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KF #36. Instills Trust

435: Building Trust and a Powerhouse Team with Kristine Lilly and Dr. John Gillis

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Legendary soccer player Kristine Lilly and researcher Dr. John Gillis share the 13 tactics of a powerhouse team, whether in sports or business.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 13 tactics that make a powerhouse team
  2. The most common mistakes teams make
  3. How to build trust in a team

About Kristine and John

Kristine Lilly is an expert on effective teamwork. She consults with organizations, providing lessons gleaned from her remarkable career as a professional athlete. Lilly played midfielder for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team for over twenty-three years. This included five FIFA World Cups and three Olympic Games. She was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012 and the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 2014. Before that, she won four national championships at The University of North Carolina.

Kristine lives outside Boston with her husband, David Heavey, a Brookline firefighter. They “team together” to raise two amazing daughters, Sidney and Jordan.

Dr. John Gillis, Jr. facilitates executive leadership development using a dynamic business simulation for LeadershipX. As a management consultant, he has worked for IBM, Accenture, Center for Creative Leadership, and The Conference Board. He did his doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and Wharton Business School. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife Lynette and their four children: Jack, Rylan, Caroline, and Mary Claire.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Kristine Lilly and John Gillis Interview Transcript

Kristine Lilly
For women for the span of – if you look at 1991 was our first World Cup till 2004, which some of the – Mia, and Julie and Brandi retired. Those eight to ten years, we won two World Cups, two gold medals, came in third twice and won one silver.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Kristine Lilly
Not to say we won every tournament, but if you look at – and if you go further on, the worst place we’ve done in any competition with the US Women’s National team is getting out in the quarter finals of I believe it was the – what Olympics? ’96, 2012, ’16. They lost in the quarter finals. Every other big event with the US Women’s National team participating either got first, second or third.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Kristine Lilly
So we won. We won a lot. We worked hard to be successful and really amazing group of women that I played with during my time and obviously now. The team continues to win, which hopefully, is due to a good foundation that was set early on with the National team.

Pete Mockaitis
That is awesome. That is quite the track record, so I want to hear how you did it. I understand much of this is packaged in the book, Powerhouse. Maybe you could orient us to what’s the big idea in the book?

Kristine Lilly
Well, basically, when John and I talked about it, I would share the stories about the team and he couldn’t – I think, John, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he had an idea of the US team, but I don’t think he really knew the history of what we accomplished. Then I finally shared a movie with him called Dare to Dream that was on HBO. I said, “Just watch this.”

Then he got a history of the team and he was really impressed with the team. Then we talked a lot about business and how a business needs to come together and work as a team like these sports teams to be successful. He’s like, “You’ve got such a great story here. Why don’t we share it?” That’s where we are with how we got this book going and sharing all these great stories of the US Women’s National team while paralleling it to business tactics as well.

John Gillis
Pete, if I could just add on. As a spectator and a fan of the team I got to watch when they were winning the gold medals in the World Cup Championships. But then when Kristine and our families became friends and she’d tell some of the stories behind the scenes and all the effort, the practice before the performance and what they did to prepare themselves so that the team would be successful.

Those are the stories that I think are so relevant that Powerhouse shares some insight into those stories, not that you’re just seeing the team win, but what it takes to actually build that effective team so that they put themselves in position to win. Those stories that Kristine was sharing set through the years that I’ve known her, that’s what we really wanted to share and then say how does that apply to business.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. You’ve got 13 tactics in the book. Could you give us a quick overview of what are the 13 tactics?

Kristine Lilly
Right. I think if you’re first wondering why 13, that was the jersey number I wore for the US team. We’re trying to keep that kind of personally cute and connected to my career. We have 13 tactics. We’re not reinventing the wheel on teamwork or anything. We’re just trying to emphasize if you put these tactics together that they can help you be successful.

What’s really cool about this book too is we’ve broken them down into groups of three. Obviously there’s one underlying theme throughout this whole book, which is our last chapter called Doing the Right Thing. Each group of three is under a different category or pillar. We have transform, empower, achieve and motivate. We’re using the word team to create those words.

Each pillar has different tactics. The first one we have selecting your team members, align the team’s directions, score a goal, would be transforming a team.

Obviously you get into empower, so we’re setting the team foundation, leading the team, and then serving on international teams because, obviously, the game is global for soccer and obviously, business and corporations are global as well.

Then our next one is achieve and you have learn teamwork, communicate with the team, and handle team conflicts. Then the last pillar motivate, you have chemistry, cultivating your team ethos and a winning mentality.

When I look at all these things, it’s really powerful when all those components come together and what the team can accomplish. I think when we talked earlier about the success of the US Women’s National team, all these components were on fire, all these components were working. There wasn’t something lacking in any of them when we were successful. I think that’s the difference in a good team dynamic and one that’s not as successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And in business environments, what would you say is something that is most frequently not working within that lineup?

John Gillis
I’ll jump in here and just highlight that Kristine mentioned that we’re not recreating the wheel, but at the same time, Pete, every business that I go to and I’ve been doing management consulting my whole career for decades. I go all over the globe looking and talking to companies and time and time again you see where there’s dysfunctions within the company.

Even though we recognize that teamwork and being effective in our teamwork will help provide a competitive advantage, each organization if you go to an individual at a company and say, “Hey, tell me about teamwork at this company,” most people will tell you a story in the negative. They’ll tell you what’s going wrong, why there isn’t effective teamwork.

Even though the question is “Tell me about teamwork at the company,” most people just have a negative experience with it. We’ve always known for years that teamwork can help a company succeed both as far as the teams working effectively, but how that contributes to the bottom line and making profitability, but yet, companies continue to struggle in that.

Through the 13 and really looking at assessing your company with some key questions at the end of every chapter, it’s saying let’s self-identify and self-assess where our team is strong, but where we have opportunities to improve so that we’re not one of those companies that’s saying when someone asks you, “Tell me about teamwork,” that we answer in the negative.

We want people to be able to go through the 13 teamwork tactics and be able to answer in the positive and say, “This is why our team is strong.”

Pete Mockaitis
Within those negative answers, what do you find most often? You mentioned you’ve got an assessment with the questions at the end of each chapter, so you can get to the particulars for your given organization. But what are the ones that you’re seeing most commonly folks are falling down on?

John Gillis
I’ll go first and then I’ll let Kristine jump in here in her experience. But I find that each company is unique and different, but yet if you have to highlight some of those, it really comes down to a breakdown in trust, a breakdown in role clarity and a breakdown in accountability.

We see team loafers that are there pulling down the other team members because their roles aren’t clear, they don’t have accountability for executing their work deliverable and so the overall trust among team members breaks down because of that role clarity and the accountability. Kristine?

Kristine Lilly
Yeah, it’s not ironic, but I think it’s similar on the sports side of it as well. Trust is a huge thing and knowing what your role is and accepting it and diving into it. Because a lot of times you may have a position on the field or in the office that you don’t agree with, but if you want to have your job and you want to help your group or your organization be successful, you’ve got to hunker down and do your job that it is and accept and go with it.

I think John was spot on with the business side of it, similar with the team side. Trust is a huge component for team members on our team. We had that throughout.

I think the other one I would add in there would be communication. Usually when I look at a game that we played and we haven’t been successful or we’re not being cohesive, we’re not finding the rhythm together, the field is really quiet. When we start talking and we’re communicating a little bit better, it changes the flow of the game. I think communication is a big part of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting correlation that you noticed in terms of actual experience that when things aren’t going well, it’s quiet.

Kristine Lilly
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And when things are going better, it’s not quiet with regard to speaking up. I can certainly see times where that happens.

John, I was intrigued by the interrelationship that you point out there in terms of when there’s a lack of role clarity and/or accountability, you’ve got some loafers, folks who aren’t doing much, and then trust is eroded in terms of I guess the other folks are taking a look at the loafers like, “What the heck? This isn’t fair.” It’s a real knot of unpleasantness. Tell me what are some of your top tips to facilitate some additional role clarity and accountability and trust?

John Gillis
Pete, you nailed it on the head. I think most people that are listening to this podcast would be nodding their head and saying, “Oh yes, I remember at this company or the company I’m at now or the company I was at a decade ago, I remember that team loafer and how it really did erode the trust.”

One of the things that we try to highlight in Powerhouse, it’s not just here’s the areas where teams might have issues, but how do we go about building trust. When you get to that section of the book, it’s looking at those steps as far as the benevolence, the openness, the honesty that’s going to help create trust.

As we talked about ahead of time, most of this book, if not all of it, it’s all evidence based. We researched trust. We researched accountability. We researched roles. We wanted to give people not only here’s issues that might come up, but here’s some research-backed approaches that you can use if your team is having a trust issue.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear what are some of the most impactful practices or activities, things to do when you find yourself in those shoes?

Kristine Lilly
With our sports team, one of the biggest changes in our team was when we hired a skills coach. We had Dr. Colleen Hacker join our team and she changed our group in a sense where we found everything we needed within each other, but it was really finding that path to connect with everybody and accept everyone for who they are and know that everyone had a role. I think that really was a change for us.

We would practice different things, whether it was team-building exercises, where we had to do to the typical fall back and your teammates got to catch you. Every time you do that, you’re still wondering are they going to catch you. But you build that trust and you see that. That was a big change in our team and bringing out the trust of the group and really helping us connect.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. Kristine, you’re saying that you did on numerous occasion these trust fall exercises and that was genuinely helpful?

Kristine Lilly
It was. It totally was because you still wonder if someone’s going to catch you. You’ve got to trust in that. They were there always. Sometimes a little laughter or maybe they caught you a little late, but they still caught you.

There were different exercises that helped build that or different ways that someone could step up and lead in different activities we did that maybe they were quieter on the field, but then you came to this tactical game and they started to step it up so that gave them the confidence to be like, “Oh, I do have a voice and people will listen.”

John Gillis
Pete, I think it’s really critical here that Kristine gave a great example. Finding the right team building activities for your audience, not – a trust fall might be perfect for your audience or it might not be the right activity.

In the book we talk about business simulations and we talked about coaching. We walk through several activities that you can do for team building because you have to find the right one for your audience.

One other story that Kristine shared in the book that I think was critical is that different activities are going to allow different players or different team members an opportunity to shine. You’re giving different platforms for people to step up and take leadership roles.

Kristine had talked about specific activities where a team member that might have been quiet in one activity was able to shine in another. It really allows that trust building to come through different environments and scenarios.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. We talked a little bit about some of the problems and interventions. I’d also like to get your take when it comes to the thing that makes the biggest difference in terms of boy, with this you see a whole lot of power in terms of teamwork and performance getting enhanced. I’d be curious to get each of your takes on is there one of the tactics that is perhaps the most impactful.

Kristine Lilly
I think when you look at building a team and becoming a powerhouse, I think if you don’t have all these, you’re not going to be as strong. But I do think if I look at one area that really helped us, I would say this is from ’91 to ’99 when we won two World Cups and then the first gold medal in the Olympics and then came in third in one game, our leadership was unbelievable.

When I look at a component of a team is you have to have good leadership from your top coaches down to the bottom. That’s really important to have that going for you. Carla Overbeck was one of our captains and the leadership that she provided along with Julie Foudy was incredible.

The one thing in the book that she has a quote in the book, she says, “Our whole team was based on servant leadership.” What I love about that is Carla was the first one – she was our captain and everyone respected her – she would be the first one to pick up the balls or pick up the cones or do the hard work when, in highlight, when you look at anything that some of those players would just walk by it.

We genuinely cared about each other and genuinely wanted to make each other better, so we served each other to help that happen. I think leadership role from top all the way down was just so important in that timeframe.

Pete Mockaitis
So you mentioned the servant leadership piece and going ahead and doing some of the grunt work, the not so glamorous stuff, picking up the cones and balls and such, could you share what are a couple of other things that come to mind that make that leadership incredible?

Kristine Lilly
Well, I think when I stepped on the field with these women, we all were similar mentality, had the same goal set. We wanted to be the best in the world. But obviously there were times when you weren’t at your top and you’re struggling or technically you’re not on and your head goes down.

The greatest example I can share with you about Carla and how well she led us and how balanced she was with how she spoke to us, was if your head was down, she wasn’t like yelling at you, “Let’s go.” She’s be like, “Kristine Lilly, we need you.” Immediately you’re like, “All right. They need me. Even if I’m crappy right now, they need me.”

Then on the other side is when you’re doing well and you’re tearing it up, Carla would be the first one like, “Lil, that’s the way to go.” You have a leader that knew how to help each individual player out there and get the best out of them at the highest moment and at the lowest moment. I think that’s why Carla was so amazing in that sense.

Julie Foudy was our other captain and she balanced that out with humor and passion. You have two people leading us in different ways, but getting the best out of us at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us some examples of the humor and passion that really made an impact for you in the leadership realm?

Kristine Lilly
Yeah. Well, Jules was our vocal leader. She always wanted the ball, so she was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and half the time she had two players – three players on her, like, “Jules, I’m not giving you the ball.” That would make you laugh a lot.

But there was one play in the World Cup, in the ’99 World Cup when we won, where I headed the ball off to …, which we talk about in the book. After the play happens, I’m running out of our penalty box, we just cleared it, I’m running next to Jules and we look at each other and she’s like laughing and we’re both thinking in our heads “Did that really just happen?” We were just laughing at that moment.

I’m like, holy cow, we’re in the World Cup final. Overtime. We almost lost the game and we find a moment where we can laugh. That’s what was so great with Jules is the humor was always there to remind us this isn’t life or death. This is a soccer game. You’ve got to enjoy it.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that notion of if you’re feeling lame and underperforming, to hear your name and we need you as opposed to any number of other things you can yell out, like, “Come on. Get it together. What’s wrong with you?”

Kristine Lilly
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Dozens to choose from, but I cannot think of something that would be more kind of uplifting in terms of getting a quick refocus then hearing your name and we need you.

Kristine Lilly
Yeah, it was pretty powerful to be honest with you.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that.

John Gillis
Pete, I know that you come from the business world like I do and how many times has someone come up beside you in the business world and said, “Hey, Pete, we need you.” It just doesn’t happen as much. Even though I can point to the times in my career where it has because they’re few and far between, but they mean so much to me when someone comes on and picks me up in the corporate setting.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly and you feel valued in that midst. I think it’s …, rather than saying that, we’re just kind of ticked off that someone’s not doing what they’re supposed to do. Instead of thinking, “Oh, we need you,” it’s “Well, hey, who else can I shift this too who’s not going to let me down and make me angry?”

John Gillis
Exactly. That memory of teamwork where you have the social … that really impacted you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it, so as you teach this stuff and you’re sharing the good word and helping the teams to perform all the better, what are some particular mistakes, some things that people struggle with when they’re trying to put it into practice?

Kristine Lilly
Well, I think if you look at sports teams, business is they talk about it and talk about it and they tend not to put it into action. If there’s a way that you’re supposed to handle conflict and your leadership kind of just brushes it under the rug and talks about “Oh, everything’s transparent,” and then brush it under the rug, you lose respect and you lose trust immediately.

I think being consistent with what your ideas are, your values are, what your per se rules are, and staying true to them. I think that’s any kind of team, a business, any organization, your family as well, letting know what all the rules of the house are or guidelines that we all go through.

But I think really putting everything into practice is really where I think people falter. On the sports field definitely I feel that. We just don’t execute each thing we have set out to do, but I think in the business world that can be one of the parts that people can struggle with. They do a lot of talk, but they don’t put in to action.

John Gillis
I think, Pete, one of the reasons that it’s not going into action is that most people if you talk to them, they’ll say, “Hey, I’m a good team member. It’s that other person that’s not a good team member.” We don’t realize our own blind spot. We’re not self-aware or we’re not team aware.

I think it really requires that trust and that openness and communication to say, “Hey, I need to acknowledge where I’m a strong team member and I need to acknowledge where I’m not so that I can work on that,” because no one on the team thinks that they are not an effective team member.

They might think that they are, but it’s being team aware of how you fit in to the team and how you can better impact the team in a positive way and then acknowledge and work on the areas where you might be pulling the team down.

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

John Gillis
One last thing that I would just highlight here is that Kristine mentioned that her number was 13 and there’s 13 chapters. She talked about the four pillars, transform empower, achieve and motivate. When we were structuring the book, it’s not that there’s one that’s more important than the other. All 13 really are critical.

You have the four pillars, and of course, the foundation that she talked about earlier, doing what is right. That’s a foundation for the other 12 chapters. Each one is critical and you can’t really ignore one and highlight the other because then you’re going to have a gap on your team.

Kristine Lilly
I think what I add to the process of writing this book with John when we were figuring out what all the chapters and who to talk to and obviously I was thinking of my teammates and once we figured out where we wanted to go with the people, once I started to reach out to them, they all were like, “Sure, when do you need me?”

It just reiterated why this book is so important because immediately I asked all these women that are super busy in their lives and they immediately were making time to do the interview to share their insight on the success of the US Women’s National team and just made it more prevalent how great that team was and how great the team continues to be because they do for others. I thought that was pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you. Well, now could you share with me a favorite quote? If one of you has one and the other one doesn’t, that’s totally fine for each of these fast faves. But yeah, what is something you find inspiring?

Kristine Lilly
A favorite quote of mine just in general?

Pete Mockaitis
Yup.

Kristine Lilly
I think one of the quotes that I always resort back to is an Emerson quote, “What lies before us and what lies after us are small compared to what lies within us.” I think when I look at my career and being part of the team, there’s always so much more you can give from yourself. If you look at the sports world, you spend your time like, “Oh, I can’t run anymore. I can’t do it,” but you can.

There’s always something more we can give to others and to our self to be better. That quote always resonates with me in life when I choose to do something and I’m feeling real rundown or a bit tired, I’m like, “No, I can do more.” That’s always for the bigger picture. It’s for others. It’s for your team. It’s for you to be better.

John Gillis
I love Kristine’s deep quote. I was just going to highlight that at the beginning of each chapter we pick a quote from one of those players that Kristine just mentioned and put it at the beginning of the chapter. But the introduction, the quote that we lead off with is “Wearing the same jersey does not make a team.”

I think so many times in the business world we say “Hey, this group of people, they’re a team because they all work for Company X,” or “They’re all in Department X,” or whatever reason we say, “You’re a team,” but yet, quite frankly, they have the same name across their jersey, the department or the company, but yet they don’t operate as a team.

Even though we put the team moniker on lots of groups of individuals, it’s really a team in name only. They’re not collaborating. They’re not building trust. They’re not having open communication. They don’t have clear goals and responsibilities.

We really need to – the word ‘team,’ that moniker, is thrown around quote a bit, when actually groups of individuals aren’t working together effectively as a team. I love that quote, “Wearing the same jersey does not make a team.”

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

John Gillis
Kristine, are you letting me take this one?

Kristine Lilly
No, I’m letting you take this one, John. You just busted on my sweet quote, my deep thoughts with Kristine Lilly here.

John Gillis
I love the deep thoughts of Kristine Lilly.

Kristine Lilly
I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.

John Gillis
Pete, one of the great things here is the team that wrote this book, so you have Kristine at the beginning of her chapter sharing these wonderful soccer stories and you have Dr. Lynette Gillis that did a lot of academic research that plays into the book so that it’s evidence based. Then I provided the management consulting experience with numerous companies across all sorts of different industries.

The research is really throughout, but the one that I’m going to highlight for you on that question because we did every chapter there’s research, but yet the one I think that people might not think about as much is the network centrality and really saying that when you look at your team, you need to figure out where the center point is.

For a lot of teams that might be the leader. Kristine talked earlier about Julie Foudy and Carla, but on some teams it’s not necessarily the person at the top. That central part of a team could be the person where people go to for information, for guidance, for direction, for know-how, for knowledge, for historical comparisons, that they are the central part that the team members go to in order to get work done effectively.

Understanding who has influence on a team, especially if it’s not the formal leader, but yet that informal leader, I think that’s a critical aha moment that the research provided in this book to say when you look at your team, don’t just look at the leaders, but look at the informal leaders, those that are central that have influence among your team members.

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

John Gillis
Well, I can tell you, when we were writing this, there’s several authors that came to mind that we really admire and wanted to model after. Those, Sheryl Sandberg, with her book Lean in and Option B and of course her co-author there, Adam Grant that also wrote Give and Take. You look at Malcolm Gladwell and his evidence-based approach to look in at psychology and workplace culture.

A lot of those writers and authors are the ones that we really looked at it and tried to model some of this writing after. Obviously, that’s a high standard but we wanted to give that evidence … based approach similar to Jim Collins in Good to Great and give people a book that they could go to their business teams and their organizational teams and say, “Wow, this is not only entertaining, but I learned a lot and can apply to my business.

All those authors I just mentioned I feel like when I read their books, that’s what I felt. That hey, it was entertaining and I know that I can go and apply this immediately. I can pick up the book at the airport, read it on the airplane and when I get to the worksite, I can immediately apply it because it was not only entertaining, it was immediately practical and applicable. Kristine.

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

Kristine Lilly
Favorite tool, awesome at my job. I don’t know. I think for me – obviously my career playing my tools were my feet. They keep me going on the field. I think now we have a company with Mia Hamm and Tish Venturini called TeamFirst Soccer Academy. We travel around the country teaching kids about the game, but also about the passion and love that we shared for it and how to be a good teammate and obviously, how to work together as a team.

I think for me, my tool is just communication for me within my co-founders, also friends and then the staff we bring along with us to be able to communicate with them to get the best of them for the day on the field with the kids or whatever it may be and to make sure there’s fun involved because the reason why we played sports or play sports is because it is fun.

When you get into the world where now you’re trying to make money and run a business, I think there still needs an element of enjoying what you do. I think if I look back at my coaches that I had in the National team from Anson Dorrance, one of the first coaches of the US team and then Tony DiCicco took after him. He passed away almost a few years ago now.

He used to come to the field – Tony would come out to the field and he used to stand in the middle of the field, put his hands up in the air and he would just say, “I love my job.” We’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, Tony. We know. We know you love your job.” But it kind of – it stayed with me and a lot of the players that one thing we remember about Tony was him saying that.

But the fact was he really did love his job and we could tell he loved his job because how he taught us, how he communicated with us, how he was passionate about everything from the field stuff to caring about us. I think that’s a pretty powerful thing when you love something and if you can be passionate and spread that love and be contagious, that’s a great tool to have in your pocket.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Kristine Lilly
John, do you got any favorite habits? I had a whole routine for my game.

John Gillis
Kristine’s habits are fantastic.

I think the habit is knowing where your strengths are and where someone else’s strengths are so that you can leverage your strengths for effective teamwork. In this case, I was more the cheerleader for the girls and the email guy to organize the parents, knowing that Kristine and her coaching would give them all the soccer tactics that any five-, six-, seven-year-old girl would need to know at that level.

The habit for me for effective teamwork is knowing your strengths and capitalizing those, but also recognizing where your team member has more strengths than you so that effectively the team as a whole is stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget that you share in the book that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and you hear it quoted back to you frequently?

Kristine Lilly
Well, I don’t know if there’s just one nugget. I think for myself when I worked on this with John and read it over again, I think obviously the one thing that comes over and over in our minds is the word ‘team.’ I know that’s what it’s about, but even with our four pillars – transform, empower, achieve, and motivate – are all from the word team.

What I’ve learned throughout my career and pretty much in life and everything, you can’t do anything alone. You need people. People need people, but people also want people. People want to be a part of a team. They want to be a part of a group and feel like they’re valued.

I think the team concept is so powerful that individually, you just can’t necessarily do all that you want sometimes. I think the team is great. I would say the word ‘team’ is pretty much used a lot in this book and one that resonates with everybody and really resonates with me because I was part of such a wonderful team.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.
Oh great. Thank you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kristine Lilly
For me, you can go to KristineLilly13.com to reach out to me. Also, go to Amazon to preorder the book, which will come out May 7th, but is available to preorder now. John can share his contact info.

John Gillis
JohnGillisJr.com. Kristine’s speaking, we have training workshops and just thrilled for everyone to join this Powerhouse training with us.

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

Kristine Lilly
Well, I think first off, recognizing what your part of your organization and what you’re trying to accomplish as a team is the first step. I think once you have that and you can embrace your teammates and find the strength within each other and the familiarities and the common mindset, then you can do great things.

I think back to why the teams were successful when we did win championships. It was a group of women coming together that were likeminded, strong, competitive, feisty, wanted to tear people apart on their way to success, but, in the same sense, doing it together, working your role and figuring out what you need to do to help the whole unit be successful.

When that happens, you’re in the zone. It goes back to the sport’s thing going, people in the zone, they don’t hear anything, they’re confident, and they’re going to make whatever shot they’re going to do right now happen.

John Gillis
I would say from my charge, we can all reflect back on our careers and know the successful teams that we were on and then the groups of individuals that were teams in name only.

Yet, when we were naming this book, we didn’t have Powerhouse when we started writing the book, but then someone said, “You need to name this book Powerhouse because the definition is a team having great energy, strength and potential for success.”

When you look back and say in your career where was the powerhouse that I was on, the team with energy, strength, and potential for success, and what can I do in today’s team to help us be a powerhouse.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kristine, John, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the good word. I wish you much luck with your coaching and teaching and book and all the fun you’re up to.

Kristine Lilly
Thank you, Pete, for having us. We appreciate it.

John Gillis
We really do. Thanks for it. It’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, well that is the recording. Good deal, thanks a lot.

Kristine Lilly
Thank you so much. That was great. We appreciate it.

429: A Navy SEAL’s Surprising Key to Building Unstoppable Teams: Caring

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Former NAVY SEAL platoon commander and current entrepreneur Alden Mills walks through his CARE framework for teambuilding.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four key steps to leading with CARE instead of fear
  2. The distinction between caring and comforting
  3. The high stakes associated with caring

About Alden

Alden Mills is a three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander and was the CEO of Perfect Fitness. He is also a longtime entrepreneur, with over 40 patents and over 25 years of experience working on high-performance leadership, sales, and team-building.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Alden Mills Interview Transcript

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

Alden Mills
It’s awesome to be here. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s awesome to have you. I’m so excited to dig into the goods. Maybe why don’t we start with some action to hook this conversation into some entry. Could you open us up by sharing a daring story from your days in the Navy SEALS?

Alden Mills
Well, when I think about daring stories, I have to tell you, probably the single most daring story I had was actually when I first started SEAL training to begin with because I really wasn’t sure if I could make it through that. I remember this man coming up to us who had his left butt cheek blown off by a rocket propelled grenade in Vietnam.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man.

Alden Mills
He walked with this limp. He had this deep Southern accent. We had about 122 candidates. I was as nervous as I had ever been because here I am; I’m about to start training, but he’s going to make us do this physical test. The same physical test we had done multiple times.
He gathers us up and he speaks to us and he says, “Class 181, gather around here. I want to let you in on a little secret.” We’re all like, “Oh, secret. We like secrets.” “Y’all interested to know how to make it through Navy SEAL training?” We were like kids to a campfire. We were all bobbing our heads up and down.
He goes, “It ain’t complicated. You just have to decide how much you’re willing to pay. You see, I know for a fact 80% of you aren’t going to be willing to pay the price. You know why? Because you all want to be SEALs on sunny days.” He goes on for a while, but what he’s really talking about was talking about creating this conversation in our head, in our heart.
I remember all of us standing around and it was kind of the first time that somebody had really talked to us about saying, “Hey, are you willing to die for your country. Are you really going to do this or are you just going to be that SEAL on a sunny day?” Within six weeks, we went from 122 down to 18. That was the beginning of a transformation of a whole series of evolutions of SEAL training.
I thought when you just asked me that I’d start with that. There are mission that I’ve been on that are still classified that I won’t talk about, but some of the things that were most exciting to me were those personal challenges like that day when he started bringing us all around together and telling about this conversation he was going to create between our head and our heart and how we had to learn to deal with what it was we were willing to sacrifice to make it through.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Yeah, that’s a powerful perspective that can apply to many circumstances. You’ve put together in your book, Unstoppable Teams , a number of pieces that sort of speak to some parallels between how Navy SEAL teams can really have some real similarities to high-performing civilian teams.
Could you draw that parallel for us or build that bridge, lots of metaphors here, if folks are saying, “You know what? What I do is nothing like what a Navy SEAL team does,” can you set us straight, Alden?

Alden Mills
You know how many times I’ve heard that. People will say, “There’s nothing similar between you and me. You’re a Navy SEAL. You’re a freak of nature.” Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of a freak that you want to go through that kind of training, but the same things that they do for us in SEAL team, they’re just more condensed, are exactly the same rules that apply as a civilian, which, by the way, I’ve had much harder times leading civilians then I’ve ever had leading SEALS.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh intriguing. Could you say more about that, please?

Alden Mills
I can. In part because in SEAL team they have this place called X Division. X Division is a place where they remove the negative attitudes, the quitters. They don’t let any of that get involved with the people that are in the arena.
As a civilian, after I left SEAL team, you’re surrounded by people who are in X Division. You have to make your own X Division. You have to decide who you want to listen to and what voice you want to focus on. You can’t just willy-nilly go out there and fire anybody you want. It takes a long time to remove somebody off of a team. Most of us, we inherit people when we go from one team to the next.
Sometimes the X Divisions that you have to create, both, by the way, I call them – there’s two kinds of teams. There’s the internal ones, inside of you and the external ones, all the different relationships you build. Sometimes those people are close to you that you have to put in your own personal X division, like family or friends who are telling you, “Oh, how do you know you can do that? You can’t do that.”
A lot of people who tell you you can’t do something, it’s because they haven’t done it themselves. It scares them. They don’t want you to go out there and be different. Misery loves company. That became probably my biggest challenge when I transitioned out of SEAL team into being a civilian and leading civilians.
I’ve led civilians in all different capacities, from community organizations to charities to … startups. I think that’s a really important element to share with people is to understand that it’s up to you to decide what are the things you want to focus on from the people that are telling you what you can and can’t do because at the end of the day, it’s up to you to set those limits and that focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s good. The X Division is sort of like x out of considerations, like we’re just not going to let that into the thinking or consideration at all.

Alden Mills
That is correct.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alden Mills
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Done. Cool. Well, tell us then. You’ve got a lot of good stuff in your book, Unstoppable Teams . Could you share what would you say is sort of the key thesis or big idea or main message here?
Alden Mills
The biggest thesis out of all of this is using the most fundamental human emotion to connect, inspire and empower people to do something that moves them from a point of natural selfishness to selflessness . That human emotion is care. It’s not fear. You don’t want to lead by fear. What you want to lead by is with care, what I call care-based leading .

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You say care is the emotion, so we’re going to unpack that into you’ve got a bit of a framework here. But let’s talk a little bit about the emotion itself and how that does lead folks out of selfishness to selflessness.

Alden Mills
Take a look at some of the most recent research that’s come out. There’s a wonderful piece of research that’s come out through psychologists down in UCLA who I quoted her in my book. What she’s talking about and discovered is all humans have a natural capacity for care reciprocity. Unless you’re a psychopath, okay, the amygdala isn’t firing and we just don’t accept any emotion there. But for the 99.9% of us out there, we respond to care.
In its most basic form, I hold the door for you, you turn around and you turn around and you hold the
door for somebody else. That’s usually pretty instinctually a reciprocal event. The same type of reciprocity occurs as you go further and deeper into caring for somebody. “Hey, how are you doing today, Pete? What happened last night? I heard about your mom. Is she okay?” Going and taking a step and initiating care.
All of the sudden, Pete feels like, “Wow, somebody did something kind of selfless. They weren’t worried about themselves. They were worried about me and my mom. They showed an element of curiosity and care about me,” that may have nothing to do with work, but it does have to do with the whole picture of who Pete is.
You go even further from that and say now I’m a first line, second line leader, manager, whatever you are in your organization and you’re saying, “Hey, I know what you are today, but I also know that you want to be here in a year. I’m going to help you get there.” Again, it’s not directly related to trying to help you get a better return on investment. It’s trying to help somebody go to another level.
When that starts to happen, people will start to say, “Hey, wait a second. These people are actually more interested in me and I’m going to reciprocate by doing even better work. That’s at the highest level what I’m talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. That’s great. Then you sort of go into some depth there when it comes to caring – it’s a bit of an acronym – to connect, achieve, respect and empower. Can you give us a little bit of a detailed taste for what you mean by each of these four verbs?

Alden Mills
Again, so when we talk about these highest levels of how do you get people to reciprocate with care, and, by the way, care is also a function of oxytocin. There’s a blocker to oxytocin called cortisol. These have all been scientifically measured. The first thing that’s got to happen is to create a level of trust, which is what I call connect.
Being a military guy, I’ve created a simple acronym of these flywheel or loop, what I call the care loop of connect, achieve, respect, empower. When it comes to connect, how you connect and what’s the point of connecting. The point of connecting is creating and building trust with somebody. How do you do that? Well, you do that one, through communication.
Communication actually is involved with mental, physical and emotional communication. 55% of communication is broken down into your body language, 38% is through tone, 7% is through the actual words. The next piece of that is your credibility. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? How accountable are you? What level of proficiency do you have at something?
The third part of connect is committing, making that commitment. Are you all in? Are you all in for just some people or are you all in for everybody? When you start doing that on a consistent basis, you start building up a level of trust that then sets in motion the next step because if you’re on any kind of a team, teams are designed to accomplish something. You move to achieve.
When it comes to achieving, the whole point of why you build a team in the first place is to go achieve
something. Achieving really is setting direction for that team. What’s the purpose, where are we going and how are we going to get there?
I break achieving down into a series of what I call the five A’s of achieve. The first one is starting with aspire. Aspiring means when you’re going after something – when I’m talking about teams – and, Pete, a lot of people get teams and groups – they use teams so often that they mistake most things for groups because teams are a much rarer form of what a group is.
A group is really a combination of people coming together that maybe connected or directed to do something, but teams, they move at a higher level and are much more focused on doing something greater than themselves. Usually, the teams are coming together to do something that no single individual could do.
When it comes to inspiring, you need to have a level of trust already built for them to say, “Are you kidding me? How are we going to get to the moon in less than a decade?” Some of these great challenges. Then once you start the aspiring, this is a natural tendency for people. I call it the second A, which is assume. You have to let people go and experience and try and take their own path to getting something done.
A lot of leaders will make the mistake that, “Okay, I’ve inspired them. Now I need to tell them exactly what to do.” What happens there? You just take away the fire in their belly of saying, “Hm, how can I figure out the best way to do this my way.” You remove that creativity from them and you micromanage them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Alden Mills
That can kill the team dynamic early on. Then from when you get to assuming, you can relax a bit because don’t worry I’m not telling you assume they’re going to get it done and see them in two months. You create assessments. You create assessments for the team. We always had assessments at SEAL team, checking in on how we were doing for the next – how was our progress as a team.
It wasn’t so much – excuse me – it wasn’t so …. the weakest link, as it was how is the team doing together, how are we processing.
Once you pass through assess, the next piece is like, “Oh my gosh, there are times when we’re not progressing.” A leader has to step into assure, to assure them that, “Listen, we’re going to take a couple of steps back before we go forward. Just look at the core ways we’ve learned not to do something.”
Then the final one is having an appreciation, having an appreciation for the whole person, not just for the eight hours or the ten hours in which you see that person . Have you spent the time to appreciate what struggles they have outside of work, things that you may or may not be aware of or things that you can help them with?
But when you start adding those pieces to the puzzle of building out a team, that’s where care starts to
build on the flywheel that takes you to the third component, which is building out an environment of respect. A lot of people today are like, “Well, we’ve got to have respect because it’s just the right thing to do.”
But what’s the real reason to create mutual respect? The real reason is to get people to willingly contribute. That’s what you want respect for, respect for different cultures, respect for diversity of thought. That’s what it’s about is getting these different points of view to give you different ways in which you can slay the obstacle and grab the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that.

Alden Mills
Respect is what I call – go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
The respect is not just like “You should respect,” be like well, no, it fundamentally is what leads to folks willingly contributing and if you don’t then they won’t and you need it and you’re missing out.

Alden Mills
Yeah, you’re going to be suboptimal. Some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had in companies is when we brought together what – some people may say, “People around this table look like the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer . Oh, they all look totally different.” I’m like, “That’s perfect. That’s exactly what I want,” because I know that I stand a better chance at getting all kinds of diverse opinions.
What you’re really after is diversity of thought, not diversity of heart. I want everybody’s heart in alignment, but I definitely want to create that diversity of thought. The only way that’s going to occur is on that third piece of the flywheel of the CARE loop with respect and what I call realize, recognize, and require. Realize and respect can come from two places: authority or your actions.
If people think that “Well, just because I’m the senior person here, I get more respect,” that is a very short-minded approach because it’s not going to last very long. Authority and respect in a SEAL team would last for about ten seconds. Maybe in the civilian world it might last for a couple of paychecks, but over time what wins the day are your actions.
That brings you to recognize how do you recognize the actions of others. Do you take the extra time to figure out, “Hey, Sally over here is a math genius. She’s phenomenal at pivot tables.” You may have said, “What’s pivot tables got to do with launching the perfect pushup?”
Well, it solved all of the big issues that were actually our biggest Achilles heel, which had to deal with supply chain management and shipping millions of units. If it weren’t for Sally and her pivot table super powers, we’d be in the hurt locker.
When you can start to recognize how a super power of each individual comes together to build up the team, then you’re starting to create an unstoppable team, where everybody starts realizing “Hey, this
person is really caring about me and what I can bring to the table, therefore, I’m going to start reciprocating and do the same.”
That final R, by the way, is you have to require it. If you find time and time again that somebody is just totally disrespectful and they’re not into it and your efforts have not been sustainable to help them switch, then it’s time for that person to move on because that will just kill the environment for contribution.
That brings you to the final piece of the care loop and it closes it, called empower. Empowering is about building owners. I talk about doing that through educate, enable and engage. By educating people, you’re helping them be better, not just for their job at hand, but also helping them grow in the direction that they are seeking to do for the long term.
Enabling is helping them to succeed. And engaging is the active process of testing their education, challenging them, improving them, and helping the entire team grow.
When that all happens, the loop closes and people go, “Hey, I’m going to share this care loop with the next team that I …,” because teams all disband, people move on. That’s the great thing about if you approach things with a care-based philosophy, I guarantee you, it will come back in spades in the positive realm for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah. That’s handy. Your articulation of it in terms of care as a macro acronym and then all the C’s, and A’s, and R’s, and E’s underneath, so it’s easier to remember there. I suppose that makes good sense to me.
Now could you tell me in what ways do you get resistance from this because I’m hearing this as like, “Yeah, that would make sense. We should do all those things. I am right with you, Alden.” Where do you find people say, “Alden, you’re off base. I disagree here,” sort of where is there some contention?

Alden Mills
Well, let’s see. What’s the first big disagreement I’d get? “Wait, you’re a Navy SEAL talking about caring. Are you kidding me? Navy SEALS only care about killing, right? How can you go around talking about caring?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was going to ask, I wouldn’t put it that far, but if you look at the footage of-

Alden Mills
But that’s how some people would approach it.

Pete Mockaitis
The training. Yeah. The training doesn’t look like it’s caring with all the screaming and the discomfort. But what’s your take on that?

Alden Mills
Well, so the first thing is when people hear care, they hear oh, soft and cuddly. No, that’s not the care I’m talking about. I am talking about the care to be the best version of yourself, the care of you being able to go beyond what you originally thought possible. I’m not talking about caring and keeping you in the comfort zone. I actually want you out of the comfort zone .
The people that are the instructors at SEAL team, they are only there for a short period of time. They’re going to go back to a platoon. I could very well – and it happened to me. Some of those instructors became the people that I ended up leading. They give an unbelievable amount of care to ensuring that there’s a certain quality of individual that they’re looking to work with because their lives could very well rest in the hands of that person that they’re training.
The care that I refer to is the more you care, the more those people will dare. Ironically, to do that, it’s going to require you to dare first. Leaders are going to have to take that first step. How leaders deal with that first step is a critical first path.
I brought up cortisol and oxytocin earlier. Some people will say, “No, no, leadership is just like the movie Patton . You’ve got to get out in front and bark orders at them and do those kind of things.” Maybe there’s some organization that needs that, but I’ve never found that to be the most powerful.
There are times where you have to get up and give somebody an inspiring speech or assure them that we’re on the right path, but the large majority of the time, the work’s happening one-on-one or one in a small group and you’re getting people to stay focused on the objective at hand. The most important way to first do that, why people will even listen to you is because they know that you care about them.
A lot of people will make the mistake of going out and barking an order, saying, “God, you sucked at that. Why did you fail so badly?” The moment that happens, and this has been proven, cortisol gets fired off. Cortisol is a hormone for fight or flight or what I would call freeze, reaction. You are not in a creative space once cortisol is fired off. Cortisol is three times more powerful than oxytocin.
Oxytocin, you can argue, is the care hormone. When that gets fired off, it’s the ability to allow you to be more creative. If someone were to come to you and say, “Gee, we just failed.” “Oh great. How did we fail? Do we know what it was? And can we figure out a better way to do it?” versus “You did what? You failed.” Those two different approaches will send people down completely different paths.
That’s one of the first conversations I’ll get into with people about, “Oh, you’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to set this tough standard.” The tough standard is the goal that you’re going after, but you only ever have to be as tough as a situation dictates .

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. I’m curious, with all of these verbs here, I’d love to get your take on which of them do you think has the biggest impact in terms of, “You know, Pete, this only takes a minute or two to do and yet it has such a lasting impact on folks really stepping up and growing.” What would you say is the key thing or two or three things that have an outsized impact?

Alden Mills
One of the first ones that I do anytime I get into a team is a I try and get one-on-ones with all my direct
reports for sure, but even the people that aren’t my direct reports and understanding, “Hey, what’s your goal? Why are you here? What’s important to you?” If I have more time, like I was on SEAL team, I’d ask people to give me one-, three- and five-year goals.
They’re like, “Well, I don’t know what they are?” I’m like, “Okay, well, give me a personal and professional and physical one or give me a financial one. Tell me what’s motivating you. Why are you getting up in the morning? Why are you coming here?” It totally disarms them because they think I’m going to be talking about “Gee, tell me about our ROI for this quarter. How come you’re not hitting your numbers?” I will take a roundabout approach to doing that.
But if you find and you stay curious about the whole person and not just what their performance is at this moment, it instinctively gives you some other things that you can always come back and connect to that person.
When I interview somebody, as an example, the first thing that I’ll have them do is say, “Hey, tell me your story.” “Mr. Mills, what do you mean by that?” “Give me your story. Where did you come from? What do you like? What did you study in school? What’s your favorite book? What’s your favorite movie? Tell me some things about yourself.” Trying to get multi-dimensional on the person instead of just, “Oh, what’s their output today?” Taking that interest in everybody.
Business would be really easy, Pete, if we didn’t have humans. Team leading and team output and being a leader is being a relationship builder. The better you can become at building relationships with multiple different types of people, the more you will be able to succeed because you will get more differences of opinion and different points of view that can give you different ways to solve problems and make great things happen.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I really liked how you shared some particular verbiage that you use in terms of key specific questions that you were asking folks and things that you’re saying. Are there any other favorite phrases that you find really come in handy and you use often as you’re doing this caring stuff?

Alden Mills
Well, the first thing and one of my all-time favorite quotations that I use all the time is from good old Teddy Roosevelt. I think it applies as much today as it did back in whenever he said it. I think it was 1912 or so. “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Sometimes it can be really hard to flip the switch from caring about what you need to caring about what’s going on with them. The more you can remember that if you lead with care, they will dare.

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

Alden Mills
Some of my personal favorite things?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Is there anything else you want to say before we shift gears to the fast favorite’s portion?

Alden Mills
I just really want to impress upon people that this care is not to be taken lightly.
This isn’t just, “Okay, I’m only going to care about the people directly in me.” It becomes a mindset of how you handle relationships across the board. As that happens, you’ll find a force multiplying effect that will go into action because everybody else wants to help you succeed because you’re trying to help them succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. Well, now, you mentioned a favorite quote, could you now share a favorite study, piece of research or experiment you found compelling?

Alden Mills
Well, I’m a huge believer in physical fitness, as you might surmise. There is a book out there called Spark . Spark has to do with essentially the link to physical activity and mental performance. I often find that a lot of people who have a bad attitude, have poor performance, they’re all things within their control. Usually, and this is what I started my first company on, it was the attitude of take control of your body, take control of your life.
Large majority of the time, as an example, depression can be solved – 80% of common depression can be solved with 30 minutes of consistent high aerobic activity.
There are so many different things that are within our control that we seem to forget and we allow outside influences – say, “Oh, it’s the environment,” “Oh, my life is miserable,” but they don’t realize that the few things that they can control of how they think, how they feel and how they act can totally change their direction in life and change the people that are with them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right, I’ve got that book. I also ask about a favorite book. Would that be it or is there another key one you’d recommend?

Alden Mills
I’ve got lots of favorite books. Let’s see, besides Spark , which I ended up going back to all the time, I like Endure . I like Culture Code . I like Boys in the Boat . I’m a former rower. I real also enjoy a great story. By the way, I use story a lot to connect with people. People will find story very powerful as a way to connect, so I love reading about biographies. I’m reading about Leonardo da Vinci right now.

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

Alden Mills
I would give my favorite tool, you’re going to laugh about this, as I love my Peloton.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Alden Mills
I use a Peloton to – I follow a couple of different trainers and I so enjoy getting on that for a 30-minute of just flushing my brain and allowing myself to just focus inwardly before going outwardly.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any other favorite habits?

Alden Mills
I do a mindful walk. I like watching the sunrise. I like going out with no particular agenda, but a 30-minute walk in the morning. Sometimes I refer to it as a prayer walk, but it’s an act of meditation for about 30 minutes.

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

Alden Mills
Yes. Their limits are up to them.

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

Alden Mills
They can come to my website, link in with me. My website’s called Alden-Mills.com.

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

Alden Mills
Don’t ever stop dreaming. Don’t ever settle for average. Keep pushing yourself out of the comfort zone. It’s so easy for us to stay in the comfort zone, especially as we get older. Stay away from those that want you to enjoy the misery that they’re enjoying and keep dreaming.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Alden, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best with your companies and your writing and the book, Unstoppable Teams . Yeah, keep up the great work.

Alden Mills
Thank you very much for the time, Pete. I hope this helps.

413: How to Exude Credibility with Rob Jolles

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Rob Jolles provides practical wisdom on how to come across as more believable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The number one reason why people don’t believe you
  2. How method acting can lead you into peak presenting performance
  3. Why you should embrace your own dysfunctions

About Rob

Rob Jolles is a sought-after speaker who teaches, entertains, and inspires audiences worldwide. His live programs around the world have enabled him to amass a client list of Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, Disney, GE, a dozen universities, and over 50 financial institutions. He is the best-selling author of six books, including his latest release, Why People Don’t Believe You…Building Credibility from the Inside Out.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rob Jolles Lederman Interview Transcript

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

Rob Jolles
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig in. I think you’ve got so much good stuff to share. Maybe you’ll be able to share it, if necessary, in a rapid format because you are a licensed auctioneer! How does one get licensed to be an auctioneer and tell us a tale or two of your auctioneering adventures?

Rob Jolles
Okay. Well, when you have a big mouth and you run it around for 30 years giving seminars, everybody assumes, “Hey, this guy can do anything on a stage.” But I want to tell you, in the State of Virginia, where I initially got licensed, it’s harder than it looks. It was 80 hours of certified instruction.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Rob Jolles
To be allowed to take the three-and-a-half-hour exam. I had to study cattle and cars and horses and antiques. But really all I wanted, unfortunately there isn’t a license like this, all I wanted to do was be able to work charities. I felt like it was a good way of giving back, maybe using my skills for something really valuable.

That’s about nine and a half years ago. I took my courses. I got certified. I’ve been probably averaging an auction a month, maybe an auction every other month, but 95% for charities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s awesome. Then I guess if you’re doing it for charities, then you’re doing it for free. I’m wondering with all that education, what would an auctioneer be paid if he or she were doing a gig for a bankruptcy? Hey, we’ve got an auction. I’m the auctioneer. I’m well-trained and licensed and educated. What would that return in a gig?

Rob Jolles
Actually, it’s usually a percentage of profit there. For charity auctioneers, we’re not quite as fortunate. It’s a fraction of what I normally get paid. Actually, what I typically do with a charity is, I sort of get paid a little and then I never walk out the door with it. I just simply hand it back so that I can deduct from my taxes.
I want to stay true to the intent, which is there are certain things that we do in life that really have to pay the bills and keep the electric running and there are other times in life where we do things that are really just to help others.

When I speak at universities and things like that and they have a little honorarium, what’s the sense of me really taking that? I’m going to do something nice, let’s go all the way. That’s for charity. Now sometimes I’ll do a shopping center or I’ve done some universities. I’ll take a little something, but it’s a fraction of what I normally get.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Have you ever auctioned off anything crazy or strange or just noteworthy?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I’ll tell you the best thing I ever auctioned off. Believe it or not – and this is for anybody that’s ever thinking of putting an auction together, this is what you’re looking for. It’s not a yard sale.

When Letterman was still doing his show, we got two tickets to Letterman. Well, they’re free, but we got backstage passes and you can’t always do that. Then Marriot threw in a couple nights and we got two train tickets. When we packaged that altogether and particularly with that unique ability to get back stage, something you can’t really get on your own, sort of like Saturday Night Live tickets, that item went for a little over 30,000 dollars. It was fairly simple.

That and we also got one time I auctioned off tickets to the Academy Awards. Again, something you can’t normally get on your own. You’re not going to find it on Craigslist. Other than the limo, I think that was in the 30 – 35,000 dollar range. Those are the kind of things that really actually will excite an audience.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very clever. If there are any fundraisers in the house, there’s the trick. You get something you can’t get under normal circumstances. Then you package it together into a cool experience and there it is, the secret to a successful fundraising auction. Didn’t even know we were going to learn that today. Thank you.

But what I was planning on learning a bit about was some of the wisdom in your book, Why People Don’t Believe You. Great title. Tell us, what’s the big idea? Why don’t people believe you?

Rob Jolles
When you say big idea and I’m ready for you now because I actually thought, “What is the big idea? I better know that. It is my book.” I think the big idea is, there’s two of them. First of all, I’m pleased you like the title. It wasn’t my title, but most of us who write books, we’ll get everything but our title in there. The publisher typically knows more about titles than we do.

But the big idea in my original title was it’s not the words; it’s the tune. A lot of times, and I’m guilty of this spending 30 years of my career, of my life, running around the country teaching people what to say, what to say, what to say. We don’t really stop and say wait a minute. Let’s forget the words. How are we saying it? I’d say in a sense that’s part of the bigger picture of the book.
But to really drill down on your question, I think the biggest reason why people don’t believe us, as strange as this may sound, is we don’t believe us. Things in the book, I know they sound simple, but so are asking questions and listening, but who does that? It’s such a fundamental communication piece. The easiest way to be believed is to actually tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Rob Jolles
When you stop and think about that, do you have the best podcast out there? Well, from what I hear, it sure is, but you have to believe that. If it isn’t, you have to do everything you can to make it a great podcast, to put your heart and soul into it. If you go to bed at night and you truly believe that, you don’t have to worry about sounding authentic. Now you believe it and the tune will follow.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Now, you’re getting me thinking here because we were talking just beforehand when I was stalking you and deciding whether or not to invite you. You passed. Nice job. You made reference to the greatest life insurance salesperson ever; Ben Feldman is his name, if anybody wants to take a look. I’m always intrigued by the greatest in the world.

I sort of listened to an interview with Ben Feldman. He doesn’t sound super engaging in the interview, but boy, does he believe in life insurance being just a powerful force for goodness for humanity. It’s clear that he believes that with a deep abiding passion, which is striking because I hadn’t thought of life insurance in that way before, but there you have that. The best in the world had that at a really high level.

Rob Jolles
Let’s put a cherry on that sundae because yup, he completely dominated the insurance industry for decades and I mean dominated from the sprawling metropolis of East Liverpool, Ohio. But how about this that we add to that story, the fact is he was the greatest that ever lived by the numbers. He spoke with a lisp. He was actually a fairly quiet guy.

He didn’t have any of the attributes that we naturally associate with the greatest salesperson, that Glengarry Glen Ross kind of Alex Baldwin character. He was the complete opposite. I guess when you hear that, whoever’s listening just remember that he was true to his own unique style. You can’t imitate this guy. The best imitation you do is of yourself. Not only did he believe in his product, he was true to his style. He didn’t emulate anyone but himself. That’s what made him really successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, you’re telling the truth, you’re believing it deep down. If you’re not yet believing it, you’re doing all you can to get there with believing it in terms of improving the actual kind of facts of the situation. Then when it comes to the tune, how do we sing a tune that’s more appealing?

Rob Jolles
That’s interesting you say sing because as I was working through the manuscript I was actually at one point trying to create a musical score in a sense of the tune, but my musical score had places where we would pause, had places where we would change our pitch, had places where we would change our pace. Actually all found in music if you think about it.

Unfortunately, although I’ll work on pitch and pace and pause with people, the problem is every question you just asked me right now, I can’t go, “Okay, hang on one second. Let me figure out where my pitch goes up and let me figure out where I’m going to slow this down and where I’m going to speed it up.”

We do focus on pitch, pace, and pause, which to me are critical pieces. But the key is to get that authentic voice to do it without having to sort of stop and micromanage where those pieces are. I don’t know if when you’re talking to me, for instance, you’re gesturing with your hands, but imagine if we stopped and I said, “Point here. Put your hand up over there.” We want that to kind of become as natural as we can.

I think one of the secret sauces, if you will, of the book is actually thinking more like a method actor. What if we took ourselves and actually placed ourselves in the moment. I don’t mean just in the moment. I mean even the point we were just talking about, truly believing.

Well, maybe we’re getting beat up a little bit out there right now. Maybe our product is – it’s just been tough for us but weren’t there times in our life where everything we touched sort of worked out well, where we knew the next time we picked up the phone or knocked on a door, it was going to go well. The other six did.

Why can’t we as a method actor take ourselves to that moment? Are you telling me that when we knock on the door this time, we’re going to be less effective with that in our mind? That’s where that pitch, pace, and pause sometimes can come more naturally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. You’re saying let’s not put our focus on “Okay, at this point in my second sentence, I’m going to drop my pitch low,” and sort of plan that out in great detail, but rather to get in the zone associated with when you were rocking, rolling, and believing and nailing it and high performing, so just sort of method acting into that spot and these things will sort of naturally follow well.

Could you maybe bring this all together in an example or a case study of someone whose credibility wasn’t so hot and then they did some things and they saw it really get hot again?

Rob Jolles
Sure. Actually, this whole book really began with me in a bad mood in a bad evening being asked to speak to a group called the Career Network Ministry, a group that just helps people in career transition. I don’t necessarily like to speak free a whole lot, but I bumbled my way in and figured I’ll talk to a dozen people and get this over with. There 250 to 300 people in the room. I’ve been volunteering for six years ever since. It was such a moving experience.

But one of the things I noticed in that room – and that was my petri dish, that’s where this started – was I noticed words. We were working on resumes – words. We were working on elevator pitches – words. We were working on LinkedIn sites – words. We were working on the words and nobody was focusing on the tune.

To answer your question, I actually stated about five and a half years ago I put together my first group of a dozen people. To get in this program, two days, you had to be unemployed a minimum of two years. Half my room was unemployed for over five years. That’s chronic unemployment.

We put on a two-day program. I bumbled and fumbled my way through it, but we were hitting on something because 10 of the 12 people were hired within three months. That’s when I realized, okay, we’ve got something.

But I’m telling you, going back on some of the questions you asked, I wasn’t working on the words in there. I took that elevator pitch – there’s some value in those – but I put it in the corner and we worked on their character. We worked on who they were, what they were, taking them through those moments of success and man, the hands and the words, and the pitch, and the pace, it followed.

But there’s an answer to your question. It was 10 for 12 coming out of the gate. That’s when I knew, I think we maybe even have a book here, but I’ve got to keep digging into this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Do tell, what are some of the most impactful transformational exercises or practices that make that come alive?

Rob Jolles
Wow, that’s a good question. One of them we were talking about is whenever I ask them anything, I really try and trim people down to what I call a communication shot clock. Look, there’s a shot clock in basketball. It keeps the game moving. There’s a shot clock in football, actually. It keeps the game moving. There may very well be a shot clock in baseball, they’re going to try it in preseason, to keep the game moving.

We are in a society now where books are getting smaller and people just don’t have that bandwidth to stay with us. Even our videos are four to six minutes in length. One of the things as an example was, stop talking to them, getting them up to speak, getting them into character, and working on their shot clock, meaning, trimming those questions down and saying, “Rather than giving me your three best points. Give me your best point. If I want more, I’ll ask for it.”

It was an example of really trying to get them a little bit quicker, a little bit lighter on their feet. As an example, that was one technique that we used.

Pete Mockaitis
Then you said with the shot clock, is there an optimal do you recommend time that you would put on the shot clock in terms of number of seconds that you would speak before being quiet?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I actually have a number and I’m going to give it to you, but please understand I’m answering your question, so it’s sort of like when I teach people to sell and I’m saying you’ve got to ask second and third level questions. The hand will go up and say, “Exactly how many?” It’s like, “Well, that’s going to really depend on the personality of the client, etcetera.”

But I really actually like 45 seconds. I think it’s a great number. If I go a minute and ten, that’s okay. If we go shorter, that’s okay too. A lot of the times if I’m dealing with a more social environment, more social client, I’ve kind of got the green light to go a little bit longer. If I’m dealing with a more dominant client, I’m probably going to trim back. There’s other variables.

But I love the conversation we’re having because I get frustrated when people are bobbing and weaving, saying, “But …” I think 45 seconds is a good target, but read your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. That is a helpful benchmark because I think it’s possible that you can under speak as well. I’m just thinking about this. I said, “Hey, tell us about you becoming a licensed auctioneer.” It’s like, “I had 80 hours of instruction and then passed a three-hour exam.” It’s like, “Okay, well, Rob, this is really interesting.”

Rob Jolles
… on the show. You’re really talented.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that makes good sense in terms of it’s a very rough ballpark zone, but if you’re five seconds, it’s like, “Okay, do you hate me? What’s going on here?” It’s hard to form a connection. If you’re too long, it’s like, “Okay, I already sort of got the message I was after way earlier and ready to move on to something else.” I appreciate that. That’s one principle is the communication shot clock. What are some of the other practices or exercises that are really transformational here?

Rob Jolles
Well, I’m going to give you a couple more, but I want to give you a big picture here because if you study my career, I’m actually going at a different angle right now. I got my hardcore training with Xerox. You didn’t tie your shoe without a process of some sort at Xerox. But when you have a process, you have a way of measuring what you’re doing. When you can measure it, you can fix it. Boy, am I a repeatable, predictable process person.

Yet, the topic that we’re in, I’ve sort of had to look at the mirror and go it’s not all process-oriented. I sort of reframed it in my mind and I said it’s more about percentages, meaning. It’s sort of like when we eat, okay? “I’m a healthy person.” “Good. Well, what do you do?” “Well, I no longer put sugar in my coffee, just Stevia.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, that’s it.”

Well, okay. If you really do that all the time and you’re a big coffee drinker, I guess that’s about a one percent – two percent play. I don’t know if you’re healthier yet, but I guess it beats the alternative. But you look at healthy people’s example and they’re doing 15 – 20 things, exercise, this, that. Together, they create a formidable percentage.

What we’re talking about right now is really percentage plays. A communication shot clock gives us a couple of percentage plays. Truly believing in yourselves gives us percentage points. Taking ourselves mentally to a place where we’re successful gives up percentage points. I’m going to give you percentage points as opposed to process. Like I said, I’m almost arguing with me right now because I’m so bred into process, but we’re into a topic that is more percentage than process.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say percentage, you’re sort of using this as a label of a different means of thinking about approaches such that a process seems to apply if you do A, B, C, D, E, F, you’ll arrive at this end result, whereas percentage says, “Of the result you’re after, one thing can account for 5% of getting to the result and another thing can account for 10% of the thing.” Thusly, you’re kind of suggesting that an A, B, C, D, E process ain’t going to get you 100% of the way to where you want to be.

Rob Jolles
Exactly. Let me give you a percentage move as an example. Thank you because that’s exactly what I’m saying, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Rob Jolles
A percentage move for me, a lot of people, for instance, when they’re struggling to be believed and they’re, “Okay, I’m going to believe in myself, this and that, but this company, they’re looking at four other people. One of them, I don’t know, they may have a better relationship.” Well, they might. They might not.

I love really actually focusing the brain on playing the course and not the opponent. I’m going to get percentage pieces out of this because by that I mean if you watch actually a good golfer it’s shocking. They never look at the scoreboard. For three days, they don’t look at the scoreboard. They don’t care.

They’ll look in the final two holes, three holes because they may have to change their strategy, but how in the world do you play a competitive event without looking around at your opponent? The answer is well, what value does looking at the opponent really have? If you sink a 40-foot putt, good for you. Me focusing on that not only doesn’t change a thing, it removes the focus from my putt. It removes the focus from what I’m doing.

I think, as an example, we spend too much time worrying about things we can’t control. Honestly, if I thought worrying about it would move the dial one percentage point, I would be the most competitive worrier you ever met, but it actually takes away. It doesn’t add. Things like playing, the course, not the opponent, things like accepting your limp.

You started the conversation about Ben Feldman. Again, look him up folks. Like I said, appearance-wise, he wasn’t necessarily that natural salesperson look or sound, but in a sense he had his own limp. We all walk with a limp. Do you know how many people are held back from their own ability to convince others because of their limp?

I lost my hair, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I had to accept it. It’s one of my limps. But what I found is, the moment it stopped being important to me, it was never really important to anybody else. It was me that was focused and obsessed. If we take that example and look at people that just have certain issues, maybe they don’t have that natural punch in their voice, it’s okay. Don’t be somebody you’re not. Just move it from a two to a four, that’s all I’m asking.

But if we accept our limp, if we play that course.
We don’t have to misuse our imagination. That lovely quote I actually have by my coffee bar, “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” It’s a wonderful quote. If we start removing those pieces, each thing I’m talking about is getting us a percent here and three percent here and two percent there. I can give you five more, but I think you’re getting the drift of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I am, I think, getting the drift of it. I imagine you’ve given me the biggest percentages already upfront. Is that fair to say?

Rob Jolles
It depends on the mood that I’m in. It actually depends on the person because when you’re communicating, for instance, if you just pay attention to your transitions – so many people will micromanage the body of whatever they’re communicating about, particularly presenters. If they actually micromanage the transitions and stuck their landing in the end and spent 90% of their time on the opening, they would increase their credibility.

Again, because it’s percentage plays, each percentage move will fit a different customer a different way, but yeah, I’m not wasting your time. I’m giving you ones that I think really resonate and I see get a big bang for the buck for most of the people that I’m working with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh great. Now, I just want to make sure I got the transitions point clear. You’re just saying if you’re doing a presentation or a speech, you want to give some extra attention to how you’re transitioning from one section to another instead of fumbling or being awkward during those moments?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I did chuck that one in from left field, didn’t I? Absolutely. I train a lot of speakers. The irony is usually that the core of most presentations have oftentimes, particularly for corporate America, but oftentimes they’ve gone through a legal read. We can’t really change them all that much.

What makes a great communicator and an average communicator? It’s not the body of the message. It’s them coming out of the gate with an interesting story and idea, really addressing what’s in it for the client. Thinking out the beginning.

But to get right at what you just asked, the transitions, yeah, we probably have three or four major points. If I really think those out – I’m not a guy who believes in scripts – but if I actually write them out, maybe back them down to a Word outline, if I spend my time working on how I’m going from Point A to Point B and sewing that body together, as I said, coming out of the gate strong and sticking my landing, closing strongly, yeah, I’ll probably give one of the best presentations I’ve ever given. But it has very little to do with memorizing the body. That’s not where success lies.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because the big chunks one, they may be unmovable because of legal review, two, you probably remember them just because one thing leads to another. “This is the story about how I formed an accountability group in college.” Hey, that’s one chunk and I know it. We’ll go and make it happen. But what I don’t know so much is how I’m going to move from maybe that piece to how friendship is important.

Rob Jolles
By the way, that’s the way most people do it. They’ll go … “Friendship is important,” but when they transition with, “We all have these different pieces I just mentioned, but there’s one piece that we don’t pay attention to and that’s friendship. You see, friendship is important,” something along that line so that it’s effortless. When people walk away they go, “Boy, that was really good.”

Now look, we could spend our time talking about presentations. I’m going to involve that audience. The more they talk, the more they typically like and trust that presenter. I’m going to do other things, but it’s the transitions even when we communicate and are not giving presentations.

What if we’re just in front of somebody giving a proposal, what if we’re having a conversation and we want to get the three major points, it’s that smooth transition as opposed to that bumpity, bump, bump, bump. It sounds like Pete wanted to talk about this one. That’s the one I want to avoid. That doesn’t sound authentic. We circle back to our topic, which is why people don’t believe you because it’s not sounding authentic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I get a real kick out of when the transition is too, “So, can I have your money?” and it’s done poorly. It’s like, “Oh, you poor guy. Well, I’m already on board with your vision, so it’s fine, but-“ Okay, awesome. Let’s dig into a little bit of this now. Believing in yourself, that sounds classic and helpful and essential, but in practice, if your belief in self is moderate, like “Yeah, I can do a decent job most of the time I guess,” how does one elevate that?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Did you ever see there was a commercial done years ago by FedEx? It’s actually on YouTube. You can find it online. It was called The Stolen Idea.

It deals with a boss who’s asking for ideas. One guys says, “Well, we could probably save money by putting all our shipping in one area and using FedEx.” You could hear a pin drop. Five seconds later the boss says, “I’ve got it. We can put everything in one area. We can use FedEx to do it all. That’ll save us on shipping.” Everybody goes, “That’s brilliant.”

The guy says, “You just said the same thing I said only you did this,” and he’s moving his hands horizontally. The boss says, “Nope, I did this,” and he moves his hand vertically because that was his gesture. I actually look at that commercial and I think that’s our jumping off point. Yes, I know what FedEx was after and shame on that boss for stealing that idea. But we need to teach people how to do this. This matters. That moving of the hands, that really matters.

To me, it’s a matter of kind of oftentimes finding your real voice. Not finding some voice you saw on television or who you heard on a podcast, but finding your real voice.

I don’t know last time you’ve been on a plane, but when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant starts speaking, you think “It’s funny, he or she was just here. We had a nice conversation. But now I’m hearing this really weird singsong ….” That’s not a real voice.

Why is it that a lot of times when we’re presenting or when we’re under pressure, we start going after this I guess the voice we thought we were supposed to have? Nobody wants that. People just want to believe. They want that to be authentic.

I always look at people and I think, if we were two people having a beer or having a cup of coffee, would you still talk and walk and behave this way or would you just drop all that and have a conversation? It’s really about finding that real voice. Honestly, you don’t have to look that far.

I’ll whisper this to presenters right before they go on stage when they’re a little bit tight. The last words I’ll typically tell somebody is, “If you were walking into your living room, what would you feel and how would you take that stage? That’s your living room. Now go enjoy yourself.” Forget all that other nonsense. In the living room, it’s pretty easy. Well, that’s all the audience wants. Whether it’s 50 people, 500 people or 1 person, they’re in your living room. Go have a conversation. We don’t need anything but authenticity.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny when you say the living room, my first thought is, “Well, I’m taking off these dress shoes and putting on my slippers.”

Rob Jolles
Well, I knew a presenter who was actually very successful. Now this was in the ‘90s. But he was a finance person and a finance specialist, which already you think, “Well, okay. Here’s comes that big old suit.” But he would take his shoes off when he went on that stage.

It was kind of his shtick. It was like George Burns smoking a cigar or something. This was his shtick. He was the guy who would take his shoes off. But it worked for him. It wasn’t shtick. I got a chance to speak to him a couple times and he just wanted to get to a place where he was as comfortable as he could be because then he could take that communication and make them as comfortable as they can be.

Last thing about that, but it’s really important to understand that an audience really they want to enjoy themselves. They want you to be successful. The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s very true.

Rob Jolles
Then they feel badly for you and then they have a problem. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. It hurts to watch somebody who’s bombing. They know they’re bombing. They’re nervous about bombing. It’s like, “Oh man.” It’s just fun to watch someone having fun. It’s like, “I’m not super into the content of what you’re saying, but it’s kind of enjoyable to watch you be into it. Yeah, take it away.”

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s the funny thing. If you think about some of the great – Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon, what are some of the most enjoyable parts of the monologue or the conversation? When something bombs. They don’t put their head in their hand and they go, “Oh no. What happened here?” What they do is they just work with it.

The audience loves it because you didn’t make the audience feel sorry for you. You said to them in a sense, “I’m glad this happened. Let’s just work with it.” When you can take that with you and realize that what’s the worst happen, really just making them feel badly, so don’t. Away we go. It’s a lot easier up there than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I think I made some references to maybe college audiences and they’re just like, “We have no idea what this.” I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m getting old.” They all just sort of – you can just sort of laugh about that. It’s like, “Yup, okay.” Then away we go. As opposed to “Oh, that’s so stupid. I shouldn’t have made that allusion. Look up the dates next time, Pete. Oh! Bad, bad, bad.”

Rob Jolles
You know something, Pete? You hit on something else that I think is actually really important.  When we’re not in front of people, and remember we’re talking about building credibility, believing in yourself, and then taking that to others.

Do you know – and my wife helped me with this one – do you know how innocently that inner voice starts chirping at you of “If you had half a brain, you would have remembered to bring this with you on the road.” “Hey stupid, don’t forget that.” Do you know that that’s a lot more dangerous than we give it credit? It doesn’t have to be in front of anyone. It can just be with ourselves. But you keep beating yourself up like that, you’re going to start believing it.

I really some years ago decided it’s not okay to make fun of me and to start moaning and whining and complaining about certain things. People forget things. I’m two and a half million miles in the air, believe me I’ve forgot things in my bag. But I’ve decided – and it really works and I think it works for others – to be a lot kinder yourself.

Stop chirping and beating yourself up about things. Just like we would talk about in front of an audience, be nice to yourself when there isn’t an audience in front of you too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hit that point real quick. If you are in that mental habit, how does one kick it?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Well, the first thing we have to do is we have to go from unconsciously incompetent, which is “Hey, that’s okay,” or “I don’t even notice it,” to really starting to become aware of it. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the four levels of conscious behavior, but we start with unconscious incompetency, which is sometimes we don’t know that we don’t know. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Well, that’s why you and I are having this conversation because now maybe we’ll be on the lookout for it. As a matter of fact, just talking about it, I can assure you, there are many people who are listening right now will go, “I do that, but I don’t mean anything by it.” I’m telling you it’s a cancer. It grows. You don’t realize it. Let’s move you to conscious incompetency, which means I want you to be aware when you do it.

Then let’s move to conscious competency. I want you to be a little robotic and every time it accidently happens, I want you to stop and correct it. I know that’s a little bit stiff and weird. Until we become unconsciously competent, when we do it and we don’t have to think about it anymore. But it’s natural to be on that scale. The first thing is we have to remind ourselves it’s not okay. It is not okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, so now-

Rob Jolles
I said it’s not okay. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
That is not okay. I am now acknowledging what you said and moving to something new.

Rob Jolles
Okay. I’ve got to climb in through the window there. I was out there yelling at people. Okay, I’m back in. Let’s keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about that process by which you take yourself back to a place in which you were successful and thusly you method act your way into having a high performance moment. In practice, what are the steps to make that happen?

Rob Jolles
Well, the first thing – I’m going to leave the corporation out. There’s a Fortune 500 company I’ve been working with on this. One of the things we did was, again, think method acting. What we did was we began to on a piece of paper create a character.

One of my favorite actors is Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be in another movie again, but when he was – I don’t know if you saw Lincoln, but if you did, it was probably a little slower than you imagined. I knew it was going to be slow because I actually read a bunch of books on Lincoln and Lincoln wasn’t the most exciting person in the world. But on set, you had to call Daniel Day-Lewis either Mr. President or Mr. Lincoln. He doesn’t mess around.

When we’re talking, to answer your question, we’re talking about getting into character, sometimes we have to sit and actually think about that character. I did some acting earlier in my life. I remember the first play I was in I was Bennie Van Buren in Damn Yankees. I was supposed to play a 70-year-old. But I had a great director, who, by the way, I spoke to when I wrote this book and we talked about this.

I remember him saying, “What kind of car does Bennie drive? What kind of cereal does he eat? Tell me about his house. What’s his office look like?” What he was doing – at first I thought he was a lunatic. I don’t know. It’s just a character I’m playing. But he didn’t want me to learn the script. At some point I knew that character so well, I walked around, I was 70 years old in my mind.

What I do sometimes is actually get people on a piece of paper to begin to actually write out their character a little bit, not necessarily what kind of cereal do they eat, but tell me about your character. Perform some tasks in front of me like your character. Forget everything else. We clear the mind. We work on establishing a character.

Actually, for some people it will be three characters. It’s a more dominant character, it’s a more social character, and it’s a more analytical character. If you’re wondering why in the world I do that, it’s because I work with a lot of salespeople. We have to kind of mirror the character we see in front of us.

Maybe I’m very social, what if I’m talking to somebody who’s really dominant? Well, I’ll just play the role of a dominant person. Not so fast. You better understand – before you put that white glove on, you better understand that character, so we actually write it out and think about it. I actually give them simple questions, like a questionnaire. They begin to role play and really get in touch with that character. Then they can tap into it when they need it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. You’re mapping out upfront. You’re doing some role play there. We also had Todd Herman talk about his book, The Alter-Ego Effect. He recommended sometime putting on a blazer or glasses or something that sort of en-clothed cognition, sort of stepping into that all the more. That’s handy.

Then I’m also wondering is there some visualization or some key memories that you’re bringing up and how do you go about doing that part?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s where we go into that piece about, for me at least, and remember, I frequently work with people who are selling. Look, what I’m trying to have them visualize are moments of dominance, moments of success.

It’s weird. I’m 26 years in business as a professional speaker and yet, just like everyone else, sometimes you’re as good as your last presentation, you’re as good as your last quarter and all of the sudden a speaker’s bureau threw three clients at me. I spoke to them on the phone. None of them wanted to hire me. What do you think I sound like on the fourth call?

What I’m trying to do is get to moments where when we do get three in a row, when we do knock it out of the park and somebody says, “Okay, now I have another client I want you to talk to.” That’s what I mean in terms of that visualization of “Okay, maybe I’m not there right now, but I can think back on when I was. What was I feeling like?” I sort of take myself to that moment.

Pete, it kind of comes back to that percentage play. I’m not guaranteeing you that we’re going to be successful right now, but I guarantee you this, having that mindset and being able to pull that memory down is going to pick up some percentage plays and that’s what I’m looking for. Again, it’s mental, but it’s there.

No one’s had a life of complete loss. It’s everybody. We win some; we lose some. We win some; we lose some. It’s when we lose some, a bunch in a row that all of the sudden the shoulders start to droop and we kind of start picking up the phone going in my mind, “I know this guy isn’t going to buy from me, but here we go.” That’s not going to work for anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thinking right back to the hot streak, the winning moments. That’s good. That’s good.

Rob Jolles
Well, it’s the winning moments. I keep pushing everything into sales, but in presentations a lot of times, particularly when somebody is new or somebody – I’ll also whisper in their ear, track record because maybe people who are listening right now have got 10 or 20 years under their belt, but maybe this quarter hasn’t been so good. Or maybe they haven’t given a presentation in a while or they’re being put in an awkward position.

What’s your track record like? Most people go, “Usually I’m pretty good at that.” Okay, again I’m looking for a couple percentage moves. To get the experience, how about we focus on what usually happens. Pete, when you have a podcast, what usually happens? When I’m a guest on a podcast, it usually goes real well. Not all the time, but usually goes real well.

I’m better off kind of focusing on my track record. That’s to me another kind of really great visualization. It’s simple and it’s easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, tell me, is there anything that you recommend that we really don’t do? We’ve talked about the negative self-talk, not doing that. We talked about not stepping into who you think that you are supposed to be, but rather just using your own natural authentic voice. Any other top don’ts you want to make sure we highlight?

Rob Jolles
That’s a great question. I’m actually thinking of how I would address that. Yeah, I would say that I think we should stop being so fearful of dysfunction. We brought it up a little bit when maybe things don’t go well in front of an audience, but I think, again, whether it’s while we’re alone or whether we’re in groups, I like to tell people that I’m coaching or working with, let’s embrace that dysfunction a little bit.

Kind of going back to that limp a little bit, let’s remember that there’s only two types of people that don’t walk with a limp, that don’t have some level of dysfunction. They’re either not telling you the truth or they would have no ability to have compassion for another individual. Most of them really aren’t necessarily people I’d want to have as a client. I can tell you that much.

It’s funny, I wrote a piece one time where I said “knowledge is overrated.” Believe me, all the analytical practically followed me to the parking lot going, “Now what did you mean by that?” They were not happy.

I didn’t say it’s not important. I just said it’s overrated meaning as simple as it sounds, but I’m a guy that takes and has people record themselves, if we just work harder at asking questions and listening, if we just go a little easier on ourselves, if we embrace that dysfunction rather than run from it and understand, “That’s okay. That’s my limp. I’m not going to have trouble with it.” All those little pieces get us plays.

Just last real quick point, but I’m in a neighborhood where we’ve got a lot of dog walkers, including our Lilly, who we take for a walk. There’s not one but two dogs that are missing legs, a leg each. I got to tell you, it touches my heart because I look at them and I think I wish we were more like that because I promise, Pete, that dog doesn’t give a hootenanny that he’s missing a leg.

And neither does any other dog that’s walking by it. They’re sniffing. They’re curious where they might have been on that tree over there, but they don’t care. It’s not an issue. I wish we could learn lessons like that and remember that whatever it is and everybody’s got one, if it’s not a worry for you, it’s not a worry for the other dogs in the park. I promise you.

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

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I would say as strange as this conversation may have sound because we’re talking about some kind of wacky – once I said role and character, what is all that. I want to remind people they probably do this more often than they think.

An example I’ll give you is if you have children that you parent, don’t tell me that you don’t actually drop into role, meaning particularly for the younger ones, when they brought back a homework assignment that wasn’t quite right or something, we kind of look at our spouse and go, “Okay, I’ll go in there.” We play the role of disappointed. I’m actually not as disappointed. I love you so much. But for tonight Rob Jolles will be playing the role of disappointed.

I think we do that more naturally than we think. Where we explore this finding a character and getting into role, please remember there are times where we all play roles; you’re just not thinking about it as much. I want you to think about it. Then I want you to stop thinking about it again. But that would be the last thought I give you on that one.

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

Rob Jolles
I gave you one, which is “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” Okay, now I’ll give you another one “We weren’t put on this earth to make a living. We were put on this earth to make a difference.”

It’s always meant something to me, particularly for a guy who – when I tell you I’ve got two and a half million miles in the air, Pete, part of you should smile and part of you should look concerned, meaning “Well, does this guy have a family? Does this guy have children? Does he get to a birthday party?”

I’m really blessed. I have a wonderful wife, Ronnie, who helped me realize that I was a little out of balance earlier in my career, and I’d never heard of that quote, nor did I take it to heart. But I really believe in balance. I’m no longer a 1K and that’s just fine by me. I think that we focus on that, things will go a lot better for us.

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

Rob Jolles
I’ll tell you a bit or research or a study. It kind of falls into an author I happen to like. He’s with my publisher, Berrett-Koehler. Name is Noah Blumenthal. But he studied – he wrote a book called Be the Hero, but he studied how easy it is for us to have negative opinions of others, particularly of others that have done us wrong, maybe a previous boss or a neighbor or somebody just that – the person at CVS, I don’t know, where it really rubbed us the wrong way.

He really got me thinking, and it’s really helped, that we really don’t know many of the people that we form opinions about. We really don’t know them that well. We create a scenario that’s usually very negative. Now that scenario might be right, but we actually don’t know whether it’s right or not.

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

Rob Jolles
I keep a journal. I’ve kept it for 22 years.
But what I found was by methodically being observant, which is a journal will do, because I will only write twice in my journal, on the way out and on the way back of a trip. I am almost OCDish. When we get to 10,000 feet, I’m putting a date and a location on that journal entry.

But it’s a tool that actually, particularly for the way back, that allows me to kind of figure out to stop, pause and in process say, “Okay, what do you think was working there and what do you think wasn’t working there?”

Like I said, I’ve been doing this 31 years, putting a mic around my neck and talking to audiences and yet, I want you to know Pete that I still want to get better and that means I still want to figure out “Okay, what did we do well? What can we improve?”

Very importantly, I always balance that feedback because I’ve said it too many times already, but this isn’t a beat-up session. A lot of times we undervalue taking time to figure out what we’re doing well, so we don’t do it by accident. But that’s been a tool. I probably have well over 3,000 pages of journal entries.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they quote it back to you at times?

Rob Jolles
If you want to get at the most fundamental way to communicate, we have to ask questions and listen. That doesn’t just mean what you and I are doing right now or if we’re going one-on-one with a client or a prospect, even in front of an audience.

If you want to know what the amateurs and even the pros do wrong, if I put down the 20 biggest mistakes they make, 19 of them don’t equal number one, which is too much information and that means constricting the ability for that audience to communicate with you, even if it’s rhetorical questions.

But those little touches, those little “Turn to your left, look at that partner, and say three things here. Try two things there,” that ability to build a conversation as opposed to a lecture are very valuable. I would like to think that I’ve said it enough, that who knows, maybe people would associate that with me. I’d be proud if they did.

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

Rob Jolles
That’s an easy one. I would just take them to J-O-L-L-E-S.com that’s where you’ll find – I write something called a BLArticle. I am in my tenth year of BLArticles. That’s a blog-article. I just try – and by legal definition it’s 500 to 700 words. I just try and practice what we’re preaching, you and I, which is let’s not over communicate, but let’s provide value and drip out information. But anyway that’s where all sorts of information on me is.

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

Rob Jolles
Okay. Pete, you’re really coming at me. I like this. My final challenge would be I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you think is out there holding you back; get out of your own way. Pete, you and I have hit it over and over and over again. Just be kinder to yourself, accept whatever limp you have, and I can assure you, you’ve got one. That’s okay. Don’t let it be a big issue. It won’t be with anybody else.

Go in there, again, the easiest way to find that authentic you is just get up there, wherever it is, tell the truth. If the truth is a struggle right now, double back and figure out – I’ve got to rebrand, I’ve got to do something, but I’ve got to find a way of telling the truth. If you solve that, then you’ve got it made. The rest is easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Rob, this has been a blast. Thanks so much for bringing it. I wish you lots of luck with your speaking and all you’re up to.

Rob Jolles
Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

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.

401: Finding, Creating, and Maintaining a Great Work Culture with Brian Fielkow

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CEO Brian Fielkow walks through creating and maintaining a good work culture then reveals how prospective employees can find out if they fit a new workplace’s culture.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why customers pay for culture
  2. Brian’s definition of a healthy work culture
  3. How to discover if you are a cultural fit at the interview stage

About Brian

Brian Fielkow, J.D., is the CEO of Jetco Delivery, a multimillion-dollar Houston-based trucking and logistics company with 200+ employees that was named a “Top Workplace” by the Houston Chronicle, highlighted on the 2015 Inc. 5000 list, and given the Gold Safety Award by the DOW Chemical Company. Brian is also the author of “Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brian Fielkow Interview Transcript

Brian Fielkow
She’s well known in Hawaii and she’s starting to make a good name on the mainland. But the song, Island Inside Me, I wrote for my wife for our anniversary.

I just have these lyrics going around in my head, but I’m not a songwriter, I can’t sing, I’m not a musician. I connected with Anuhea. We put this song together sort of as an anniversary gift. It took off. It was a pretty cool experience. I don’t think I’ll have that experience again, but to have that song. Every once in a while I’ll hear it on Sirius-type stations. It’s kind of neat.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, could you sing perhaps the refrain or the chorus or a segment for us?

Brian Fielkow
Oh, you don’t want me to sing anything, but I know she’s got it posted. I know it’s available. It’s again, Island Inside Me, but if I sang it, I think we’d lose all of our listeners right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, fair enough. We’ll play it safe this time.

Brian Fielkow
Play it safe, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You have a deep expertise when it comes to culture matters. You have some real hands-on experience instead of only doing research and writing books. Maybe could you orient us a little bit to where you’ve come from and why culture has become an issue that really matters to you so much?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I have kind of an interesting career. It’s not one that you could have ever planned coming out of school. I began my career practicing corporate law in Milwaukee. Maybe six or seven years in, I went to go work for my favorite client. They were in the recycling business. It was a wonderful opportunity.

We built that business while I was there for a good six – seven years. We sold it to Waste Management. I worked at Waste for a couple years. Then I bought my current company about 13 – 14 years ago, Trucking and Logistics. I’ve seen large Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen entrepreneurial companies, everything in between.

It was interesting when I got into recycling coming out of the law business, I noticed that what we were selling were bales of cardboard. A bale of cardboard is a bale of cardboard, but we were commanding a premium. It took me a while to figure out why would anybody pay us more for what’s in the truest sense of the word a commodity.

It didn’t take me long to realize that other people would promise an order of a thousand tons and they’d ship 700. There was so much gamesmanship in the business, but we did what we said. People were paying us a premium for peace of mind. They weren’t really buying our cardboard; they were buying our peace of mind. That was a lesson I got very early on post law.

It kind of woke me up to the fact that every one of our businesses with rare exception to some degree is commoditized. I got really interested in de-commoditizing what we do, not having it to compete as much on price. Yes, the price is important, but if we can get to a situation where a customer appreciates our value proposition more than just the core product or service you’re offering, you can command a higher price.

Over the years I learned that what people are really paying for is your culture, kind of how you do things, what makes you different, that secret ingredient that nobody else can steal.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Your culture is what they’re paying for. It’s how you do things differently, your secret sauce. Is that how you define culture in those ways or do you have a particular definition that you run with?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, let me give you how I define it. There are books and books on culture and the theory behind it. I’m not a fan of the theory because we’re practitioners and we need to know now. I’m going to keep it real simple and say that in simplest terms, you’ve got the beginning of a healthy culture when you’ve got the right people and the right processes working in harmony.

In a healthy culture, you’ve got the convergence of people and process, that’s what yields consistent and hopefully excellent results for the customer. You could have the right people and no process and every day is a new day. You could have the right process and the wrong people and forget about that. I’ve learned over the years that it’s getting the right people, the right process working in harmony.

It’s also rooting your company in a well-defined set of values. We have so many arrows coming at us in the business world, so many different priorities that sometimes we forget that there’s this adhesive that binds us together.

I can’t tell any business what their values should be, but once you’ve established your values, you’ve got to live by them. You don’t compromise your values. That’s something that your team needs to understand, your customers understand. It’s the adhesive that binds your company together through good times and bad, where priorities, on the other hand, they change by the day. We have customer issues. We’ve got service issues.

But those priorities never, ever compromise our core values, who we are and what’s important to us and what’s important to our team. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to walk the walk. You’ve got to live and breathe your values. Whether you’re in the C-suite, whether it’s your first day on the job, you’ve got to agree that these are the rules that we’re going to play by.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting you said you cannot tell another company what their values should be. I guess I’m imagining there are some that would generally be a recipe for good things and some that would be a recipe for bad things and a whole lot that it’s sort of – it’s a matter of finding the right fit in terms of the people and the processes and the industry and kind of what is your focus as a business.

Could you give us an example of some values that are unique because I think a lot of organizations will say, hey, integrity of course is a big value. I think sometimes they live it and walk the talk and sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t really seem so distinctive when you hear that integrity is a value.

But it seems like in your practice, integrity is defined as doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it really was a differentiator there. Could you give us some examples of different values and how they come to life?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. Let’s talk about integrity for a minute because you’re right. That can sound over used. What company in the world doesn’t say integrity is a core value?

But now look around and if you watch football as much as I do, you’ve seen the Wells Fargo ads, established in 1860-something, reestablished in 2018. Why? Because they had integrity issues that really hurt their reputation, opening up fictitious accounts. It was a pretty big deal. Wells Fargo had to do work to repair its brand because of integrity.

It’s something you take for granted, but then you realize that if you let it slip and don’t focus on it, it could slip intentionally or unintentionally. Something even as simple and common place as integrity, if you as the leader aren’t living it and are kind of looking the other way, one lie will breed a thousand lies.

If I’ve got a problem with a customer, I’m not going to make something up. I’m going to tell the customer what happened and how we’re going to fix it. Even though the customer may be upset, hopefully over time, the customer will respect me more because people can smell a lie a mile away.

If my team sees me behaving in that manner, they’re going to follow my lead. On the other hand, if my team sees me acting with integrity, they’re going to follow my lead. Especially as we’re starting to work with younger and younger employees, people just don’t want to work in a company where the values are adrift. Integrity.

Another great example is respect. Again, people use respect too loosely, in my opinion. When I say respect, what I’m talking about is treating people like human beings first and employees second. That’s the ultimate respect. The ultimate form of disrespect is anonymity, “Hey, you’re number 100. Go do your job. Punch in, punch out,” not knowing a thing about that employee personally.

As my company is growing, I can’t know a thing about all my employees but my managers better. There needs to be something in the culture that makes sure that my managers know their employees like I know my direct reports so that everyone is accounted for and that the ultimate form of respect, like I said, is making sure that people’s overall human needs are met and that nobody, no matter if it’s their first day on the job, feels like all they’re doing is punching a clock and if they didn’t show up, it wouldn’t matter. That’s just a horrible situation to be in.

Respect is a value. Those are some of the things that we do that promote respect regardless of what it is you do because you’re an important member of the team regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, okay. I would love to dig in a little bit in terms of thinking about values when it comes to finding fit with regard to career planning. How do you think about that game—I’d say both in terms of zeroing in on what values matter to you and then assessing whether a company really has it? Because I think a number of cultural pieces in terms of how things are done in a given organization really can vary and vary fine and suit different people differently.

For example, I think that some folks would say, “Oh yeah, we’re all about collaboration and so we’ve got an open office floor plan and we’ve got bays with ten employees in each of them, so they’re always kind of seeing and interacting with folks. We’re always on Slack and doing that.” Then some folks would say, “That would drive me insane. I need my quiet time to really focus and go deep in creating stuff.”

That would be sort of a natural mismatch when it comes to sort of how you prefer to do your thing and how the organization is doing their thing. How do you think about navigating this whole fit and research game?

Brian Fielkow
Such a great question because whenever I see forced fun, I run away. I go in the opposite direction. For me, having a slide in the middle of the office and having all those amenities, that’s all well and good, but that’s not culture. People mistake that kind of stuff for culture. Culture is not campfire fun and games stuff. This is a hardcore business proposition.

If kind of the slide in the office fits your culture and it’s in the context of an overall healthy culture, it’s fine. But if you’re using those bells and whistles to get employees in and then once they come in, they realize you’re in a toxic environment, that doesn’t work.

To me, there’s some subjectivity to it. There’s definitely a component of individual taste. Maybe I prefer a company that’s more formal. Or maybe I prefer a company that’s more casual. Maybe having a social life with my coworkers is important. Maybe I don’t want it at all. Maybe the company is extremely hierarchical, has a well-defined org chart. Maybe the company is more loosely defined.

All that’s okay and none of that is indicative of whether the company has a healthy culture or a poor culture. It’s how the company chooses to operate. It’s its own personality. That’s where you’ve got to find the fit. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer there.

But when you want to talk about how do I find the right culture, regardless of whether it’s hierarchical or loose, whether we’re wearing suits or whether we’re wearing shorts, that’s the key is to dig beyond the surface, dig beyond the slide. It’s not one-size fits all.

I think the best advice I could give somebody is when you’re doing an interview, you definitely – you’re going to speak with the hiring manager. You might speak with human resources. But the real people you want to talk to are prospective peers, prospective coworkers.

We do that with pretty much all of our job interviews. Again, it doesn’t matter the level that we’re hiring for. We want to be sure that peers can talk unscripted and what it’s really like to work here. We want to make full disclosure. We want to make full disclosure about our company. We’re proud of it, but we know that just like any other company, we’re not a fit for everybody.  We’d rather know that before we make a hiring decision or before you would agree to join our company.

There’s nothing like a peer-to-peer interview where you can ask questions. “What’s it really like to work here?” The company’s recruiting brochure says X, Y, Z, but six months later is that really what’s happening? Do they have a good-looking recruiting brochure or are they really delivering the goods?

The absolutely best advice I can give is do your homework on the company. Understand what the company is all about. Understand its culture. But peer-to-peer man, that’s really where you’re going to learn what it’s like to work there.

By the way, if that peer-to-peer interview goes well, now you’re new coworkers, they know you before you start. They’ve got a vested interest in integration. They’ve got a vested interest in bringing you in and helping you succeed.

If they say to the hiring manager, “Wow, thumbs up. Let’s bring this person in,” that opens the door and creates a pathway for success in a way that just a traditional interview and “By the way everybody, here’s your new coworker who you’ve never met,” that doesn’t work quite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious if that organization – if you’re interviewing an organization and they don’t have the wisdom to … process, do you have any pro tips in terms of how you’d go about proactively having those conversations and some of the key things you’d want to say when you’re in the midst of them to learn what you really need to learn?

Let’s say that I’m interviewing at an organization. They did not give me the benefit of engaging in these conversations peer-to-peer, so it’s a little bit more on me to be proactive in terms of finding these people, having these conversations. How shall I find them and engage them and what should we say when we’re talking?

Brian Fielkow
Well, a lot of companies may not offer the ability to interview a peer. First thing is you just ask. Say, “Hey, could I interview somebody in the department that I’m – can I meet with somebody in the department that I’m interviewing to work in?” A lot of times the companies may say yes, but if they say “No, that’s not our practice. We don’t do that,” okay, let’s respect that.

But I would still ask the hiring manager questions like “What are your company’s values? Give me a feeling for when those values were challenged. How did the company respond?” Just like they’re going to ask you those questions. They’re going to ask you, “Tell me a particularly difficult problem or difficult situation. How did you address it?” You better be prepared to answer that. Well, I think it’s a fair question for employers too is, “Tell me your story.”

If you look at an interview as a two-way street, not just the hiring manager interviewing you, look at it as a conversation. You’ll be able to develop the feel just almost organically in a conversation. If it’s that tight and that rigid and you don’t have that opportunity, the company is telling you something about its personality.

I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying that’s probably not a place I’d want to work. That’s not kind of how we bring employees in. I want an open door, full disclosure. But if companies don’t do that, with social media you can still network and find people who work there and talk to them informally or former employees, talk to them. But you can also have that same conversation with your hiring manager.

I love it when people come in, they’ve done their homework on the company and they challenge me with questions. That tells me that I’m dealing with somebody exceptional, who understands that the interview is a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that point on social media. LinkedIn is so cool with all the filters that you can dig in and search for folks that way.

Brian Fielkow
People used to call LinkedIn the boring version of Facebook or Instagram, but LinkedIn is the encyclopedia for how to network. I use it all the time. It’s such a valuable tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I really love that question you asked in terms of “Tell me about a time a value was challenged,” because I think a lot of times you’re probably going to get total blank stare response, like “Uh, these are just the words we repeat. I can’t think of any real experiences to share with you right now.” That tells you something right there.

But now you’ve got me curious, Brian can you tell me about a time in your company that you had a core value that got challenged and how did you live it out?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. In 2015 – ’16, we’re in trucking and logistics in Houston. That was a rough time. The energy markets collapsed and business was really challenged. We had to make some very difficult decisions.

In doing so, it wasn’t like memos from the C-suite; we brought our employees into the process. When we had to make the company smaller and downsize, we met with our employees. We treated them with respect. We made sure that everybody knew what we were doing, why we were doing.

What it did is it created sort of a foxhole mentality that we’re not working around our employees. We’ve not sugar coating like, “Oh, everything’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” We brought them in and we fought the war together because we were so transparent and open with them. You’ve got to be prepared to share good news and bad news.

In doing that, for example, safety in our company is a core value. We don’t compromise it. Well, no matter how rough business got, no maintenance got deferred. Every single vehicle was maintained regardless of the company’s financial performance.

I’ve seen other organizations where “Oh, business is bad. Let’s figure out where to cut. Well, we can cut maintenance.” No, if safety is a core value, you don’t cut, you don’t defer maintenance. You keep running your business.

I can use that time when this company was really challenged and really stressed by a rough economy. People in other businesses were losing their jobs left and right in Houston during that time and we just took a very contrarian approach that we’re taking our employees with us. Even though we couldn’t take everybody with us, and we did have to let people go. It was done, like I said, with dignity, with respect and then with complete transparency to the rest of the team.

That’s created kind of I think an unparalleled level of camaraderie as the company has rebounded, recovered, and grown so well in the past couple years.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, could you share some other perspectives when it comes to zeroing in on determining if a culture is a fit for you?

Do you have some extra perspectives and tips when it comes to determining if an opportunity has a good cultural fit for you?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I think that you’ve got to be careful not to conform yourself to become somebody that you’re not. Don’t mold yourself to a culture that doesn’t fit. You’ve got to understand what fits.

In our situation, in a healthy culture, you’ve got to have employees who are technically excellent and who are in line with the company’s values. You get yourself in a lot of trouble when you look the other way.

I’ve got a technically excellent employee that’s walking all over everybody else, just a horrible team player. Well, I have to either coach that employee back in to working within our values or they can’t be part of the team no matter how technically good they are.

A lot of times we look the other way when it comes to technically good people even if they’re destroying the morale of the company. As an employer, you’ve got to stand up to that and be sure that you’ve got people who are value aligned and who know what they’re doing.

Well, similarly, for the employees, you can’t really fake it. I’m assuming you got the job because technically you met the criteria, but in a healthy culture, I hope that you’re yourself, that you don’t force anything. In a healthy culture you’ll be challenged.

Hopefully that culture will make you a better employee and a better person and hopefully you’ll do the same. You’ll make the company a better company and you’ll improve your coworkers. But if it doesn’t fit, you’ve got to know it.

I’ve seen too many times where people jump at the money. They jump at the money. “Oh, somebody wants me, I’m going to accept the job,” without asking these questions of “Am I going to be happy?” You may make money and you’ll be miserable. Life is too short.

That’s why interviewing for culture and being aware of culture is just so critically important because we’ve all had maybe in our careers, the Sunday night blues, kind of that horrible feeling that Monday is coming and I’ve got to a place that I really don’t want to go. I’ve had that in my career.

Because I’ve had that in my career and I understand it so well, part of my job is to make sure that we don’t have the Sunday night blues, that people are excited to come to work because they’re treated right, because it’s a place that they know they fit in. But if you don’t fit in the place and it’s not right for you, you’ve got to know when to get off the bus too.

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

Brian Fielkow
I like to always say that at the foundation of the culture is what I call the three T’s: treatment, transparency, and trust. If you’ve got that and if you work at a company – look I’m in the trucking business. I’ve got a lot of people who told me, “Well, geez, I never thought in my life I would get into the trucking business. How did you as a corporate lawyer decide to do it?”

First of all, I love the industry, but it’s an industry that a lot of people might not necessarily just automatically gravitate to. But it almost doesn’t matter what you do as long as you love the job, you love the people. I think treatment, transparency and trust, whether you’re in a medical office, trucking business, law office, doesn’t matter.

Treatment, like I said before, you’re a human being first, an employee second. The ultimate form of poor treatment is anonymity.

Transparency, is just making sure your team is engaged. The best way to engage your team is to explain the why. If you give me a memo and you say, “Brian, just do it,” my personality is going to be to rebel. I’m not going to do it because you told me to do it. But if you say, “Brian, look here’s why we’re doing it. Here’s the why. It’s not a democracy. I’m not asking for your vote. But here’s the why,” I’ll be a lot more inclined to participate. I’ll be a lot more inclined to support. Just make sure you take time to explain the why.

As an employee, if you don’t know why, ask why. If somebody says, “Well, never mind. It’s none of your business, never mind,” that’s a little tip, isn’t it? But the key to an engaged workforce is for everybody to know their mission, know the company’s mission, know their role. Why?

Then finally trust. If there’s no trust, let’s forget about all this. In a company where trust is lacking, where people say one thing and do another, you’re operating on quicksand. You’re never going to have employee satisfaction where there’s a lack of trust among coworkers, lack of trust where leadership doesn’t trust the employees, employees don’t trust leadership.

Treatment, transparency, and trust are the three critical elements that I would look for in any business. I don’t care what the business does, as a sign of a healthy culture.

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

Brian Fielkow
The problem with my favorite quote is it’s too long, but I’m going to just read a little bit of it. It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s quote that we’re all here in the game and there’s people on the sidelines. They’re always going to be throwing stones at you.

It says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I love that quote. I just love it because you’ve got people throwing stones at you your whole life. Just forget about those people and go out there and be your best.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Brian Fielkow
I’d like to if possible move to a couple books that I’d like to kind of recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brian Fielkow
My favorite book, if you took all my books away, would be The Advantage by Pat Lencioni. I think that’s the one book that everybody needs to read in college, coming out of college. I go back to that book all the time. It really lays out the basis for healthy organization and your role in the healthy organization. Really, I like anything that Lencioni writes, but The Advantage is my favorite.

Another book that just came out last year that I’m really into is called The Motivation Myth. Because I’m not terribly into – as you probably can guess by now – I’m not into a lot of the motivational, feel-good speakers and those kinds of books.

What The Motivation Myth does is it takes the concept and turns it on its head and says it’s not like you have to have the motivation then you do the job, then you’re successful. The motivation comes from the journey itself.

The book argues that it’s those small steps. It’s the victories. It’s getting knocked down, getting back up. The motivation comes from those incremental successes. The more you have, the harder you work, the more motivation you have. Motivation isn’t like a prerequisite. Instead, motivation is one of the things that comes from doing something you love.

The book also argues that quit trying to be like some of the celebrity CEOs. They did what worked for them. You’ve got to figure out what works for you. Spend less time emulating and spend more time figuring out what your own formula is. I just love that as opposed to just, “Hey, do what I say. Follow my advice and you’ll be successful.” I just don’t buy that. I buy, you figure out your own formula and that’s the key to success.

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

Brian Fielkow
Trying to maintain a semblance of work/life balance. I’m not by any stretch nine to five, but I listen to my body rhythm. I listen to how I work. I’m up at crazy hours of the morning because that’s when I work the best, but unless something is really important, you’re not going to find me here – later in the day, you’re not going to find me here necessarily on a Friday afternoon.

What I’ve learned over the years is that we’ve all kind of grew up in this eight to five world or seven to five or whatever it is, but hopefully as technology evolves and as employers become more and more progressive – this isn’t true for every job obviously. If you’re a doctor or a nurse, you’ve got to be with your patients. But for a lot of jobs, the more you can listen to your body clock and know when you’re productive and kind of know when you’ve got that momentum, the more effective you’ll be.

I could do something in a half hour that would take me five hours if I picked the wrong time and the rhythm isn’t there. Listening to your body, kind of knowing how you work. Some people, as you know, are night owls. Some people, again, like me, are up before the sun. But being able to know that and capture it, I think, is the secret to optimum production and success.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your employees and folks who are reading your stuff?

Brian Fielkow
When I’m talking to audiences, I do a lot of keynoting, there’s a couple things. First of all, take your frontlines with you. I use that all the time and it resonates. I don’t like doing keynotes and just kind of closing and leaving. I like to do keynotes and then saying, “All right, what are the takeaways? We’re not here to talk about theory. What are the things that you’ll implement the minute you get back to the office?”

A lot of my keynotes, a lot of my presentation revolves around frontline engagement because I think that as a country, we’ve broken our contract with our frontlines. The more we engage our frontlines, the better. Take your frontlines with you. Bring them in.

In my company our drivers are – we have an elected driver committee that’s part of how we run the company. We’ve got our drivers in management and operational decisions. Take your frontlines with you is very – people use that a lot.

The three T’s. If imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, I’ve heard other speakers use the three T’s, but I think I may have invented that one.

Then there’s 20/60/20, which people quote a lot. This is a story when I was at Waste Management. I got to Waste Management at a time when there was a CEO, a brilliant CEO, Maury Myers, was brought in to turn the company around.

He brought his management team into the room. It was a large room. He had a large team. And was kind of rumored to say this, something like this, “20% of you know where we’re going and you’re with me. You know that we’ve got to make changes. I appreciate that. 60% of you, you’re scared. The ship is changing drastically its course. I’m going to work 24/7 to win you over.

The remaining 20% of you have made up your mind. You don’t like me and you don’t like the direction that we’re going. Here’s the commitment I’m going to make to you. This will be the smoothest transition you’ve ever had out of a company, but make no mistake, you’re out.”

20/60/20 means don’t find yourself in that bottom 20. Figure out how to continue to rise in your company. You’ve either got to align with the company’s direction and values or leave. From an employer’s standpoint, you’re not there to bat a thousand, simply not. Part of your job is to weed out the people who are kind of a drain on your culture, a drain on your performance.

I’ll tell you people in my company will use 20/60/20 a lot. We all know what they mean. The three T’s, 20/60/20, take your frontlines with you really are essential things that I talk about not just when I keynote, but when I run my own company.

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

Brian Fielkow
I would point them at my website, which is BrianFielkow, so B-R-I-A-N-F-I-E-L-K-O-W. com. They can also email me, just Brian—B-R-I-A-N @BrianFielkow.com. I’m easy to get in touch with and glad to kind of continue this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Brian, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best in making your culture all the more vibrant and excellent and business growth and all that you’re up to.

Brian Fielkow
Thank you so much for the time. I really enjoyed this conversation.