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KF #30. Self-Development

407: The Key Behaviors of Inspiring Leaders with Ash Seddeek

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Ash Seddeek outlines the key leadership behaviors that inspire teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Ten key leadership behaviors that inspire followers
  2. One mistake that quickly kills a team’s creativity
  3. How to manage your bias like a pro

About Ash

Ash develops leadership, executive communications and strategic sales programs. He currently works with Cisco’s innovation startup teams to help them craft compelling value proposition narratives. Ash is also a mentor to entrepreneurs and a communications expert at the American Management Association.

He’s the bestselling author of the books Meaning, Start with a Vision, and The Road to Success.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ash Seddeek Interview Transcript

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

Ash Seddeek
Thank you very much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I was intrigued to learn that you were a Fulbright scholar not once but twice. Didn’t know that was actually possible. Could you tell us the tale?

Ash Seddeek
Absolutely. I actually come all the way from Alexandria, Egypt, where in my earlier life I was basically getting trained to become a linguist at the University of Alexandria. By virtue of my work there as a teaching assistant, I applied for a Fulbright scholarship. The first time I came to the US as a participant in a summer program.

Then the second time I actually applied to be an assistant group leader that essentially then sort of leveraging the first-time experience, sort of leading the group that went the second time around. That’s really how it happened as part of my working at the University of Alexandria.

Lo and behold, days go by and here I am actually leveraging a lot of that linguistics training in a lot of the executive coaching that I do with leaders today around leadership communications.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Excellent. Well, you’ve packaged some of these insights about leadership communications into your book, Meaning. Can you say what’s sort of the main message within this?

Ash Seddeek
The main message behind Meaning was really driven by the experience working at Cisco Corporation, especially at the highlight of the financial crisis in 2008. My job at Cisco at that time was to help understand the messaging that was happening outside Cisco about Cisco and also what the leadership team at Cisco needs to message, especially in Cisco’s largest conference, which is the sales kickoff conference that happens on an annual basis.

I saw John Chambers at that time, he was the CEO at that time, really grappling with how Cisco tried to re-sustain its position as well as also survive that financial crisis that were affecting basically the pockets and the budgets of its own customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Then within that you’ve sort of looked at individual leaders and what they were doing and found some interesting patterns.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly. The one thing that I saw and John and the rest of the executive team at Cisco were doing really well, and of course the technology at Cisco, just amazing how Cisco was making use of its own technology to speak across the 60,000 plus employees at that time.

Essentially helping them understand what was going on and re-clarifying the meaning of why do we continue to do what we’re doing, what sort of sustains our differentiation, and how leaders of all aspects and levels of the company can really help articulate that message all the way to the very last mile, every single employee, whether they are all the way in Cairo, Egypt; Dubai in the Arabian Gulf, or China, or India, or even in the US.

The ability to continue to message to the employees why we’re doing what we’re doing and how do we move from where we are today into the future was very critical task and responsibility that leaders need to have all the time.

I think in my mind, based on the research we’ve done for the book, this whole concept of communicating where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going is the fundamental task and responsibility in my mind, that the CxOs need to be communicating with their employees in organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, how does that shift if it’s at sort of the manager level?

Ash Seddeek
At the manager level, it becomes really a pivotal moment for the manager to understand that, again, a big part of their role is to help their team understand how the message that we’re hearing from the CEO and the executive team translates into what we do on a daily basis. How do we connect the dots between the piece of a product that we’re working on with the bigger product, with the bigger company, with the aspirations that the customers have?

That’s really where, as you’re saying, the manager’s role is very critical because a lot of the time the employees look up to that manager to explain what did John Chambers say and what does it mean to us.

Again, managers have that communication responsibility so that when I work with leaders and we basically talk about coaching and understanding what is a key pivotal responsibility for them, I mention the fact that they need to develop a signature talk that is really there to serve the purpose of translating that corporate vision and strategy and how it connects to what we do on a daily basis so that these employees have a very clear purpose and an understanding of how their little piece is actually part of that bigger puzzle and bigger vision.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, in your book, Meaning, you identify ten particular leadership behaviors that inspire followers. What are those ten?

Ash Seddeek
These ten behaviors and the way that we’ve collected them is we basically worked with – we interviewed a number of leaders across a number of industries. When we looked at the themes we found that there are five behaviors that are really more about that leader and how that leader interfaces and interacts with his or her environment.

Then the next five, and as I’m going to share with you the full list, the next five are really more about how they interface with everybody around them.

When you look at the top ten behaviors for leaders who really are very good at communicating meaning, we see that the very first behavior is about how they accept the reality that business cycles will inevitably ebb and flow. That’s really what we’ve seen at Cisco, the changes that were happening in the marketplace.

The second one is they definitely need to cultivate the habits of listening and learning. Again, there were some leaders that we spoke with that really demonstrated this really well.

The third one is to cultivate authentic humility in the sense that you really need to come across not as someone that knows it all, but someone who is really willing to listen and understand that this other person that I’m talking to may have a much better idea.

Then number four, being able to clarify and focus on the organization’s mission and values. People want to something that is bigger than themselves to hold into. It is that leader’s ability to focus that way, be able to understand what those values are and communicate them.

Then number five is very interesting because it’s really more about what happens to us when we achieve success. Sometimes we think that’s really where it emanates from. It has to start with us. But number five basically says, get of the way so others can succeed in the sense that you need to give people room. You need to give them space.

Sometimes when a question is asked and that leader likes to give ideas, he or she will jump in and give an answer. In my coaching I basically tell them pause, wait, let people in the room answer that question because that’s when you actually get them to see that they, themselves, can bring a lot of the ideas to the table.

Then the second set of behaviors, as I mentioned, are really more about managing relationships. Number six is about building a solid network of relationships knowing that it is incredibly powerful to be able to pick up the phone and connect the dots among five – six players and then all of the sudden you’re able to staff up an innovation initiative very quickly.

Number seven is about building strategic partnerships. Here we’re really talking more about not just internally but also across the industry. Of course, we see very good examples of that at Cisco and other companies.

Number eight is really more about caring for and rewarding people because if you don’t do the recognition and celebration of what people achieve in the company, again, human need, we understand it from people like Daniel Pink and others, they are looking for that recognition a whole lot more than any dollars you give them.

Then number nine is about over communicating with all stakeholders, especially in times of crisis or change. That’s really where we see companies that stay ahead of the necessary work that needs to happen around communication, especially around the times of change. That’s when you see people really doing well when they communicate and communicate repeatedly.

Then others fail when they assume that the change is not that big and it’s not big of a deal and everybody should just line up. Then they realize for human beings, change is real. You have to talk to them and you have to talk to them repeatedly about the why of the change and how they fit into that picture.

Then the very last behavior we see leader’s ability to build trust and buy in is very critical. When we look at all of these behaviors, that’s how leaders then have what they need in terms of internal skills as well as external networks to communicate meaning as we were saying at the very top of our conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Well, thank you for that run down here. I’d like your take on which of these behaviors do you think is the most critical or liberates the most inspiration from folks and why.

Ash Seddeek
I think the one that would really drive a lot of inspiration is having anchors in a value system and a philosophy that this leader or a team of leaders believe in because without having these anchor points in a value system, then we won’t have anything that essentially sort of grounds us.

If we’re facing difficulty and if somebody listening to us is in a very difficult situation, unless they have a value that’s similar to ‘I will rise, no matter what the difficulty is. I have achieved success in the past and I can achieve this success.’ Really holding on to a body of values makes a big, big difference.

That’s why we see HP and a lot of other companies publishing what they call the HP way. It’s the set of values. Apple did the same thing. A lot of leading companies make sure that they have a set of values that they communicate. Sometimes you may need to change them slightly, but you still do it in a way that really shows why we’re doing what we’re doing and how it’s going to help us achieve what we need to achieve.

I think when people see that you believe in something, that you honor it despite the challenges and the difficulties, then highly likely they will trust you more. They will buy more into your message. But if they see you shifting more because of profits and what the market demands all the time, then they will feel like maybe they could do the same thing and they could look for profits and other opportunities somewhere else.

Whereas if you give them something bigger than just the financial aspect, maybe the vision for what the company stands for, the mission. All of those things really give that leader the chance to inspire people, retain them for the long term because they are here not just because of what you give them, but rather what they are able actually to create with you and help accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it if you could maybe make it all the more real when we talk about anchor points in a value system. Could you give us some examples of hey, this company has this value and this is how they see it lived out in practical reality for real?

Because I think what’s interesting about values is that sometimes – well sometimes they’re not lived at all and it’s just sort of lip service. Integrity, like many companies have integrity as a value and then many companies show just how little they have when the scandals hit the headlines.

But I guess, on the flipside, I guess I’m thinking about – when I was working at Bain I thought they did awesome with regard to living their values. For example, one of them they’d call it the openness to the one percent possibility. That one percent possibility is that you’re wrong, that you’re mistaken. Then it was cool how it was okay as someone fresh out of college to correct a manager or partner with a different fact that would be contradictory to what they’re saying in a team meeting.

Or while discussing professional development with a manager like, “Hey, these are my goals.” The manager would say, “Okay, cool. And these are my goals and what I’m working on.” That kind of humility was really cool like “Hey, none of us are perfect. We’re all working on something.”

I’m with you. That liberates some inspiration for me in terms of this place is cool and they mean what they say on this little chart of operating principles and I like that. Could you give us some more examples of particular company has a particular value that shows up in a real way that unlocks inspiration?

Ash Seddeek
I think probably one of the best examples I can remember whenever you’re on one of those Southwest flights and you hear the airhostess making the comments just about when you’re landing. She makes you laugh. When you look at Southwest’s values, you’ll see that one of them is live the Southwest way. Under that banner, they basically say you have to have a servant’s heart and a fun-loving attitude.

You take this value and you make sure every employee in the whole Southwest system applies it. Then you see it showing up when you hear the pilot talking and being very personable and giving you the comfort and the trust that everything is going to be fine or when you hear the air hosts making a funny comment and again making you laugh on the airplane.

I think when the value then influences everyone’s behaviors all the way to the point that it becomes part of what you do on a daily basis, that’s really where it becomes an anchor point that everybody understands that’s our culture here because, of course, those values is what eventually constitutes that whole concept of culture the company has.

If people then start to embody it into actions and words, then you’re actually seeing a living example and not just a set of words that are written on a piece of paper. That’s the example that just comes to mind right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a good one. I’d love to hear some more.

Ash Seddeek
When we look at innovation, for example, which is a big value at Cisco and also the idea that you should never really get religious about technology.

I think Cisco and a lot of other companies, they have figured out that if you get stuck in your ways, it will basically lead to extinction, whereas if you adopt more of an innovative mindset that basically says I need to be able to at times maybe walk away from something that I invested billions of dollars in.

When I was at Cisco, if you remember the flip camera, that was an acquisition that Cisco spent a lot of money on. At some point it was clear it was not the right direction where things were going and they were able to then say, “Stop. Let’s shift.”

I think seeing this in real life despite, again, the cost, then it shows you that it’s better to make that decision now, acknowledging the costs and be able to shift direction and focus on something that the market is looking for, also shows you that value.

And of course, at Cisco, when we were walking around with the employee badge, we actually had that written down on the badge, where make sure you never get religious about technology. What you really should be focusing on is what are the customers looking for and how can you be innovative and self-destructive so you can bring these technologies to market.

That’s another example where you need to look back at that value and make sure that that value is helping enlighten and educate the decision you’re making. Again, when we talk to leaders, one of the best things we could do is to really be comfortable really focusing on the values as something that has long-term application and value for the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. I’d also be curious, having studied all these things and synthesized and come up with the themes associated with these behaviors, does it now shine a clearer, brighter light on some behaviors that you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is just terribly wrong,” in terms of are there maybe little things that leaders or professionals at large do frequently that are really just inspiration killers that you’d recommend we stop doing right away?

Ash Seddeek
I would say it’s been interesting for me over the past three years to realize, to your point, that a lot of the time the words you say on a daily basis, the actions you take on a daily basis are also driven by philosophies and points of view that you have, which in some respect, is essentially a set of values that you believe in.

If you think that the only smart one in the room is you because you’ve spent 18 years learning about networking or about fashion or about this or that, then that’s going to block you out from realizing that there are a lot more ideas in the room.

This really emanates from a value where you think, “Well, you know what? I am the source of intelligence.” Sometimes you only make this mistake of thinking that there are many solutions and I’m the only source for them. Understanding that we may have a bias to favor our own thoughts and then make sure that we manage that and be self-aware of it. Then basically say, “You know what? I would love to hear your ideas.”

Then all of the sudden everybody in the room is very much encouraged and inspired by the fact that you’re actually looking up and you’re basically telling them, “I know you guys are smart. I know you have ideas and I want to hear them.” Before you share anything, you want to sort of almost use that question and query process to uncover innovative ideas.

Again, one of the things I do with a lot of leaders is I basically tell them, “Right now your biggest value is not to share ideas, but actually ask good questions.”

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot, so you’re asking the questions first before you share your ideas.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned managing your bias. I imagine at times that can be easier said than done. What are some of your favorite pro tips and best practices for pulling that off?

Ash Seddeek
I think one of the tips I would give people is being very transparent and vulnerable at the same time in the sense that you may tell people, “Hey, I have a tendency to overpower my own thought process and think the only way is probably some of the ideas that I’m bringing to the table, so if you see me jumping in say, ‘You know what, Ash? I’m not coming to you for solutions. I really want to show you a number of options that we’ve come up with and then and only then I’d love to get some of your input.’”

Because otherwise they may actually then think their ideas are not worth sharing with him or her and as a result maybe some innovative ideas never really see the light of day.

As much as these leaders share where their blind spots might be in a way that’s not necessarily showing it as a weakness, but rather as a blind spot that they want to be watching out for and they need to have the trust of their team to help them sometimes make sure that that’s not where we’re spending most our time, but rather we’re spending a lot of our time in uncovering as many ideas from across the team.

That’s really where diversity comes in in terms of the diversity thought and idea and innovation and making sure that collectively we’re finding what’s the best for the organization rather than, “Oh it came from this person or that person.”

I think looking at the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve then helps us really tone down where the source of idea is, not to the point that you completely not go back and celebrate where it came from, but once you are driven more by the outcome, it really helps you reduce the reliance on “Oh, he’s the only one that has these ideas,” or “She’s the only one,” but rather, “Let’s take a look at what the whole team can bring to the table.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that notion associated with the others bringing in the winning ideas. I just think about how often it’s not fun to be wrong.

Ash Seddeek
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel like it can be wrong in any number of ways like the exact opposite approach that you thought of is the optimal one. Or for me, I find it’s often about I want to go fast, but we should slow down or I want to go slow, but we should speed up. I find it helpful to reflect upon the times that I’ve been dead wrong and it was so helpful that someone slowed me down or sped me up.

I remember one time I was in PayPal. I was making a payment to someone in the Philippines in pesos or PHP. It’s about 50 to 1 is the conversion rate. I accidently did it in dollars. I’m often frustrated when software goes slows. … said, “Oh, did you want to give 4,000 dollars.” It was like, “Oh no. No, I didn’t.”

Then sure enough, I appreciated all of the ways that software, the security, the two-factor authentication, the texting you this or that can really save the day at times for you.

When I want to go fast and I’m frustrated that it’s slowing me down, I find that it is helpful to remember. It’s like hey, it might not feel so great in the moment to have a force speed you up or slow you down or point you in the opposite direction that you wanted to go, but it sure feels better when you get the desired outcome than the outcome you would have got had you had it your way.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly, exactly. Absolutely, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy for me in the humility, just coming up with those reminders. I’d also like to get your take on if there are any other kind of best practices in terms of tips and tricks, phrases or scripts that just really come in handy when folks are trying to live out and implement these ten leadership behaviors.

Ash Seddeek
I think an interesting idea that actually evolved over the past few months is what I’m now calling emotion one and emotion two. Emotion one, essentially most of us, leaders, whatever walk of life we’re in, a lot of the time when something happens, when someone comes to talk to you, you have that emotional reaction in your body.

A lot of the time leaders who are not emotionally intelligent, they will give in to that first emotion. Maybe it’s an emotion of frustration. Maybe it’s an emotion of “Oh my God, I cannot believe they screwed this up again.” Then the response is going to be one that they will not really like eventually.

What I’m basically starting to tell some leaders I work with is I want you to recognize that first emotion because once you recognize it, then you’re going to know it’s a pause moment, where you realize it is not going to be the best basis for what you want to say or do. What I advise them of doing is I advise them to let that first emotion wear off.

Then we come to the second emotion. The second emotion is really more driven by what outcome do we want to achieve eventually because as you said, maybe sometimes I need to realize that a particular activity I need to slow down in order for me to go very quickly in the future. Once you recognize the very first emotion, if you go with that flow of that emotion, you say something that you’re going to regret or do something that, again, you’re going to regret.

I tell leaders to be emotionally present, understand that the first thing that needs to happen is to realize that there’s no way for you to stop that emotion. Just let it go through the system and let it wear off.

Then ask yourself the question, “What is the action, the word that I need to say and do that would actually help us move our cause to the next step? What is it that I could say that would help that person I’m talking to understand that I emphasize with them, that I understand what they have to go through and that I’m willing to talk to them about what conditions for success do we need to create in order to take the next step.”

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot.
I think a lot of times for me the emotion one is like I’m hearing something that I think is outrageously wrong, ridiculous, absurd, offensive. I don’t know. I’m reacting strongly to something that I think is outrageous. My go-to phrase is just, “Tell me more.”

Ash Seddeek
I love that. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Which doesn’t mean, listeners, if I say that to any of you, that means I’m furious. I sometimes just want to know more and I don’t know the perfect follow up question and I just say, “Keep talking about that,” is what I mean. That doesn’t mean I’m enraged.

But I find that it’s helpful for one, it buys you time because they will tell you more and you can breathe a little it as they’re doing so. And two as you learn more about where they’re coming from and their rationale for the idea, like nine times out of ten it’s like, oh, that’s really not so absurd after all.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I still disagree, but it’s a plausible alternative to the view I had and now let’s sort of see what’s optimal together from here.

Ash Seddeek
Exactly, exactly. Right on. I love that too because, again, it helps you uncover. Maybe there are details that will change what I’m thinking right now. That’s the interesting part is when you actually uncover further details, then you realize something wrong happened with these guys and that’s why they were acting the way they were acting or they’re under some pressure that I did not understand or they were missing a piece of information.

Having that pause in the system, to your point, looking for more information is a very wise thing to do because, again, as leaders, you’re usually working with very high stakes situations. If you go with emotion one, it may actually mess things up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about inspiration or being awesome at your job before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ash Seddeek
Absolutely. I think one of the key nugget I share with people and it’s based on my experience having worked at Deloitte … in San Francisco. But when you develop an outcome-based thought process, it not only inspires you to do really well every single day, but also once you act that way, you also start inspiring other people.

Because a lot of the time if you don’t have that mindset of ‘I am here almost as a management consultant. I am here really to achieve success for my client’ and you start really looking at everyone that works with you as your own client, it helps you detach from the struggles and the challenges and the dynamics of the moment to be someone that is self-composed and is much more result- and success-focused that it just creates an interesting air around you that people want to work with you, people want to be part of any project you work on because you see you have that focus on ‘I am here to help achieve success, not just for me, but for people around me.’ It’s very inspiring.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny, Ash. I guess in some ways I’m naïve or idealistic and also a former strategy consultant for Bain, but for me it’s almost like that’s the only way that I just naturally think and operate and breathe and work. Sometimes there’s a bit of a disconnect in terms of realizing where other people are coming from and their priorities.

But I’d love it if you could maybe give us a bit of a flavor for okay, an outcome-based mindset is one way to go and to think, live, operate in the course of doing work. What are some of the main contenders or alternative mindset worldviews that are driving people if not the outcome-based mindset?

Ash Seddeek
I think what happens on the other side of that is you actually get – I call it sucked in – you get sucked into the dynamics of the situation.

Let’s say the other person makes a comment. You don’t like the comment, as we were talking about emotion one. You get sucked in to the dynamics of the conversation. All of the sudden you’ve created an unhappy other person who thinks maybe you are not open to new ideas or you don’t understand what they want or you’re not listening.

They walk away with that impression about you and perception about you and then starts to build up because she’s going to go or he’s going to go walk out to somebody else and say, “Oh, I was just sitting with Ash and I just got a vibe that he just doesn’t want to listen to what we want to do and I don’t think he’s going to really be able to help us.”

All of the sudden, when we don’t focus on that outcome-based thinking and we get into the flow of that conversation, we give into that first emotion, then we create a dynamic that’s not going to be helpful for us. It sort of militates against wanting to be awesome.

If you want to be awesome, then we have to state with that outcome-based where some of the language I use, and again, to your point, Pete, working in management consulting you know that one of the key things you want to say is, as you said, “Tell me more,” “What does the solution look like,” “How can we help you get it done,” “When we’re done what would it look like?”

You can help people articulate what they’re looking or, whereas if you get into the flow and the dynamics of the personalities, then it’s not a good situation. We see a lot of just toxic environments really coming out of a lot of people giving in to those feelings that happen in the spur of the moment without focusing on what the outcome that they’re trying to build is for that person that they’re sitting in front of.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, I’d love it if you could for a moment enter the dark place and articulate what sorts of angry or reactive or what sorts of thoughts and responses internally or verbalized are popping up when folks are in this less optimal mindset when they’re working with folks.

Ash Seddeek
Yeah. I think from my own personal experience, I remember in my early days working at Deloitte, where I went into a client where my mind was thinking, “This company should be a whole lot more advanced than this. They should know a lot of things already. They should have this. They should have that.” I was just getting frustrated with the fact that my own expectations and assumptions about a large organization were not present.

People walked away from the conversation with me saying to my boss, “Well, Ash, was really coming across as very arrogant. We feel he’s really talking down to us.”

As you uncover your perceptions about the situation and what you’re saying, I think the lesson there is figure out first what the other person knows, what their expectations are, validate some of your assumptions before moving to the next step.

That’s what we start to realize then that the most important thing is to really come across as someone who’s there to, as Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand than to be understood.” With that in mind, it really sets you up for success. Whereas when you walk in thinking you’re the smartest man/lady coming to the conversation, you’re really blocking out a lot more opportunity than otherwise.

I love what Stephen Covey says. I think that was the biggest lesson there was rather than going in thinking they should have all this stuff in place already, you basically ask the question, “What are the things that we have already so we can build upon and see what else is missing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Now I’d love to hear some of your favorite things. Could you start by sharing a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ash Seddeek
The favorite quote that I heard a few weeks ago was, “I did it because I did not know it was impossible.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Ash Seddeek
I don’t know what the attribution is, but actually it was a CEO of a startup company. He heard it somewhere. I said that’s just amazing because it allows us to have the freedom to pursue goals and aspirations without getting in mind whether somebody did it before us or not. We just keep going.

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

Ash Seddeek
I think the work that we’ve done for the Meaning book really gave us the chance to speak with leaders in a number of companies. It showed us how even in situations where the business is much smaller, the leadership communication challenges are pretty much the same. Of course, it gets much more compounded in a larger organization.

But the leaders ability to remember that they need to reiterate the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing and where we’re going is very, very important. That was very interesting. Now, I find out that a lot of CEOs, they get so entrenched in the daily grind that they forget that their biggest responsibility is the communication piece. That’s really where the coaching sometimes is very critical.

Also, the board of directors helps them to realize that you need to step out of the business and work on the business. The best part that you could do on the business is to really check on the vision and see if everybody’s heading in the right direction. Then come back and tell them where they need to steer the course so that they can correct any misalignments.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Ash Seddeek
I would say probably my favorite author is Tom Peters. I love all of his books, especially the Brand You books. I think, again, going back to management consulting, he really gives you a lot of ideas based on having been a consultant before. It gives you that insightful view on things, especially on yourself as the brand.

I love when he says the idea of each one of us looking at ourselves as a professional services organization of one, which, again, means everyone around you is a client. It helps free up your thought process. It helps you to really anchor what you do in your own value system of delivering value to the customer and clients and the team that you are a part of. That is being outcome-focused mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ash Seddeek
A favorite tool for me is definitely LinkedIn I think is an amazing tool in the sense that it gives me a much better level of access and knowledge about people I work with, industries I try to reach out to.

I think there’s a lot more to these social media tools that we have yet to discover in terms of how do we actually put it to use to create value for us and other people. I would say definitely LinkedIn is one of my top tools right now given the fact that I’m running an executive coaching practice and connecting with other coaches, connecting with clients, so really trying to find out what are the top leadership challenges that we need to help our clients with.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ash Seddeek
Okay. Okay. I think a favorite habit is to realize that sustaining your energy is going to stem from the fact that you also take care of yourself and exercise, and make sure that you have time for yourself because with an opportunity for reflection, I have seen comes a lot of dividends. Your brain needs time to rest in order to connect the dots.

Sometimes you get an inspiration based on the fact that you essentially sat down and allowed yourself not to do anything. Maybe you’re enjoying your favorite drink or you’re reading a book, but you’re able to relax and be able to receive some of these ideas.

Because otherwise if you’re just, again, just going through the grind and you don’t give yourself a break, you may actually losing out on amazing opportunities for coming up with breakthroughs that your team may need, yourself might need. I think coupling energy-building activities plus also having downtime is very critical.

In terms of apps, probably I think the calendar app on our phones now makes a big difference in keeping us organized. I also use Evernote. I’m still trying to see if Twitter really is very valuable, but I do use it sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients or audiences?

Ash Seddeek
I think the best nugget is the idea of being what Tom Peters said around the professional service organization of one. It really helps you to have self-independent thoughts to really take care of what you have to take care of. You never really are giving into being a victim to any situation. You are always feeling like you are in command.

If something has to happen, it has to happen because you started it and it has to start with you. That’s very critical. I think a lot of the time we lose a lot of energy because we’re waiting for somebody else to do something or we think they’re not going to like it or this or this or that. I basically come back and say, “If there’s one action you could do now, what would it be and let’s do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ash Seddeek
I would encourage them to visit ExecutiveGreatness.com. I will actually prepare for them a few downloads at ExecutiveGreatness.com/Pete/ and they find a downloadable on strategic leadership and also a free chapter of the Meaning book as well.

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

Ash Seddeek
I think to really make sure that they have that independent thought and don’t be affected by the environment as much as sort of coming back to their own desire to succeed and say, “If I were to do something today, what is it and let me make it happen.” That’s going to inspire themselves to do more and also inspire others by what they’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ash, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your clients and coaching and leadership inspiration stuff. Keep at it.

Ash Seddeek
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a pleasure.

402: How Overachievers can Reclaim Their Joy with Christine Hassler

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Christine Hassler reveals how overachievers can lose and regain their joy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The joylessness of overachieving
  2. How to stop the constant doing through exploring your why
  3. Four questions to re-evaluate your limiting beliefs

About Christine

Christine Hassler is the best-selling author of three books, most recently Expectation Hangover: Free Yourself From Your Past, Change your Present and Get What you Really Want. She left her successful job as a Hollywood agent to pursue a life she could be passionate about. For over a decade, as a keynote speaker, retreat facilitator, life coach, and host of the top-rated podcast “Over it and On With It”, she has been teaching and inspiring people around the world. She’s appeared on: The Today Show, CNN, ABC, CBS, FOX, E!, Style, and The New York Times. Christine believes once we get out of our own way, we can show up to make the meaningful impact we are here to make. Visit her online at www.christinehassler.com

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Christine Hassler Interview Transcript

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

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I’m happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. Well, could you tell us the story about how you became a hand model?

Christine E. Hassler
I’m so glad you didn’t ask me, can you tell the story of how you’re doing what you’re doing because that’s what every podcast interviewer asks ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, I’m already distinctive.

Christine E. Hassler
You’re winning already. I’m just thrilled. I loved that you asked me that. You did your research. Yes, I was a hand model. Everybody’s probably thinking – well, everybody old enough is probably thinking of the Seinfeld episode when George was a hand model.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
But how I became is because I would constantly get compliments on my hands. I was in a period of time where I had left my corporate job and was working on building my own business. I was in a lot of debt. People kept saying to me, “You have beautiful hands. You should be a hand model.” I heard it like five to seven times. I thought well, I live in Los Angeles. If there’s any place where one could do that, it would probably be Los Angeles.

This was a good 15 years ago before computers are what they are today. I went into – there was like a modeling agency – it wasn’t called this, but it was literally a body parts modeling agency.

Pete Mockaitis
Hands, toes, feet, knees.

Christine E. Hassler
Hands toes, and butt. Butts were a big one. They said, “All right, great. We’ll take your hands.” I didn’t have that many shoots, maybe like seven to ten of them. I’d go in and I’d either be a model’s hands if she bit her nails or didn’t have the best looking hands or I did Aveeno kind of things, where I was putting moisturizer on my hands. It was anything from print to commercials. But it was an interesting gig.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny. Now, Aveeno, that’s a pretty big name I’d imagine when it comes to hand modeling. Was that your star showing?

Christine E. Hassler
That was my biggest gig. Jennifer Anniston is the face of Aveeno. I guess for a brief period of time, I was the hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good company on the pecking order, I suppose, so well done.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, we never shot together.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. You’ve got some really cool perspectives when it comes to overachievers. We’ve got plenty of them listen to the show. I think it’s important to get into your wisdom. You say that overachievers often live secret lives. Can you paint a picture, what are some common fixtures or what are these secret lives often look like sort of underneath the surface?

Christine E. Hassler
We’re not born overachievers usually. The keyword in overachiever is ‘over.’ There’s something where it’s out of balance. I’ll tell my story about how I became an overachiever and then can discuss some other ways that people do.

Growing up I had a pretty good childhood and then in fourth grade things got a little harder for me when I started being bullied and teased. Some girls, four, passed around a note and told people not to talk to me. I became very isolated and felt like I didn’t belong.

Because of that, I formed a belief system that I wasn’t likeable and I wasn’t enough in some way and that I didn’t belong. Because in life, things happen and then there’s what we make those things mean. The meaning we give things creates our belief system. Then our behavior is motivated by our belief systems.

What happened, happened. Girls started a club, I wasn’t a member, said bad things about me. I made that mean I don’t belong, something must be wrong with me. That created a belief system that I’m separate, I’m different, I have to prove myself.

Whenever something happens to us that we make mean we’re less than in some way, we have to come up with some way where we feel “more than.” That’s something that I call a compensatory strategy. Overachieving is an example of a compensatory strategy. We feel less than in some way. We want to come up with a way to feel more than.

I thought, well, if I don’t belong, if people don’t like me, if something’s wrong with me, then I’m just going to become really good at school. If my social life is something that isn’t working, I better be the smartest girl in the class.

I put tons of pressure on myself to get straight A’s. My parents would beg me to get a B just so I could put less stress on myself, but I wouldn’t because my whole kind of identity was tied to overachieving. That’s where I thought I got my worth and where I thought I got my value.

I was rewarded for it. Teachers praised me. My parents were proud of me. I graduated at the top of my class. I went to a great college. Then I continued overachieving all the way out to Hollywood, where I had a job there.

The thing about overachieving is because it creates a cycle of constantly trying to prove oneself, enough is never enough. We become human doings rather than human beings.

Other things that can create overachievers is if your parents or a parent only gave you attention or validation when you did something. Or if you grew up in a household where everybody was doing, doing, doing, achieving, achieving, so you thought that was what you had to do. That’s how overachievers get created.

The secret life of overachievers that I have found in my own life in working with so many overachievers is that we’re very, very, very, very hard on ourselves. Although we’re checking all these things off a list, most overachievers struggle with feeling fulfilled. They have a hard time celebrating any kind of win because they check one thing off the list and then it’s on to the next. Enough never feels like enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then what are some of the implications then? If you’re hard on yourself, not only are you sort of enjoying your life less, but there’s some research that suggests that that is actually counterproductive even when it comes to getting the achievements.

Christine E. Hassler
Well, it’s productive and it’s effective. Let’s not say it’s productive. It’s effective in that it gets people to get things done, but it’s like putting bad gas in your car; it’s not sustainable. It ends up depleting you, so you’re more stressed out, you’re putting more pressure on yourself.

Whenever we’re in a state where we feel more pressure on our self, where we feel more self-conscious, where we feel really stressed out, we don’t perform at our best. We’re not coming from a place of really enjoying what we’re doing.

Research also shows that people that really enjoy what they do are better at it. I was successful as a Hollywood agent. I worked my way up the ladder and I was effective, but I wasn’t as successful as I could have been because I didn’t enjoy it. I think that’s a big stumbling block that overachievers find is they’re doing, doing, doing and they’re stressed out and they’re not enjoying it in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Then in working with yourself and others, what are you seeing are some particular strategies that are really helpful in terms of getting things back in alignment?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily so much strategies as it is remembering the truth of who we are and doing some what we would call personal growth/personal development work. My work as a life coach and a spiritual psychologist is to help people stop living according to the story and the limiting beliefs they’ve created about themselves and their life and start living more in alignment with who they really are and the truth of who they are.

The thing about overachieving is because one is so focused on doing, doing, doing their whole life, a lot of times overachievers don’t stop to ask, “Do I really like this? Am I really enjoying this? Is this really what I want to do with my life? Is this really the story I want to keep telling myself?”

The first – if we want to call it a strategy – the first thing to do is to really stop and take an honest look at is what you’re attempting to achieve at even what you want and why are you doing it.

I ask a lot of overachievers, “Why are you working so hard? Why are you doing, doing, doing?” Most of them don’t have that inspiring of an answer. It’s usually something like, “Well, I have to. I have to pay the bills,” or “This is what my job requires,” or “This is just what I do,” or “I don’t know what else I would do.”

Most people aren’t going, going, going, doing, doing, doing and saying, “Oh, because it brings me job and I feel like I’m making an impact and I’m so happy.” Usually the overachieving treadmill that so many people are on, like I said, is not leading to that kind of fulfillment.

The first thing is to get really honest about yourself of what is your why and are you really enjoying it? Then start to take a look back on your life, kind of like what I did when I told my story, of how this overachieving pattern ever began in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take there in terms of you said you get some uninspired answers, not so much the “This is my purpose and I love it. It energizes me,” but rather it’s kind of like, “In order to,” this kind of something else, like, “I’ve got to pay the bills,” or “This is just kind of how I operate.”

How do you think about the—I don’t know if you want to call it a balance or a tango when it comes to doing the stuff that you love in the moment because you love it and then doing the stuff in order to achieve a result that’s meaningful to you even if the present experience of doing the stuff isn’t so fun?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, so what’s the question?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how do you think about that game in terms of there’s stuff I love doing and there’s stuff I don’t love doing, but it produces a result that I value, so shall I continue doing that thing that I don’t enjoy doing?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, okay, I don’t think that’s a black and white kind of thing. I think you have to break that down. If it produces a value, is it truly a value or is it a value like it makes me money. What is the value that it produces?

Yes, there are things – I love my work. I really love it. It’s incredibly fulfilling. I’m not driven by an overachiever anymore. I’m more inspired by my vision. Are there some things in my job that I don’t love doing? Yes, but even in the process of them because I’m so committed to my why and I’m so committed to my vision, the process is never awful. The process is never something that “Oh my God, I just can’t wait to get to the finish line.”

Because usually when we exhaust ourselves so we don’t enjoy the process at all, by the time we get to the result, we’re so tired and depleted anyway that it kind of goes back to what I was saying before. You celebrate it for a second and then, it’s like, “Okay, what’s the next thing?”

I believe in hard work. I believe that sometimes we have to pace ourselves a little faster and there are seasons in life, but the process should still be somewhat enlivening. It should still bring some inspiration, some joy because you’re so connected to your why and you’re so connected to your vision. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, yeah. I really like the way you articulated that. I guess I’m thinking about getting everything together for taxes, which I’m not a real fan of, but sure enough because I am connected to the why and the purpose and what I’m about, even though it’s not my top favorite thing to do, I can find a morsel of satisfaction in terms of “Ah, all those figures are lined up just right and beautifully. How about that?”

Christine E. Hassler
Let me ask you this, why do you do your own taxes?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I have an accountant. I’m getting my stuff ready for my accountant to do his magic in terms of all the financial statements.

Christine E. Hassler
Uh-huh. See, this is kind of another one of my personal viewpoints is anything that – it’s like I don’t know if you’re familiar with that book. It’s super popular. There’s a TV show. It’s a book about tidying up, like the Magic of Tidying Up or whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, I saw an episode recently. Uh-huh.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah. She’s like if an object doesn’t bring you joy, ditch it. It’s kind of extreme, but it really resonates with people.

I recently was living nomadically for nine months and had my stuff in storage and moved into a new place now with my fiancé and just got rid of so much stuff and used this process ‘does it bring me joy?’

I really have applied that to work as well. Even something like I have an accountant too, but I also have a bookkeeper, so I basically don’t have to do anything. They just do it because that drains me.

You don’t have to be a wealthy person to kind of do these sort of things. It’s more looking at your life and looking at the things you’re doing and looking what truly is an opportunity cost for you, like what drains you and zaps you of your energy? Because anything that we’re doing that drains us and zaps of our energy, I feel, is an opportunity cost.

One of the reasons that I was willing to work hard for a few years to really build my business, I knew I was in a season, is because I wanted to get to a point where if anything was draining, if anything was an opportunity cost, I had two choices. I could one choose to shift my energy and connect to the why. Or two, I could delegate or hire someone where it was there zone of genius, so I could really focus on my why, what lights me up, and eventually what is more profitable.

I think whether we’re an entrepreneur or we work for a company or any of those things, it’s looking at everything we do and go, “Does this bring me joy? Does this bring me fulfillment? Does this stress me out?”

It’s okay to feel neutral about things. It’s not like you’re going to jump for joy when you’re cleaning your toilet or something like that, but can you at least connect to the why of it and why you’re doing it and shift your energy around it. If you can’t, are you willing perhaps to hire someone else to help you out with it?

I think that’s an important part of living a more fulfilling, well-balanced life is not thinking we have to do everything on our own, because that’s another thing overachievers do. Overachievers are a little bit – we’re a little bit controlling. We take great pride in doing everything on our own. We even kind of take pride in doing something that’s hard or feels like there’s some self-sacrifice in it.

I just invite you if you kind of fall into that – not you personally, but just you, the listener – I invite you if you fall into that, like “I’ve got to do it on my own,” and “No one’s there to help me,” and “I have so much on my plate,” to really challenge that belief and ask yourself is this belief and this identity of doing it all on my own and having so much on my plate, is that really serving you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so glad you went there next because I was going to ask, you mentioned these limiting beliefs. That’s a great question right there. Is this belief really serving me? When you catch yourself and you’re thinking, “Hm, I have a hunch that there’s a belief here that is not serving me, that is causing some trickiness, some trouble for me,” what’s the process by which you remove the power of that limiting belief upon you?

Christine E. Hassler
I’m going to actually reference someone else’s work because why reinvent the wheel when someone else has such a great system for it? Have you heard of Byron Katie?

Pete Mockaitis
That is ringing a bell.

Christine E. Hassler
Okay, Byron Katie has a website called The Work. I think it’s TheWork.com. Let me see. I’m here on the computer. Let’s just find this out right now. The great thing about our age is we get instant gratification. Yes, TheWork.com.

She has a worksheet where you can download it for free and it’s about busting your beliefs and forming new ones. She asks four questions. I can’t remember them off the top of my head, but you can find it easily on her site. The first question is something like – let me see if I can pull it up because this is really, really valuable.

Okay, this is from the work of Byron Katie. The first thing to ask the belief is, is it true? Pete, give me an example of a belief that you or maybe one of your listeners would like to shift.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I need to produce amazing results every day.

Christine E. Hassler
Okay, great. Is that true?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess answering from the perspective of my listeners like, “Well, yeah, I mean halfway. It’s like generally I should, but hey, everyone can have an off day and that’s fine. That’s normal. That’s okay.”

Christine E. Hassler
Okay. Do you 100% without a shadow of a doubt absolutely know it’s true?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Christine E. Hassler
Like you’d bet your life on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly not.

Christine E. Hassler
Great. How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought, when you believe it’s true?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I get stressed. It’s like I’m not doing enough and I’ve got to kick it into gear. It’s like the clock is ticking and I’m nervous about it.

Christine E. Hassler
Okay, who would you be without that thought or belief?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d be a lot more chill. I’d feel like I could breathe and could hang out a little bit.

Christine E. Hassler
Do you think – then now this is just me asking the questions – and do you think you would be more effective that way?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah. Yeah. Can you see how we just turned that belief around?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
And found a more true belief that makes you feel better, like “When I’m relaxed, when I’m not so stressed out, when I don’t put so much pressure on myself, I’m actually-“ and I’m putting words in your mouth here – “I’m actually more in a flow state. I’m more peaceful and I can be even more effective.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, so simple. Four questions. People can take themselves through the process on their own.

When we connect, when we really – because a lot of times our beliefs are just programmed. We have these neural nets in our brain, these basically grooved paths in our brain the same way if you drove a car down the same path day after day after day, there’d be groves in the land the car would naturally go down. That’s how it is with belief systems and thoughts. They’re habitual.

How we change beliefs is we literally – like if you were driving that car down that path, you’d have to turn the steering wheel severely to start to go down a different path so it gets off those grooves that it naturally goes down. In breaking through belief systems, that’s what we have to do. We have to catch the belief, challenge it, and choose a different belief.

If we can attach the belief to feelings, like if we can become really aware of how that belief makes us feel, then we can connect to how important it is to shift it and how much better it would feel to have a different belief. It connects the thoughts and the feelings.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because you’re getting both the logic and the emotional there because the first one is ‘is it true.’ I like it because there are some schools of thought that I guess don’t even care.

Christine E. Hassler
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s important that it be true. You hit that as well as the emotional resonance so that it’s I guess forming deeply within yourself as a reality.

Christine E. Hassler
Right, right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, I also want to make sure that we get to talk a bit about your book Expectation Hangover. What’s the main idea here?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, there’s several ideas. Basically it’s a book on how to leverage disappointment and heal things from your past.

First of all, define what an expectation hangover is because I made up the term. It’s when one of three things happen. Either life doesn’t go according to plan, which happens to us all. We work really hard toward something. We don’t achieve a result or a goal.

Or something does go according to plan. We achieve that goal. We achieve that result. We finally get the promotion that we’ve been working so hard for, but we don’t feel like we thought we would, like we thought that promotion was going to make us more competent or we thought it was going to make our boss nicer to us or we thought we were going to like our job better and it didn’t change the feeling.

Third kind of expectation hangover is life just throws us an unexpected curve ball like getting laid off or getting broken up with or something like that.

The thing about expectation hangovers is even though they’re hard to go through, they can create massive transformation in our life because most disappointment is recycled disappointment. What I mean by that is anything you’re disappointed about now or any kind of curveball that’s thrown at you that’s made you feel a certain way or a result didn’t turn out like you thought and you feel a certain way, it’s not the first time you felt that.

Let’s use the example of getting laid off. You get laid off. It’s not the first time you’ve felt rejected or unheard or like you were treated unfairly. The book teaches you how to look at these expectation hangovers, how to not just get over them, because a lot of times when people experience expectation hangovers, they just want to get over it. They just want to move on to the next thing. “All right, I got laid off from that job. I’m just going to get a new job.”

They cope with it poorly. They overeat, they over drink, they over work. They just try to positive talk their way out of it. They try to hard to control the situation. They try to just be strong and basically suppress all their feelings about it and just plow forward.

But when we use these kind of coping strategies that aren’t effective, we just keep experiencing the same kind of expectation hangovers over and over and over again. That’s why so many people face the same obstacles in their career or in their romantic life or with their health or with their money is because they’re kind of just repeating the same disappointment.

The book teaches you how to actually heal that disappointment to learn the lessons, to transform it so you don’t have to keep attracting the same expectation hangovers in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, could you walk us through an example of someone who experienced this kind of disappointment and then how they tackled it and how they ended up on the other side?

Christine E. Hassler
Me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Christine E. Hassler
I’m most expert on myself. I worked my way up in Hollywood, like I said. I reached kind of the pinnacle at a very young age. I thought that the money and the title and all those things was going to finally make me like myself and like my job. I still was stressed out, full of anxiety, struggling with depression, and just wasn’t happy, didn’t like it.

I thought if I changed my external circumstances, I could change my internal circumstances, but it works the other way. I subsequently learned you have to change the inside. The outside doesn’t change the inside.

I ended up quitting my job and in a period of six months I also got dumped by my fiancé, I was estranged from my family, I went into tons of debt, and I dealt with other house challenges as well. I could have gone into a real victim story about that. That was a pretty severe expectation hangover.

I had the insight that perhaps since I was the common denominator in all these things that were quote/unquote bad, maybe I could be the common denominator in changing them. I stopped asking the question “Why is this happening to me?” and started asking instead, “Why is this happening for me and what am I learning?”

I was able to start to learn more about myself and learn that so much of my job had been created – so much of my career was created from a bad compensatory strategy of overachieving, of thinking a job is what gave me meaning, a job is what gave me value, a job is what gave me worth. That really illuminated my unhealthy relationship with myself. I was looking at how hard I was on myself, my inner critic was ferocious.

Having that massive expectation hangover and kind of losing everything that I identified with, was the inspiration for me finally kind of taking a look at me and going “Who am I? What do I truly, truly want and how do I get it in a way that doesn’t burn me out and deplete me?”

Using the tools that I share in the book, I was able to go back to those situations like in fourth grade and update that belief system and tell that little fourth-grade girl that it wasn’t her fault and nothing’s wrong with her, and she belongs, and she doesn’t have to prove herself. I started to create a new identity and a new story about myself. Our life changes the moment we start to see ourselves and our life differently.

I had so many clients and people that have come through to workshops and two people could be going through the exact same thing – like two people could have just gotten laid off and they have the exact same situation, but how they look at it, how they perceive it, what they make it mean really dictates how well they’ll navigate through it.

The person who is angry and sees themselves as a victim and sees themselves as being wronged or sees themselves as massively messing up and being a failure, is going to have a much harder time than the person who goes, “All right, I honor the fact that I’m a little sad right now. I feel a little rejected, but I’m going to look at what can I learn. What can I learn from this? I’m going to trust that even though I’m in uncertainty now, something even better is around the corner.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that question shift from ‘why is this happening to me’ to ‘why is this happening for me.’ I’m curious, once you ask yourself that question, what kind of answers bubble up?

Christine E. Hassler
That’s a beautiful time to get a coach or a book or a guide or a course, someone that can help you through that because a lot of times no answers may come up because you may be so in the disappointment and so in the ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ Because uncertainty is one of the scariest things for humans to experience. We don’t like uncertainty at all.

But if you’re really willing to lean into faith a little bit and lean into the fact that the universe really does have your back and ask that question from a place of curiosity and not from a place of urgency.

Because if you ask that question from a place of urgency, it’s going to be hard to get super clear answers because the part of your brain that’s going to attempt to answer it is the reptilian part of your brain, they amygdala part of your brain, the part of your brain that is attached to fight or flight and to fixing things, and to finding solutions right away.

But if you reassure yourself that you’re okay and you can ponder the question and you can be reflective, then you get in a state of curiosity. That opens up a different part of your brain, which is connected to your intuition, your emotions and your unconscious. Your unconscious is basically all the memories that you have filed away that aren’t in your conscious awareness.

Asking that question is important, but how we ask that question or come from that tone of curiosity is really what is going to guide you to the best answers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot because urgency, it totally feels different in your brain. “I want it now. Give it to me now.”

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said, well said. Good contrast there and it even almost kind of rhymes. Curiosity not urgency.

Christine E. Hassler
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate that. Well, so could you maybe give us an example in your life, so you said you were estranged from your family for a bit, what did you come up with your guides and coaches, etcetera, with regard to why was that happening for you?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, kind of what I was sharing before. It was to help me finally look at and deal with a lot of the pain from my childhood that I hadn’t quite dealt with and a lot of the belief systems that I created from what I went through because there wasn’t just that. There was some abuse. There was being diagnosed with depression at 11 and being put on medication. There was some other physical problems that happened.

There was a lot, like most of us. We all have things in our childhood that aren’t necessarily easy. Some people have it way, way, way harder than I did. Most of us don’t have the kind of parents and teachers and guides, even if they love us and even if they’re great, around us to really teach us how to deal with the pain so that it doesn’t get stuck in us and so that we don’t create limiting beliefs that perpetuate the pain.

The biggest thing for me was to go back and start to look at some of those things, look at those painful points, give myself permission to finally feel those feelings that I kept suppressed for so long.

That’s another thing I teach in Expectation Hangover is actually how to feel and release your feelings, not from the place that you have to sit, relive them or talk about your childhood for like five years, but just give yourself – feelings basically get lodged in our body and in our nervous system because we didn’t feel safe to express them as children.

Really releasing feelings is as easy as giving yourself permission to feel with no judgment, giving yourself permission to have a good cry or to write a mean letter or to hit a pillow and scream and not feel like you have to justify it, explain it or psychoanalyze yourself, but just really give yourself that compassion.

That was a big piece for me, like finally feeling my feelings, starting to create a new story and a new belief system, looking at my relationship with myself and starting to be way kinder to myself, being more vulnerable. I was really good at being fine, feelings inside not expressed, and I was really good at presenting to the world and to others that I was fine, but inside I wasn’t fine.

I started to be more honest and more vulnerable with what I was really feeling and what I was really going through. I started to let people into my life in a more vulnerable, honest way.

It was not an overnight thing. It’s a process to go back and look at the pain from our past and rewire out belief systems. But it doesn’t have to be incredibly grueling. It doesn’t have to take years. It really just takes a willingness, a willingness to look and a willingness to break some patterns, and a willingness to change the way we perceive some things.

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

Christine E. Hassler
Let’s see here. I would say I think it’s important to mention to everybody listening that almost every human being – I’d love to say every, but I just don’t think I can say every single human being, I don’t think I’m qualified to say that – but almost every human being, and I have worked with thousands, tens of thousands of people at this point, has a deep fear that on some level they’re not enough or on some level they don’t fit in or on some level they’re not loveable or not deserving in some way. It’s kind of a human epidemic.

But I found it’s one of the things that we as humans are all here to evolve out of. We’re all here to understand that that belief that we’re not enough and we need to prove our self or we’re not deserving, we’re not lovable or something’s wrong with us or everybody fits in, but we don’t, is just a bunch of BS.

I want you to know if you feel that belief or have that fear in any way, know you’re not alone and also know it’s 100% not true. It is your birthright to be enough, to be loveable, to belong. There’s nothing you have to do to earn that.

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

Christine E. Hassler
My favorite quote is from Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. How about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Christine E. Hassler
I love The Marshmallow Test. You know that test with the kids?

Pete Mockaitis
Walter Mischel, yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
Yes, yes, where, just in case your listeners don’t know, they put kids – I don’t know, how old would you say they are, Pete? Like four – five, something like that?

Pete Mockaitis
I think they’re in that zone, three, four, five, six-ish.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah. It’s all about delaying gratification. They tell the kid, “All right.” They put a marshmallow in front of the kid. It’s a big, juicy marshmallow. They tell the kid, “All right, if you wait, if you don’t eat this marshmallow until I come back then you’ll get even a better treat,” or something like that.

The research basically showed is that those that had self-control and were able to delay gratification, that instant gratification, were more successful as adults.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Christine E. Hassler
I always go back to the first book that really opened my eyes to things that I read in my 20s, The Power of Now.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Christine E. Hassler
My eyelash curler. No, that’s not PC. I would say one of my favorite tools is the one I shared of the busting the beliefs.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. Is there a particular habit that is helpful for you being awesome at your job?

Christine E. Hassler
Yes, daily rituals and practices. During the work week, I give myself more flexibility on the weekend, but work week, TVs and phones and everything off by nine PM. We have an hour in bed to read and relax. We turn on salt lamps so that the blue lights is coming off.

We’re falling asleep between ten and ten-thirty and waking up between six and six-thirty, so we’re getting a nice eight hours of sleep. I don’t believe you can catch up on sleep. I think consistent sleep is incredibly important.

Then taking that time in the morning before one turns on your phone, even if it’s just a few minutes, to hydrate, number one, have a glass of water; breathe, which can be meditation or just breath work; and move, any kind of movement to get the body just going. Whether you spend an hour doing that or five minutes doing that, I think that’s a really, really important ritual.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely agreed. I am a big believer in that as Hal Elrod was on our show and as is he. I want to dig into a salt lamp. What’s this mean?

Christine E. Hassler
A salt lamp. Do you know those salt lamps? They’re basically – you can get them on Amazon. They look like kind of like a salmon-colored rock.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, okay.

Christine E. Hassler
And they glow. They create – have you noticed that like those kind of computer glasses are that orange tint, that kind of red-orange tint, a salt lamp lights a room with that same tint.

Those of you that work at a desk or work at a cubicle, I would highly suggest getting a little salt lamp. With other lights on, they wouldn’t be super noticeable, but it’s a great thing to put in your home space or your office space.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share with clients or listeners that really seems to connect and resonate and they retweet it and they quote it back to you?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I don’t know if it’s something about retweeting, but one thing that really resonates with people that I think is so powerful is really understanding – well, there’s two things I’d love to share if that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Christine E. Hassler
The first is that forgiveness is not about condoning what happened; forgiveness is about removing the charge you’re holding so that you can be free.

A lot of people don’t forgive. They hold on to blame, anger, resentment, especially if something really awful happened. They don’t want to forgive because they think that means that the behavior was okay. That’s not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness means releasing the judgments you have, releasing the anger, releasing the blame, understanding that it happened to help you learn and grow. You don’t have to talk to the other person and say, “I forgive you,” to forgive someone. It’s an inside job.

If anyone out there listening is holding onto blame, resentment, all those kinds of things, I’d highly suggest you move into a process of forgiveness so that you don’t have to carry that around. We hold on to traumatic or hard or difficult events. Even though they’re in the past, we carry them around like extra weight, extra baggage by not forgiving. Forgiving really lightens us up.

I’d say that. Then the other thing that I’d say that is tweetable is that people-pleasing is selfish. People think that being a people pleaser is like this selfless thing and it makes you a quote/unquote good person, but really people pleasing is all because you want other people to like you. You don’t want to deal with conflict. You don’t want to have to say no because other people may be upset. It really is about protecting yourself.

I would make a more self-honoring choice and instead of being a people pleaser, speak your truth with love.

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

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I have a free gift I’d love to give your listeners if that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Christine E. Hassler
If they just text the digits 444999 to – or no, they text my name, Christine, to the number 444999, so C-H-R-I-S-T-I-N-E to the number 444999, they get an e-book from me that’s just a daily thing you can read to uplift your mind and heart, kind of a good way to feel inspired and shift your perception on things. I tell lots of stories, I give lots of tools in that e-book.

Then they also get my six practical steps to making intuitive decision making, which sounds counterintuitive because why do you need practical steps to make an intuitive decision, but I found so many people are like, “How do I connect to my intuition?” so it’s a very practical, experiential way to learn how to really connect to your intuition. And that gift you get – I guide you through a process of how to actually do it. It’s very, very tangible.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Boy, texting to 444999, it sounds like Textiful.com. Is that your provider there?

Christine E. Hassler
Maybe. I didn’t set this up.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got your bookkeeper doing your books. You’ve got your tech people doing the texting. That’s awesome.

Christine E. Hassler
Well, this wasn’t always the way. I used to believe that I would save if I did everything on my own. Then I realized wait a second, actually it’s smarter to gradually build a team of people around so that you can stay in your zone of genius.

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

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, I would say see if you can become more of a miracle worker at your job because a lot of times we can have a colleague or a boss or a situation that’s upsetting us or that we don’t like or we get the Sunday night blues of like, “Uh, got to go back to work.”

To be a miracle maker, the definition of a miracle from more the kind of a spiritual perspective is a change in perception. Just challenge yourself to see if you could look at something that’s bothering you about your job or work or somebody there, see if you can look at it through a different lens, see if you can change your perception of it such that you feel differently about something because the minute we change our perception, the second we change our perception and the way we look at something, we feel differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Christine, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with your retreats and keynotes and coaching and podcast, Over it & On with it.

Christine E. Hassler
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And all that you’re up to. It’s been a lot of fun.

Christine E. Hassler
Oh, thank you so much for having me.

397: Making the Shifts Necessary to Grow Your Influence with John C. Maxwell

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Renowned leadership author John C. Maxwell discusses how to shift yourself so you can continually grow and influence on a bigger scale.

You’ll Learn:

  1. John’s approach to mentorship
  2. How insecurity kills effective leadership
  3. The ACT method to make the most out of your reflections

About John

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 30 million books in 50 languages. He has been identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazines. He is founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and The John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, organizations that have trained millions of leaders from almost every country of the world. The recipient of the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network, Dr. Maxwell speaks each year to Fortune500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders. He can be followed at Twitter.com/JohnCMaxwell. For more information about Maxwell, visit JohnMaxwell.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

John C. Maxwell Interview Transcript

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

John C Maxwell
Hey, it’s great to be with you Pete and your listeners. We’re going to have a wonderful time. I’m looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thank you. Well, me too. You’ve been a role model for me for years and years. I’m excited to dig in. First, I kind of wanted to get your take on, you really taught leadership to millions. Can you tell me who taught you the most about leadership and maybe could you share a story of a key lesson that has stuck with you?

John C Maxwell
Well, my father, who’s 97, by the way and still alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

John C Maxwell
I  grew up in a leader’s home. I just watched it. I saw it before I understood it and kind of probably as a kid thought everybody had that kind of a home as far as leadership and just really great direction. I would say my father because I’ve been with him, watched him of course his whole life.

Then  I had John Wooden as a mentor. He was a phenomenal teacher and probably as just a quote an unofficial mentor, Pete, he probably taught me more than anyone else. He taught me about when opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare and just how to always be ready for that moment. Make every day your masterpiece. It just goes on and on. He was a phenomenal mentor.

But  I’ve been very fortunate. I just had people come into my life from my early age and even today, just people that sneak into my life and help me and add value to me. I don’t have one mentor. I think one mentor is kind of a – I think it’s kind of a little bit misguided. I’m not sure one mentor is good enough to mentor you in every area.

I  pick my mentors based upon the areas that I need assistance in. I have a couple mentors for leadership, a couple mentors for team development in work, couple mentors maybe for attitude development and tenacity and that kind of thing, and a couple of mentors for an area of communication or relationships. It depends on where I am and kind of what I need. Even then I just kind of pick the mentor that kind of that’s where the strength is.

When  people come to me and they say, “John, would you mentor me?” I tell them, “I’m not that good. The answer is no. I’m just good at a few things. I’ll be glad to help you with a few things, but most of things in life I’m still just trying to grow and learn and not too hot myself in.”

I  know this, every day of my life I’m standing on the shoulders and I’m better because of people who have invested in me and given me time. Of course, I just turn that around and try to mentor others also and be a mentor to other leaders. It’s a beautiful journey once you understand that we’re all to be a river, not a reservoir and just kind of let it flow through you and help other people and add value to them. That’s kind of where I am in the area of my mentoring world right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. When you talk about the journey, I like that. You have unpacked it a few kind of key moments or lessons in your journey in your latest book, Leadershift. What would you say is the main message in this book?

John C Maxwell
Well, I think the main message is that you can only strengthen and sustain your leadership if you continue to make changes or make shifts in your life, that there’s not one way to lead and there’s no way to lead continually and that we have to be agile and have to adjust and have to understand the times.

Leaders really understand context. What all leaders have in common, Pete, is that they see more than others see, so they see a bigger picture, and they see before others see. They not only see that picture larger than others, they see it quicker than others. That being the case, they’re the first ones to know or to sense at least or maybe to begin to grasp.

The more they can adjust and the better they adjust, the quicker they adjust, the more effective they’re going to be as a leader. The book really is all about adjustments that I’ve had to make, leader shifts, that I’ve had to make in my life to continue to be effective as a leader today.

It’s very easy to begin to kind of rest on your position or your title and expect it to do your work for you. When that happens, we’re no longer on the edge, we’re no longer are seeing more and before, so therefore we’re no longer on the cutting edge as far as leading people.

The book is really all about how do you stay on that cutting edge? I had an interview recently. The person commented about the fact that I’d been doing leadership for 40 plus years, writing books, teaching, speaking on leadership, learning, doing my best to be a better leader. They asked me, they said, “Well, how have you for so long stayed in the game?” I said, “Well, I guess the main way I’ve done it is I realized it’s not the same game.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John C Maxwell
Yeah, it’s kind of like baseball to use an analogy. The game is baseball and every day there is a baseball game, but no game is alike. You can’t depend on what happened in yesterday’s game to be what’s going to happen today. Yes, the game is called baseball, but pretty much after you’ve finished the rules, everything else is going to be fluctuating.

Babe Ruth said? “Yesterday’s home run won’t win today’s game.” I find that very true. Whatever I was doing yesterday, I’m glad that I could do it, hope I did it well, but that really doesn’t mean that I can do the same thing today.

In fact, I think the greatest detriment, Pete, to a person’s success is or the greatest detriment to tomorrow’s success is today’s success. The moment I kind of get settled in today and kind of say, “Oh, I’ve got this for me. I’m going to hold on to it. I want to keep it,” it’s just not going to happen. It just doesn’t happen that way, especially in the times we live right now. With social media there’s such an incredible awareness that’s happening.

I was getting ready to speak for a company. What I do when I go speak for a company is I have a pre-call to kind of find out where they are and how I can best serve them by finding out what’s your theme, what’s your objectives, etcetera. This company I was going to speak for, their theme was fast-forward.

The person on the call said, “John, what does that theme mean to you?” I said, “Well, let me just tell you what each word means to me. When I think of fast, it means to me, when I think about today it’s fast is faster. Faster, it’s faster than it’s ever been before. … I’m just going to hold for a while and wait until things kind of slow down and make sense actually.” I said, “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to die for that to happen. It just isn’t going to be there.”

Fast is faster and forward, Pete, is shorter. What I mean by that is when I started leading, my gosh, when they talked about – when I was working on a business degree when they talked about a long-range plan, they talked about ten years. A medium-range plan was five and the short-range, the short-range plan was two. Well, that’s a ridiculously long-range plan today, two years. You kind of say, “Boy, can you get it down to 12 to 18 months.”

Forward is shorter and fast is faster. Well, if that’s the case, which it is, then a book like Leadershift is essential. If we are not continually looking over the land and adjusting ourselves and being very agile, being very quick to go, we’re not going to be very effective.

One  of the things in the book – one more thing Pete and I’ll shut up – one of the things in the book that I really am glad I addressed was this issue of uncertainty because a lot of people say, “Well, I want to be certain before make that move or make that decision.” I talk about the fact that’s not possible and that leaders, the best leader shift leaders, they’re very comfortable with uncertainty.

They  understand that they are having to move before they have all the answers or before they have all of the direction or all the steps. They realize that it’s in the movement that they get clarity and they get more direction. In fact, what I tell people if you really want to kind of know what’s going to happen in three months, start moving now. The resources, the events, the experiences, start flowing toward you in that process.

I  think leaders need to be clear in their vision, but I think as far as the journey is concerned, we just have to have a real sense of openness and authenticity with people and say I’m making all of my moves based upon what I think and what I believe, but I don’t have total clarity on this at all. We’re just going because, again, speed, the ability to move quick is so essential in leadership today.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. With that said in terms of the importance of being able to make those shifts, you lay out 11 key shifts as examples. We’ll dig into a couple of those. But I’d like to first hear across the board, what are some of the key perspectives or best practices when it comes to how we go about making a shift?

John C Maxwell
Well  I think first of all, security. I just feel that a leader that is insecure won’t be agile enough and so I think that’s essential.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say insecure, I’m intrigued there. Can you give you give some examples of what are the things that make leaders insecure? What are they worried about?

John C Maxwell
Well , I think an insecure person, first of all, most times is not comfortable in their own skin. They themselves haven’t yet come to a real sense of who they are. It’s very difficult to help people become who they would like to become if you’re not really sure who you are.

I  think that insecure people are those who mainly want to be liked and like people to always applaud them. Leadership is tough. There’s just – you’re going to make decisions that are not going to be always popular.

I  think an insecure person, most of them are controlling. I think controlling is a very damaging thing in the culture we live today. Again, if you’re relying on agility and speed, if you have to control every person and every decision and every movement, you’re just in deep weeds.

I  think maybe Pete this will illustrate it as good as I can. Gail Devers, that’s probably a name many of your listeners can recognize. She was a tremendous Olympic athlete and track star for the United States. I think, I’m not sure, but I think as a female track star, I think she won more medals than any other American Olympian, but anyway terrific athlete and won medals in three different Olympics, so just think of that span to be a world class athlete.

In  fact, the night I was having dinner with her and her husband in Atlanta, she was really training for her fourth Olympics if you could imagine. She was running races against young ladies that were young enough to be her daughter.

We’re  having a great meal. She had read a lot of my books and she wanted to ask some questions about leadership. We were having a good discussion. Towards the end of the meal, I said to her, I said, “Gail,” I said, “I’ve been thinking about this all dinner. I think if you and I ran a 100-yard race, I think I could win.”

I  wish you could have seen her face. I mean she looked at me in such disbelief. Of course an athlete this good is highly competitive. She looked at me and then she looked at her husband. She said, “Did you hear what he said?” Her husband said, “Yeah, I heard that.” Then she looked back at me, kind of disgustingly because I’m not in that kind of shape. I kind of look more like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

I  can see that I’ve got her almost to the place where she’s ready to take off those heels and go out front of this restaurant and say, “We’re going to run a block and I’m just going to show you how delusional you are.” I got her right to that point, which was a lot of fun.

Then  I said, “No, now Gail, really honestly, I do think I could win 100-yard race with you if I had an 80-yard head start.” And she goes, “Oh, well, shoot, yeah. Okay, yeah. Hello.” Now to be honest with you, I really wanted to say 70 yards, but I wasn’t sure I could do it with 70. I thought, eh, no, but 80 I could kind of roll across the line. I think I could do that. Of course, then we all had a good laugh.

But  the point is very simple. The fastest person doesn’t win the race. It’s the person who gets started first.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

John C Maxwell
Starting  first is everything. Again, leadership is all about starting first. It’s all about being, again, quick and ready to move and being flexible and while others are kind of considering it, you’re already there.

When I think of the 11 leader shifts in the book, there are, my gosh, there are probably 100 leader shifts a person has to make. I made more than the 11, but these are the 11 in the book that are like what I would call the Mt. Everest type of stuff, the big stuff that not only I had to make, but probably every person that wants to lead is going to have to make in their life, sometime in their life.

I think that the greatest thing in life for me to do and one of the reasons I write and speak all the time is to create awareness. You just can’t fix what you don’t know needs to be fixed. The moment that a person who is hungry to learn, and grow, and get better, becomes aware, all the sudden everything begins to change.

Once you’ve had the light turned on for yourself, you want to go into a room of people and turn the light on for everybody. This is kind of a turn-the-light-on book. It’s just kind of a book that basically says, “Here, my name’s John. I’m your friend. Let me turn the light on. Let’s talk about a few of these shifts you need to make. Let me kind of tell you how I did it and cheer you on while you make them yourself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Let’s talk about a few of them here or maybe just a couple. Choosing here. What would you say if you had to pick, which one do you think is the most critical for leaders to make or perhaps the most overlooked, like, “Oh, I need to do that and I was not yet aware. Thanks for turning the light on.”

John C Maxwell
Well,  one of the ones I find when – I taught on this before I write on it. Basically the way I write books is I teach stuff and when it sticks I think, “Oh gosh, if it’s sticking with the audience, I probably need to put it on paper.”

I  think one that has given me maybe my greatest reward that people don’t think of very much is the shift from what I call ladder climbing to ladder building. In that chapter I talk about the fact that we all start off as ladder climbers. I did. I got my first leadership responsibility and the question was how high can I climb on this ladder. I’m taking off. How high can I go?

I  think for every person that is going to be a successful leader, they have to be a good ladder climber. They need to get to the top. When you think about it-

Pete Mockaitis
And get there first.

John C Maxwell
The  credibility I have, Pete, as a leader is that I’m successful. Do you think somebody wants to follow me if I’m not successful? Whoever gets up and says, “Wow, gosh I’m not doing well financially. I’ve got to go find somebody that’s gone bankrupt a couple times and get some advice from him” No, the first thing we turn to is we turn to somebody that has done it well. We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. We turn to that person.

I  started off ladder climbing and did pretty good. I was a pretty good ladder climber. I kind of got to the top quickly, but I understood then that that really had very little to do with leadership, but had a lot to do with some competence that I had and some giftedness that I had.

But  I decided that I needed to start thinking of others and what am I doing, so I went from ladder climbing to what I call ladder holding. That’s basically where I go over to you, Pete and say, “Hey, could I hold your ladder for you?” What I know about somebody that holds the ladder for somebody is that they provide security for that person, they provide a solid foundation.

What  I know is, Pete, if I hold your ladder, you’re going to climb higher than if I don’t hold your ladder. I’m going to allow you to what I would call achieve a couple of extra rungs in your life. You’re going to go a little bit higher than you’d go if I wasn’t there. That’s kind of a shift that I made from “I’m just going to climb my own ladder and build my own thing and do my own thing” to “Well, shoot, why don’t I go help some other people.” I made the shift to a ladder holder.

Then , this is very – again, it’s a journey, so you don’t know this stuff on the frontend, you always know it during the process and on the backend. As I was holding people’s ladders, what I discovered is two things. One is they climbed higher because I helped them and served them. Number two is some of them really can climb high.

All  of the sudden I realized as a ladder holder, I was able to find out who the potential successful people and leaders would be. Some just climb higher than others with my help. Ladder holding became the qualifying exercise I did to go to the next shift, which was ladder extending.

If  I’m holding your ladder, you get completely as high as you can go and I’m saying, “Gosh, let’s extend this thing. The only reason you didn’t go any higher is there wasn’t any more ladder there. Let’s get you some more ladder feet and go for it.

Ladder  holding allowed me to qualify really who I mentored because that’s who I would put in the ladder extending areas. It’s just – it’s now all of the sudden you’re taking them to another level and you’re helping them just go to heights that they never would have gone.

Then,  again, all this does is evolves into the next natural shift. As I’m extending your ladder, we’ve got that baby up pretty high. Pete, you take that extension, just keep on climbing. All the sudden I realized you could basically climb as high as we can extend. There’s really no limits to you.

Then  it’s kind of like, “Wow, this is the ultimate.” I’m extending people’s ladders and they’re going higher than they ever thought was possible and making a bigger difference than they ever would have dreamed. I’m just getting all excited about it. Then I realized, no there’s another shift yet. This is the one that’s really going to make the big difference for people.

I’m  going, if you can see me from ladder climbing to ladder holding to ladder extending to ladder building. I just look at you and I say, “Pete, you need to build your own ladder. You don’t need to use my ladder. I need to empower you. I need to release to you. I need to bless you. I need to let you go and let you build your own kingdom, build your own business, build your own work, be your own entrepreneur. You don’t really need me.”

What’s  incredible is that when I became a ladder builder, that’s when I developed all these incredible leaders that I’ve had the privilege for so many years having watched them, many of them do better than what I could have. That’s for sure. To me I think the greatest fulfillment is not seeing how high I can go. When I was climbing my own ladder I figured out pretty quick I can go pretty high, but that’s kind of an end in itself.

I  thought, okay, I know what I can do, but I wonder what I could do with people. I wonder if I could help them to go high. Those shifts, I have a fondness for this whole ladder shifting because I just – it’s kind of almost like – it’s kind of like the story of my life, where I’ve been and what I’ve done and kind of where I am and really what I love to do.

My  greatest joy today is just fathering a lot of leaders and just blessing them and watching them, again, excel incredibly. It makes me very proud and just – and very humble to have maybe a little part in it. That’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. When you’re doing this ladder holding, and ladder extending, and ladder building, what are some of the particular practices or key questions you’re asking? What are you doing in practice when you’re providing this support on the ladder?

John C Maxwell
Well,  I lead by questions. That’s how I lead. Probably one of the big shifts I had in my life was that I – in the beginning I led by direction. I just kind of basically pointed and gave people direction on where to go and what to do.

I  made the discovery really that that wasn’t the highest or the best way to lead, so over time – again, it’s all maturing and learning and growing – I went from giving a lot of directions to asking more questions because kind of the whole principle is based on the fact you’ve got to find your people before you can meet them. Pete, one of the great disasters in leadership is leading by assumption. Wow, gosh, I see it all the time.

I  had a wonderful friend, Pat Summitt, who passed away a couple years ago, but she was the University of Tennessee lady volunteer basketball coach and I think the most successful women’s coach ever in basketball, college basketball. I think she had over 1,000 wins. But she was an amazing woman, an amazing leader and an amazing person.

She  would feed her team my books and got to me and talked to me and asked me to come up some time and talk to the team and go to the game. I said sure, so I did. It was an incredible experience because at half time, the lady volunteers when into the locker room and I kind of followed them and the coaches. I just said, well, sit right here in the room with the basketball players for a moment. Her and the coaches went off into another room. One of the-

Pete Mockaitis
It’s all you.

John C Maxwell
No,  this is incredible. One of the basketball players, one of the lady volunteer gals, there was a marker board at the front of the room. The marker board had two questions: what did we do right, what did we do wrong, and what do we need to change.

They  went into this exercise where one player led the other players. “Okay, in the first half what did we do right?” They wrote down three or four things they did right. “Okay, what did we do wrong?” Wrote a few things down they did wrong. “What do we need to change during the second half to improve and get better?” They wrote these things down. This exercise didn’t take them long because they were used to doing it. Took them five minutes maybe.

Here  comes Pat into the locker room, goes straight to the marker board, looks at what did we do right, what did we do wrong, what do we need to change, made a couple comments, not very many, maybe a minute or two, just a couple comments, affirmed what they were thinking, and maybe tweaked them if they weren’t or maybe if they missed something. Out on the floor they went and played the second half.

After  the press conference Pat and I went out to dinner. I said, “Pat,” I said, “that was an amazing exercise.” I said, “Talk to me about it.” Here’s what she told me, she said, “John, my first year and a half as a coach I was not a good coach and my teams were not successful.” She said, “I kept asking myself, okay, what am I missing?” She said, “I just knew that there was something that was obvious that I was missing as a coach to help me out.”

She  said, “I came to the conclusion after about 18 months that I was assuming that these players knew what I knew. I was assuming that they had basics under their belt. I was assuming that when I talked to them we were all on the same page.” She said, “John, I wasn’t on the same page with them at all. I wasn’t even in the same book with some of them.” She said, “I all of the sudden realized I was trying to lead them and I hadn’t found them yet.”

She  said, “I started asking questions, so I went to this exercise.” She said, “I can walk in now and while I’m walking to the marker board, by the time I get to the front I already know if they’re aware and if they understand. If they don’t,” she said, “it’s my job as a coach to get them on the same page I’m on as far as awareness is concerned.” But she said, “It just changed everything.” She said, “Now, I coach from where they are, not coach from where I think they are.”

When  you talk about shifting and where I am, and this book, in fact I had – one of the leader shifts that I talk about in the book is going from directing to connecting. That directing to connecting is you connect by asking questions.

Today,  pretty much I lead everybody, everything I lead I basically go in and ask questions and find out where they are. As soon as I find out where they are, then leadership’s pretty – it’s pretty simple. I put a whole chapter in the book on just that because I thought my gosh, if they just learn to find their people and it will be life changing for them. That’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Those questions are so great. You talk about the assumption is that you can very clearly see, “Oh wow, you have a completely different perspective on what you think you did right and wrong than I do, so okay, this is where we’re going to start,” as opposed to, “Okay, perfect,” and to just sort of facilitate ownership along the way. That’s huge.

John C Maxwell
Yeah, they say this Lombardi, of course, the great Super Bowl coach of the Packers, they say what he would bring all these pros together for their first practice at the beginning of the season. The first thing he did is hold up a football and he’d look at these pros. Now think about it. They played high school. They played colleges. Their pros. They’re the best in the profession.

He would start off every year with the same speech. He’d hold up a football and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He wasn’t about to assume anything. He’s just, “Let’s just talk about it. Let’s start from the basics and work our way up.”

I’m blessed I have several companies and got a lot of balls in the air. I just have found and discovered that if I just go and ask questions, very quickly, very quickly, kind of find out what they know, what they don’t know, where they are, it just answers everything for me. I think learning to ask great questions helps us to connect on common ground, which becomes pretty amazing to be honest with you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. If I may, I’d love to hear maybe just a couple bullets, like what are some of your favorite, powerful go-to questions that have served you well again and again?

John C Maxwell
Well,  for example, if you and I were in any kind of a meeting, let’s say we’re in a creative meeting. We’re talking about the brand or whatever. When we’re all finished meeting, I’ll just say, “Okay, let’s just go around the room and give me what you think is the most important takeaway right now that you just got out of this time, out of this session.” It kind of helps me to know very quickly if they’re assessing what I’m assessing in that meeting or not.

With  my children, even with my grandchildren today whenever we have an experience, I always ask them – as soon as the experience is over, they know I’m going to ask them two questions. My children if I did this once, I did it ten thousand times. With my grandchildren probably about that many too. I’ll just look at them when we’re done with the experience, I’ll say, “Okay,” they know it’s coming, “What did you love? What did you learn?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John C Maxwell
I  start with kids with ‘What did you love?” because they always know that because they feel that emotionally. But ‘What did you learn?’ and it’s just phenomenal because, you see, experience is not the best teacher, Pete. You hear it all the time. People say, “Oh, experience is the best teacher,” but it’s not. It really isn’t. If experience were the best teacher, then as people get older, they’d all get better.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

John C Maxwell
Because  they have more experience. Again, I know most people I know, they’re getting old; they’re not getting better. They’re getting worse. Experience is not the best teacher. Evaluated experience is the best teacher.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful.

John C Maxwell
Taking  time to come out of an experience and then pull away and reflect, reflection really takes experience and turns it into insight. What I do is I constantly ask myself – in fact, when I’m done with our time together, I’ll take three minutes because it’s just a habit, it’s one of my hopefully better habits, but I’ll – it’s practice that’s for sure – I’ll take three minutes and I’ll go over what we just talked about.

I’ll  say, “Okay, when your time with Pete and the listeners today, what do are you taking out of that, that 45-minute experience? What do you glean out of that, Maxwell?” Again, evaluating, reflection, asking questions.

Boy , the moment that you begin to – when you begin to understand – I had a mentor named Charles Blair who said, “John, always have an understanding so there’s not a misunderstanding.” I just live that kind of a leadership life. I’m very comfortable with asking questions. What’s beautiful, it doesn’t take a long time.

In  fact, I … all the time, because I get some push back on this from kind of choleric-type top-down leaders. They say, “John, when you start asking questions, you give up control.” I say, “No, no, you don’t understand. When you start asking questions you’re in total control because you’re in control of the questions you’re asking.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John C Maxwell
That’s  what pulled me back to the discussion, so go back to the Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee illustration. She was in total control when she walked in that room because she was getting out of the girls exactly what she needed. “What did we do right? What did we do wrong? What do we need to change?” She was in complete control, but while she was in control, she was also getting information that was very essential to her to lead them to the next step.

Leadership is a very exciting venture when you just understand how to ask the question. In fact, I wrote a book five or six, maybe seven years ago – gosh, time goes so fast – but I wrote a book that – I just wanted to write it because I love to ask questions, but it just went kind of crazy, it took off, called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. I have a chapter in there, Questions I Ask Myself, Questions I Ask My Team.

I  just went through and helped people kind of understand. Questions are kind of like keys; they unlock the lock. You’ve got this lock and you can’t get in, but if you’ve got the key you can. Questions just kind of open up the doors for me and allow me to do that, so I love it.

That  chapter on directing to connecting in the Leadershift book was, gosh, it was a lot of fun because I think it’s just going to be very enlightening to a lot of people. I think they’re going to have a lot of aha moments when they’re going to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that’s cool. Well, I want to talk about sort of a big key and a big question that’s particularly to shift into an explicitly Christian context for a moment for our listeners of faith. When I’ve got John C Maxwell, I can’t not ask. Tell me what’s your take on how we can most effectively listen to God’s voice and take the appropriate steps and make the shifts that he wills for you?

John C Maxwell
I made that shift about four years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Only four?

John C Maxwell
Yeah , I really did. I think I was typical. Most people in their prayer time, I had a list. When I took some time with God, I would go down the list, typical choleric, and kind of talk to him about it and check it off.

About  four years ago, I was just thinking of basically the scripture principle that God’s ways are higher than ours and that God knows what we need more than we know what we need. All of the sudden I started getting a little bit amused and I thought how ironic that I’ve spent all my time with my agenda when I pray with God. I’m much more interested on my agenda than I am on his agenda.

It  kind of came to me – one time I had a person who I was in a conversation with them, they said – they were talking to me and they just said, “Well,” she said, “I would just like to directly hear from God.” I started smiling. I said, “No, you don’t. You don’t really want to hear from God. If you did, trust me, it’s not on your agenda. It’s not what you think he’s going to say or what he’s going to hear.” I was kind of amused by it.

Then  I thought to myself, I wonder what would happen if I just took that approach to prayer. I switched, well, four years ago and I have no agenda in prayer anymore. I have an agenda and that is to listen and to be still and to hear his voice. I take a legal pad and my four-color pen and I sit and I have the Word with me. I just open my heart and basically share with God that I want him to speak.

He  may speak through an experience that I had recently or he may speak through a passage of scripture to me, he may speak through some music, but I’m just going to listen to you. It’s really changed my life. It’s made me want to spend more time with him.

Before  it was like I wanted to spend more time with him so I could get through my list, but now it’s kind of like I wonder what surprise he has for me. I wonder what he’s thinking today that is going to really add value to me or take me in a direction I wouldn’t have even imagined.

Anyway,  I kind of made a – I guess you could call that a prayer shift in my life. But I found it to be – I really found it to be very effective. I’m kind of grateful for it to be honest with you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Now I want to get your take on how do you differentiate in those moments, like something pops into your head between what you think is you and what you think is the Lord?

John C Maxwell
Oh, …. I think it’s – I’m asked that question often and I think I have a really good answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy.

John C Maxwell
Is –  well, I really do. I tell people all the time, well, a whole bunch of it’s me because I’m human and so even though I have a great desire to hear from him, I don’t say that I don’t have a lot of John in that thought pattern. But where it really helps me is the fact that when it’s him, it stays with me.

What  I basically do is I say, “Okay, these are the five things I sense from you today. I think I’ll table them for 24 hours. I’ll come back and let me just see if any of them resonate.” I find that tabling them, for the right reason, not for a reason of disobedience, but more of a reason for discernment, I come back the next day and the wood and the hay and the stuff just kind of separates. The chaff separates from the real thing.

If  I keep coming back to it three or four times over a week, Pete, then after a while I say, “Okay, yeah, this is something I need to really learn from and spend time listening to him.” One of the beautiful things that has come out of this, just really beautiful, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned out of it – I don’t know, but it seems to be the biggest one to me is obedience. Whatever he says to you, just do it.

In  John chapter 2 Cana and Galilee and the wedding feast and the water turned to wine, if you can imagine those servants taking those jars and filling them up with water, they have got to think, “This is the stupidest thing …” And then when they were asked to take the jars to the host, I think they said, “And this is the day I get fired. This is the day I get fired because they’re asking for wine. I’m bringing water.” Of course, when it was poured out, it was wine.

It  said, basically a passage says, the people didn’t understand what had happened, but it said the servants knew. Well, the reason they knew is because they were in the act of obedience of putting the water in the buckets or in the jars. The point being, Pete, it’s very simple. Obedience is never understood on the frontend; it’s always understood on the backend.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that and particularly that Bible story. Interesting fact, when I got married my wedding gift to my groomsmen was a little corkscrew wine opener that had inscribed on it that verse, “Do whatever he tells you.” It just seemed like a good-

John C Maxwell
I love that. I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like hey, it’s wine and it’s good advice.

John C Maxwell
Oh my gosh, I’m going to steal that.

Pete Mockaitis
Steal it away. Yeah.

John C Maxwell
Oh, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

John C Maxwell
See, shoot, this is going to be such an easy evaluation when I’m done with you. It’s going to take me five seconds to figure out what my takeaway is today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m honored.

John C Maxwell
That is a beautiful, beautiful gift, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

John C Maxwell
Gosh. You had it inscribed on the opener.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. The corkscrew, there’s a metal part, so I had an engraver put that in there.

John C Maxwell
Okay, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

John C Maxwell
I hope I’ve done for your listeners today what you’ve done for me. Of course, you’re doing it for them too because they’re hearing this. They’re all going out and getting their Christmas idea. I’m going to sit down and talk – I’m going to talk to my wife about this. I think that would be a fabulous Christmas gift.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’m so glad to be able to contribute. That’s cool.

John C Maxwell
Oh gosh, I love that. I love that. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, yeah, in our last couple minutes we like to do what I call the fast faves, get a quick perspective from you on some of your favorite things. Could you kick us off with a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

John C Maxwell
Well, I have so many of them, but the one I’m talking about the most now is “Everything worthwhile is uphill.” Love that quote. In fact, I visually just raise my arm when I teach it that basically what I tell people is there’s nothing you have in your life worthwhile that didn’t take time, effort, energy. It’s all uphill. In fact, if you’re going downhill, I don’t know what you’re going to arrive at, but it’s not worthwhile.

The only way that you can go uphill – if everything worthwhile is uphill, the only way you can go uphill is to be intentional. That quote means a lot to me because no one ever climbed a mountain by accident. No one ever talked about accidental achievements in their life. It’s intentional.

In fact, I wrote a book three or four years ago called Intentional Living. The whole book is all about the fact that most people accept their life instead of lead their life. If you accept your life, you just come up with much less than what can you have in your life if you were intentional. “Everything worthwhile is uphill,” I think that’s probably mine.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

John C Maxwell
Well, of course, the Bible is my favorite book. By the way, when I do leadership and of course most of my world is secular, but people sometimes will say, “Where did you really get your leadership stuff?” I’ll tell them, “Everything I learned about leadership, I learned from the Bible. Everything.”

In fact, I’ve had some great Q&A interaction times with secular community basically saying, “You give me your best leadership thought and I’ll give you a biblical foundation for it.” It’s startling. It’s startling. It’s the greatest leadership book ever written.

In fact, the favorite thing I’ve ever done is not writing books as much as I had the privilege several years ago to do the Maxwell Leadership Bible and put my leadership lessons that I taught out of the Bible in the Bible.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

John C Maxwell
That Leadership Bible is just – a million Bibles later it’s just still going crazy. I’ve done – in fact I just finished my third edition. I have, Pete, over 600 lessons on leadership in there. Every page has another leadership lesson, but it’s all on the Word.

I’m reading a book right now called Leadership: In Turbulent Times. Fabulous book, but I’m a fan of this author. Her name is Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right.

John C Maxwell
She’s basically a presidential scholar. She spent her whole life studying presidents of the United States. She wrote a Team of Rivals about Lincoln and she’s written one on Kennedy, one on FDR, one on LBJ, one on Teddy Roosevelt. I consume all of them. But this one is she took Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, LBJ and Lincoln and basically wrote a book on how they lived during turbulent times. It’s a fabulous read. I’m loving it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Well in our last moment here, could you share a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

John C Maxwell
Yeah,  well I would just say whenever I listen to something or in an experience, I always do what I call ACT: what should I apply, what should I change, and what should I teach someone else. It’s just simple, ACT.
If it’s like a long session, I may get three or four A’s, a couple C’s, maybe five or six T’s. I look at them and I categorize them. I just put ACT in the margins on my notes so that I can find them. What’s one A, what’s two  – or what’s one A, one C, and one T. Whatever those are, those three A, C, T, I just take the next 30 days and I do them every day, the one A, one C, and one T, every day for 30 days until it kind of becomes a habit. I’ve done this for 35 years. It just works.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, John, this has been a real treat. Thanks so much for all you’re doing in the world. It’s greatly appreciated. I hope that Leadershift is another hit. Just keep on rocking.

John C Maxwell
Doing my best, friend. Every day I have a great job. I just get up and add value to people. It’s pretty good gig, isn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm.

John C Maxwell
Thank you Pete.

395: How to Learn Faster with Andrew Geant of WyzAnt

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WyzAnt CEO and Founder Drew Geant discusses the best and worst ways to learn, particularly when engaging a tutor one-on-one.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most in-demand hard and soft skills
  2. When you should consider engaging in one-on-one lessons
  3. How to give and receive good feedback

About Andrew

Andrew Geant is co-founder and CEO of WyzAnt, which brings the proven impact of personalized learning to all learners via the largest tutoring marketplace and community. WyzAnt has one of 75,000 tutors available within 10 miles of 97% of the US population offering their services in-person and online. Drew co-founded WyzAnt in 2005 with his Princeton classmate, Mike Weishuhn. Today, WyzAnt has 80 employees in offices in Chicago and San Francisco.  With now over 2 million tutors and students that have used the platform, the company was bootstrapped with just $10,000 and has been cash flow positive since inception.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Andrew Geant Interview Transcript

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

Drew Geant
Yeah, thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m happy to have you too. Could you first orient us a little bit? Your company, Wyzant – thank you for telling me at last how it’s pronounced. My curiosity is satisfied. What does it do?

Drew Geant
Yeah. Wyzant is an online tutoring marketplace. We have about 75,000 tutors across hundreds of different subject areas. We help match up those tutors with learners who meet with the tutors one-on-one. It used to be in person. Now it’s all happening online or the vast majority of it through our online platform. You can picture a video chat, virtual whiteboard, a bunch of other tools that create this really rich online learning experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. I’ve been dying to – this is sort of fun – to get your take on this because back in the day, previous podcast guest, Muhammed Mekki, brilliant guy. We were both into education and had sort of the entrepreneurial streak. We got to talking one day and ended up creating this little offering and company we called Tutor Trail.

Drew Geant
Nice.

Pete Mockaitis
The principle was it was also online tutoring, specifically for math. The angle we were going for is it would be super affordable, like 20 dollar an hour sessions. The way that was working financially was we had folks in maybe India, Pakistan, Philippines, who are paid less than sort of the US minimum wage and be okay with it.

Drew Geant
Sure, geographic arbitrage. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
If you will, yeah.

Drew Geant
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
It was cool. We got it working in terms of okay, we’ve got some platform, we’ve got some people, who’ve got skills and are reliable and can execute some good experiences. We had a few students try it out and they were having some good times. But the challenge that we ran into is that we had zero revenue and customers.

Drew Geant
Well, revenue and customers are important. Right, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It was so perplexing to us. We thought okay, people are paying for tutoring. Okay, check. This is a great price and people like saving money. Why the heck isn’t this thing seem to be gaining any traction taking off? I figured if anyone would have a great speculative answer it would be you. Where did we go wrong?

Drew Geant
Oh man, the name of the game is – well, you have to have a great product, which sounds like you guys had a good product, and all that good stuff. It’s a big marketing challenge for sure. Unfortunately if you build it, they will not come. You need to figure out how to get it out to the market. What were you guys doing for marketing?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we had a friend who was a superintendent, so we said, “Hey,” we started chatting there. We were – I went to a conference about No Child Left Behind.

Drew Geant
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
We said how can we get the government dollars.

Drew Geant
Yeah, totally. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
With the program there. Turns out there’s a lot of hoops. You’ve got to be kind of established before you can get those dollars. Yeah, we were sort of telling our friends and family and putting the word out, a little bit of Facebook ads. It wasn’t a huge push. We didn’t have funding. We parted with I believe fewer than $3,000 total, which is a great way to fail in a startup if you’re going to.

Drew Geant
Right, right. Yeah man, it’s a tough space. There’s been people – it’s super fragmented as you probably know. There’s plenty of individuals who hang a shingle and that’s great. You can start your own business and do your own marketing. There’s plenty of – there’s brick and mortars. There’s plenty of the online tutors in India and Pakistan. That model exists as well. It’s just crowded and you have to figure out how to differentiate yourself.

For us, we’ve always spent a lot of time on online marketing. I’ve gotten pretty sophisticated there. That’s been a big angle for us. But back in the day, when you’re talking about super early stage, it was pounding the pavement, it was signs on telephone poles, it was – we would literally stand outside a school and directly solicit the parents. We would do anything required to get those first few customers.

Then once we got the marketplace with a certain amount of activity and volume, it began to have some amount of organic growth. But getting it started is the toughest part for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We talk about a crowded market place, well, most of our listeners are not founders looking to create a business at least right away.

Drew Geant
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But I think there’s a great lesson there associated with how did you think of what made you unique, distinctive, and the place to go if you wanted tutoring as opposed to those other options?

Drew Geant
There were a few problems we were trying to solve from the outset.

One was price, which we talked about, and really from the tutors’ perspective in particular. If you’re a tutor and you want to go work for a tutoring company back in 2005 when we started, they would probably bill you out at $50 and pay you $15 to $20. That felt a little bit off. We said there’s got to be a better way to – there’s got to be a way to invert that using the internet. That was one problem we set out to solve.

Another one was we had this belief from the very beginning that it was the match between the student and the tutor that really mattered, so what we did was we created these really robust tutor profiles and search capabilities, such that you could really find the perfect fit. That I think continues to prove to be the right sort of way to create the most value is getting that – dialing in that fit.

Today it’s done algorithmically and there’s a lot of data behind it. Those are some of the differentiating factors for us.

[6:00]

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Perfect fit sounds huge. I remember we had a previous guest, Steve Ritter, was saying that there’s some really compelling research that if you’re working with some sort of professional for an intervention, be it a coach or a mentor or a trainer or you name it, counselor, it’s like the fit and rapport between learner or client and provider accounts for just like a substantial proportion of whether or not this thing is going to be successful and deliver what they aspire to deliver.

Drew Geant
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re thinking in the professional context often it may skew a little bit more toward mentoring, although I’m sure we’ll talk about the actual tutoring that happens among adults as well, but it’s all about that. You have to have trust. There has to be accountability. You have to be able to have really sharp communication, be able to give honest feedback, all those things that with a stranger, somebody that you don’t quite connect with, become a lot harder.

It’s crazy how these relationships get built and how strong they become. You see tutors will reach out to their students years later. Their relationship will still be an important part and birthday cards and the whole thing. It becomes very personal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well so that’s a bit of the story for how Wyzant came to be. I’m enjoying saying it correctly with confidence.

Now what I found rather surprising was that – so your publicist informed me, which is kind of how we got connected here, that adult learners, not high school, college students studying for the GRE or the ACT/SAT, but rather adult learners like me and listeners, are in fact now your largest segment of users of the platform. Is this true and how did it come to be?

Drew Geant
Yeah, it is true. It really happened in the last few years. To be honest, it was something that occurred naturally in the marketplace. We were surprised, to be honest, especially with sort of the higher education learner that we didn’t think would necessarily have the disposable income to invest in tutoring.

Then once we saw the growth in the adult learner, the career learner, that made a lot of sense to us once we stopped and looked at the broader trends of rescaling and upscaling that are going on with the knowledge economy and jobs getting more technical.

We got very excited about that and leaned into it and now that’s really where we want to take the business. We still support a lot of K-12 academic tutoring, but it turns out that we can have sort of an outsized impact for adult learners who are learning very specialized things because that’s what we do. Like I said before, it is really the match between the tutor and the student.

It’s very hard to find a tutor for some super specific technical skill or career-specific discipline. That’s where we’re I think the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well now you’ve got my wheels turning because I’m thinking about specialized skills. It seems like almost no one is familiar with how to use Google App Maker. Listeners if you know, talk to me. We’d like to make something.

That’s pretty cool. That’s what you’re seeing is it fair to say that it’s less about, “Hey, let me help you with your communication skills or your creativity,” and more about, “Okay, you want Perl, you PHP, you want C++, or a programming language,” more that sort of thing?

Drew Geant
Yeah. There are some soft skills. Presentation skills are a big one. Public speaking is a big one. But the vast majority are technical. I’ll sort of take through what we’re seeing in terms of the subjects.

The first is the computer programming languages like you just said. Also, a lot related to analytics, whether that’s basic Microsoft Excel or visualization tools like Tableau or machine learning and much more advanced analytics topics. We see a lot of software, so people want to learn how to use Salesforce, they want to learn how to use Adobe Creative Suite or AutoCAD.

Having somebody sit down with you, or in this case virtually, but walk though that, share your screen and help you with your project or just generally familiarize with the toolset and how to navigate the software is a perfect use case for 101 sort of tutoring.

We see language. ESL is a big one. People learning Spanish, Chinese for professional purposes. Let’s see, those are some of the biggies. Oh, the other one is professional licensing exams. Almost every career-

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like CPA.

Drew Geant
Right. Finance you have CPA, you have CFA, you have your series 7, 63, 24. That’s just finance. Teachers have to pass the … and the Praxis and nurses have to pass the NCLEX. Even if you want to be an online marketer, people want to become Adwords certified and Salesforce web developer certified. It just goes on and on. Again, perfect use case, have an expert help walk you through it. It can really shortcut your learning curve in a big way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. You said 75,000 tutors. It sounds like the odds are good that you’ll probably find someone who’s covering what you need covered. That’s pretty interesting.

Then financially – I guess well first tell me, what is sort of the situations that users find themselves in terms of like “Oh shoot, I need some help. I’ve got to go somewhere?” Is there a particular kind of a catalyst or prompt or inciting incident that gets you – get these folks saying “Oh boy, I need to hop on board and get some help?”

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s a really good question because there is. We’ve positioned ourselves and we’re quite happy to be sort of the support layer. People do come to us and say, “All right, I want to learn JavaScript from scratch,” and they start with a tutor, which is great too, but in most cases there’s some sort of struggle, some sort of – there are a lot of great self-directed learning tools out there from YouTube to Google to on and on.

We think that’s a great place to start, but some percentage of those people are going to get stuck. They’re going to reach an impasse. That’s the point in time mostly where we see they turn to us to get them back on track, to get the boost they need, and help get them unstuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Maybe even backing it up before they even embarked upon trying to learn these things. Are they going after just for the love of learning, like, “This is cool and fun and interesting,” or is like, “Uh oh, I’ve got a new role that’s freaking me out and I’m not ready for it?”

Drew Geant
Yeah, that’s actually a surprisingly common use case. We do customer research a lot and you see people get in over their head. They, “Yeah, I know how to do SQL and analytics,” and so they get hired for a job and they’re expected to know those things. Then they say, “Oh crap, I have this project. I don’t know how to do it. I’m not really comfortable going to ask my coworkers or boss because I said I know how to do this thing, so I’m going to go find someone out there that can help me,” which is great.

Sometimes it’s a bit more proactive, where somebody has their sights set on a new career or advancing within their current career and they know what they need to learn and maybe they’ve been trying to do it on their own and they need, like I said, a little extra support.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right, let’s say that if I were to meet up with a tutor to help me with some learning here, maybe it’s the Google App Maker that I’m after.

Drew Geant
That one seems to be on your mind right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it is just because I was looking at Upwork.com for some folks who could do it for me and I was like, there’s two people. Really? I’m accustomed to seeing hundreds and hundreds for anything I might want.

Drew Geant
You seem like the sort of guy, you want someone to teach you to fish though, right? You want to be able to get in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes and no. It’s fun. I really do love learning. It’s enjoyable and it kind of is a thrill. I feel sort of empowered and equipped in a cool way. But in practice it’s sort of like well, I’ve got to a lot of highly leveraged demands for my time that I’d probably – I would see more business results if someone else were doing this for me and I was elsewhere. But I would have fun doing it. Similarly with Photoshop. I’m not great at it, but it’s really fun.

Drew Geant
That’s fun. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, oh, I could play around with this for three hours and make it look okay or I could have a professional do it for 30 minutes and look excellent and I could do something else. Anyway, that is an ongoing internal challenge with me.

But let’s say I did want to learn the skill, what have you discovered are some best practices associated with folks. They’re engaging in the learner/tutor relationship and they’re after maximum improvement. What are some of the key things they need to make sure to do or not do?

Drew Geant
Certainly I would say on the front end invest in finding the right expert. Out whole product is designed around giving you the opportunity to interact and ask questions with a variety of tutors before making your decision, before making any sort of commitment or payment.

That’s really important because you’ve got to find someone not that just has the right skillset, but like we said before, that matches your learning style. We know everyone learns differently and every tutor teaches differently.

Beyond that, you do have to make a commitment. It’s not a silver bullet. It’s not 30 minutes of tutoring and you’re going to have a concept mastered. On average we see people using between 8 and 12 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Drew Geant
Yeah. It’s a lot, but you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars necessarily to get a lot of value out of a tutoring relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool because I recall from my Tutor Trail research back in the day that in order to show statistically significant gains above what they just expect for normal growth and coursework as you age, like, “Hey, now you’re halfway through fifth grade, so you should be smarter just from your classes,” like the minimum effective dosage, it was substantial, like it was well over 20 hours in terms of programs that could prove and show the results.

But in the context of a super specific professional skill, you’re saying you can get some real gains in 8 to 12 hours.

Drew Geant
Yeah. The skill is specific but also the intervention, if you will, or the actual dialogue is 100% personalized and customized for you. Here’s the exact thing in the app builder where I’m hung up, so you go right to it, whereas if you’re watching a video or taking a course or a class, there’s so much wasted time until you get to that part you need. A tutor comes in and you put your finger right on the issue where you’re struggling and you go from there. It’s very efficient in that sense.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. You said pick the right person and match your learning style. How do you think about the segmentation of learning styles?

Drew Geant
Yeah. We don’t profess to be the learning experts. Our whole approach is let’s get the experts and let’s help make them available and accessible to the learners. That being said, we know that a lot of students respond better to visual learning. When you look at our online platform, it’s designed with that in mind, where you can bring in diagrams, you can use the virtual whiteboard as a drawing tool, all that sort of thing.

There’s a lot that happens between the tutoring sessions. There’s this homework aspect of it. That’s a big aspect of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. I’ve seen that as I’ve done coaching that those who pursue their homework diligently in between sessions tend to – surprise, I learned this lesson from piano back in the day – they advance the quickest when they really make the time for the homework in between.

Drew Geant
Right, it’s sort of this back and forth, that ping pong game, where you have to wrestle with something on your own, then you go get the – the tutor comes in and sort of helps you tune it up and figure out where you’re doing well and not so well, then you go back and wrestle with it some more. You go back and forth is what we see happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Those are some of the best practices. What are some of the worst practices?

Drew Geant
The worst practices. Well, certainly – there’s a whole market around this, but we try to avoid it, which is “I have a test tomorrow” or “This is last minute.” Our tutors hate it because they know they’re not setting the student up – they’re not setting themselves up for success. “I have two hours and I need to learn all this material.”

You’ll actually see this when the tutors and students are interacting with one another. Tutors will say, “Hey, what are your goals? What’s your timeline?” They want to make sure that the student has realistic expectations. Give yourself plenty of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay, certainly. Plenty of time, that makes good sense. Anything else?

Drew Geant
Worse practices. To the use case before when you take a job and you act like you know stuff and you don’t and then you have to scramble to backfill your knowledge, I would suggest that that would not be a best practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. At the very least, start before they give you the offer. Or you get the offer before your first day of work, that interim window would be good before you’re found out. Okay, cool. Well, tell me, anything else you want to talk about learning, tutoring, one-on-one growth development, how it’s done well before we sort of shift into your favorite things?

Drew Geant
Yeah. As I’m thinking about the learner or the listeners who are all on their sort of learning journeys, we talk a lot about that among our employees, we have about 75 people, in terms of the culture we’re trying to create. In fact our number one core value at Wyzant is always be learning. We’ve dug into that a lot. For us it kind of breaks down into a few component pieces.

One is giving and receiving feedback is critical. It has to be direct, timely, and actionable. Another thing we talk a lot about and Karen Martin, who was on the show the other day, mentioned this – sort of the inverse of what we talked about.

In fact Karen Martin, who you had on the show a we days ago talked about this. She said people who act like they know everything and know all the answers or think they do is actually a form of arrogance.

The way we talk about it is sort of the opposite, which we say in order to learn you have to have some amount of humility. You have to be able to say, “I don’t know that. I don’t know how to do this. This is a bit out of my comfort zone.” That’s step one, which is a huge component.

We also talk a lot about learning from your mistakes and failures. We relate this back to our users, our tutors and our students as well. Some of the most high-impact time between a tutor and a learner is when the learner comes back with, let’s say in an academic sense, a bad test. What do you do? You got through every one you got wrong in detail and you learn from that.

We really preach that about a project that misses a deadline or an investment that doesn’t have the expected results. That’s okay. It’s going to happen. In fact, it’s going to happen more often than not, but the key thing is to go back through that and diagnose it and learn from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the feedback is a recurring theme on the show. I’d love to get your take in terms of how do you – you’ve given some perspectives for what makes feedback great in terms of it’s direct, it’s actionable and such. I’m wondering if feedback is not normative in a certain culture and it’s often not, how do you recommend folks make the request for it and keep it coming?

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to give really direct feedback sometimes. It’s hard to receive it sometimes. It really revolves around trust, so getting to know your coworkers, understanding sort of that – and giving them the benefit of the doubt that we’re all here because we have the same agenda, which is we’re trying to accomplish the company goals, we’re trying to advance. The way we do that is by helping each other.

Really framing it as we talk about it in terms of if you’re a team and you’re looking out for your teammate. This is a way to have your teammates back is by making sure that they – you’re sort of a second set of eyes and ears for one another.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good.

Drew Geant
I think that helps people sort of frame it as not this tough conversation or I’m criticizing somebody. It’s like, “No, I’m actually looking out for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to receiving it, how do you do it well?

Drew Geant
Again, I think it starts with you have to believe that it’s coming from a good place. The opposite of that obviously would be being defensive or whatever it may be. I think asking questions, like trying to really understand it, even if it doesn’t sound right at first, instead of going into defensive mode, “Help me understand that a little bit more. You said this once thing. Can you try saying it a different way?”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I think examples make all the difference. It’s a real shame if the only feedback that exists is what is on the annual review and it’s more perfunctory in terms of “Oh, I’m going to click these boxes and all done.” Not ideal. Word. Cool, anything else you want to share or shall we hear about some of your favorite things?

Drew Geant
Let’s go into favorite things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Away we go. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Drew Geant
Oh man. We have in large letters on our office wall a quote from Benjamin Franklin that resonates a lot with me, which is “Investment in knowledge pays the highest return.” Obviously we like to think that is true because that’s what our customers are investing in.

I think from my experience as a tutor, and I would imagine this is true from your experience as a coach, the one-on-one teacher and learner dynamic is just so powerful, especially when you get it right between the fit. I believe very strongly that that is the highest return.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is a fine quote by an authority. I’m sure I will place that somewhere in my future. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Drew Geant
In the academic tutoring context, there’s a study from the 1980s called Bloom’s Two-Sigma study. Have you ever heard of this?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard of Bloom. Is this the taxonomy person … Bloom?

Drew Geant
He’s done a variety of things. This particular study was comparing different types of learning. One of them was one-on-one. If you ask any academic researcher, they’ll all say this is sort of – it’s now accepted as a truth, that one-on-one tutoring is the most effective way to learn. In this case he proved two standard deviations above sort of the norm of other types of learning.

Now if you take that as a truth, you say, “Okay, if we know one-one-one tutoring is the best way to learn, fine. But how do we scale it?” Because it’s inherently expensive. There’s a person on the other side of this. You see a lot of different approaches in terms of using AI and they talk about tutor robots in the sky.

Our approach has been how do we make it more accessible, more affordable with real people? But it all comes back to that belief. I think that again is commonly universally accepted among academic folk that one-on-one tutoring is the best way to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Drew Geant
Favorite book. I thought you were going to ask me a business book, so I thought of a business book.

Pete Mockaitis
It can be business. It can be … book. Favorite business, favorite fiction. We can do it all.

Drew Geant
Well, a book we’ve been using a lot lately as we’re working through strategy is a book called Playing to Win. It gives you really nice actionable strategy framework, so I’d definitely recommend people check that out.

Pete Mockaitis
Now is that – I think I’m getting that mixed up with the Jack Welch book. Is that-?

Drew Geant
It’s not Jack Welch.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s-

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe … Winning is Jack Welch.

Drew Geant
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a little different.

Drew Geant
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. What are some of the provocative takeaways from that?

Drew Geant
Well it’s very simple. The first piece that is have a winning aspiration. That’s where you start. What does it mean to win? You sit back and you ask, “Well, of course we want to grow the business, but how are you going to know when you got there?” What is the outcome? They do a really good job of probing and make you realize, “Man, I don’t even know what we’re playing for.”

Then the second part is well, what’s your playing field? You get to define your own playing field, which is a cool concept. It’s like where are you going to complete, where are you strong, where are you not strong. It sort of goes through these five steps from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite tool, something you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Drew Geant
A favorite tool. I’m a huge Google Suite user.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Maybe Google App Maker would enhance ….

Drew Geant
Right, right, right. Lots of docs and whatnot. The fact that all that stuff is obviously in the cloud and you can use your phone as – good and bad. You can access your work from anywhere. That’s a whole other conversation that I suppose is sort of where remote work is headed. Have you had people on the show talking about that?

Pete Mockaitis
A little bit. I’d say I don’t know if we have a consensus opinion on the future. Well, now you’ve got me intrigued. You got the answer, Drew? You’re going to lay it on us?

Drew Geant
No, I just think it goes back to what we’ve been talking about, about feedback and about learning. I think the technology is there to support it for sure now in terms of the tools, which is how we got on this topic, but you have to double down on things like feedback and communication. It becomes that much harder.

We’ve had some mixed experiences. We had an office in San Francisco that didn’t work out. But now we have a fairly flexible remote work policy that is working out. It’s not easy, but I think it’s doable in terms of accessing the best talent, which at the end of the day, your company is really just a sum of the talent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ll find the best talent in Chicago, right here.

Drew Geant
Yeah, even in Chicago, you live in Naperville, coming into the office every day, it’s a grind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that is far away. We did not buy a home in Naperville largely for that reason. Even though Naperville has got a lot going for it. ….

Drew Geant
Yeah. I didn’t mean to hit on Naperville.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely downtown.

Drew Geant
Yeah, it’s wonderful.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a whole city and yet also a suburb.

Drew Geant
Yeah, if you’re commuting into Chicago, you spend a lot of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s see that was the tool. Can we talk about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Drew Geant
Favorite habit. I would say exercise. I’m not exactly-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks like you’ve got some guns. When you’re live in the studio.

Drew Geant
I’m not exactly a picture of fitness necessarily, but I think what that does for your mind is – just clearing your mind is a huge part of being able to get the most out of your day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular workout focus or time of day that you zero in on?

Drew Geant
Yeah, I have a very modest home gym.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Drew Geant
I try to do that in the morning before work.

Pete Mockaitis
That is one of my dreams for this home is turning our basement-

Drew Geant
I see a treadmill right here.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got a treadmill right here. I really do use it just about every day, especially when it’s snowy and nasty out in the winter. But, yeah, I hope to turn the laundry room into also a little home gym with a bench.

Drew Geant
Yeah, you don’t need much.

Pete Mockaitis
I think a squat rack is really what makes the difference between a true gym and a non-true gym. Even though I hate squats, but if I had my own rack I would do them more.

Drew Geant
I think as a general rule the more you hate it, it’s probably the better the exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh probably. It just takes it out of me and hurts the next day so much. That’s habit. How about is there a key nugget you tend to share with your team or others that really seems to connect, resonate, they quote it back to you often?

Drew Geant
A key nugget. One that we have some fun with that is sort of like I think we mean it when we say it, but we realize it’s not necessarily the most diplomatic was we often say, “Let’s not confuse effort with results.”

Sometimes you can deceive yourself into thinking all the activity is productive, but it kind of goes back to the winning aspiration, what are you actually trying to achieve, what are your goals, and is the activity actually moving you forward? It’s kind of like work smarter, not harder as well. Two things that we talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a great distinction not to confuse effort with results. I remember my buddy Ronny when he was doing some intense football training. He even wrote in huge letters “Effort equals results.” That might be true in the sense of if you push yourself harder in a physical training endeavor, so long as you recover wisely, then maybe effort equals results. But in sort of knowledge work, effort may or may not equal results and it may equal a smidge of results or 20 times that more per hour.

Drew Geant
Sure, absolutely. We bring it back to business too, our just conviction in tutoring and the impact and power of that form of learning is – you can be spending hours and hours and hours watching a video on YouTube. That’s not working smarter. Whereas we think for many cases, hire an expert, you’re going to get the results a lot faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. If folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Drew Geant
Wyzant.com, download the app. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn as well. It would be always fun to connect with folks.

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

Drew Geant
Just always be learning and recognize it’s hard. Learning is a hard thing, but it’s rewarding. Sometimes I think people shy away from it because it’s hard. It’s like, “Oh well, I must not be good at this thing,” but just know that that’s part of it. That’s what I think makes it worthwhile.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, Drew, this has been a ton of fun. Thank you and good luck. Hope you equip all the more adult learners in the years to come and keep on rocking.

Drew Geant
All right. Thanks.

392: Getting Your Dream Job by Illustrating Your Value with Austin Belcak

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Austin Belcak explains how deep research, cold emailing, and solving one of your dream company’s problems upfront accelerates job hunting–while building your skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two common themes to successful job searches
  2. How to do cold outreach that gets responses
  3. Two ways to effectively illustrate your value

About Austin

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he teaches people how to land jobs they love without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.

Austin’s created a community of over 30,000 job seekers who have leveraged his strategies to land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Austin Belcak Interview Transcript

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

Austin Belcak
Pete, I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. You talk a lot about the career hunt and how it’s done better, but you’ve got a pretty dramatic story yourself of coming from a pretty miserable place it sounds like in your career to a much better one. Could you tell us the tale?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, absolutely. Just to give some people context around where we’re at now before we rewind. I work full time at Microsoft. I work in sales there on the advertising side of our business in New York City.

But on the side of that full time job, I run a site called CultivatedCulture.com, where I basically teach people to leverage some unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and without applying online.

I started that about three years ago and since then we’ve grown the community to – there’s about 12,000 people in it now. About 30,000 people have come through the doors total. Many of them have gone on to land jobs at places like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, Apple, Amazon and many, many other industries as well. That’s basically where I am now, but to your point, it has not always been that way.

If we rewind the clock back to high school for me, which is now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was dead set on being a doctor. I had taken all these classes in high school and biology really resonated with me and chemistry did as well. I thought this would be cool and doctors make a lot of money. They’re well regarded in society. Mom and dad would be happy.

I set my sights on that and I kind of tailored my whole strategy around getting into a college with a good premed track. I sort of made that happen. I ended up at Wake Forest University, which given the grades that I had and their programs, that was a good fit for me.

But I had gone to boarding school for high school and boarding school was awesome. It was a great experience, but it was a bit sheltered in the fact that while we had some freedoms on campus, there wasn’t that same level of exposure that you may get at a regular day high school where you have to drive there and you can go to people’s houses on the weekends and things like that.

I got to Wake Forest and the social scene was I guess we could say much more robust than it was in boarding school.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about a robust social scene makes me imagine you doing keg stands. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by that, but-

Austin Belcak
That’s exactly what I mean by that, Pete. That’s exactly what happened. The first night literally we moved into the dorms and the first night I remember walking out with my new roommate and a couple of guys we met that day.

This car pulls up in front of us and they’re like, “Hey, you want to go to a party?” Alarm bells going off in your head and your mom’s like, “Austin, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get into weird cars.” We’re like, “No, that’s fine.” Then we look behind him and there’s just this whole line of cars.

The next guy pulls up and says, “You want to go to a party?” We’re like, “Is this a thing?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, this is what happens.” Basically these cars pull up, you hop in one and they take you to a party. That was kind of the beginning of the end of my medical career as far as being a doctor goes.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you were just partying so much, you weren’t focusing on the grades or what happened exactly at this party?

Austin Belcak
Pretty much. All these freedoms that you never had at home are suddenly available.

That was way more interesting to me than class was, so I immediately failed chemistry my first semester. Then I went ahead and failed French the next semester. I rounded out my freshman year with a 1.99 GPA, which is not great. I don’t know too many med schools these days that are accepting kids with that sort of GPA. My dreams were kind of shattered.

I wasn’t too upset about it, but I kind of had this choice, I could continue to explore and try and find a new passion or I could continue enjoying this new social scene that was exciting and fun. I decided to do that. Basically, that carried me through. I kept my biology major.

That carried me through to junior year when my roommate’s dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, he kind of plopped an internship in my lap with a medical device sales company. They were a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

I worked there during the summer. They gave me a job offer at the end of the summer. They said, “It’s yours if you want it.” I thought that was awesome because that meant that I could totally slack off senior year and I had my job and I was good to go.

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t interview anywhere else. Then I graduated from college and I kind of got slapped in the face.

I hadn’t taken into account anything like cost of living, racked up about 10,000 bucks for the credit card debt in the first three months out of college literally just trying to make ends meet.

Then my boss was just terrible.
Then finally the job itself, I was getting up some days at 2:30 – 3 in the morning to drive two and a half hours to get to the hospital by 6 AM. That really was not super fun.

One day my boss told me in a very condescending fashion, “Maybe you should think about another career.” I actually said, “That’s pretty good advice at this point.”

I assumed that going to a four-year undergraduate college and getting degree would at least get me my foot in the door somewhere. It would give me a chance. Why else did I pay all this money for this degree? I set my sights on technology.

I set my sights on one of these leading tech companies and I applied to them. I got rejected pretty quickly.

I figured I needed to go get some advice. I stopped by my career counselor’s office at Wake Forest. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends, who had landed jobs. I kind of tried to consolidate all of their advice. The common theme was that I should basically find jobs online, Tweet my resume for them, personalize my resume and my cover letter, apply for them and then kind of cross my fingers and hope that somebody got back to me.

If nobody got back to me, then the next step was to basically rinse and repeat until somebody did. I was told pretty frequently that it was a numbers game, so the more stuff I threw up against the wall, the better chance I had of something sticking and landing that job offer. I continued down that path.

I took a step back and I started applying to companies in the mid-tier startup range and didn’t hear anything from them. I started with early stage startups and didn’t hear anything from them. Then I was applying to companies that just had the word tech somewhere on their site. I still didn’t hear anything from them.

At this point I was really frustrated because I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I just had gotten this quarter of a million dollar education that’s supposed to get me a job. That’s the whole point of it. Here I was with nothing. I was incredibly, incredibly angry, but I didn’t know what else to do.

About that same time I was reaching out to some alumni at Wake and somebody I had a conversation with basically gave me a light bulb moment. They told me that I was taking advice from the wrong people. I thought that was crazy because throughout our lives when we grow up, the people that we look to for advice are our parents and our friends and our teachers and the people that we look up to.

I was like, “I don’t understand. What exactly do you mean?” He said you should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want.” That really resonated with me because while my parents were successful in their own right and my friends had been successful out of college in their own right, none of them had come out with a terrible GPA and a biology degree and a job in medicine with three months of professional experience, and now I had aspirations to work at Microsoft or Google.

I realized that I needed to go out and find people who had done that and had done it successfully and quickly and who were around my age.

I immediately drove home and I wrote down criteria for my job search or my dream job, rather. Those were – there were four criteria. The first was to be working at a leading company like a Google or a Microsoft or Facebook; to be making over $100,000 a year; to be working in a major city like New York, San Francisco, and LA; and finally, to be doing that all before the age of 26 because I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 for all this to come to fruition.

I took my list of my criteria and I went out on LinkedIn and I found people who matched that criteria as best as I possibly could. I tried to find these young folks who are working at those amazing companies. I looked at their salaries on Glassdoor to make sure that they were in the range. Then I just started reaching out cold. I probably reached out to about 50 or 60 people. Roughly 10 to 15 got back to me. I started having-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a decent ratio.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. I was very, very surprised, especially for the first pass. I think it was more beginners’ luck than anything because when I started my full outreach for the job search later on, the ratio was not so good and I had to do a little bit of learning to improve that. But for whatever reason it seemed to work out.

I had conversations with these people. I tried to learn as much as I could about their stories and the strategies that they used and how they approached this job search. There were a couple of common themes.

The first was that all of them had gotten in via a referral of some kind, which is really interesting to me. The second was that they all found creative ways to illustrate their value. They stepped outside of the box, the traditional box, of a resume and a cover letter and some interview answers to illustrate their value. That was also really interesting to me.

I took what I learned and I did a bunch of research. I basically made it my mission to turn the hiring process into a game and try to figure out how I could create some shortcuts. A lot of my time was spent learning how to build relationships with people I’d never met before, finding ways to understand the challenges they were facing, the challenges their companies were facing, new initiatives and projects that they were releasing, basically any way that I could add value.

Then I would go back and I would research those problems and I would come up with creative ways to highlight what I brought to the table and the tangible value that I offered if they took a chance on me. I basically spun those up over the next couple of years to land offers at Microsoft and Google and Twitter and a whole bunch of other places. The rest is history, so here I am.

But after I started working at Microsoft, I had a bunch of people from Wake Forest reach out to me and they were like, “Aren’t you the kid who graduated with like a 2.5 GPA? How the heck are you working at Microsoft?” When the 20th person asked me that I thought I’m having the same conversation with all these people, maybe I could find a way to write this down in a scalable fashion.

I started up my site. I came up with my name pretty off the cuff. I really just wanted to get this blog post out there. I wrote it all up. I did some promotion. It got an incredibly positive response from friends and family but also from strangers on the internet. That’s really how this whole thing started. Now we’ve been going strong from about three years.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into the particulars on these tactics, so the creative ways of demonstrating your value and acquiring these referrals. How did you do it and how have you seen other people do it successfully?

Austin Belcak
Definitely. The overarching theme here is find people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision for the role that you want, number one. Number two is to build a relationship with them regardless of whether you’ve met them or not.

I was talking to somebody earlier on the phone today and she was like, “You mean reach out to total strangers?” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to reach out to total strangers.” It’s overcoming that barrier as well. Then finally, those creative ways to illustrate your values.

If we start with the first piece there, when we talk about locating or identifying people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision, it really comes down to somebody who would be your manager if you got hired or would be your colleague sitting at the desk next to you.

I think a lot of people feel like reaching out to recruiters is something that is really important and needs to be done, but I personally don’t recommend it. Recruiters – it’s no knock against recruiters because what they do is really important, but they are inundated with emails and it is so hard to stand out.

Even if you do get the opportunity to stand out and they reply to you, their influence ends when they refer you in for an interview. They’re not going to be able to advocate for you through the hiring process. They’re not going to be in the room where the hiring decision is made.

But if you get in touch with somebody who would be sitting at the desk next to you on your team or would be your manager, they can also refer you in, but then they can also kind of be your champion internally and coach you through the interview process. They can advocate for you in the room where the actual hiring decision is being made. That is so critical.

But on top of that, they’re not getting bombarded with emails from potential candidates. It’s also a lot easier to get in touch with them using the right outreach strategies. That’s the first step is kind of getting yourself in the mindset of who to reach out to, why, and then we have to go out and find them.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell me in terms of the who, I guess how do you know that the person from the outside looking in, that the person you’re reaching out to would in fact be your manager or your colleague in the desk next to you?

I suppose in some ways if they have pretty specific titles, you can be like, “Oh yes, that’s dead on,” but other times the title might be something – I thinking of Microsoft, thousands of people might have the same title in terms of what they’re doing. How do you get clear on these would be the nine people that would be the influencers on what I’m really after?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Pete. You’re never going to be able to – that’s not true. Never say never. You may get a tip on who the hiring manager is and that’s great. But in the majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the exact hiring manager. The best thing that you can do is take an educated guess. That’s exactly what you mentioned.

Let’s say I want a job at Microsoft in New York as an account manager. I can go look up all the account managers that currently work at Microsoft in New York. That’s probably going to be my best target base. I do know that if I reach out to all of them that I will hit somebody who will be on the team I’m being hired for because I reach out to literally everybody. That’s one way to cover it.

I also recommend reaching out to as many people as you can. A lot of people ask me, “Is it weird if I reach out to multiple people at the same company? What if they start talking about me? What if my name gets out there? Is that going to hurt my chances?” At the end of the day, no. That’s not what I’ve seen.

My background is in sales and I’m in sales now. There’s a nice little anecdote that sales people like to throw around where a lot of the deals get done or big steps or breakthroughs happen on the seventh touch point. It’s really about that familiarity. You kind of have to get – the more that you get in front of somebody rather, the more familiar you become and the more likely they are to then take that action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking in a way I imagine if they do talk about you. Then it’s conceivably possible that they’d say, “Oh my gosh, why is this guy wasting our time? I already gave him the answers, so he’s talking to three other people who give him the same answers,” but I think it might be more likely that the response is, “Whoa, we almost never see candidates who are so committed as to go to this length to get in. That’s interesting. We should take a closer look at this guy.”

Austin Belcak
100%. That is – the majority of the times that I’ve gone through this and when I’ve coached people and gotten feedback, and even talked to the hiring managers themselves, that is the exact feedback we’ve gotten. People are typically – they typically see that as a sign of persistence and a sign of enthusiasm and motivation and a differentiator from all these other candidates who are just relying on the baseline or the minimum required to kind of get their foot in the door.

But on top of that, some of the other tactics we’re going to talk about in a second here are going to make it so that even if there was a doubt, even if they are kind of around the water cooler and they’re like, “Who’s this Pete person? His name’s come up. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. He’s reaching out to all of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely weird.

Austin Belcak
The next step is going to wipe that off the table, which is once you’re able to – this is kind of two-fold. When we think about creating something valuable that illustrates our value and it is compelling to the person, there’s two ways to get it. We can either get it from the contacts themselves or we can get it through our own research.

One of the most important things you can do is put in as much time researching this company as you possibly can. If you do that ahead of time, if you do that before you reach out to people, you’re going to be that much more prepared when you are reaching out. You’re going to have better outreach, but also a lot of times somebody will – people will be surprised.

If you’ve never done cold outreach before, you never know when somebody is going to hit you back up and say, “Hey, I have time in two hours. Can we talk then?” Then the fear and the stress set in if you’re not prepared and you scramble to think of questions and you don’t know what to talk to them about.

But if you spent this time researching the company and you understand the challenges they’re facing, how they’re addressing them, the wins that they’ve had, what’s their current status on X, Y, and Z projects or X, Y, and Z brands, then you come to the table with that much more ammunition to start and drive the conversation. Doing some of this research ahead of time is really, really powerful, but it also allows you to come up with some value-add angles ahead of time.

Then you can either – basically the conversations that you have, you can flush those out. You can kind of validate them. You can tease them out with questions or posing different ideas or statements that relate to the thing you’ve come up with and you can gauge the response.

If the person on the other side says, “That’s actually something that we’re working on,” then great you kind of have something to work off of. But if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we tried that. It was terrible. Totally failed,” then you know that you kind of need to pivot. Getting that research in ahead of time is really, really critical.

When we’re talking about public companies, they tend to be a little bit easier to research than private companies. But just two of my favorite ways to kind of understand where things are going at a high level for those companies are one to listen to their earnings calls.

Every publicly traded company out there, every quarter they have an earnings call and they’ll share it publicly. If you just type in the company name and investor relations on Google, that page should pop up and they should have the most recent webcast.

Basically what they do is – the calls are typically about anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long. If you’re pressed for time you can kind of find the MP3, and download it and then speed it up in iTunes, 2x, and save yourself some minutes.

But basically what they talk about is – it’s their presentation to the shareholders as to why the company is in the current state that it is and what they’re doing to make it better. If there’s a challenge, they’re going to address it. If there’s a win, they’re going to call it out. Then they’re going to talk about the future, “What are we doing to capitalize on the momentum of the win? How are we thinking about addressing or fixing the challenge that we saw, which caused numbers to drop?”

That’s a great way to get a high level overview of what happened recently and what the company is driving towards in the future. Then I like to go to a site called SeekingAlpha.com, which is basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a financial blog, where all these analysts kind of come together and they write pieces on different companies. You can go in and you can punch in the stock ticker for a company. There’s two columns. There’s a news column, which is basically your objective stuff like the “Dow dropped 460 points today,” “This stock was impacted X amount,” very objective.

But on the other side there’s analysis, which is where those analysts come in and they basically give their opinion. It’s really helpful because you can pretty much find five different angles on the same topic.

Somebody will tell you why Facebook’s handling of private data is going to be the demise of their company. Then the next article is how some guy is talking about Facebook’s handing of private data is going to help them learn and help all of us learn and it’s going to cause their stock to skyrocket in the future.

Regardless of which position you agree with, you get a sense of all the different angles that you could potentially approach this subject from. That is going to give you a lot of ammunition to have these conversations, but also come up with unique ways to add value.

I was just talking to one of the people that I coach. He was looking for a job at Apple. He couldn’t think of a way to add value. We went on the site and the third article down was Here’s Six Things Apple Isn’t Doing Right Now That Could be Making Them Millions of Dollars. They literally listed out six things and they had specific arguments for their ideas. We grabbed a couple of them and we threw them in the deck and put his spin on them and leveraged that as our value-add project.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting when you say throw them in the deck and value add project, can we talk about when in the course of this relationship building do you trot that out? My hunch is it might be a little different. You say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X, Y, Z.” They go, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve got 15 minutes to chat in two hours.” You say, “Great.” Then you’re on the phone. It’s like, “Please open up to slide three.” How do you kind of time and sequence that?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, most definitely. It actually – the best answer that I can give is that it depends on the situation. If you’re reaching out and you can’t even get anybody on the phone and you can’t even get any replies, then you may need to trot it out at that point to add enough value to get a response, to trigger a response from somebody.

But let’s say that you are getting replies, things are working well, you’re getting people to set up meetings with you, typically what I like to do is have a few meetings first. I like to as soon as I start outreach, I want to have a general idea of the type of value that I could potentially add. My hope is that the conversation that I have with this person is going to one validate my idea in some fashion. Maybe give me some pieces of the greater picture or puzzle that I can then bake into the project itself.

Then I like to have a couple of these questions, so I get all these different perspectives or a couple of these conversations. Then once I’ve had a few of those, I’m sort of in this place where I’ve talked to the first round of people and I’m teed up for the second round of people. Then I like to approach it by following up. I like to use the value validation project as a means to follow up and drive the relationship with the people I’ve had conversations with.

Let’s say Pete, I reach out to you and we had a conversation, I’m going to go back and finish my project and then I’m going to send you an email. I’m going to say, “Pete, thank you so much for taking 30 minutes to chat with me last week. I really enjoyed our conversation, especially the piece around this challenge that you’re having about getting more new customers.

I’ve actually done some thinking about it and I’ve put together a few ideas around how I think you guys could leverage your existing audience to drive more customers through referrals. I’ve attached that here. Would love to get your thoughts. Email is fine, but if you time for another call, great.” Then I’ll email that off to them.

Basically what that does is one it allows me to follow up the first time. It provides value that showcases my skills, my experience, what I bring to the table, but it also opens up the door for a second follow up because if that person doesn’t reply, I can email them again and say, “Hey, did you get what I sent?”

But if they do reply then the conversation is going. Now maybe they give me feedback over email and now we’re going back and forth. They’re getting more invested in me with each email and with each suggestion or better yet we get on the phone and we build more of that personal rapport. We’re talking instead of typing. Maybe it’s even face-to-face in person. But we’re kind of building that relationship and I’m adding value that directly relates to that person’s team, that person’s company, a role that’s open.

That’s typically when I like to trot it out, usually about five business days or so after we had the call. Then when it comes time to interview, I usually like to bring it with me into the interview. Then we’ll have the interview as planned.

Then at the very end when the interviewer is like, “All right, thanks so much for stopping by. Is there anything else?”  I’ll usually say, “Yeah, there’s one more thing. I talked to a few people at the company here on your team and they told me that your biggest challenge is X,” or “You have this new initiative coming up called Y and I put together some thoughts around that.”

Then I’ll slide it across the table to them and I’ll just say, “No need to look at it right now. I know you’re really busy. I appreciate the time, but if you do have a minute to look at it over the next day or two, please do. Definitely let me know if you have feedback. Thanks so much.”

Again that opens the door for you to follow up with your interviewer and a lot of people struggle with that. Following up is key to making sure that you’re staying top of mind and that they are driving the interviewing process and the hiring process on their end. Those are kind of the two times that I like to bring it out and leverage it most. I think that’s a good segue into what exactly does that project look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. This reminds me, I think Ramit Sethi calls this the briefcase technique in terms of there’s a very kind of a dramatic moment. It’s like, “What? Nobody else has ever extracted a document and handed it to me. What’s going on here? Oh,” ….

Austin Belcak
And they all use that voice too. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if they’re saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it to themselves hopefully because it’s just a huge differentiator. I guess a real key is that you in those conversations you’ve done a good job of zeroing in on, yes, this is their biggest challenge and yes, these are some ideas that might be workable.

You’re also kind of getting some useful feedback in terms of “Oh no, they really hate podcast advertising,” I don’t know. But nobody hates podcast advertising. It’s so effective and been proven many times.

Austin Belcak
Speaking of.

Pete Mockaitis
For example if they’re trying to acquire new customers and you’ve got these ideas and you’re having conversations and they say, “Oh no, they are totally against this,” because, I don’t know, it’s not measurable, it’s very visual, whatever their excuse is. Okay, now you know, so you’ve something that is sort of new and distinctive and feels innovative, like you’re smart, but also not just sort of way crazy out there or disgusting to them for whatever reasons or bias they have against them.

You’ve sort of fine-tuned something that’s pretty excellent by the time you’re in the interview. That’s cool and it’s exciting. I imagine just about nobody does this because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to risk it when there’s no guarantee, but on the flip side if you think about the time you spend blasting applications to hundreds or thousands of opportunities, it’s probably more time effective than the alternative.

Austin Belcak
Most definitely. I’m actually going back a few minutes here. I’m really glad you brought up Ramit because that’s actually where this idea kind of came from. I watched that briefcase technique video.

One of the ways that I built the experience to be able to even be considered for some of these roles at Microsoft and Google was starting up my own freelance consulting firm for digital marketing. The briefcase technique was something that I used to land clients. When I started applying for some of these jobs, I thought why not do something similar for these companies. That’s exactly what it was born out of.

But I’m also really glad that you brought up the point of it taking a lot of effort. Two objections that I typically get are that it takes a lot of effort and what if a company just takes my work and runs with it. I totally understand where people are coming from with both of those. But first for the ‘it takes a lot of work’ piece, it definitely does. But to your point, how much work are you spending applying online every day and is that making you happy? Also is it bettering you?

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. You’re learning a ton as you do this. Maybe it’s not applicable for Microsoft, but hey, Adobe is doing similar stuff.

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. It even goes beyond that. There aren’t too many transferable skills from applying online, but if you train your brain to get into this mode of consuming information with a lens of identifying problems and coming up with solutions quickly, that’s a pretty valuable skill to have anywhere in your career, whether you’re job searching, whether you’re trying to increase revenue or drive against goals that your boss gave you or come up with ideas to make a case for a promotion or a raise or starting your own company or business in pitching people.

No matter what you’re doing business-wise having a mindset of knowing where to find the right information, knowing how to tease out problems, that’s really, really valuable. This is kind of the first step there.

It definitely does take work, but you’re going to be that much better for it as a professional and as a person. That’s something I’ve seen direct benefits from even starting the business here and within my career at Microsoft.

Then the second objection is always what if the company steals my work and runs with it. I get what people are saying. There’s something that I’ve heard from a lot of people who advocate for the traditional job search and traditional business practices, which is basically if you’re good at something you should never do it for free.

I think that that’s changed in our world today because it’s so competitive. Whether you’re starting a business or searching for a job, there’s so much competition out there. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, a lot of people are still abiding by that methodology of not giving anything away for free and they’re the ones who are going to lose out.

If you really think about it, sure, you’re putting in a lot of time, but how much is a new job worth? When I got my job at Microsoft, I got a $60,000 raise. That’s by no means the norm, but the job before that I got a $20,000 raise, so let’s call that closer to even.

I think I spent probably maybe 20 hours coming with a value validation project for them and doing some research and putting it all together and then presenting it. If I think about it from that lens, I basically got paid 1,000 bucks an hour to come up with that project. I’ll take that hourly rate any day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Austin Belcak
That’s awesome. When people are worried about putting in the work and also companies stealing their work, I think you need to think of it more as the long-term strategy, a long-term investment. if a company is going to steal your ideas and just run with it, that’s a great litmus test for whether or not that’s a company you want to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
And if they steal your idea and you learn about that in the future, that goes on your resume.

Austin Belcak
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Austin Belcak
You have the proof. You can show when they executed it and when you came up with it and sent it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That goes on your resume. They did almost all the work.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
You did 20 hours’ worth. They did 3,000 hours’ worth.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome. That’s basically, it’s a short-sighted business strategy. All the great companies that I know, they want to invest in people who are going to bring great ideas to the table every day and they’re going to constantly be innovating and thinking of new ways to solve problems and be willing to roll up their sleeves.

On top of that, if I have an idea and I give you the framework, you’re probably not going to execute it the same way that I had in mind, whether or not it’s better or worse is up in the air. But if I’m a company I want to – I don’t want to just take this one idea.

I want to invest in the person who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard enough without even being employed at my company to come up with an idea like this because I know that once I bring them into the fold and give them all the inside information and the resources and all of that, they’re going to 10x those ideas and they’re going to be so, so impactful to the business.

If a company does steal your ideas, to me that’s a company that I don’t want to work for. Imagine what happens when they’re paying you and now that your manager is stealing all of your ideas the same way that they did when you applied for the job. That’s just a situation that you don’t want to be in. The great companies out there recognize that the person who is coming up with the ideas is far more valuable than the specific idea itself.

Then finally on that topic, how badly do you want the job? If you’re worried about a company stealing your project, just think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? Because if it’s not, if you’re applying online, if you’re trying to network and you’re doing this stuff and it’s just not working, you need to try something else.

If you’re so worried about a company stealing your project, but what you’re doing right now isn’t working, something has to give one way or the other. I’d much rather put in some time bettering myself, like honing my analytical thinking, my problem solving skills to come up with this idea that even if the company takes it and runs with it, like you said Pete, you can take the credit for it, you can put it on your resume, but you can also take that knowledge and the skills that you learned from going through that process and you can move on to the next company.

That’s how I typically handle both of those objections with people. But I’m happy to also give examples of specific projects that people have put together if you think that would be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, let’s hear examples of the projects and sort of the deliverable. It sounds like you’re working with PowerPoint slides and kind of what makes it great? Is there kind of a rough range of slides and what is the stuff that really makes you seem brilliant as opposed to like, “Yeah, okay. You Googled something. I’m not impressed.”

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. Right off the bat, I’d say that this is all about getting creative and focusing in on two things. One, what is valuable to the company, so what do they care about. Then also, what medium will help you best get that value across.

I mentioned PowerPoint decks because that’s what was easiest for me and that’s what was natural for me. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are into video or maybe they’re developers and they know how to code things and build things.

There’s so many different mediums that you can get the value across with that anything that you can do to stand out is great and anything you feel comfortable with is also great. A lot of people aren’t writers out there, but maybe they’re videographers. A video is great. But if you are more of a writer than a videographer, a blog post is great. Again, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Just to give a few examples. There are a couple that I really like. The first one is from a student named Cam. She was at Northeastern and she wanted a job at Airbnb. She had applied online and didn’t hear anything. She reached out to a bunch of the people who worked there. She also didn’t hear anything from her outreach.

We got to talking and I was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to try and come up with something else? Do you want to move on?” She said, “I haven’t done everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door here.”

She went out and she actually combed through social media to find pain points that real Airbnb customers had about the business. She screenshotted the pain points that people had. She consolidated them and she kind of analyzed them to find two that really stood out.

Those two were the lack of a keyword filter. Basically if I wanted to rent an apartment in Chicago for the night that had a hot tub and I could look right down into Wrigley, I don’t think that’s possible, but regardless, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be able to search for that specifically. I would basically have to search for listings in Wrigleyville and then click on each individual one and see if it had a hot tub and a view.

That’s not a great user experience because it requires a lot of effort on the user’s end. Naturally people were upset about that. The second piece was getting in touch with their customer service. Apparently, Airbnb’s customer service is like notoriously bad. Cam came up with ideas for both of those.

For the first, she went out and she found people and she asked them to go through this task of finding listings with specific criteria and asked them for their feedback and how they would improve it. She took all of their feedback and the recommendations and she mocked it up into an actual flow of what it would like within Airbnb’s app. That was one solution.

Then the second was she went out and did a bunch of research on the benefits of live chat, so basically having a little widget on your site that would allow people to interact with the site immediately and get the help they need immediately without a huge cost or overhead to Airbnb itself.

Basically she went out and she found all these benefits that showed that having live chat increased customer retention and increased satisfaction, increased revenue, all these metrics that any company wants to continue to improve.

What she did was she put together a deck, where she basically teed up the – she had screenshots from all these people on social media complaining about the thing. Then she went through and talked about the methodology of how she got the results. Then she showcased the solution.

That was about an eight-slide deck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t professionally designed or anything. Anybody listening to this could have put it together. But then she sent it out to the same contact that she had reached out to before and she got a reply the next day. She was in their office for an interview the next week. That’s a great, great example.

Pete Mockaitis
But did she get the job Austin? We’ve got to get closure.

Austin Belcak
She did. She did. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Hooray.

Austin Belcak
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, of course. I mean how could you not hire somebody who was doing that? Then that’s the whole point.

She went out and she found this tangible problem. She wasn’t like, “Hey, I think that your customers are having this issue.” She said, “Your customers are having this issue. Here’s how you fix it. I’m the person who has these kinds of ideas and will help you execute on that.”

Of course, they’re not – who’s going to hire somebody who’s just coming up with a resume and a cover letter, black and white ink, all of that, over somebody who went out and did marketplace research, customer research, and came up with actual tangible value for the company? That’s the type of thing that we’re talking about.

Just to give one more example that’s a very different end of the spectrum. There’s a guy named Tristan who he wanted job at Foursquare. This is about six – seven years ago when Foursquare was really booming. They were releasing an ad product. They had all these advertisers currently on the platform. They were looking to grow.

Tristan saw that they had an opening on their sales team and he really wanted it. Instead of just applying online, he went out and he basically mapped – he made a map of all the companies that were currently advertising on Foursquare. Then he went out and created a list of companies that were sort of lookalike, who matched the same criteria. Then he went and started reaching out to them. He generated about ten leads.

He got in touch with people, had conversations, positioned himself as a supporter of Foursquare. Then he sent an email to the CEO of Foursquare. He said, “Hey, you guys have an opening on your sales team. I’m really, really interested in it. I didn’t apply online. I didn’t do anything else, but I have ten people at companies who are ready to advertise with you today. I’m happy to give you their names and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. When can we meet?”

The CEO replied to him. They onboarded those ten companies. Tristan got hired not just as a regular salesperson, but actually as the director of sales.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. That’s another great example of thinking outside the box. He could have easily said – somebody who’s able to convince ten people to try a product for a company they don’t even work for has a good track record in sales ahead of time.

He could have easily said on his resume, “Over attainer, averaging 150% quota at my company,” but then he’d sound like exactly every other salesperson applying for the job. But by actually going out there and sourcing leads, which is exactly what they’re hiring this person to do and then bringing them to the CEO, again, same story as Cam from Airbnb. Why would they hire anybody else because they know that this person can do exactly what they’re asking for?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because when we talk about value, which can be a nebulous word at times, it’s so precise in terms of okay, these are real companies, who are quite likely to give us real money real soon. That’s great.

Then that also gets you thinking in terms of the value you’re creating doesn’t just have to be thoughts, ideas, input from users or customers, but it could be real precise in terms of generating revenue like, “These are leads we might buy from you right now,” or slashing cost in terms of providing actual vendors.

It’s like, “I’ve spoken with three people who have experience in automating manufacturing packaging lines and can totally handle doing box-dried macaroni,” I’m just inventing a totally new example, “and are happy to chat.”

If you’ve already validated that “Yes, sure enough they’re looking to slash manufacturing cost and there’s a lot of waste showing up in packaging. It’s very manual to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to address them,” then that could really resonate. Then it’s like, “Wow, we’ve never heard of these companies before and we should,” or, “Yeah, we’ve talked to one of them but haven’t heard of the other two. You’re bringing in new stuff that we hadn’t even considered.”

You can only be perceived positively unless you did a really shoddy job in terms of “This isn’t a real problem that we’re worried abbot. This thing that you’re proposing is completely farfetched and unworkable.” Assuming that you’ve got a reasonable quality, it’s huge in terms of showing what you can do.

Austin Belcak
Yup, absolutely. That’s basically the overarching strategy there. The best way that people can get started is to just start reaching out to people who are in a position to help them get hired. I know that that can be somewhat of a daunting task for people who have never reached out cold before. I have plenty of resources on my site to help people with that. I have templates of scripts and all that.

But the best thing that I can recommend is just start with one person per day. You can even do one person a weekday, so just five emails a week. Just find somebody on LinkedIn. You can look up their professional email using a tool like Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert, V-O-I-L-ANorbert.

You get their email, you just shoot them a note and you say, “Hey, I’m really impressed with your experience and I’d love to learn more about how you were able to achieve and accomplish all the things that you have in your career. Can we talk more about it?” Definitely probably go into a little more detail and personalization than that, but something along those lines.

Just start sending one email a day and I promise you, you will get responses. When you start getting responses and you start having these conversations, everything else is going to kind of fall into place. That’s the best next step that I can recommend. Yeah, Pete, I really, really appreciate the opportunity and you having me on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, this was fun, definitely. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Austin Belcak
Yes. It’s not necessarily job search related, but it could be. But for me something that’s resonated and I’ve been trying to focus on is that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think that is a Teddy Roosevelt quote.

I don’t know if you’ve run into this building your business, but it’s very easy to go on LinkedIn or somebody else’s blog and be like, “Man, they have so many more visitors than I do,” or “so many more likes and they’re doing so much better. That’s something that I really struggle with personally. I have that quote written up on our chalkboard in our kitchen here. I’m trying my best to kind of abide by it every day and just focus on me.

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

Austin Belcak
Oh, I can relate this one to the job search. Interviews are very fascinating environments for me because I am a big psychology fan. One of the things that I always recommend to people – I have two. I don’t know if we have time.

But the first one I’d recommend is basically in a series of events, people are most likely to remember the first thing, the first event and the last event.

When we think about that in the context of interviews, interviews all sort of follow the same progression. There’s the intro and the small talk kind of before you sit down at the table. Then you dive into the questions. There’s some soft balls. Then maybe you get into behavioral, maybe technical, case study questions. Then towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.

[51:00]

For the majority of interviewers out there, a lot of the answers are to the middle section are going to be the same. “Tell me about a time you failed. Tell me about your greatest weakness. Tell me about a time you succeeded,” all that stuff. The answers are all going to be sort of in the same ball park. But if we think about that principle where people remember the first and last event in the series, those happen to be the two events in the interview that we actually have the most control over.

You can drive the small talk at the beginning of an interview. If you do some research on your interviewer, you looked them up on Google, you looked them up on LinkedIn, maybe you find their Facebook profile, they have Twitter feed, and you try and find some piece of information that you can bring up at the beginning of the conversation that sort of sparks more personal talks so the formal barrier comes down.

That’s a great way to start the interview and that’s something that they’re going to be likely to remember.

Then at the very end if you can ask great questions. I also have an article on my site about – I just have a set of five questions. I know a lot of the articles I read give you like a million questions out there and tell you they’re all great, but I did a bunch of research using a lot of those questions and these are the five that I found to be the most effective.

But if you ask a great question that kind of incite a conversation and are a little bit on the unique side versus what everybody else might be asking, that’s also going to be very, very memorable. Doing both of these things will typically open up or give you some ammunition for a follow up.

Maybe that personal conversation – maybe this person tells you, “Hey, I’m getting married. I’m going on my honeymoon,” or “We had this vacation planned,” or “Hey, I just started brewing my own craft beer,” or “meditating,” or whatever. All of that is great ammunition for you to then go and follow up.

Ask them “What beers have you brewed? Where can I find a recipe?” “I love that book that you mentioned. Who’s the author again?” Then you can say – you can send them a follow up and say, “I read the book. My favorite point was X, Y, and Z. I totally understand why you said X about it.” It really opens the door to continue the conversation and continue building the relationship.

But that is a long-winded answer to your question, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Austin Belcak
That’s a good one. I think my favorite book is probably recently probably The Power of Habit. That’s one that my wife and I both love. I think habits are so critical to success in any capacity. They really drive – once you read that book you realize just how much habits drive most of your life. If you can build the right ones, you’re definitely going to set yourself up for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Austin Belcak
My favorite tool would probably have to be one of the ones I mentioned before, which would be Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really amazing ….

Austin Belcak
Yeah, they were a total game changer to me. But since I already mentioned them, for people wondering what they are, they basically allow you to look up anyone’s professional email address.

[54:00]

A related tool that should go hand-in-hand and I recommend to all my job seekers is it’s called Yesware, Y-E-S-W-A-R-E. It’s essentially an email tracker. This is a little bit creepy to be transparent, but it will allow you to basically see the activity on all the emails you sent.

You can when people open your email, how many times, how often, where, when, and if they engage with it. If there’s a link in it, it will tell you if they clicked on the link. It will tell you what device they opened it on. It’s pretty wild.

But the reason it’s so helpful is because when you’re reaching out cold to a lot of these people, you need to understand that a random email from a total stranger is probably low on their priority list no matter how badly they want to help you. Just because you don’t get a response, doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to help you or isn’t interested.

I gauge interest using email tracker. If somebody opens my email multiple times, then to me that is indicative that they’re thinking about it, they’re interested in it, they’re just very, very busy. I’m going to follow up five business days later. If they only open it once or they don’t open at all, then that means it’s time to move on to the next person.

Pairing using Hunter to find people’s emails and then using email tracker to gauge the engagement on their end, those are two of the most powerful tools you can use for finding strangers and reaching out to them and starting to build a relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Austin Belcak
I think my favorite habit, which I haven’t done enough of recently is getting up early and working out. It doesn’t have to be – one of the things that – I’m pretty much an all or nothing type of person. I’m either completely bought into something and probably investing too much time and energy into it or I’m not doing it at all.

Something that I realized recently was that even just going and running on the treadmill for ten minutes makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and manage my emotions for the rest of the day.

Then also getting up early. A lot of people ask me how I run my business while having a full time job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, working out and then coming back, I still have two hours before work to write some blog posts or do some outreach or whatever it is that I need to do. I think both of those combined are probably the thing that’s had the biggest impact on my life recently.

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

Austin Belcak
Definitely. I always leave with anybody is welcome to reach out and email me. I can’t be the person to tell you to cold email strangers and then not be the guy replies. My email is Austin@CultivatedCulture.com.

[57:00]

Then if people want to take the next step kind of and dive into some deeper material, if people listening go to CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome, there are two resources there. First, I keep a lot of data on the strategies that I recommend to people. I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tested out myself or with the audience. I consolidated the five most effective strategies that I found from coaching thousands of people for the last few years. Those are available there.

Then I also have a course that I call Resume Revamp. It’s my approach to writing an effective resume. Hundreds and hundreds of people have used it to transform their resume and land jobs at the places we mentioned before, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera. Again, that’s CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me if you guys have any questions at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Austin, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for doing what you’re doing and keep it up.

Austin Belcak
Thank you, Pete, likewise. I’m a huge fan of the podcast. For everybody listening, if you haven’t already, please go and leave a review for Pete because those are a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thanks.

Austin Belcak
No problem.