gusto and experiencing some imbalance and being fine with it.

Diana Wu David
Oh, they were just so excited to be successful on a broad basis, and oftentimes that meant learning, that’s sort of insatiable curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so that’s surprising. And what would you say is sort of like the main theme or big idea within the book Future Proof?

Diana Wu David
I think the main idea is that we really have to take agency over our own careers and our own job, and think about how to constantly improve it, not just the job as it relates to the value it provides to the company, of course that’s important, but even the value it provides to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And so then, what are some things that we tend to overlook when we’re not looking at things that way?

Diana Wu David
Well, I think there’s a sense that we’re sort of narrowly-focused, so we’re looking for companies or positions to provide for us and we’re dumbing from one to the other, looking for things, but just re-focusing on yourself as a person. One of the huge drivers of this has been the idea of disruption but also longevity.

So, if you’re looking at a career over a hundred-year life, you’re definitely going to outlast your job function. You’re probably going to have multiple careers. And based on the SMP lifespan of a company now being 12 years, you’ll probably outlast your own company. So, it’s about looking at yourself and thinking about, “What are the narratives? What do I need to learn next? What do I need to do to be flexible to build my skills? How can I frame this in a way to learn from it and still be super excited and add value?”

That’s something that I think has been lost a little bit. There’s a sense of going to a company, “Oh, we give them our blood, sweat, and tears. And they give us money and they should be giving us more.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So then, it sounds like there’s a little bit more kind of onus and responsibility upon the individual worker to really take stock of what’s most important and to proactively assess and evaluate whether a given opportunity is going to deliver on those means and with an eye toward the future as well.

Diana Wu David
Absolutely. And those change all time. I think sometimes it will be balanced. And I remember in my own life when I had super little kids, I wasn’t insanely ambitious to spend all my time at work and progressing, but as that changed, my priorities changed. So, it’s a longer life, pace yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. And so, you got a great turn of a phrase, which I guess would be the counterpoint to that, you say we’re pacing. You used the phrase, “The treadmill of self-sacrifice.” Can you unpack that a little bit in terms of what does that look like in practice and how do you know when you’re on it and it’s a problem?

Diana Wu David
That’s a great question. I think that you can feel it when you’re treading along. And it was the basis of my TED Talk, and also a sort of personal genesis for the book that after many years at my company I just felt like I wasn’t learning, and just going in every day, and you just feel that weighty sense of burden. And I think it was a turning point for me when it was maybe the third restructure at my company, and I just felt a little bit lost and sort of a “What’s the point?” feeling.

And I remember also that the HR director had said after we had to let some people go, I had to let some people go, and she said, “Well, you know, it’s really up to you.” And I was incredibly offended that this family feeling in our company had been disrupted by somebody telling me I needed to sort of pull my pants up and take care of myself.

And she got me a coach and I told my coach about all the injustices that had been foisted upon me, and how much I had invested, and how I just needed to have her help me find a new job. And the coach said…

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m being paid by the company.”

Diana Wu David
Well, you know, that’s in a separate conversation. I do think that the coaches, who are really good, can help you find a different way and help you be happy and awesome at your job. And this coach did that. She was like, “Look, you’re not going to quit, and I’m not going to help you. You’re going to turn this situation around.”

And I hated her. I’m still not sure I like her to this day. But she said, “If you’re really at that point, if you’re ready to just quit,” she said, “A, you have an opportunity to turn this around, to really learn from this, to figure out what you want and advocate for it. And the reality is, if you still want to quit, you’re still in the same place. Nothing to lose.”

She said, “And, furthermore, you’ve got such a bad attitude that nobody is going to hire you anyway. They’re going to see it. They’re going to smell it.” So, I think, you know, you see engagement scores at companies, I think people get that, and it’s not just the sort of bad day that everybody has at work. It’s that sense of just, “Ugh.” So, that’s a treadmill of self-sacrifice.

And the reality is that, oftentimes, it’s just about a manner of re-framing and also learning, which I think, as women, we’re particularly bad at learning what we are, one, advocating. And the company doesn’t foist things upon you so much. It’s a negotiation. And if you’ve never had the conversation, then it’s really, you know, the onus is on you to figure out what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful in so many ways. Like, when you said, “Ugh,” like I really know exactly what you mean. And I’m thinking about our transcriptionist, Jane, how she’s going to handle that one because it’s such an important word that we’re sharing here that makes all the difference. Because I know that sensation and I think that’s wise. It’s almost like, I guess I’m wondering, why do we put up with that? Why do we get there?

It’s almost like you’re making some assumptions that this is just what’s necessary, or, “I just have to,” or, “It’s right,” or, “It’s appropriate in order to be hard worker.” Could you go there for us maybe? Like, what are the assumptions or the inaccurate self-talk that’s going on that get us to assume, like, “Oh, this is just how it is and what I have to deal with”?

Diana Wu David
Well, I think in the case of a lot of the people I spoke to, they were very successful and we’ve done a lot of the right things, managed to get into a position. And, oftentimes, things start out well, but then they start to, I guess, misalign. So, I do know, for instance, that when I was growing up that my father used to say, in the very early years, “You can work harder than anybody else. Like, that’ll be the way you get ahead.”

And, often, there is that sense of status almost, we’re busy, “Oh, my job is so intense. Oh, I have to do all these calls.” There is definitely an aspect to that which, if you can let go is fantastic because you can actually put some boundaries in that make your life livable. I think that some of it is that aspect.

There is a story in the book, though, of Lale Kesebi who was a Globalcom’s head for a company called Li & Fung. They basically started out as a sourcing company and probably sourced, at one point, 80% of the things in your house for huge brands in the U.S. And she loved her job, as did I after the coach beat me up a little bit, and she said, “I love it. I definitely have so much that I put into it. It’s been great for experimenting, but I just feel like I have so much more to give.” And I think that’s sort of a better way to think of it. And figuring out for yourself how you can give all that you can, and also be recognized for it.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that. I have so much more to give. And then that notion of, “Oh, boy, I’m really swamped. I’m working. I’m doing all this stuff.” It reminds me we had a previous conversation with Rahaf Harfoush who termed this kind of umbrella of statements, “performative suffering,” which I thought was a good turn of a phrase.

Diana Wu David
Oh, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of, it’s like, “Oh, boy, I’m really swamped. Oh, I’m going to burn the midnight oil again.” And like that sort of a badge of honor or something that you should be praised and rewarded for, where there’s some sort of camaraderie effect, I don’t know, “Hey, we’re all doing this suffering together.”

So, I like what you’ve shared there with regard to just really having some thought to the situation and identifying what’s really important to you and taking a stand. So, could you maybe give us some examples of particular things that people that they need, and they kind of forget to ask for, and how they ask for them with great results?

Diana Wu David
So, yes, absolutely. After my coach told me that I was being a big, fat baby about my situation, she, herself, said, “Okay, write down all the things you want and what title do you want. Obviously, there’s a lot of volatility in the company. What kind of things would make your life more palatable? Is it less travel? Is it more? Is it a seat at the strategy table? Is it new projects? Within reason, I mean, start with the big brainstorm and then go from there, and think about how you can frame them in a way that’s attractive to the company.”

And that’s something that I did, and I was so surprised by how willing they were to negotiate and to open-minded it and think about those things. And I positioned it all from the benefits that they would get, but I completely transformed my position, did some of the things I knew needed to be done as well, and left thinking that it was the best job ever, and I still work there part-time. So, it really does come down to the individual.

I think that time boundaries are one. I think we foist that on ourselves, “Oh, I just have to do it.” You never say no. For example, me living in Asia, you never say, “Gee, I have three kids and I like to put them to bed at night. Can we do the call in a slightly different time?” And sometimes you can’t, but if you never ask, you’ll never get it.

So, Lale Kesebi, likewise, she was working in this huge position, and she decided that she would ask for a couple of interesting projects. And so, she had started to work on a case with a business school on some of their innovations, and that opened up all kinds of interesting opportunities to speak about the innovation they were doing across the world. And those are some of the little things that, they either allow you to set some boundaries, or allow you to continue learning and progressing, and just experiment a little bit so that you can, in that longer life and longer career, find what’s interesting, what inspires you, and new ways to progress.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s a lot of good stuff there. And I really like how you won’t get it if you don’t ask for it. And when you ask for it, you did so wisely and strategically with regard to framing it in the benefits for the organization. So, could you give us a couple of examples of, “Okay, here’s a need, and here’s how you ask for it with the frame of how that would be beneficial for the organization”?

Diana Wu David
Well, I don’t want to talk all about myself, so let me talk about one of the folks in the book. Steve Stine was a very senior executive search person. And, likewise, he was doing an executive search. He really wanted to have his girls go to a place in Bali, which is in Indonesia, called the Green School. So, he and his wife decided that’s what they wanted. He was living in Singapore, which is maybe four hours away, and Bali is kind of like moving to a fabulous resort that is not particularly your any executives.

And so, it was an ask, but he basically said, “Look, this is important to me, and I will do the travel to ensure there is no problem. I will ensure the Wi-Fi is fantastic.” And they said, “Sure. You’ve put in some time. Your relationships are great. And we’ll try it for a six-month period, and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll have to find something else, or you’ll have to live in Singapore, and your family can live there, and you can commute, or whatever it is.”

So, now, you really can be creative about it. He also later decided that his love for storytelling would be well-served by doing a podcast. So, he went off, A, did a course in mythology and storytelling, and then, B, launched an Asia Inside podcast based on all of his incredibly senior relationships, and it was great because he’s an executive recruiter, and he could have conversations with people that he wanted to keep in touch within his network without necessarily there being an active search going on. So, he also negotiated to have that with his company so that they understood the benefit it had both to him personally but also to the job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool, and I like that notion of, “Hey, we’re going to try it out for six months and see how it goes,” and you’ve actually delineated a few particular tools of experimentation, collaboration, reinvention and recalibrating success to improve careers. Could you maybe give us an example or a pro tip for each of these tools?

Diana Wu David
So, experiment is really about learning, and I think that people find themselves kind of locked into whatever they’re doing and feel like an experiment is either, “I have to quit my job,” or, “Move to a new town.” But I think that working the muscle of experimentation, on taking small bets, and understanding the feedback that you get, and using it to learn, is really an important thing for future of work. You have to be constantly trying things out.

And as a corporate entrepreneur, and somebody who’s been doing disruption work since 1995, it’s an innovation tool. It’s sort of taking the small bet, seeing where it goes, pivoting, going on. And you can do that in your own career like Steve did and like Lale did.

And reinventing is really about thinking about what your story is and what kind of adjacencies you can have. So, if you look at companies, Netflix started as a company where you would have a VHS tape, and it would be sort of mailed to you, or a DVD mailed to you through the mail. And now, look at them, they’re a content producer, they’re streaming.

So, thinking about how you can take all of your core assets, and skills, and talents, and character, and think about adjacencies, “How could I reinvent? What if my job changes or my company changes, what else could I do?” And this is very much about also thinking, “I am not an accountant. I am Diana, and I’m good with numbers, but I’m good with people. And what else could I do with those unique things? I live in Asia, so I have Asia experience.” It’s sort of collecting all of your assets, and thinking about how you can package them for new things.

Collaboration is something I feel strongly about because I think that people are not trained in this, and we’re all about our network now, being strategic, being culturally sensitive. And I say that from outside of America where I have spent the last 20 years running teams of people with two people in Singapore, and somebody in China, and somebody in Japan, and different countries, and my boss in the U.K., and my other boss in the U.S., so virtual cultural networks and working.

And, finally, focus, which is sort of the fourth key in terms of the actions in the book “Future Proof” is just, what’s your story? What’s your priority? And really making time for that.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear a little bit more about collaboration. You say we’re not really trained in it, but it’s really important. What are some of the key things when it comes to collaborating that most of us could do better?

Diana Wu David
Well, I think that many of the people on your podcast are in the U.S., and I think that a lot of times it’s an assumption that everybody on is sort of coming from the same place. And I found over the years that that can be very different. And so, a lot of it is taking our social graces and applying them online, or on teleconference, you know, conference calls, or Zoom, or video conference, so part of it is just getting to know people.

I’ve studied a lot of teams and companies, and many of them have tried to make time for watercooler chat, or one-on-one getting to know you, or “What’s the rhythm of your life?” And that’s something that’s becoming ever more present. And I find, as an American living abroad and working abroad, that we tend to be very efficient and very direct.

And so, in my early years, not to apply my foibles to my entire nation, but this drive for efficiency was always about, “Okay, who’s next and what do we do? And, okay, are we done? Can we check that off?” And I do a lot of work with boards now, and I see the same thing where we’re just rushed and we don’t make time to form some of those personal relationships with our teammates, think about walking a mile in their shoes, setting clear expectations, and really putting effort into bringing everyone together in a team to get something done.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, do you have any particular, I don’t know, icebreaker questions? But are there any kind of particular questions or conversations or activities or things that just are really great for getting to know people in that way to boost collaboration down the line?

Diana Wu David
I think asking, “What are you excited about right now?” is a good one. Because, at this point, for instance, if you’re calling a business process outsource center in India, and you ask somebody, “So, I just went to Hawaii, I had this great trip. Where is your next vacation?” Maybe they don’t have a vacation. There’s sort of a lot of things that take a step away from your own experience.

And so, that one I feel like allows people to really talk about what their passion is, and it could be anything. And I use that in person as well because I think that the perpetual networking, “What do you do?” which implies work is all.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you useful to me?

Diana Wu David
“How can you be useful to me?” is maybe less interesting than what people are excited about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. What are you excited about right now, Diana?

Diana Wu David
Turning the tables! I am really excited about the course that we’re about to pilot. A lot of people, I mean, this book is me having 80 coffees with people saying, “What should I do, Diana?” And me thinking, “I don’t know. Let me ask some other people, and I’ll put it in a book, and I’ll send it to you.” And the next one is people saying, “Okay, so I see the book, but I don’t know how to get started. Can we sort of get online together and really go forward, and work some of these things through in a collaborative manner?” And so, we have a beta course for future proofing coming up soon. And I’m having a great time putting things together and working with people to find out what’s useful to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you.

Diana Wu David
Yeah. What are you excited about?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny. I guess I’m just thinking about the short term. As we speak, I’ve got a Sufi steak going right now. My wife and I, we’re going to celebrate that we found a great nanny when my wife returns to work after her maternity leave period, and that was quite a search. And we’re thrilled and we have chosen to celebrate in this way. So, we’re going to, short term, that’s what I’m excited about.

Diana Wu David
So, you can smell the steak you’re cooking.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s that, you know, and I’m excited about just the growth of the podcast in terms of it’s really going places. And we’ve got a survey going out at AwesomeAtYourJob.com/advice to get all the more useful feedback on who would be the best guest in episodes to be even more on target for people. And I’m excited to reach out to former guests, so you’ll be getting an email from me, Diana. Like, “Hey, who’s really a great person to interview?” I’m excited about we have more staff to be able to process all the thousands of incoming pitches and really find the true and the best fits.

Diana Wu David
I think what you’re doing is amazing. I wish you started this earlier.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too.

Diana Wu David
It’s great. I mean, really, nobody teaches you in school, and I think that’s part of the issue is sort of they teach you how to be awesome at specific tasks, math or even coding. But nobody teaches you how to be awesome at your job, and that is a totally different thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, thank you. I’m honored and I appreciate it. So, yeah. Well, another great thing about that question is it just puts me in a great mood, right, because I’m thinking about those things. And then you can relate to some of those things and so we are more bonded as a result. And it’s a heck a lot more fun than, “What do you do?” It’s like, “I run a small research training company called How to be Awesome at Your Job that helps develop the universal skills required to flourish at work.” It’s like, “Okay, that’s cool. We might talk about that a little bit.”

Diana Wu David
Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
But there’s more of an emotional visceral stuff going on with like the steak and the nanny and the growth trajectory.

Diana Wu David
And it’s like the exchange.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Fun. Well, thank you for that. Well, let’s see, so you have a boatload of tools and suggestions for transforming your career for the better and being future proof. But if you haven’t already covered, I’d love to make sure that we do get your take on what do you think are some of the actions, the practices, the tactics that really offer the greatest bang for your buck in terms of career satisfaction and future proofing per, I guess, minute of thought, attention, and effort?

Diana Wu David
I think that most of what I have distilled I put into a checklist from the book. So, I think that that gives you a huge amount because thinking about all the things you could do can be quite daunting, and this allows you to focus. So, I have that on my website at DianaWuDavid.com.

And going in to ask yourself questions about, “Now, where am I lacking? And what do I already have? And what are some of the things that I could do to kind of close that gap?” I think is probably the best bang for the buck. So, it really does go through and talk about your family life, and your relationships, and what kind of professional relationships you have that you could either go to in a crisis or with a problem, or to celebrate. I think that that kind of audit is just quite useful to take on a yearly or a quarterly basis, and then the tools that you might use can follow.

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

Diana Wu David
I think that people can really change the way that they approach work by just reframing what the opportunity is, and by really finding the things in their job that may not be part of the job description, but that really jazz them, and that may change over time. So, even though the strategic part of my job had changed and become little bit old, before, I remember one of the evolutions was realizing, “What is it?”

Ask yourself, “What is it that gets me out of bed in the morning?” And for this particular moment in time, it was my team. And even though my big job description said, you know, X15% growth, topline operations, etc. for the P&L, I thought, “Yeah, the team is it. Making sure they progress in their lives and professionally for the next 12 months, or six months even, that’s going to be my focus. And the other stuff I know I can do, but my job now is to help them grow.”

And then when that is something that’s sort of taken care of, or we’ve progressed enough, maybe it’ll be something else. So, I think that reframing can allow you to perpetually reinvent within the same function, or same team, or same job. It’s not always about progress up a ladder.

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

Diana Wu David
So, this was from one of the interviewees, Emma Sherrard, who is CEO of Quintessentially Lifestyle concierge, and now has progressed into being the global chair person. And she said, “Yeah, all you’re saying is about don’t settle for the life you’ve been given. Work hard for the life you want.” And that’s like a motto now for me. It’s a mantra when I think, “Oh, I’m working so hard.” And I’ll go back and say, “Yeah, this is what you wanted. You got to work hard for it.”

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

Diana Wu David
One of the books that had the most impact on my thinking was The 100-Year Life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we interviewed Lynda on the show.

Diana Wu David
Yeah, I thought that totally changed the way I viewed my career, what I did, in what time sequence, etc. It really changed. And I referenced it quite a bit in my book Future Proof.

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

Diana Wu David
My favorite tool is SaneLater. I believe deeply in sanity and SaneLater basically delivers all of your emails at a preset time so that you don’t spend your entire day checking your email. So, at 3:00 p.m. every day, I get all my emails delivered, I go through them, and there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I also use the SaneBox and I am an enthusiast just because there are so many newsletters that though they’re genuinely interesting and like I would enjoy reading them, but in a way that’s too tempting. I don’t want them popping up into my inbox because then I’m going to jump in and take a read, and then, it’s like, “Oh, shoot, I meant to be doing something totally different during this moment.” And so, now they’re kind boxed over to the side. Much appreciated.

Diana Wu David
It’s like having a giant bowl of M&Ms on your desk, all those emails.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And, now, instead I have a butler bring me the M&Ms at the appointed time.

Diana Wu David
There you go. In a small bowl.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And how about a favorite habit?

Diana Wu David
My favorite habit is writing. I think the good, the bad, and the ugly, it all gets resolved with a few minutes with pen and paper or on the keyboard. It’s just been throughout my life every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers, listeners, folks you’re working with?

Diana Wu David
Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of fear about the future. And so, one of the quotes in the book that seems to get highlighted a bit is “The future of work is not a clarion call for our demise. It’s a magic portal to more balance and rhythm in our lives.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Diana Wu David
People like magic portals, what can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
You’re bringing back a lot of video game memories for me when you shared those. And, Diana, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Diana Wu David
On my website, DianaWuDavid.com, and they have the checklist up there, and also Future Proof, /futureproof has the information on the book, and two chapters that people can download for free.

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

Diana Wu David
Yeah. Based on that, conquer your fear of the future, be awesome at your job, and live your dreams.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Diana, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck with the book, Future Proof, and all of your globetrotting adventures.

Diana Wu David
Well, Pete, it’s I think 13 hours ahead, so I’m already in the future. It’s already Friday morning. So, thank you. And I wish you a fabulous dinner, steak dinner, with your wife and a wonderful celebration.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Diana Wu David
You’re welcome.

453: Why Generalists Succeed and How to Learn Like One with David Epstein

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

David Epstein says: "Breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer."

David Epstein explains why and how generalists tend to achieve more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How focusing on short-term improvement can undermine long-term development
  2. Pro-tips for breaking through your learning plateaus
  3. The benefits of becoming a jack-of-all-trade

About David

David Epstein is the author of the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and the top 10 New York Times bestseller The Sports Gene. He was previously a science and investigative reporter at ProPublica, and prior to that a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. His writing has been honored widely.

David has his master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism, and is reasonably sure he’s the only person to have co-authored a paper in the journal of Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research while a writer at Sports Illustrated.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

David Epstein Interview Transcript

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

David Epstein
Thank you very much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the stuff but, first, I want to hear about your work as an ecology researcher in the Arctic.

David Epstein
So, I studied geology and astronomy in college and, afterward, I worked in a plant physiology lab and that led me living in the Artic in the far north of Alaska, a place called Toolik Lake, where I was basically studying the radiation that plants give off in an effort to sort of help try to understand how the carbon cycle might change as that area warms and the permafrost melts a little because most of the ground is frozen there, so when there’s melt, a lot of nutrients are liberated and they can cause like major changes to the plant life which can cause changes to the carbon cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, how long were you there and what was life like up there?

David Epstein
Yeah, I was basically there for, well, you couldn’t be there a lot of the year because you couldn’t get supplies, so you can only really be there for like half the year basically. I loved it actually. So, it’s technically a desert and I love deserts because even though it’s lush on the ground and the air is cool enough year-round that there’s not much atmosphere and demand for water so you don’t get much rain even though there’s a lot of fog and slush on the ground.

And so, all the plant life is really low to the ground, and so in the middle of summer, when it’s basically light all day and you’re sort of seeing this, the sun go down and just come right back up and all the plant life is low, you can see really far and make for some great hiking. I thought it was beautiful. Some people felt it was desolate who were up there but I loved it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m curious if that isolation can serve as just amazing, creative, energizing time, or like, “I am going insane.”

David Epstein
Yeah, I’m more on the creative, energizing side, and I think like when I asked, after my first book, people would often ask, “How did you write it?” and I really don’t know how to answer that question because I’m not really sure. Every project is kind of different. And I asked my wife once, I asked her, “How did I write it?” and she said, “You went upstairs and came back down two years later.” And so, I’m pretty good at spending time on my own for projects and being quiet out in the expanse of nature. It’s definitely more creative and invigorating for me than a feeling of isolation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And you’ve recently channeled your creative energies into another opus, a grand tome, I’m excited to talk to you about. So, maybe why don’t we start with some of the most fun tidbits in terms of what would you say is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made while you’re putting together your book Range?

David Epstein
For me, it was this idea that there are things that you can do that cause really rapid short-term improvement that can systematically undermine your long-term development. So, to that point about surprising, I’ll mention the single study that was probably it’s certainly one of the most surprising in the book to me was this one that was done at the U.S. Airforce Academy where they had a setup that you would never be able to recreate in a lab because basically they would get in a freshman class of, whatever, a thousand students, or several hundreds of students, and those students all had to take a sequence of three math courses: Calculus 1, Calculus 2, and then a third course.

And they were randomized to Calculus 1 to a professor, and then re-randomized for the second course, and then re-randomized for the third course, and they all take the same tests. So, these researchers recognized that this was an excellent natural setup for studying the impact of teacher quality, or teaching. And so, the finding of this study was that the professors who were the best at promoting contemporaneous achievement, that is whose students overperformed on the Calculus 1 test the most compared to the baseline characteristics they came in with, those students, then, systematically underperformed in all the follow-up courses.

So, the professors whose students did the best in Calculus 1, they rated those professors the highest, then went on to underperform in future classes. And what the researchers concluded was that the way to get the best results on the Calculus 1 test was to teach a more narrow curriculum that involved a lot more what’s called using procedures knowledge where you learn how to execute certain procedures and algorithms and you don’t learn more of what’s called making connections knowledge where the curriculum is broadened and you’re forced to kind of connect types of concepts and learn how to match strategies to types of problems as opposed to just execute procedures.

And so, when they’ve moved on into these other courses, those students who had the more narrow curriculum were systematically undermined. And that’s sort of one of the themes that runs through Range are the things you can do that seem the best in the short term sometimes undermine long-term development, and I thought that was just an amazing display of that and an amazing study.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. It’s sort of like the items that were being covered on the final test is sort of like, “Yeah, he drilled on real good over and over and over again and thoroughly,” but sort of at the expense of getting some broader conceptual understanding of how the math number, calculus, stuff is working I guess more globally.

David Epstein
Right. And that’s what they, then, would need, that’s what then would help them kind of scaffold later knowledge, so they didn’t do as well in those other classes. First of all, that was just deeply counterintuitive finding to me, but also, so I remember, for example, the professor, out of a hundred, whose students I think did fifth best on the Calculus 1 exam, and he got the sixth best student ratings overall, was dead last in what the research called deep learning, that is how his students then did in the follow-on courses.

And so, that’s really kind of worrisome. The fact that a lot of these strategies, and that chapter four of Range is about these learning strategies, and a lot of those strategies cause the learner to be more frustrated, to not do as well in the short term, and to rate the person teaching them worst. So, that’s kind of worrisome because these professor ratings may not be a good indication of what someone is learning. Their own assessment of their own learning in the short term may not be a good indication either. So, that’s, I think, something that’s important to be aware of.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d be intrigued then to correlate that, if you were to sort of draw some parallels into the professional working world, in terms of how might we be shooting ourselves in the foot if we’re trying to master a certain narrow domain of work.

David Epstein
Yes, so let me give another example that came out of the research that I think relates to this. So, in this one study, people who were playing the role of, basically, simulations of naval officers, essentially, and they were being trained to respond to types of threats based on cues. And one group would practice threats where they would see a certain type of threat again and again and again and again, and they would improve and learn how to respond to it. And then they would see the next type of threat again and again and again, and so on.

The other group would get all these different types of situations all mixed up, and that’s called interleaving, and that kind of training is often more frustrating, it slows down initial progress, the learner will say that they didn’t learn as much, and all those things. And then both groups were brought back later and tested on situations they hadn’t seen before. And in that scenario, the interleave group performs much better than the other group because, again, they’re being trained to sort of match strategies to problems as opposed to just how to execute procedures.

And I think that goes for anything we’re trying to learn. I think our inclination is usually to pick up a new skill and do it over and over and over, when, really, we want to vary the challenge a lot early on so that you’re building these broader conceptual skills. And not only do you want to vary the challenge, but I think when we think about, at least in my life, the sort of formal professional development that I’ve been exposed to as opposed to kind of the informal professional development that I do on my own, is always coming away where it’s like, “Okay, here’s the topic, you’re going to learn this topic, and then you move on from it forever.”

And, in fact, the best way, we should actually use what’s called the spacing effect where you learn a topic and then you come back to it later, and that sort of helps you solidify it. So, one of the famous studies here is two groups of Spanish vocabulary learners who one group was given eight hours of intensive study on one day, and the other group was given four hours on one day, and then four hours again a month later. So, they all had the same total study.
Eight years later, when they were brought back, the group that had the space practice remembered 250% more with no practice in the interim. And so, I think we should apply that to anything we want to learn instead of just doing a topic and moving on from it. You don’t have to do it as intensively but you should wait until actually you’ve kind of forgotten it and then come back to it and do it again. And that’s how you like move it into your long-term memory basically.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool. And it seems like this is drawing some connections for me with regard to, we had the Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison on and we were talking about their top competency that maps to all sorts of career successes, what they’re calling learning agility which is sort of the notion of sort of knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

David Epstein
That’s really important.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that would make great sense because as you sort of rise in the ranks and you encounter more and more ambiguous and puzzle-some and, “I have no idea what’s going on” types of issues, the more that you struggle those things the more you’re raring to say, “All right. Well, let’s see how we go about figuring this out.”

David Epstein
Yeah, and I think that gets at sort of a link between the two things we’re both talking about in this classic research finding that can be summarized as breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. Transfer means taking your skills and knowledge and attempting to apply it into a totally new situation that you haven’t seen before. And breadth of training breeding breadth of transfer basically means the broader your early training was, the diversity of the situations you’re forced to face, the more likely that when you’re in a totally new situation, you’ll be able to will that knowledge and transfer that knowledge to that new situation.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Okay. So, now, would you say that’s sort of the main idea or thesis behind Range or how would you articulate it?

David Epstein
No, I think that’s just part of this, the theme of Range that is, I mean, the overall theme is sort of that society may overvalue specialists and undervalue generalists. But the theme beneath that, to me, is again that these things that are the most efficient ways to get the quickest improvement, whether that’s telling someone to specialize right away, or practicing in this repetitive specialized way, is often not the way to get the best long-term improvement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, there’s just so much, so many implications to that in terms of if you think about sort of what you’re measuring and if you think about training or learning or development things. It’s sort of like you often don’t have the luxury of checking in sort of months or years later to see how we did. And so, there’s all kinds of systematic forces that would point us to doing just the opposite of that.

David Epstein
Yeah, totally. This project, in some ways, started in the sports world for me and only the introduction of Range is in the sports world but one of the things that got me interested there is that there’s this incredible drive to early specialization in youth sports. And then I went and looked at what the research says about optimal development, and it says that athletes who want to become elite, typically, have what’s called the sampling period where they play a variety of sports to gain these broader physical skills, scaffold later learning. They learn about their interests, they learn about their abilities, and they delay specializing until later than their peers who plateau at lower levels.

And I was looking at that, and then you see what was actually going on, and sort of saying, “Gosh, all these forces are pushing the opposite direction of that in the United States.” In Norway, which is like is, for me, probably the best sports country in the world per capita right now. There’s an HBO real sports on that’s showing they have embraced this stuff and changed their sports development pipelines.

But when I was living in New York until recently, there was a U7 travel soccer team that met near me, and I don’t think that anybody thinks that six-year-olds can’t find good enough competition in a city of nine million people to travel, right? It’s just that there’s these other forces at work, like those kids are customers for whoever’s running that league. And so, all these other forces militate against what we know about optimal development.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then what do you think is to be done in terms of if you’re a professional in a workplace and you want to develop well and over the long haul such that you have a fruitful career and rise and achieve all of your career dreams? What are some of the key things you recommend folks do?

David Epstein
Yeah, so let’s say you want to be an executive, which I think a lot of people would like to be at some point. LinkedIn recently did some research at looking at what were the best predictors of who would become an executive, and they have these incredible sample silos so they did this in a half a million members. And one of the best predictors was the number of different job functions that an individual had worked across in an industry.

And so, I think our intuition is to say, “Pick a job function and stick with it and drill into it and carve your niche and get specialized.” But, in fact, these people who sort of probably developed a more holistic view of their industry and how to integrate different types of skills are the ones who go on to become executives. And so, they are getting that breadth of training. And so, when it comes to having to do these more complex problems, they’re probably better equipped.

So, LinkedIn’s chief economist’s main advice was, “If you want to be an executive, work across more job functions.” And I think that’s good advice but I think you can do things short of that in a lot of ways. Like, learn what your colleagues do, learn more functions at your own work, because our natural inclination is to settle into our competencies. And as we settle into a rut and we get competent enough, I was talking to the economist Russ Roberts, he said it’s a hammock because it’s comfortable that’s why we don’t get out of it. And I was thinking, I want to make a weird analogy here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please.

David Epstein
When I was getting into my last book, I didn’t write about this, but I was reading some scientific literature on speed typing, okay? How fast is speed typing?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’ve been looking into speed typing. Continue.

David Epstein
Really?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I had a recent guest talk about how that’s one of the top skills you can use to sort of accelerate your performance in all kinds of things because a lot of typing that’s going on. And I’m a fan of the website Keybr I think it is, which sort of helps you get fast at typing fast. So, anyhow, my interest is piqued. Please continue.

David Epstein
Okay. So, yeah, so the idea is we all, like at first when you’re learning typing you make a lot of improvement and you get to whatever you get to, 60, 70, 80 words a minute, whatever you get to. And then you plateau and we pretty much all stay there at very good but not great. And it turns out there’s all these strategies that you can use to get like twice as fast, and they’re not even that complicated. Things as simple as you’d use a metronome, you take it up a little bit, and keep up with it even if you make mistakes, whatever.

There’s a bunch of strategies to get like twice as fast. But what it suggested to me is that our natural inclination that just experience will get us to a certain point but then we stop naturally improving just with experience. We sort of settle into that level of performance. And I think that’s kind of true of everything.

And so, we’re in danger as we get more experience and get more comfortable of not developing new skills anymore. We have to try new things. And I think that’s good both because it can get you off a plateau. When I was on a plateau stuff at writing this book, I decided to take an online fiction-writing course and it worked beautifully to help with the problem I was stuck with.

And so, I think it works because it can help get you off a plateau, but also one of the other main ideas in Range is this idea of match quality, which is the degree of fit between an individual, their abilities, their interests, and the work that they do. And good match quality turns out to be very important for your motivation, your performance, and the only way to improve your match quality, it turns out, is to try some things and then reflect on those experiences and keep sort of pinballing, doing that, and with an eye toward improving that match quality.

So, like the Army, for example, has created a system called talent-based branching where they were kind of hemorrhaging their highest potential officers since basically the start of the knowledge economy where those young officers could learn skills that they could laterally transfer into other types of work. And, at first, they just threw money at those officers to try to keep them, and that didn’t work at all. The people who were going to stay took the money, and the people who were going to go left anyway. That has a half a million dollars.

And then they started this thing called talent-based branching where instead of saying, “Here’s your career track. Go upper out,” they say, “We’re pairing you with this coach-type figure and here’s a bunch of career tracks, and just start dabbling in them, and your coach will help you reflect on how did this fit with your talents and your interests. And we’ll do that so we can get you better match quality.” And that’s actually turned out to work better for retention because when people have high match quality, they want to stay. There’s a saying that I quote a research in the book, saying, “When you get fit it will look like grit because if you get a good fit, people will work harder.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad you brought up grit because that’s something I want to talk about. You say that there could be a problem with too much grit. What’s that about?

David Epstein
So, I think for listeners who maybe have probably heard the concept of grit, I’m guessing. But the psychological construct came out of this survey where it started as a 12-question survey where half the questions were points for resilience basically and the other half for consistency of interest. And so, you lose points if you sometimes abandon a project for another one or I think you change interest, and things like that.

And the most famous study, what was actually done on cadets going into West Point, so future Army officers. They were trying to get through what’s called east barracks, that’s the U.S. military Academy’s six-week orientation where it’s physically and emotionally rigorous. And grit, that survey turned out to be a better predictor of who would make it through these than more traditional measures that the Army used. And although most people make it through, which is great, but in the study. I feel like Angela Duckworth and her colleagues, I’d give them a ton of credit because some of the critique I write about in the book comes like directly out of their own papers and it’s kind of like lost in translation, I think, where those people in that study were highly pre-selected for a number of qualities.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Got to get that Senate recommendation, Congressional letter. That ain’t easy.

David Epstein
That is what statisticians call restriction of rank problem. So, if you’ve truncated a lot of variables by selecting a small group out of humanity, so it makes the other variables exacerbated. But they were also pre-selected for this very short-term six-week goal, right? And life isn’t a six-week goal. So, when we looked at the longer timeline, again, like half of these people basically leave the Army almost the day that they’re allowed.

And so, high-ranking Army officials said, “We should defund West Point because ‘it’s an institution that taught its cadets to get out of the Army.’” And that’s not the case, right? And those people didn’t just lose their grit. It’s that they learned some things about themselves, which tends to happen in that time period, the fastest time a personality change in your life is 18 to your late 20s, but it continues changing faster than people think over your life, and they decided they wanted to go do something else.

That’s why throwing money at them didn’t work where talent-based branching did because it’s giving them some control over their career path and their match quality, and trying things and then changing direction is basically essential to improving your match quality. And if you’re not willing to do that, then you’re just hoping for luck in your match quality. And I think if we thought of our careers the way we thought of dating, right, we would never tell people to settle down so quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
“Just stick with that gal. She’s great.”

David Epstein
For some people that might be a good idea.

Pete Mockaitis
“You have four dates. Don’t quit.”

David Epstein
I thought I was going to marry my high school girlfriend and at the time that seemed like a good idea. And then I had more experience in the world, in retrospect that wouldn’t have been a good idea. And I felt the same way in my approach to jobs. Some jobs I thought I was going to stick with, I thought I was going to be a scientist. In retrospect, that wasn’t a good idea for me, but I didn’t know that until I tried that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m intrigued then when it comes to sampling, I’d love it if you could share some of your favorite kind of tactical tips with regard to, “How can I get a lot of sampling going?” So, you talked about, “Hey, talk to work colleagues who are in a completely different functional area. Maybe check out an online course.” What are some other means of sampling?

David Epstein
Yeah, I kind of take this approach from someone’s work I love that resonated with me because I had career change, or changed directions several times, from a London business school professor named Herminia Ibarra. And she has this quote I love, “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” Basically, what she means is this psychological research shows that we’re not like so great at intuiting our own talents and interests before we have a chance to try stuff, we actually have to try the things, and then learn about ourselves. Act and then think, instead of think and then act, as she says.

And so, for me, I kind of started a book of experiments where just like when I was a science grad student, I’ll say, “Here are my skills now. Here’s some things I want to learn. Here are things, some weaknesses. Here’s my hypothesis about how I might be able to work on this.” And then I’ll go try something and see if that works.

So, again, I mentioned this online fiction-writing class I took, right? So, I got stuck in structuring my book, and I needed to do something different. And so, I go take this class, and among the things I was made to do was write with only dialogue, and write with no dialogue at all. And after doing the no dialogue at all, I went back to my manuscript and stripped a ton of quotes and replaced them with my description because I realized I was unconsciously coming from usually doing shorter-form types of things. I was leaning on quotes to convey information in a way that is not really good writing. And that’s not even the improvement I was looking for. But just getting out of my normal mode of doing things gave me this huge advantage.

And so, I try to do that regularly. Like, people might be familiar with this research “The Strength of Weak Ties” like your new job usually comes not from the people core in your network because they’re kind of doing this, you know those options already, and a lot of them are doing things similar to you. It comes from these people that you are several degrees away from but you can get connected to.

And that’s what Herminia Ibarra’s work shows, that when people find better career fits, it always comes from some key whole view, like they take some class, or they go to some event, or they meet someone at a dinner party and sort of ignites an interest, and then they start testing it little by little, getting in a little more and a little more until sometimes they make a full transition.

And so, I’m constantly doing those experiments with my book of experiments. So, I think everybody should constantly be doing this, “What do I want to work on? Here’s my hypothesis for how I could do that. I’m going to go try that thing.” Then reflect on it and put it in your notebook and keep going forward. And I think even keeping that, what I call that book of experiments, prompts me to constantly be doing that in a proactive way, whereas there was a period when I was at Sports Illustrated, for example, where I very much settled into something I felt come to that and just did over and over for a while, and took a while till I realized, “Gosh, I’m actually not adding to my skills here.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I really like that just sort of the fun exercise you mentioned with the writing, with regard to all dialogue and no dialogue, and then how that filters in forever. And that reminds me, boy, back in my AP, I guess, English composition or rhetoric course in high school, our dear teacher Judy Feddermier, that was sort of like each week that was the challenge. It was a different kind of a challenge associated with the writing, like, “Okay, this time you are not to allow to use any to be verbs. No is, no are, no was, no were.” I’m like, “This is crazy.” And I just used one, “This is crazy.”

And so, but sure enough, I was like, “Yeah, this writing is a little awkward,” but it’s what you sort of kind of back to being able to use some. You realize, “Oh, boy, having fewer of them sure sounds better in terms of more active and exciting and lively than a bunch of is’s and are’s.”

David Epstein
Yeah, and I think it sort of just gets you out of that. Because the interesting thing is and sort of almost like troubling thing to me when I did that with the no dialogue, and went and changed my manuscript, was that until then I didn’t realize that I had been kind of unconsciously doing something I’d gotten used to. And it took doing something different for me to think about that which is annoying. I wish I were just like perceptive enough to realize that without having to get kind of knocked out of my normal mode but, really, I wasn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, I’m wondering then, in the whole universe of essential skills you might choose to start experimenting and dabbling in to add to your repertoire, is there a means by which you think about prioritizing them? Or is there just sort of, “Hey, there’s a glimmer of interest here. Let’s see what happens”?

David Epstein
Yeah, that’s a good question. Usually, I kind of always have some project or other that’s either in some stage of development, and my projects tend to be quite different. And so, there’s usually something related to my project that’s either like an area of knowledge maybe that where the project is kind of driving those in some way, where it’s I know I need to, that this book is going to be the biggest structural writing challenge I’ve ever had, therefore like I need to improve my skills. So, usually it comes out of something that I’m otherwise doing, and realizing what’s the new part of that challenge.

So, I will say, when I’ve taken on these bigger projects, like my first book was the hardest structurally to organize all the information writing challenge I ever had, and this book was much harder than that one. And so, I think the one thing I’ve done a pretty good job of is taking on these projects that are kind of in the optimal push zone where they’re not so over my head that I simply can’t do it, but they are definitely stretching me to the point where I have to think about learning new things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fun. And I’m also wondering about sort of things that you hate. So, one approach is there’s a glimmer of interest or sort of what skill is necessary to develop there. And I’m wondering about because when you’re talking about in terms of sort of this inefficiency or doing a wide breadth of things such that it’s more frustrating and less fun sort of the in the early stages, but then you have some cool capabilities later on as a result of doing it.

I guess I’m wondering to what extent would a chasing after skills that I’m just currently very bad at, I’m thinking about sort of home improvement and being handy type skills right now, so kind of the opposite of intellectual, “Hey, we’re having rich conversations and thinking about the themes and summarizing them well, and marketing and reaching audiences,” like all that stuff is like very different than, “Okay, I got to drill and I’m trying to make this thing go there and not make a huge mess.” Is there a particular value in doing stuff you hate?

David Epstein
I don’t think you should necessarily do it over and over if you hate it unless it’s really essential to something you’re doing. So, when I first started doing some lab work en route to what I thought I was being a scientist, my expectation was that I would love it and this was what I would do for the rest of my life. And what I found out was that was not necessarily the case, and that was an important thing to learn.

And, conversely, I’m a fairly new homeowner, and the last thing I would’ve thought I would ever be interested in was plumbing, for goodness’ sake. And, it turns out, it’s kind of interesting actually. Like, we had some stuff we had to fix and I started to find this sort of interesting. So, I don’t think you should do anything with plumbing if you hate it, but I do think you might find things that you a priori would think you wouldn’t really like, then when you actually try them might be more interesting than you thought. And, vice versa, things that you expected to love that maybe not so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. So, it sounds like it’s worth at least an hour or two to see what happens.

David Epstein
One of the things I write about in Range is a so-called end of history illusion. This is psychology of finding that we all realize that we, based on our experiences and everything, we have changed a lot in the past, but then think we will change very little in the future. And we do this at every time point in life, if we say we change a lot in the past, and then proceed to underestimate how much we’ll change in the future. So, it leads to all these kinds of funny findings.

So, one just sort of humorous one is, because people underestimate how much their taste will change, if you ask people how much they would pay for a ticket to see their favorite band, their today favorite band to 10 years from now, the average answer is $129. And if you ask how much they would pay to see today their favorite band from 10 years ago, the average answer is $80, because we underestimate how much our taste will change.

And the thing is personality actually changes over the entire course of your life, and one of the predictable changes is as you become older, your openness to experience, which is one of the big five personality traits, declines. But doing new stuff that you’re not used to can actually stop that. So, there are these studies where older people are in that decline phase, and this is a trait that we know is very much correlated with creativity. And these old people were trained on things like certain types of puzzles, okay? And even if they didn’t get better at the puzzles, they became more open to experience. And so, I think there’s also these personality reasons that are associated with creativity to do stuff that is just outside of anything else you’re doing if you want to stem that decline of openness to experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think what’s interesting about that is it might be hard to even dream up or conceive like what is that thing because it’s so not in your current world. Do you have any tips on how to kind of spark that prompt or stimulus in the first place?

David Epstein
For me, and this has been a long-running thing is I go to libraries and bookstores because those are places where I find interests that I didn’t know I had. And that’s why I value those places so much because, nothing against Amazon, but, yet, the algorithm works in a way that it sends me things I’m interested in and that I think I’m interested in, and it doesn’t send me the things that I don’t know I’m interested in basically.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

David Epstein
And so, when I do this more natural browsing which, by the way, I consider the willingness to go to libraries now like a competitive advantage for me because I think people don’t do it anymore. But those are the places where I find these things that I did not know I was interested in, and that’s why I really value them. That’s why I make sure I go to those places instead of just only ordering my reading material, and I’m a big reader on Amazon.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m a huge fan of libraries and, boy, now, you’ve got me kind of excited just to see what would happen if you just went kind of blind into a stack, grabbed a book, and say, “I’m going to read six pages and see what happens.”

David Epstein
When I go into like a local bookstore or something like that, I don’t go, like if I really need a book right away and I know what it is, I will order on Amazon, and if I really need it quick, I’ll have it on my Kindle. But when I’m going into like bookstores, I’m not going for a particular thing. I’m going to look around and I always end up with something that I didn’t really expect.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, can you tell me, if folks are inspired, they’re thinking, “Yes, David’s Range that’s what’s up, I’m all about it. I want to get some more skills, be more interdisciplinary,” are there any kind of watch-outs or warnings or mistakes that are associated with this endeavor?

David Epstein
Well, I think people are probably pretty aware of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none sort of syndrome. Like, you don’t want to get cast as someone who doesn’t know anything. And I think it’s actually pretty culturally telling that the end of that phrase, that adage, jack of all trades master of none, is oftentimes better than master of one, but we’ve totally dropped that part and I don’t think we even know it. And I think that’s because there’s sort of this bias against breadth. And so, I do think there’s that danger of signaling to other people that you don’t really know anything about anything.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds dangerous.

David Epstein
Yeah, and I think that’s actually one reason why. So, I was just at…maybe a lot of people have heard of Motley Fool. You know Motley Fool? I was just at an event of theirs, and there was a survey on a video screen and the audience could vote with their phones. And the survey was, “What do you think is the average age of a founder of a breakout startup on the day of founding, not when it becomes a breakout?” The choices were 25, 35, 45, 55, and the overwhelming favorite was 25.

And the answer is actually based on research from MIT and the Census Bureau is 45 and a half. But we sort of think of this, you know, Mark Zuckerberg, when he was 22 and famous, he said, “Young people are just smarter.” Like we think of Tiger Woods, even though that’s not the normal typical model, and Mark Zuckerberg, it’s these very dramatic stories of youthful precocity that we think of as the norm, but actually the people who become these really successful entrepreneurs usually bounce around a fair bit first.

And I think what a lot of them end up doing, I describe people like this in Range, is they get this mix of skills that maybe other people sort of look down upon, but it leaves them with this intersection of skills that creates new ground where they’re not in direct competition with someone. They’re trying to do something new, and they have to create their own ground, and they often become entrepreneurs, sometimes because they have to. And that can be really good but it can also be really challenging because you can kind of end up, and I think especially so, in this year of LinkedIn, which I think is a great tool, but also allows HR people to make a much more narrowly-defined job and still have a ton of candidates.

And so, in Range I talk about the work of Abbie Griffin who studies so-called serial innovators who make these repeated major contributions to their companies. And her advice to HR people is basically, “Don’t define your job too narrowly because you’re going to accidentally screen these people out because their traits are like they’ve often worked across domains, they have a wide range of interests, they read more widely than other colleagues, they have a need to talk to more people in other disciplines, they like to use analogies from other disciplines, they often have hobbies that seem like they might be distracting,” but that those are the traits of those people, and her concern is that HR people will see them as scattered and not as focused on any particular area.

So, I think the real concern is of the signal that might be sent to people who are in a position of making personnel decisions.

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

David Epstein
I think specialization made a ton of sense when we were in more of an industrial economy, when people were facing similar challenges repeatedly and that was when those Army officers did not move outside of the Army with nearly as much frequency because other companies, specialists were facing the same challenge, and they were ahead, and you can’t catch up. But in the knowledge economy, some of the patent research I looked at in Range shows that it’s basically just since like the late ‘80s forward where the contributions of more generalists inventors.

So, in this research, the generalists are defined as people, their work is spread across a larger number of technology classes, as class is a patent office, whereas the specialists drill more into a small number or a single technology class. And both of these types of people make contributions, but the contributions of those people who are broader have been increasing with the knowledge economy.

And so, I don’t think this has always been true that generalists have these special, or broader people have these special contributions to make, but I think it’s sort of a function of the fact that with our communication technology, information is rapidly and thoroughly disseminated. And there are many more opportunities, for combining knowledge in new ways as opposed to just creating some totally new piece of knowledge.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes sense. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Epstein
I love that quote from Herminia Ibarra, “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” That’s one that’s like really stuck in my head because I don’t totally know what I’m going to do next, and I’m thinking about things. And so, that’s really affected the approach that I’m going to take.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

David Epstein
Right now, I would say that my favorite book, gosh, I read a lot so this changes from time to time, but right now, I would say my favorite book is probably War and Peace, the Anthony Briggs translation, so I read multiple translations when I got really into it. And I didn’t realize, I was just reading it because like I was going through this website that aggregates all great book list, and I was trying to just like go down some of the greatest books.

And it is a novel, in the form of a novel, it’s actually Tolstoy’s refutation of the great man theory of history, and he uses Napoleon as the main character, and argues, and he does like some journalistic reporting on those events, and argues that, well, Napoleon was really an effect not a cause of these larger forces basically.

And so, he had these historical essays. And the story, his writing is amazing. But I also found that argument really interesting, and that led me to read this essay about a philosopher Isaiah Berlin based on War and Peace where Isaiah Berlin used these two types of characters he analyzes in War and Peace the foxes and the hedgehogs. The hedgehogs know one big thing, and the foxes know many little things.

And those hedgehog and fox constructs were then borrowed by Philip Tetlock, the psychologist, to do the work that’s featured in my chapter 10 of people who develop the best judgment about the world and about political and economic trends, who know many little things instead of one big thing. And so, it was really cool, you know, that research I was already interested in, to see in War and Peace sort of where those ideas of the fox and the hedgehog via Isaiah Berlin’s philosophy as it where it came from. So, not only did I enjoy the book for its own right, but it really made me think about some modern research in an interesting way.

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

David Epstein
Oh, my goodness. I would die if I didn’t have Searchlight on. That’s why I have to be a Mac user because I basically, the organization system I use is writing lots of words in various things that I think I would search if I wanted to find it. And so, I’d probably use Searchlight 500 times a day.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Epstein
Running, if you count that. I’m a very avid runner.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. And is there a key nugget that you share often that tends to get sort of quoted back to you frequently?

David Epstein
In my first book, The Sports Gene there’s like I did some data analysis of body types, and this one part that mentions that if you know an American man between the ages of 20 and 40, who’s at least 7 feet tall, then there’s a 17% chance he’s a current NBA player. And, yeah, people mention that to me a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
I just think it’s funny that a very specific numerical tidbit is what people are sticking with.

David Epstein
Yeah, I tell you, I’m really bad at predicting at things for my own books that people are going to latch onto versus the things that I latch onto the most. It’s kind of an interesting experience.

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

David Epstein
DavidEpstein.com is my website, and I’m davidepstein on Twitter.

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

David Epstein
Yeah, I think if I can really talk to someone it would be managers, and say, “Do your own form of talent-based branching where you allow people to explore some of their other interest and talents, and help them reflect on those experiences.” I was on the podcast for The Ringer, Bill Simmons. He runs probably the most popular sports podcast in the world, and he used to be ESPN’s most popular writer, then he did something on HBO and that kind of failed. And now he started his own company, and it’s one of the happiest workplaces I have ever been in.

And one of the interesting things was people who were hired to edit like online articles, some of them have become like seriously famous in the sports world podcast personalities with huge followings, and that’s because once they’re in that company, he’ll say like, “Okay, come try on a podcast for a little bit and see how it goes.” And it seems like people have an opportunity to basically try their hand at whatever the company has to offer. And a couple of the people who came in, in these more kind of quotidian jobs have become like famous, and it was a happy workplace. So, I think he’s really onto something with sort of letting people try their hand at things in a way that like doesn’t really damage anything too much if it doesn’t go well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, David, thanks for this. I wish you tons of luck with Range and all your adventures.

David Epstein
Thank you very much.

452: Adopting the Habits of Elite Performers with Nick Hays

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Nick Hays says: "If you are intimidated by something, that is an excellent indicator that it's exactly what you should be doing."

Former Navy SEAL Nick Hays shares practical advice on how to elevate your performance and push yourself to unlock your maximum potential.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to conquer large goals by celebrating the tiniest of victories
  2. How to find gratitude in the most unpleasant circumstances
  3. How to tune out the “yeah, but…” voice in your head

About Nick

Nick Hays is former a Navy SEAL. His operating days came to an end when he ruptured a disk while preparing for an operation in Afghanistan. Disillusioned, broken, and without means to provide for his family, Nick was left without a purpose in life. After recovery, his training kicked in, and he remembered the lessons learned from the SEAL teams and put them to the test with professional athletes. He’s helped train the Miami Heat and helped the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl. Nick holds a BA from the University of Maryland, a Masters in Business from the University of San Diego, and a post-graduate degree from Harvard Business School. He now resides in California with his wife, Ivy, and their three children.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Nick Hays Interview Transcript

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

Nick Hays
Pete, thanks for having me, man. I’m excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’m excited too. Well, could we get started, perhaps, with a thrilling tale of your adventures in the Navy SEALS? And feel free to anonymize anything you need to.

Nick Hays
Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that happened, some high points and some low points, I think. One of the most impactful things that happened while I was in the SEAL teams was—and it was in my first platoon—I was one of those guys that needed an extra little bit of love, right? I don’t think that a young frogman is anywhere as cocky as he is right after he’s gotten out of training, and has done nothing yet. It’s the most cocky you’ll ever be, and I was no exception.

It’s a funny story. But I showed up to a morning meeting one time, we’re training for this mission, and everything is pretty locked tight as far as the schedule, and I show up a couple of minutes late. It didn’t sound like a big deal, but when you’re a new guy in the teams, if you’re 15 minutes early, you’re late, that’s kind of the rule, and I had broken that.

So, my platoon chief at the time, now a platoon chief is somebody who has the most experience in the group, he’s the person everybody listens to. Well, he told me, “Hey, stick around after this. It’s not a big deal, but I need to talk to you.” So, we wrapped up the morning meeting, it’s like 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and he tells me, “Hey, man, it’s not a big deal but, obviously, you’ve got to pay the man, a little bit of a punishment.” He goes, “I’m not mad but just make sure that you make up for it by grabbing a rucksack,” which is military speak for backpack, right, “and fill it full at 50 pounds, and run up the paraloft tower,” which is a five-story building. And he says, “Do that one time for every guy in the platoon because you made them late, so I think it’s just a good way to pay it back.”

Now, I’m thinking about this, I’m like, “There’s no way this guy is being real with me. That’s a tremendous amount of work. Punishment doesn’t really fit the crime.” I was angry. But kept my mouth shut, and I went downstairs and grabbed a rucksack, and put 50 pounds in it. And he knew I was doing it, he followed me down, and he was like, “Nick, you can’t do that right now, man, in place of your workout. You’ve got to do it after work. It’s not even a punishment.” And he was like, “Come on, let’s go hit chest.”

So, we actually went to worked out together, never brought it up again. The day goes on. At the time I was working with the SDV, it’s a miniature submarine so it’s incredibly technical work. There’s a lot to do before you ever even do your training mission, so it’s a full day of dive rigs and technical stuff. We, finally splashed in the water, the sun is going down, it’s like 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock at night because we’re training for a night dive. I’m piloting the SDV, cold, wet, miserable, all that stuff, thinking about this punishment that I have in front of me the entire time.

It was similar to like when your child gets in trouble and you tell him, “Hey, go wait in your room.” That was me waiting in the room just thinking about it. So, we recover, it’s probably midnight. Insult to injury, it’s raining. Just miserable. Now, I have to get all my gear ready to go, I have to freshwater rinse the dive rigs. We’re talking about another hour of work. Finally, I go and I grab my rucksack and I’m walking over to the paraloft tower, steaming mad. I could not have been more angry than I was in that moment.

And I saw something that I didn’t know what to take. I saw my chief, Jim, sitting over there by the door of the tower. So, now, I’m thinking, “Okay, does he not trust me? Is this an integrity thing? Is he going to be sitting here with a stopwatch, saying, ‘Hey, go faster’? Is this a beat session? What’s about to happen?” and I was livid, man. But as I got closer, I saw that he actually had a rucksack sitting next to him.

When I walked up to him, he throws the rucksack on his back, and he was like, “All right, man, are you ready to hit this thing?” And I said, “Jim, what are you doing, man?” And he said, “Oh, dude, we’re in this together. I’m your leader. Like, we’re in it together. Your successes are my successes, your failures are my failures, so let’s get this done.” And he takes off up the tower.

Now, I’m sprinting to catch up to him, mind completely blown about what had just happened. He never brought it up again. That was the only thing he said about it, and he ran every single flight of stairs with me that night. It took a very long time. When we were done with it, I gave him a hug, and I just told him how much he meant to me.

And, for me, that was the course correction that I needed. And what he did in that moment was he grabbed a hold of me. It wasn’t about being two minutes late, it wasn’t about some operational military plus or minus a minute, on time every time kind of stuff, that’s not what he was doing. He grabbed a hold of me and he said, “Nick, your mine. I’m going to mentor you.”

For the rest of that platoon, I made my gear look exactly like his gear. I kept my magazines in the same place. I kept my medical equipment in the same place. I emulated everything about him because I figured, “Hey, this guy has like seven deployments. Maybe I can save some time if I just listened to him.” And I had the value of a mentor moving forward.

Now, we went onto get medals together to do some pretty amazing stuff, like even before going up to doing a mission, he and I just kind of stepped aside, said a quick prayer, and we were still in it together that entire time. To me, that was the difference between being a good SEAL or a bad SEAL. Like, I needed a mentor to grab a hold of me, and say, “Hey, we’re running full speed and we’re doing it together.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s amazing because, well, one, just sort of makes a self-sacrifice and like on top of all the stuff to do that and, two, to sort of the intuition. Like, he clearly figured out that’s what you needed, and delivered in a powerful way.

Nick Hays
A hundred percent. Yeah, a hundred percent. We’re still close friends to this day. I still run stuff past him. And, you know, what I learned in that moment wasn’t necessarily… it was bigger than needing a mentor then. It was a process that I knew I needed in my life. I knew that I was going to need a mentor moving forward. So, when I separated from the military, I was looking at this new mission, this new thing, I’m looking at business, I’m looking at all this stuff that’s coming my way. And I thought to myself, I was like, “You know what, I need a mentor.”

So, the first thing I did was reach out to as many people as I could. And I had some criteria. I wanted people that didn’t mind having hard conversations, people that would keep me in check. I knew what I liked about a mentor. I like someone that can push back and isn’t going to tell me, “Atta boy,” but instead is going to tell me how to be better. Like, it’s something I get from the special operations mindset, but you don’t want to be right, you want to be better.

It’s not, “Hey, this is the way we’ve always done it.” It’s, “How can we do it better?” So, I needed that in my life as I made that transition. And because of that, man, I have the same story, I saved a lot of learning curve costs, I had support when I needed it, there were multiple times when something that now in hindsight looks like I must’ve done something right, but really it was just my mentor, or somebody who loves me and cares about me, opening doors and making something happen, right?

I think it convicts me. Like, at any given point, you have to have a mentor and you have to be a mentor. You have to be a mentor at the same time, you have to give it back. And a lot of people say, “Hey, no, I’m too young. I don’t know enough,” all these disqualifying statements. But, man, I see my seven-year old daughter mentor my five-year old son all the time. All the time. And he needs it. It helps me out.

So, it might be somebody who’s just behind you. You might be in high school, in college, you might be a project manager on the job, or you might be C-suite. It doesn’t matter. You need to be mentoring people, and you need a mentor in your life. It’s a valuable lesson that I learned early, and I’m so thankful for that, man, because it’s helped me out tremendously.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in your book Elite: High Performance Lessons and Habits from a Former Navy SEAL it sounds like you share a number of these high-performance lessons. And I’d love to hear kind of is there a central theme or thesis that ties them all together?

Nick Hays
Right. Like, “What is it to be elite?” I named the book after a reason. We think about the SEAL teams and we think elite. It’s synonymous with it. We think about Harvard Business School, we think elite. We think about some of these professional sports teams, we think elite. So, what are some of the things that I’ve seen at all of those venues that everybody has in common?

And I think the central theme is this, like when you look up and out your window right now, every organism that you’re looking at, in fact, every organism on this planet is either growing or dying. There is no status quo. There is no staying the same. It can’t be done in nature. You’re either growing or dying. And the people who are committed to growing, to being better tomorrow than they are today, are the elite.

It’s not about having arrived, it’s about the process. It’s about the desire to be uncomfortable, to try new things, to push yourself, right? We consider ourselves kind of rock, we’re like the stone, and the only way that we’re going to become a statue, something that we would call elite, is to allow the hammer and chisel to strip away the rough edges, to strip away the stuff that doesn’t matter.

Now, that can come in the form of efficiency. It can come in the form of structure in your life and how you structure your relationships. It can come through being thankful instead of afraid. All these concepts are certainly within the book, but it all ties back to that central theme which is you must be committed to growing. And it’s going to be painful. Growing is always painful but it is better than dying.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an interesting turn of a phrase there – growing is painful, but it’s better than dying. And that’s the only alternative. So, then I’d love to get your take on this. So, our natural inclination is to avoid discomfort, that discomfort is not something we desire, naturally speaking, for the most part. So, how does one make that shift, either globally or in one particular context or project?

Nick Hays
Right. That’s a great way to say it. You can’t play guitar without callouses on your fingers, right? If you want to get strong, you go to the gym. If you want to learn how to play a guitar, you need to build the callouses because that’s the only way that your fingers can withstand the pressure of the strings. It always starts with something small, but the small things lead to something big.

Kind of a common buzzword phrase out there is that thoughts become beliefs, beliefs become actions, and then actions become habits. So, we can’t start by looking at the habits. Yes, we want these things to be imprinted in our life, right? We want to be comfortable being uncomfortable, but the only way to get there is to start with a thought. You got to be thinking it. You got be looking for ways to challenge yourself.

Now, I tell you right now, man, if you’re intimidated by something, that is an excellent indicator that it’s exactly what you should be doing. If you’re a little bit scared, if you’re a little bit intimidated, that’s a great indicator that that’s something that’s going to lead to personal growth. That thought is going to become a belief, and that belief will eventually become actions. It’s something that I am constantly trying to push myself with every day. It’s never over. And I’m a young guy. I’ve accomplished a few things at this stage of life but, man, I’m young. I’m just getting started. So, when I look at them, I go, “Okay, what’s intimidating me right now?”

So, here’s me putting my money where my mouth is. The book is obviously an example of this, and I could speak to that as well coming out with the book and what that means, how challenging that is, especially coming from a special operations background, and it definitely makes you uncomfortable. But, now, the book is out, everything is fun, it’s good doing podcasts, I’m like, “I’m comfortable. I’m good. So, I’m like check. What can I do right now? What can I do today that’s going to make me better tomorrow?”

One thing that I started thinking, with the help of a buddy, he was walking me through this, he’s like, “Why do you like doing what you’re doing? What do you enjoy about being a public speaker?” And I said, “Two things. One, getting on stage is a way for me to kind of supplement the feeling I used to have when I was jumping out of airplanes, so I like that. It’s exciting. It gives me purpose and passion and all that. But, man, I always gauge the audience by how much I can make them laugh. It’s like the only feedback that you can get when you’re speaking, right? You can’t see the impact on someone’s face but you can definitely get their laughter.”

Pete Mockaitis
Especially if the bright stage light is going.

Nick Hays
Yes, exactly, and you can’t see anything and you’re hot. So, I’m looking at this, and he goes, “Dude, why don’t you do a standup comedy set? You like making people laugh.” When he said that, I got so scared, just the mere mention of that, grabbing a microphone, getting up in front of people with the sole purpose of being funny. Because I can fall back to motivation and structure and practices, and the fact that I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know the material, right? But this is something entirely different. And it set me off kilter, I was intimidated. And I said, “You know what, that’s a great indicator that this is exactly what I should do.”

So, I reached out to a buddy of mine who’s connected with a comedy club, and a really prestigious comedy club too, actually The Comedy Store in Beverly Hills. It’s like top notch, right? And this guy is a young comic, he’s just getting started, really great guy, and I hit him up on direct message, and I was like, “Hey, man, I want to do a set. What do I need to do here?” And he goes, “Oh, meet my buddy. He does the booking for the store.” I was like, “Okay. Well, I was expecting Poughkeepsie, not L.A.” But I reached out to the guy, and he was like, “Yeah, we’d love to have you on, this and that,” so I went ahead and booked my first standup comedy special, not special, like I’m going to get up there for 10 minutes.

But I had it booked within like 15 minutes of coming up with the idea, and now I’m on the hook. Now, I have to prepare, now I have to get out there and perform, and now I’m excited again. It just injects passion back into the routine. So, that’s me putting my money where my mouth is right there. And it’s tough, man. I’m nervous. I’m scared of it but, like I said, it’s an indicator that it’s exactly what I need to be doing for personal growth. I’m going to grow as a speaker. I’m going to grow as a person. I could bomb. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because my thoughts are becoming beliefs, and those beliefs are becoming actions.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s an interesting point you brought up there with regard to if you’re scared it’s a good indicator that it’s something worth doing because the scariness, the discomfort is associated with that growth territory unfolding. So, I’m wondering, is there any distinction between the type of fear or scary sensation that means, “Oh, yes, let’s do that,” versus, “No, this is wise, prudent, show caution, that you should not do that”?

Nick Hays
I love that. Yeah, you have to say it, right, because I always ask people, like, “Is fear good or bad? Is fear a good thing or a bad thing?” And most people will say, “Well, it depends,” and that’s the only appropriate answer. It depends. You consider the cavemen back in the day, and they’re looking around, like if you’re not afraid of the saber-toothed tiger—now, I don’t know if there’s saber-toothed back then—but, you know, the threat. If you’re not afraid of that, then maybe you’re not going to sleep in the cave, maybe you’re not going to roll a rock in front of it, maybe you’re not going to take precautions in your life and contingencies in your plan that are going to keep you from being destroyed.

Fear is good when it leads to positive action. But what if that same caveman was so petrified from the fear of outside that he stays in the cave and refuses to eat? Now, you have 30 days to live. Fear is bad when it leads to you being stagnant, stale, and immobilized. That’s when fear is a bad thing. Fear is a good thing when it causes you to build contingencies into your plan, and to hedge against possible threats. There’s a duality to it. It is both good and bad. And that’s something that you should always weigh when you’re trying to make these decisions, right?

“Am I improving my situation, or is my situation in decline? Am I growing or dying? Is this going to lead to an improvement or not?” And it’s that simple. So, when you’re afraid of something, ask yourself that, “Am I afraid of having this hard conversation with someone at work simply because I don’t like conflict? Or is there another implication here, something I need to be concerned of? Is there more to the story? What is the source of that fear?” And it’s simply because you don’t want conflict. Guess what? You got to do it. You have to have that conversation. The person is going to thank you for it. The relationship is going to grow. The company is going to benefit, right?

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yes. So, I dig what you had to say with regard to the thoughts become actions, become habits, become character, become destiny, or maybe I’m mixing from other sources. So, you’ve got a couple of little teasers in your book about how we can take control of our thoughts, become and to be tough, guard our mind. So, let’s just focus in on that. So, you’ve shared a couple tips there with regard to just one, recognizing and reinterpreting fear and being scared, so that’s great. What are some of your other best practices that you suggest for professionals who are looking to gain some additional control over their thoughts?

Nick Hays
Yeah, that’s really good. Intimidation, I think, can be a bad deal. Sometimes we want something professionally that we’re not quite there. Like, if I want to be a powerlifter and I want to jump under 300 pounds on the bench press, and I haven’t trained for it, I will be crushed by the 300 pounds. That’s the business professional who wants to be CEO, like, dude, you’ve got a long way to go. Don’t focus on the end, right?

One thing that helped me get through some of our training, SEAL training, there’s this portion of it, the selection process, it’s called Hell Week. So, in Hell Week, it’s a tremendous goal. You want to get through this week, it’s by far the biggest crucible on the road to becoming a Navy SEAL. And during that week, you don’t sleep for like five and a half days, you’re putting on somewhere close to 200 miles, you’re lifting logs with your buddies, running with boats on your head, getting like close to hypothermia by sitting in the water until you’re just freezing cold, and people quit all the time. People quit all the time.

And sometimes I’ll ask people, “Hey, what day do you think? If it starts on Sunday and ends on Friday, what day do you think they’re going to quit?” And a lot of people say, “Oh, like Thursday.” But, no, man, I mean, it’s upfront. On Monday, when you’re looking at Friday, that’s too far away. You’re already too miserable. You’re going to start telling yourself that you can’t make it. If you focus on the end, the outcome, instead of the process of how you’re going to get there, it will undermine you.

So, one of the tricks that they actually taught us while we were there, they actually gave us the answers, which was cool, was to make bigger things small, right? So, if I’m looking at the end of the week, it’s not going to work for me, but how can I break that down into smaller more attainable segments that I can actually deal with mentally? One of those tricks was, “Hey, think about your next hot meal.” They feed you really well in that program. They feed you really well because you’re burning so many calories. So, if I can just think, “Hey, I just got to the next meal.” Now, it’s going to be nice and warm in there, I’m with my buddies, we’re telling jokes, get a little bit of reprieve from the action, right?

But there’s times when that next meal is too far away. It’s too far away. I need something better. Like, if I’m sitting there in the water and I’m just feel like I’m dying in the water, I could tell myself, “Hey, I just have to get to the next evolution. If I can just get to back on land when we’re running around and everything else, then I’ll warm up. My body is going to warm up.” And it works.

But sometimes, still, it’s just not enough. Like, log PT is a portion where you’re lifting telephone poles up over your head and stuff and it’s pretty crazy. Well, at times, your shoulders are so full of lactic acid and you’re just dying, and you’re thinking, “Man, I can’t lift this thing one other time.” Well, you can break it down even smaller, and say, “Hey, they can’t work shoulders forever. They’re going to have to work legs soon or we’re going to experience casualties, right? All I have to do is get to legs. Get to legs.”

You could break that all the way down to, if you’ve ever done an intense mountain climb, like one more step, one more step. Break it down to a level that you can actually accomplish than what you’re trying to accomplish, because then, mentally, you get a win, and then you get a win, and then you get a win, and now you’re a winner.

It doesn’t matter how far away this goal is anymore. Man, you’re a winner and you’re crushing this thing, right? I think that’s one of the best things that you can do. So, how do you apply that to your professional life, right? Kind of like, okay, you’re writing a book, “I want to be a published author, so how do I accomplish that?” It’s too much. It’s too much to look at. If you look at the end, at the outcome, instead of the process, it’s going to lead to fear and you’re never going to put pen to paper. You can’t do it. You have to break that down, and say, “Hey, here’s what I can do today that’s going to ultimately get me to my goal.” Break it down in smaller and more attainable goals.

Like, “Hey, all I need today is to write for an hour. That’s all I have to do.” That’s like taking one more step, right? And then you get a win. You made a mental contract with yourself, and you kept it. If I said, “Hey, I’m going to write for eight hours a day,” and then I learn a thing or two, and I’m like, “That’s not how inspiration works,” I can readjust. It’s important. Stay there for eight hours, don’t lie to yourself. But once you check that box, say, “Okay, I’ve got to reassess. I think at three hours I felt pretty good, so I think I can accomplish three hours.” So, you adjust that goal. But now you’re still moving towards…

Like, I didn’t know how painful it would be to go through a developmental editor during the writing process when I started writing, and I’m glad that I didn’t know that because that was, by far, the most painful part of the process. When you develop this baby, and then hand it over to someone, and their entire job is to rip it apart, it’s painful. It hurts your pride. You’re going to try to get the person fired. It’s rough, man, but that’s exactly what the book needs. That’s taking the stone, putting hammer to chisel to the stone and removing the rough edges. That’s exactly what’s going to create the statue that you’re looking for, the elite image that you’re looking for.

But you can’t think about that when you’re freewriting. You just have to free-write. And then once you’re in the developmental editing process, check, I can break that down into smaller and more attainable goals and just chuck up a win after win after win. We could apply that to any scenario in business or in your home life, in your professional development, in your personal development, in your physical development. It just works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s really inspiring and transformational, I think, if you can really digest and internalize that. And so, I guess what I’m thinking, in order to make that really count such that, okay, you took one more step, therefore you are a winner, like you have accomplished the goal of one more step. I think that there’s also a mental thing that can occur, it’s like, “Well, yeah, but that wasn’t really much of anything. It was just one more step.” So, how do you like genuinely, I guess, celebrate, or commemorate, or make real and present to yourself on the inside that, “Yeah, that was a real victory and it’s worth something, and I’m more of a winner as a result of that even though it was tiny”?

Nick Hays
I’m so glad that you said that, that is the perfect question, especially for me because that’s something I struggle with daily. I don’t have that figured out. I do it to myself all the time and here’s kind of how that thought process works for me. I’ll be like, “Yeah, I made it through SEAL training but I got rolled back. I couldn’t even swim. Yeah, I became a Navy SEAL, but I didn’t really get to do exactly what I wanted to do, so I ended up contracting and doing more of that.”

“Yeah, I contract but then I got hurt pretty quick, ended up busting my back up and had to get a surgery. But, yeah, I went to business school, but at the same time it was kind of a hybrid, didn’t even have to take my GMATH, no big deal. Yeah, I worked with a professional sports team, they went to the Super Bowl, but they didn’t even win. I mean, they didn’t, you know. Yeah, I went to Harvard but, I mean, really, come on, you know. I don’t even know how they let me in there. Yeah, I wrote a book.”

And by the end of it, and you start looking at it, like, “Dude, I did a lot of amazing things. Why am I disqualifying everything that I’ve done mentally? Like, how do I just sit back and resonate in the fact that none of those things came easy between every bullet point on that resume. The resume looks sick, right? But I just know myself so well, and between every single one of those bold bullet points came a thousand failures, a thousand setbacks, me talking trash to myself and listening to that little demon sitting on my shoulder, right? All these things.”

And I can take joy and pride in the fact that I didn’t let that stop me, and I just kept moving forward. See, that’s taking a process that resulted in the success and celebrating the process. And, now, I can apply that process further in my life. I’m pretty much quoting Carol Dweck right now in that book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I know I’m not supposed to talk about other people’s books when I’m talking about mine, but I’m a reader and so I do it all the time.

But, yeah, she’s talking about the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset. When you can celebrate a process instead of the outcome, then your identity is built around finding new ways to do things, not having done everything a certain way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that. And I think what’s so fun for listeners, if they’re hearing the, “Yeah, but…” and just laughing at how absurd it sounds, it’s great because I recognize some of myself in that. I remember I did a triathlon and, first, it was like, “Yeah, but it’s just a sprint, it’s not a triathlon. It’s not a real triathlon.” And then I did a full Olympic distance triathlon, I was like, “Yeah, but my ITB Band was hurting so I was walking during part of the run, so I didn’t really do a triathlon if a part of it was walking.” And it’s just like, “Well, time out, like that’s nuts.”

Nick Hays
It is nuts.

Pete Mockaitis
I did all that prep, or it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I wrote two books but I self-published them, so that doesn’t really count,” and all these things, “Yeah, my podcast has 7 million downloads, but I just had lucky break randomly getting some iTunes rankings for no discernible reason early on.” And it’s sort of like it’s nuts, and I’m trying to kind of pinpoint the specific absurdity or fallaciousness, if that’s a word, of it. And I think it’s kind of like it sort of discounts all of your efforts and attention and labor and gives 100% of the credit to the opportunity or the exception, like you didn’t have to take the GMATH, whatever. I’m sure that the program that you did assumed that you were super awesome already and, thus, the GMATH was unnecessary, so it still counts. So, I don’t know, I’m just thinking real time here, how’s that rubbing you?

Nick Hays
Yeah, I’m thinking about it too, and I think it’s important to recognize that any given moment in time, we kind of have two selves, there’s two selves. There’s your experiencing self and your remembering self. The experiencing self is always reading and reacting and moving forward. That’s the person that’s looking out the windshield, driving the vehicle, “I see red lights in front of me, I break.” It’s constantly reading, reacting, and moving forward. And then you have your remembering self, essentially the rear-view mirror, right?

For some reason, when we’re experiencing something, we’re constantly taking information on board because it’s necessary for survival, and then we put it into action immediately. But then, when that moment gets categorized into the remembering self, we go back and we pull out the information again that’s going to lead to our ultimate survival.

So, for some reason, that can lean us to go negative with some things because we want to learn, we want to grow, we want to challenge ourselves. And I think, one, knowing that that’s what’s happening I think can set you free, and then, two, figuring out how to combat the specific enemy there and that little disqualifier that says, “Yeah, but, yeah, but.” If you know that that’s coming, you can take proactive stance in your mind, like, “No, I refuse that. This was something that worked out well.” And say it to yourself and practice it, right? Practice that and, eventually, that thought will become a habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that, “No, I refuse that.” That’s a good one. And we also had a great tip from this Stanford psychologist, BJ Fogg, who was talking about tiny habits, and how it’s so important when you’re doing little something to celebrate. One way or another, you’d just be like it could be dorky, or cheesy, or corny, give yourself a high five. Sometimes I will say, “Flawless victory” like on a Mortal Kombat video game,” and to just take a moment to feel good about what happened, just reinforces that so you’re all the more likely to do it as opposed to beating  yourself up for, “I said I was going to write for an hour, but it’s really only 56 minutes because I had an urgent phone call.” It’s like, I don’t know, to whoever beats himself up, I encourage you to be forgiving. The science is there that you’re better off that way.

Nick Hays
Yeah, the world’s mean enough, you don’t have to be mean to yourself. Like, you deserve better. You deserve better. And I think thankfulness is really, really the key. Like, going back to when I was in Hell Week, I remember using that as a tool to where the sun is going down, and you’re sitting there in the cold water, knowing it’s going to be a long night, well, I wanted to be a SEAL my entire life. And I remember smelling the air and feeling the wind and just thinking, “Man, I’m finally here. I’ve been trying to get here for so long, I’m so thankful, man.”

I was so thankful that I didn’t have room for the negativity to creep in. It made me resilient. And I think that’s something that we can practice for the rest of our lives, is when you start feeling those disqualifiers, instead maybe look at it through a different lens, and say, “Man, I’m so thankful that I have that experience. I’m thankful that that person stood up for me when I needed it. I’m thankful that my body didn’t fail me and I was able to get that done. I’m thankful that my ITB Band gave me some trouble because now I can adjust my training and be better. Like, good, I’m glad that happened. Let’s move on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, I’m particularly struck by your ability to summon the gratitude and thankfulness right there in the moment. That’s pretty cool in terms of you saying, “I’m finally here.” And so, that’s really nifty to hit that, and I wonder how you can sort of systematize that. I’ve heard one person suggest you ask the question, “What’s great about this?” when you’re in a pickle, and that can sort of reorient your attention to things that you can be grateful for like “You’re finally there.”

And I guess you could say that even if, geez, I’m imagining terrible scenarios, like what if my kids were in the hospital like fighting for their lives, right? I guess you could be grateful that you have those children, that you have formed such a loving bond, that this matters a lot to you. And I guess it also speaks to the power of the imagination and visualization right now because I’m kind of tearing up because this is completely fictitious scenario that I am dreaming up. But you can find that gratitude just about anywhere.

Nick Hays
Well, I love your level of empathy there to where you put a face on it, and there’s someone out there who’s going through exactly that, and who needs to hear it. So, yeah, it’s good to understand the gravity of a situation, and, “Hey, if this works.” We’re talking about beating ourselves up even when things are going good. But, yeah, what if legitimately life happens to you? What if you’re on your back and you don’t know how to get up? What works then? If it’s this hard when everything is good when you’re in the meadow, how do you handle the mountain top? How do you handle the climb? How do you handle the brutality of the environment?

And I went through a situation that made me really think about some stuff, man. When I was contracting, working overseas, I loved it. I loved it. I was having a great time with it. I was exactly where I wanted to be. My schedule was pretty ridiculous. I was doing my two months on, two months off. So, me and my wife bought a 35-foot RV and we started cruising around, just everything was good, man. And then life happened to me, and I hurt my back. I ended up having to get a L5S1 fusion and I would never work in that capacity again.

I came home, the doctor told me that things were changing, and I had to go into surgery, and it took a solid two years to recover. They advertised six months; they’re lying to you. I lost my physicality. I didn’t want to be addicted to opioids so I got off those within a few weeks. But then I started drinking, so I was masking it with drinking. Now, nothing bad happened, I was able to pull away from that too, but, still, I’m sitting here. I lost my physicality. I looked terrible. I lost my purpose in life. I lost my passion. I had no vision moving forward, and I had to completely redefine myself.

Life gave me a couple of heavies. And there were some other stuff, that I won’t get into, at the time that fortunately didn’t involve my family. That probably would’ve been the kick to the groin that could’ve taken me to the floor, but my wife was there for me, and there with me, and we kind of suffered together. And I didn’t know what to do, and that’s kind of the best thing that ever happened to me.

Like, now when I’m looking back, it’s kind of like when I talk a lot about mountain climbing obviously. But when you’re climbing up a trail and there’s all these switchbacks, sometimes you can talk trash that you won’t make it. Like, “What are you doing? It’s right there. Why don’t we just go right there?” And you’re following these bends and switchbacks, you’re like, “Man, I don’t get it.” And then you get to the top, and you look back, and you see where the trail had made mud, you see that that switchback kept you from that chasm, you’re about to walk off a cliff, and it saved you time and pain.

That’s how it is for me looking back at that scenario specifically because there’s a saying, right, like, “That which I love will destroy me.” I think it applies really well to veterans because it’s a lot of fun belonging to a tribe, having a brotherhood, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. It goes a long way. And I don’t think that I would’ve seen it. I think I would’ve stayed with it. But because it was taken away from me, I have a better relationship with my wife, around more for my kids, enable to imprint on them. I’ve started going a different direction professionally that is really next level. I’m starting to see, like, “What can I actually accomplish? What can I do even if my identity has changed?” It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

And I was fortunate that I was able to redefine that purpose, and said, “Okay, what was it that kept me going? What was it that I enjoyed about what I was doing?” And it always came back to this, to empathy, the desire to help others be better, the desire to teach. I actually loved being an instructor. When I was an instructor for a little while in the military, I always really enjoyed that stuff, and I said, “Okay, well, that’s something that I can look forward with. How do I develop that?” And then a buddy of mine actually reached out to me and was like, “Hey, do you want to join me on this? Let’s go talk to a company.”

So, I went and talked to a company. Like, four weeks later, I was working with the Miami Heat basketball team. And I was like, “Wow, I can actually do this. This is something.” And it injected me with that passion, with that fire. I was able to redefine my identity but stayed true to the purpose that had been consistent the whole time. Life happened to me, and I said, “You know what, I’m done with that. I’m going to start happening to life. This is my turn now.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Nick, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we hear about your favorite things?

Nick Hays
Man, I don’t know, I feel good. This is fun. I like the authenticity. This is great.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Nick Hays
Let’s see. Speaking of authenticity, I love John Madden, a great coach, John Madden. He used to say that “If you want longevity in this league, first you have to be authentic.” Now, he was talking about football but I think that works in any context. If you want longevity, if you want to play the long game, you have to be authentic. That’s where you need to start. Man, there’s more to it, right? But that’s where you need to start is that authenticity.

And, for me, I’ve really taken that to heart because now that I’m kind of getting more in public and stuff, keep in mind, my job used to be the silent professional. I used to lie to my neighbors about what I do for a living and now, all of a sudden, I’m in the public eye, doing talks, like writing books, and all the stuff. It’s weird for me. And that’s my commitment is to be authentic and to tell the truth, to be myself, and not try to paint up an image that I should do because it worked for somebody else. I think that’s something that we can all take and put into our lives. Like, “How do I discover my authentic self and then how do I unleash that out in the world?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And how about a favorite book?

Nick Hays
I have a lot of favorite books. That’s probably the hardest question you could’ve asked me. I think one of the books that’s had the most impact in my life was Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. He writes about the Spartans at the hot gates of Thermopylae, and how the 300 Spartans and their support were able to stop a Persian army of about two million for long enough for the country to unite. Obviously, spoiler alert here, but we’ve all seen “300.” Leonidas actually, the king, gave his life and that rallied the rest of the city states to join up and go to war together, and they crippled one of the most powerful empires in all of history.

And the way that Steven Pressfield writes it, it really shows what brotherhood looks like. It shows what a team should be. The fact that when you’re sitting there in the failings, which was their alignment when they would meet the enemy, the shield of the person next to you is what’s protecting you. Your shield is protecting the person next to you. Your shield isn’t for you. Your shield is for your brothers and sisters, for your teammates. That’s such an impactful lesson that you see time and time in that book. I highly recommend that read.

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

Nick Hays
My AirPods.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good.

Nick Hays
Seriously, I’ve been plagued by wires. I spend a majority of my time, professionally communicating, and so a lot of it is on the phone and having the ability to be somewhat mobile with that. We’re so lucky to live in a time that you and I can connect from other sides of the world. You can keep people close to you regardless of the proximity, and I take full advantage of that. I’m one of those people where you can text me, sure, but I’m probably going to call you back. I like discussing. I like speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audiences?

Nick Hays
You know, going back to the mentorship piece, I think that’s something that everyone can see upfront. The story opens them up and they see it and practice at the highest level, and this is a great opportunity for me to kind of hit that again, and say like mentorship, you’ve got to find one, you’ve got to be one. In addition to that, I’ll take it even one step further, but the way you organize your relationships and your friends really does matter.

And one thing that I highly recommend is, yes, you have your close circle of friends, right? That group needs to be small. It’s a small group. But then, of course, you have your network, your expanding circle, right? But there’s this circle in between, that somewhere in between, or I like to call that as my personal board of advisors.

So, what I’ve done is I’ve looked for people that are as different than me as possible, and then a few people that are very similar to me, different sexes, races, anything that could be a potential silo, international, whatever it is. Like, people that I really trust and connect with that are operating at a really high level, and I ask them, I make it formal, and I’ve built this cabinet. If the president needs one, then maybe I should be doing it, too, right?

And I built this cabinet so when I’m working through something, I can bounce ideas off of people that’s going to give me a 360-degree approach to it, and it always illuminates stuff that I don’t see. Different than mentorship, but having a cabinet, having a personal board of advisors that is as diverse as possible in every sense of the word takes your game to the next level, a hundred percent.

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

Nick Hays
Yes, so on all social media, I’m NickHaysLife, EliteTeams.com that’s my company, I’m available for speaking and all that stuff. So, yeah, feel free to reach out. You can DM me too, I’ll get back to you.

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

Nick Hays
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Right now, in this moment, there’s something that you could do that’s going to make you a little bit more resilient. I don’t know what that looks like, but whatever is intimidating you, whatever you’ve been holding back from, embrace that truth today. Get out there and make that happen so that you can celebrate a win. And then move into tomorrow looking for another win.

Pete Mockaitis
Nick, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing the good word and good luck on your adventures.

Nick Hays
Pete, thank you so much, man. This is fun.